My family have always regularly watched soaps like Casualty, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks.
They’re always a talking point in our house and we often chat about the plots – like when Matty Barton came out as transgender to his family on Emmerdale in 2018.
As his storyline evolved and he got surgery, we would talk about how much we liked the way it was handled.
While they may seem like a fleeting, idle conversation to some, for me, as a trans man who hadn’t told his family yet, it allowed me to gauge what their opinion of trans people would be – without having to actually share my own experience, or put myself in a potentially dangerous or upsetting situation.
Although their reactions, which were positive towards the story and how sensitively it was handled, comforted me, I still didn’t feel ready to open up. Instead, I waited for the right moment, which in my mind was Pride month 2020.
Then, everything was cancelled. As all the events moved online (with limited spaces), I lost my nerve. That is, until the end of June, when I was skimming through the Pride edition of Metro.co.uk’s weekly soap newsletter.
Unlike my family, I am not an avid fan – I don’t watch every night and can go periods of time without tuning in at all. But I still signed up to the newsletter.
I wanted to keep up to date with what was going on in terms of lockdown and when shows would go off air, as well as giving myself something to look forward to at the end of the week and having a sense of normality.
When I opened up the email I read something that helped change my mind about coming out.
It featured interviews with transgender actors Annie Wallace and Ash Palmisciano, who play Sally St Claire in Hollyoaks and Matty Barton in Emmerdale.
The LGBTQ+ media is usually dominated by the voices of cisgender gay men and I really appreciated how open they were about how the industry could do more, and why multi-layered trans characters were so needed.
But it was an interview with Max Bowden and Tony Clay – two straight men who play LGBTQ+ EastEnders characters Ben Mitchell and Callum Highway respectively – that really stood out.
Clay said that he wanted ‘to be able to play a character like Callum with all those layers and to portray it truthfully’. Bowden mentioned that his proudest moment was an episode all about his character’s deafness, rather than his sexuality.
It finally clicked: I shouldn’t have to hide who I am any more.
I am transgender, but I’m so much more. Just because I want to open up about one part of me, it doesn’t mean that I am changing as a person. I still enjoy the shows, films, video games and sports that I always have.
Reading their words, I felt validated. LGBTQ+ people are more than who they love, or their gender identity, and seeing them talk honestly and empathetically about their characters’ storylines, and about wanting to do right by the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people, was incredibly inspiring.
Everyone in my family is straight (that I know of), and I realised that I was scared of coming out to them because I didn’t know how they would react – so it was empowering to see this example of allyship and cisgender-heterosexual people being accepting. It made me think that my family would be too.
I wanted my parents to know that I was still their child, but that I am trans.
I texted them, then turned my phone off while I did another activity in another room because I was so anxious.
I looked after about half an hour. Immediately, they were accepting. It was the opposite of what I had been so afraid of – so much so that I was shocked. I hadn’t ever thought they would be so positive. I had built up reasons in my head and overthought the whole situation.
It’s different seeing a character on TV every night who is fictional compared to being in a real-life situation where it is your child and so I thought it would go badly.
They said that they were supportive and had been wondering if I was transgender for a few years themselves, but didn’t know how to bring it up.
I truly believe the TV they watch has been a big part of their education on trans issues, and shaped their reaction to me.
This is why it’s crucial for LGBTQ+ stories to be reflected in the media, and especially in soaps. After all, they depict everyday life, and LGBTQ+ people are very much a part of that – we have jobs, families, friends and everything that straight, cis people have.
As a child, I didn’t know anything about being transgender. It’s only in retrospect that I can see aspects of my trans identity in my younger years.
I grew up in a nice, quiet town just outside of London. I didn’t feel any different. I had a brother and was allowed to do everything that he did; I wasn’t banned from ‘boy’ things such as playing football or skating.
I even played on a boys’ football team, and when I got too old for that, I would hang out with boys at the local skate park.
I always hated dresses and skirts and would cry when I had to brush my hair or wear it down. Once, when we had a ‘prom’ event at primary school, I refused to wear a dress and finally compromised by wearing a skirt – but once I got there, I hid in the toilets crying.
At 18 I moved to Brighton for university. By this point I knew I was transgender and while I hadn’t come out, being surrounded by LGBTQ+ people like me – who were just happy and living their lives – helped me to accept myself.
I was free and happy when I was there but at home during the holidays, I lived a double life. I was sad, walking on eggshells constantly and terrified of being rejected if my family discovered my identity. I was relying on them for financial support to get through university and I didn’t know what I would do if that ended.
But now, after telling my family, I can go into my final year with a weight lifted from my shoulders.
I definitely didn’t think that I would come out because of a newsletter about soaps. I have been putting it off for years.
My advice to anyone thinking of doing the same is to make sure that you are in a safe environment with a plan in place just in case it doesn’t go well.
If possible, drop hints beforehand just to feel people out – maybe even while you’re watching a soap together.
You never know, they might react differently to how you think.
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