TransPlus newsletter May 2022

Welcome to the TransPlus newsletter! 

Hello!

This is the first issue of the TransPlus newsletter. This will be our way of letting you know about news and events at TransPlus, as well as in the wider LGBTQ+ community in London. It will be a space for us to promote the work and achievements of our service users, so if you have something that you’d like to feature then please get in touch. The newsletter will also be a way for you to get to know the TransPlus staff a bit better, with a new staff interview each month.  

As this is the first issue, we’re very keen to hear from our service users about what they would like to see in the newsletter so if you have any suggestions, please let us know.

We hope you enjoy it.

—The TransPlus Team

What's on?

TransPlus 

  • Peer support group: TransPlus runs a Peer Support Group every second Thursday of the month on Zoom. This is a space for our service users to come together, get to know one another, and offer each other advice and support. If you’d like to attend then please get in touch to let us know.  
  • Network-building: We know that a lot of our service users experience isolation and are keen to meet other people. We’d like to help our service users connect with each other as much as possible. We’re exploring the idea of one-off Zoom groups based around a common interest where people can come together, exchange details, and stay in touch. If you’re interested then please contact us and let us know what your interests or hobbies are (eg video games, music, drag) and we’ll try to connect you. 

We have a few other ideas floating around for TransPlus events. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to see then please let us know. 

In the community

  • The London LGBTQ+ Community Centre hosts regular events for LGBTQ+ people including yoga, meditation, a book club, a film club, and much more. The centre is located in Blackfriars and is around a 15 minute walk from Blackfriars station in Central London—find out more
  • T on Tuesday is a social group for trans people run by London Friend every Tuesday of the month—find out more 

LGBTQ+ job/work experience opportunities

  • Consortium has a listing of LGBTQ+ related jobs in the UK—find out more
  • London Friend are looking for volunteers for support with graphic design, media management, and UX design, as well as volunteer counsellors and social group facilitators—find out more
  • Spectra London are currently recruiting for positions for their Board of Trustees, Outreach Workers, and Volunteer Counsellors—find out more

Highlighting our service users

We really want to promote the achievements, journeys, and work of our service users in this newsletter. If there’s a project you’ve worked on, a piece of art you’ve made, an event you’ve organised, or if it’s just your story that you want to tell, we’d love to share it all here. For our first issue, we’re very grateful to Emilia, one of our service users who has written a piece about her experience of transition and coming out.

Being me, finally!

I’m Emilia, a transgender female. Until a few months ago, I’d cringe at the thought of having to go outside. In fact, for the first three or four meetings with my peer support worker, I would bring a bag and get dressed at Dean Street, even after having started HRT almost a full year before. Afraid to let go of the person I had pretended to for the past 45 years. I hung on to that personality, including the negativity and self-doubt that came with it. A negative force which I kept feeding energy by reading every story and social media thread suggesting that we, the transgender community, didn’t deserve the same rights as them. That our lovely community was an ideology, a set of people that society should not embrace. Words which become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you keep repeating them.

But all of that has now changed. And all it took, was simply taking that first step. I won’t lie, I was scared—at least for a little while—but the conversations with my peer support worker and the company of one of my best friends helped me to get beyond the fear.

My big lesson was as straightforward as it was simple: All it takes is one step. After that first moment, I felt encouraged enough to travel from Southeast London to Dean Street on my own. And before I knew it, literally in a matter of weeks, this scared little flower went from trying to shy away from attention, to whom she is today: A confident, out and about and very proud transgender female. Once I’d realised that there really wasn’t anything to fear, I finally let go of the negativity which for so long had controlled my life. I donated all my male clothing to the refugee collection centre in Lewisham and even informed my new employer, that ask if I could start my new job as Emilia. My employer not only accepted it, but they welcomed me with open arms and made me feel right at home. I’m not just a transgender female, I’m proud of who I am and the community I am a part of.

If you have something you’d like to share with the TransPlus community then please let us know. 

Getting to know the team

Interview with Rebecca Tallon de Havilland

So that you can get to know the TransPlus team a bit better, we’re going to include an interview with a member of staff in each issue where we explore their story and the work that they do at the clinic. For our first issue, I spoke with Rebecca Tallon de Havilland, one of our Peer Support Workers. 

Skye: Hi Rebecca, thank you for doing this interview. 

Rebecca: Hi Skye, my pleasure. 

Skye: I was thinking we could start off with you telling us about your background?

Rebecca: Well I’m 63, nearly 64, years of age. I was a hair and makeup artist, and a model agent in Dublin. Back in the mid-80s I was outted by the press as being trans, and my world kind of fell down around me and then I found myself in London and I went through the GIC clinic. When I was transitioning the language was very different. People looked down on you. I was told I was ‘a woman trapped inside a man’s body’ and that I was having a ‘sex change’. I’m glad the language has changed. Gender reassignment sounds so much better. Then I struggled for years with alcohol abuse. I got sober 16 years ago and that was the game changer for me. I was on a life support machine at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital 16 years ago and now I work there. 

Skye: I didn’t know that actually. Wow. 

