Support and acceptance vital for transgender teens
Published Wednesday, September 7, 2016 2:39PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 7, 2016 2:46PM EDT
From bathroom laws to the fame of Caitlyn Jenner, transgender issues have been big news over the past few years, but one 18-year-old Montrealer is saying being trans is just one aspect of who he is.
“I’m just a guy, I’m a regular guy you see walking down the street. I’m no different,” said Eden Alati-Coventry. “So that’s what I like to identify as. But being transgender is a really big part of my life.”
Eden’s mother Carolyn Coventry remembers playing dress up with her daughter as a baby. But as time went on, it became evident she wasn’t just a little girl.
It wasn’t immediately evident that Eden was trans – even to Eden.
“I crossed off things in my head,” he said. “Okay, I’m not a lesbian because I feel like I’m not a girl. But am I? Maybe I’m just a tomboy, or maybe I’m just a masculine lesbian. I really had no idea.”
That confusion isn’t uncommon for people who identify as transgendered. Shuvo Ghosh, a specialist in pediatric gender variance, said that existing outside the binary male or female options that society accepts as normal can be extremely difficult.
“There’s nothing necessarily wrong with them, it’s they are feeling that there’s something wrong with them,” said Ghosh.
A community at risk
In many cases, that feeling of wrongness can end tragically. Suicide rates among the trans community are extremely high, and it’s a feeling that Alati-Coventry knows all too well. He said the struggle he faced when he was younger almost brought him to the edge.
“If there’s no way to change these things from happening to me, then I don’t think I was going to be around much longer,” he said.
With trans issues only recently gaining mainstream exposure, curiosity and ignorance are not uncommon. When people find out about Alati-Coventry’s history, they can get intrusive and ask inappropriate questions, making the experience of being trans even harder.
“’What do you think he has in his pants?’ I’ve been asked those questions,” he said.
Experts say those types of questions miss what being trans is truly about. While there is a physical component, just being recognized as being the gender you know you are can be much more important: being referred to by a preferred pronoun or name lends a feeling of normalcy and acceptance.
Still, the physical aspect is present. Alati-Coventry is taking male hormones and is scheduled for top surgery, an operation to remove his breasts, a step that Ghosh said is “often important as a marker as being acceptably male in our society.”
Until the operation, he binds them with a garment to keep them from being visible.
“It’s very, very tight and it’s hot and it’s restricting,” he said. “It’s very uncomfortable.”
Under the Trudeau government, Canada has only recently tabled legislation to extend human rights protections to the transgender community. In Quebec, changes to the province’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms have been proposed that would allow trans teenagers to change their name and gender on legal documents.
“For the first time in history (in Quebec), it was okay to be identified as something and you were recognized and believed by the government without having a third party decide what is good for you,” said Gabrielle Bouchard, an Action Coordinator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy. “It was a huge change.”
There are still big issues that are being discussed and debated. While being able to switch genders and names is a step, it doesn’t address those who feel they lie somewhere in between male and female.
“You can choose the male box or female box if that’s the most comfortable for you. But just be aware that you’re not forced into one of those boxes,” said Ghosh. “If you’re having trouble with being somewhere in the middle or another category, that’s what we’re there for.”
The support of family
For Alati-Coventry, that support begins at home. His mom said some people ask whether she misses having a daughter, an idea she rejects immediately.
“I say I didn’t have one for very long really,” she said. “I had one for three years. I’ve had a son so much longer than I had my little girl.”
While mom’s love is importance, Alati-Coventry is hoping for the same thing any other 18-year-old guy is: someone who gets him for who he is.
“Am I going to be able to find a partner that loves me for all of me?” he said.
In other words, someone who will love him not just as a transgender individual or as a man, but as a person, whose sexuality has shaped him but never defined him.