I have long been waiting for a chance to experience LGBTQ+ life within London, and within this past month, along with London’s Pride parade being this weekend, I feel prepared to give my personal experience of being a trans-woman in London.
To give you an idea of my own feelings before I arrived here, I knew that London was going to be a lot more progressive than my state of West Virginia. I also felt that it the UK in general would be more progressive in its ideas than the states. Living here made me realize that although it is true that London’s ideas towards transpeople is progressive, it is in a different way compared to the states.
First, you need to take into account the differences in culture between the States and the UK. The UK, although having problems such as Brexit, is a rather accepting place due to the diversity of people. There are so many different cultures and ways of life here, that being ‘different’ is much more hard to be labeled as, since you will find others that is or have similar ideas as you.
This goes further to how one looks and how one presents themselves. I’ve noticed that staring at people isn’t a common thing here in London, and commenting on someones appearance (at least to their face) is not too common here, compared to the bluntness you can find in the states. I have had a couple nights out, and I haven’t heard any catcalling, and I’m not saying just to me either. In London it is busy, especially during weekend nights at clubs, and I haven’t heard catcalling directed to anyone! No shouting at random strangers, and walking at night by yourself isn’t considered too dangerous as long as you’re in a good area like central London.
UK vs US – The Trans Community
Now that you know differences such as that I mentioned, I have noticed that the pressures within the trans communities are different in comparison to the UK and the US. I cannot speak for the entirety of the trans community in any places of the world, but I will speak about the trans individuals I have met, and my own personal experiences.
Let’s take ‘passing’ as an example. ‘Passing’ means to ‘pass’ as the gender one identifies as. This is something I have focused and have based my own happiness on, as it is something that is important to me considering where I live. I’ve noticed the states seems to breed a certain type of shallowness, where looks plays a big role in how one is treated within society there.
In London, looks itself doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. There are so many people here, no one is really breaking their neck to look at someone, or staring at someone who looks a bit different. I have met and chatted with drag queens on the tube, and to everyone sitting around just seemed to see it as like another day in London. So, ‘passing’ doesn’t seem like too much of a stress of safety rather than a more individual thing.
The trans-women I have met so far here have such confidence in themselves that I could only dream of. I am told that I pass and I still feel insecure, especially back in the states. This pressure to women in general seems very strong within the states compared to London. That is not to say people do not feel insecure, but knowing all the things that could happen to a transperson because of not passing within the states can make many feel passing as the key to a happy life.
Do I like this?
While in London, working on my makeup skills and dressing in a certain way has not been a high priority. I have been able to focus more on the inside, which is very new to me.. Here, pass or not, no one really seems to make how you identify as a big deal. You may be asking how could I not like this.
Well, it’s because I am simply moving back to the states, and plan on living there after. This is a deep cultural difference where I have no idea if the states will change where I feel confident to have less makeup on. The states is a place where the pressures of any women to look like the ideal is very, very strong.
That isn’t to say it isn’t strong in the UK or anywhere else, but I believe the halo effect one experiences in the states is extremely strong. The reality here is not the reality back in the states, and while I love the feeling of safety here, I never know where I stand in terms of passing.
Passing matters to me because it keeps me safe within the states, and if no one makes a big deal about if you pass or not here, you never get that sort of validation because it’s not a the main issue. Yes, it doesn’t sound politically correct when someone says that ‘they would never would have guessed’ but I miss the bluntness back at home. It’s a difficult issue, because it should be like it is in London, but I have to rely on something shallow just to get by and treated nicely back at home.
Problems in the UK
Talking about the social part of it, although London is very far in terms of being able to socially transition, medically is a different story. The wait times is up to two years! That was mind blowing to me, as I was able to drive to the nearest doctor in the states that specializes in trans health and started hormones the same day, and it was a walk in appointment!
I have heard that although healthcare is free in the UK, it is very underfunded. There isn’t many doctors here that specializes in trans health, and the wait lists are very long with strict gatekeeping. Looking at the requirements to even be considered for some things seemed very exhaustive. Although health insurance back in the states is extremely expensive, the amount of trans healthcare cannot be compared to. To be fair, there are many states still where it is difficult to medically transition. The problem with UK healthcare is that it isn’t separate like the states are, it is government wide.
Now that I have experienced life here, I now have a new perspective for when I return home. Although passing will be something that is always important to me, I’m not going to make it as my key to happiness. I seemed to have my own biases before I got here, and living here has made me feel a lot less judgemental in regards to how one looks. I look forward to being in the states, and I look forward in focusing on becoming more confident in myself.