By Vernon Meekings, Customer Team Member – Bournemouth Queens Road Food store
I’ve questioned gender roles for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I never felt able to fit in, not at school or with my family. I always felt like something was wrong with me and it seemed like everyone wanted me to change and be different – in their words… to be ‘normal’.
As it’s Pride month, I’d like to share my story with you. It’s so important that nobody should feel the way I did growing up – not having a clear answer, just knowing I was considered weird. I was unsure if it was because maybe I was gay, or maybe I was just an unlikable person. I genuinely felt caged in my own head. Inside, I felt ashamed because I wasn’t being myself, but in truth, I didn’t yet know who I was.
I’d always felt so strange identifying as a woman, but in time, I realised it was because I wasn’t a woman, and I never had been. I was 15 when I found out what being transgender meant and I started to hear people’s stories and experiences about it. I began wondering if maybe I was transgender. There were so many details I didn’t understand, so I avoided coming out because of them. All I could think was…. there’s no way I can be trans… I enjoy feminine stuff… that’s not what men do.
I knew that I liked men, but I’d never heard of gay trans men. I asked friends at college about it, but nobody knew how to respond. One friend even told me I was too feminine to be a man and because I didn’t know enough about the trans community, I believed them.
It was so hard trying to figure out who I was, I felt mistreated by the world. Over a number of years I went to therapy and also used anti-depressants, but it wasn’t until I was around 20 that I finally realised… I was watching an episode of Queer Eye on TV about a trans man, I watched him see his flat chest for the first time after surgery, and I almost cried.
I confided in my friends that I’d always felt this way, but I just wasn’t sure if I was a ‘legit’ trans man. Their advice was to go into it gently, so for the first few months I identified as non-binary. It felt like the right decision, and it wasn’t long until I was absolutely certain I wanted to transition.
Luckily two other uni students in my year were trans and we became friends. One told me about how he was gay as well as trans. I really didn’t think you could be gay and trans and I certainly didn’t think other men would date trans men. I was surprised, but also extremely happy to meet someone just like me.
After two years my emotions only got stronger, and I felt I could finally start to be myself. I was really anxious about coming out and being rejected, but I could now hold a conversation being myself. I found it easier to connect to people, and the walls I’d built around me were starting to come down.
Coming out has been great for me, but I’ve also felt somewhat unlovable to other people, facing bigotry and discouragement. My mum wasn’t very supportive. She believed it was a just phase and we’d often argue which reduced me to tears. Unfortunately my father barely talks to me. When he does he tells me how I’m hurting him, and how he’s waiting for me to turn back. This made me feel so unloved and alone – that people who were related to me and supposed to support me no matter what, would so easily toss me aside or act like I was a disgrace to them.
Whilst I’ve grown apart from my parents, I still have my two siblings and my best friends who are my new found family. I also have a boyfriend who shares my interests and sees me for who I am, supporting me whole-heartedly.
I wasn’t sure how being transgender would affect me getting a job. But coming to Co-op, I needn’t have worried. In my interview I was assured it was a safe space to be openly LGBT+. My current manager, Geoff, has been nothing but supportive and has fully encouraged me to be open about who I am.
The colleague networks are a wonderful resource too, even if just for the chance to have a chat and know you are never alone with anything you’re facing. For more information about our Respect Network, visit the Colleague Site page. If you need any support or would like to join the Respect network, email firstname.lastname@example.org, even if just for the chance to have a chat and experience solidarity and affirmation around your identity.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey so far. I hope you have a wonderful and safe Pride season, however you decide to mark the occasion.