What does being a trans activist mean?
I guess to me, it means speaking for those who can't or don't want to, raising voices. I also think it means being always active in your own accountability and education, being aware of privileges you hold, always considering intersectionality. Trans activism also works for me, helps raise my confidence and feel like the struggling I've experienced has a more positive outcome for more people than just myself.
How did you get into activism?
I lived in stealth for many years, not ever wanting to be seen as a trans person or really ever talk about it. I realise now this was because I was afraid of getting hurt but also for me I think I was harbouring a lot of internalised transphobia. When I realised this, I started being more visible and seeking out opportunities to educate people on trans issues and supporting other trans people. However I have still stayed mostly out of the media, as I've seen the negative response a lot of very visible trans people receive – but my thoughts on this are changing.
Can you tell us about one of your greatest activism moments?
I did a community arts project for my final MA exploring trans people’s ideas on their futures, both positive and negative. All the artworks were exhibited online for a couple of years. I have run this project since then with many age groups and at trans pride with allies and families of trans people. The feedback showed me that giving creative outlet to people to show their feelings on future was incredibly positive and made me feel very connected to every participant. I am extremely proud of the project.
And can you tell us about one of your worst activism moments?
I was a part of a panel where I was told by an anti-trans speaker that I was a confused lesbian and was mentally ill. That was very difficult.
Can you tell us a little about the landscape that trans people have to navigate right now in the UK?
As the conversation around trans identities has started to become more public so has the negative discourse. The UK media has been overwhelming in repeating the voices of very transphobic people that constantly ask for debate. I work with a good number of trans people of varying ages and vulnerability, and the negative impact of this negative and 'gender critical' narrative has definitely been noticeable in the increased distress and effect to wellbeing I have encountered and felt myself.
This of course is impactful in different ways – the people most impacted by transphobic hate crimes are queer and trans women of colour. Understanding all the intersections of people's experiences is paramount.
This combined with the stress on the NHS services has created a very difficult atmosphere for trans people. With years to wait for appointments and interventions, trans people are left largely to rely on each other and other very small charities. These are only in a few places and even the ones that do exist are not be able to shoulder the need. However, it is positive to note that services like CliniQ (who run two sexual health and wellbeing clinics) are being lifted up by some local authorities and growing slowly. Even this is only two evenings a week in one city.
I know there are efforts from the NHS to help the lack of services but this will take time. And we are all very unsure about the possible effects of Brexit as a whole on the NHS, let alone smaller service provision.
How do you think change will come about?
I have always believed in listening to the voices of people directly when making decisions about things that may affect them. There needs to be a stronger commitment from all services and businesses to be more trans inclusive as a whole. More people hiring trans inclusion consultants and trainers and making a very visible effort to recruit and train trans people will go a very long way to support trans people.
What can non-trans people do to support?
There are many trans people doing the work to help this happen. For allies I would say: make an effort to find people to do this work, suggest it to your employers, look at your policies – do they include equality policies for trans people? Does your your private insurance company offer trans care and extra allowance for therapeutic support? If you work for a charity, does it offer intersectional services that include trans and non-binary people?
Basically, I say: stand up for trans people, even if you think you don't know much. I guarantee you've met a trans person even if you don't know. It can often be difficult to get involved with things you know little about but there's always room to learn. Go on a training course, volunteer to help at a charity or organise a fundraiser.
If you are in the know a bit more, have some of the hard conversations with transphobic people for your trans friends. It gets tiring after a while! I always feel so grateful when my allies speak up in my stead or tell me they had these conversations.
Raise the voices of trans people, share their words, attend their events and promote them when appropriate. Respect safe spaces for trans people and offer to help create them.
These are a few amazing ways to be an ally and the best ways to shift the current negative narratives and make the UK safer for everyone.
You can follow Octavian Starr on Instagram at @octavianstarr
You can find out more about Octavian's training business here.