Rebecca: Yeah. I didn’t look after my health that well because I had my own stigma then around HIV. I know this might be a sad thing to say, but the more I passed on the street as a woman, the more I went into denial about my health. I didn’t want anyone to know I had HIV. It was almost like I wanted to erase it out of my life. All I ever wanted to be was a girl. For me it was just as simple as that. As I’ve said before I paid the highest price in life just to be me. So, when I was accepted in society as a woman, I didn’t want to look at my HIV. I didn’t want to go there because that was part of my past.

Skye: And you didn’t want your HIV to disrupt your new life? 

Rebecca: Exactly, there was no place for it. You know, where do you put that in the wardrobe? And it was to my detriment because by 2013 I had stopped taking my meds and became ill and was given 18 months to live. But luckily enough there was a trial coming from the States for people like myself who had built up a resistant to medication. It took nearly two years to get me undetectable. I remember I made a vow to myself: if I get undetectable again, I’ll come out of the shadows and I’m going to talk. So then I started working at the Terrance Higgins Trust and started doing outreach. I remember the first time I started to talk Skye, I didn’t even know I had a voice. I knew I could talk a lot, I knew I could talk for Ireland, England, and Wales but I always thought it was just babble that came out of my mouth. I was never given anything to realise that I was worth anything, you know? So then I started doing a lot of public speaking.

Skye: And then how did you come to work at TransPlus?  

Rebecca: Well I remember the way I was treated by healthcare services, it was very nice but very syrupy nice. Then I’d see other trans women coming in, not looking as visually femme as me, being treated terribly. I could see some of these women they were shaking and I thought ‘You’re doing this to one of my tribe’. I hadn’t felt that before. 

Skye: So you were feeling that hurt for others in the trans community?

Rebecca: Yes and I know it sounds cheesy but that’s the fact. And for the first time in my life, I said to myself ‘You need to do something about this’. And I thought what can I do? 

I was doing a talk at 56 Dean Street downstairs in the Victoria room, that’s when I met Lee. He came down to fix the computer or something and he sat to listen and we became very fond friends. And I was telling him I wanted to do things with the trans community and he said ‘If you want to do anything here you can’. And I said I’d love to do a bootcamp, I’d done a bootcamp in Dublin for the girls and boys with catwalk and preparing for interviews. I was on benefits at the time but you know it’s amazing, a jar of coffee and teabags, sugar and milk, and a few packets of chocolate biscuits and it started. Bootcamp was born. Lee was very supportive of me from the get go. Lee has always been one of our best allies, there’s no two ways about that.

Then they pitched for us to do a gender clinic and TransPlus was born. Now I look at TransPlus, it’s 2 years in, and look how much it’s grown, and the team is great. I do feel sometimes I have to be the devil’s advocate. We have to keep our standards up. But I do get listened to. If I was in another job I probably wouldn’t get listened to. So for me TransPlus is the way forward and I’ll always want to be a part of TransPlus. 

Skye: What would you like to see for the future of TransPlus or trans healthcare? 

Rebecca: The more visibility we have with trans employment the better. If we could get some volunteers or some kind of internships at TransPlus for trans people then they could see that they could actually be a nurse, that they could actually be a doctor. There might not be many now, but let’s look at things maybe in a decade’s time, we could have. If we start doing it now. But the longer we leave it, the longer it’s going to be. So for me I think it’s really important that we do have trans and non-binary doctors and nurses. 

To me it’s very important. I suppose the key words for me are visibility and inclusion. If we can help somebody go to college to train, that is how we change the dynamics of this world around trans and non-binary people. I know loads of other trans girls. We just need to be given the chances. There aren’t many trans nurses or doctors but let’s get them, let’s change that too. That’s why I started working in there and I never want to lose sight of that.

Skye: Lifting up other trans people seems to be a really important part of your activism.  

Rebecca: Well, I do my own kind of activism. Usually, it’s with a blush or brush but it works. Someone asked me recently why I wasn’t at the conversion therapy protest at Downing Street. I said well first of all I’m 63 years of age, I’m terrified of crowds, and you all do that. Do you do the House of Commons? No, I do that. Let’s not start having a go at each other for what we can do and what we can’t do. Some people just can’t do it. And those who can should just talk that bit louder. You know? 

Skye: Yeah, there’s different forms of activism and we’ll be more effective as a community if we use everyone’s skills. 

Rebecca: Exactly. And then we really are flooding the nation. Also, I’ve been on this planet quite a long time. I’ve done my apprenticeship in it all. I know my way of doing it works for me and I think I’ve proven that. We all do it our own way. I wasn’t given a rulebook, I didn’t climb up the mountain like Moses and get the 10 Commandments. I know what works and what doesn’t work. And if something doesn’t work then I say well that’s not for me and I go another way. But I’ve got to ground myself and make sure I don’t get too big for my boots. People calling me queen is all wonderful but it’s only wonderful if it’s serving the purpose of me getting visibility and inclusion for my tribe. 

Skye: It definitely seems like you’re achieving that. We’ll have to wrap up there. Thank you so much, Rebecca. I really appreciate it. 

Rebecca: Thank you Skye.

Upcoming newsletters

If you have any suggestions of things you’d like to see in the newsletter then please get in touch with Skye at skye.davies1@nhs.net.

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