Since I came out, close to a decade ago now, my life has been essentially defined by my transness. Trans women are still an oddity to the vast majority of the general public and it has felt to me that my every movement and decision has been scrutinised throughout my transition. I’m 24 and feel like I’ve lived the life of someone in their 40s, with too many ups and downs.
My eating disorder has been a completely different story. So much focus has been on my transition and all of the changes and drama that came with it that I didn’t feel I had much space for any other complications. I found it hard enough to be my family’s and my community’s local trans person. For a long time I couldn’t face up to having, what felt to me, another little mark. Another thing that separated me from my peers. So while I would tell any stranger I could about every aspect of my transition, I wouldn’t confide in even my closest friends that I was suffering with an eating disorder. I’m not sure I’d even acknowledged it myself if I’m honest.
As I transitioned, and began to appear more and more feminine, living as I truly wanted, I also lost a lot of weight. Everyone around me applauded. They had lived with such fear from the moment I came out that I would become an outcast and the fact I was at the very least getting thin was a huge thing for them. There was hope. She wouldn’t be a reject. Or at least that was how I viewed the world.
The worst days of my eating disorder coincided with the only period of my life I’ve been in counselling. As part of my transition I required a diagnosis to receive the medical treatment I desired to be who I am. A big part of these sessions was determining whether I was “stable” enough to begin hormone replacement therapy. I was 19 and had been dealing with my trans identity for a few years at that point so I kept the fact I was suffering with bulimia to myself. I feared being stowed away in the “unstable” box and not receiving the support I needed for my trans identity.
I know that I’m not alone in this experience. The queer community, a community I’ve spent the last 9 years in, the community that has held me since I was a terrified 15-year-old, really struggles with this topic.
Last year I was lucky enough to host a week-long residential training for 70 trans people of all ages back in my native Ireland. We wanted to bring trans people together to talk about their shared struggles and to receive the support of their community. We spent weeks planning the timetable and setting everything in stone, but the most impactful space for me was entirely spontaneous.
On the second evening a participant came to me and asked could we hold a safe space for those who had experiences with eating disorders. I was completely taken aback. My first reaction was to feel attacked. He knew about my eating disorder, I’d never discussed it openly but he had to know, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact I was running the week. To me this felt incredibly personal.
After taking some time to be calmer, I agreed we could hold the space and it was honestly a turning point for me. Of the 70 people attending the event, 10 of us came together and told stories of our shared experience. The core of these events is empowerment. We aim to bring trans people together, to hold each other up and remind each other that there’s space for them in the world. Never in a million years did I expect to be the one held up. To be the one to receive comfort and solidarity I didn’t know I needed.
To all of my trans siblings, just know you’re not alone. Eating disorders and trans identities are both portrayed as being “fads” by the media. So to be a trans person with an eating disorder can feel like a little much. You are complex and beautiful, and you deserve support in every part of your life. Get support. Look after yourself. You are more than enough.