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Voices VO LU M E S E V E N

Voices is a student-led campaign headed by Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union, providing a platform for people whose voices might previously have been lost in the noise.

Trigger Warning This volume contains language which may be offensive to some readers and references to issues which may be triggering. If you need to talk to someone, please contact the Student Support Services team or visit fxu.org.uk/welfare



The term non-binary is used to describe something not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things. It is the encompassing of more than two, or outside of the realm of the normative two. In our society today, over one hundred different cultures exist, with religions, races, politics and beliefs merging into one another. Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence in the ability to change�, and that is exactly why the human race is so successful; we are able to adapt and to change rapidly, to be inclusive of another’s beliefs and way of life. Today, the non-binary and trans communities are fighting for the world to change their beliefs and become more open minded about gender identity, and many cisgender people stand there alongside them. There is a call for relief on the pressures of gender stereotypes and identity politics. This seventh edition of Voices looks at gender through the eyes of non-binary, trans and cisgender people. It is time to move away from the binary. Allie Guy Editor-in-Chief


This rejection of the norm proved to be an obstacle growing up. It didn’t help that I was also growing up as an Asian in rural France. Everyone around me disliked the fact that I existed and, as somebody naturally loud and opinionated, I had


a hard time making myself as demure and invisible as everybody expected an Asian girl to be. In retrospect, I’m glad that being silenced was anoth-

ender is, at its core, an impression, a

er thing I was bad at. When I realised I was trans,

feeling. It’s an arbitrary collection of traits and as-

I thought I had it figured out. I thought that try-

sociations that influence how you move through

ing to get people to read me as male was the ul-

society, a collection that has strayed so far from

timate, immutable end goal. And it did work, on

being based on physiology that it no longer has

occasion! Cashiers would see the tight navy dress

anything to do with one’s body. Owning your gen-

shirt and call me sir, and those moments would

der is a response to a culture that seeks to place

be rewarding. But between the binding and the flat

restrictions on you based on your body. I don’t

muted clothing and the ineffective voice exercis-

think I’m entirely a ‘boy’, per se. I’m non-binary but

es, trying to pass as male did nothing but make

in a boy-way. I’m boy flavoured. I’m a boy-scent-

me miserable.

ed, gender-free candle for £1.29 at Wilko’s. But

I don’t think it was an epiphany all at once, it

that’s not what this is about. This is about how I

took me years to get to where I am now. At some

didn’t think I was allowed to be a gluten-free boy

point, though, I got sick of baggy jeans and dam-

by-product in the first place.

aged ribs and repression. I figured out that, now

Being a girl never felt quite right, though it’s

that I knew what I was, the reason I was so bad at

hard to put into words why. I think a lot of it was

being a girl was because I was never one in the first

growing up seeing everybody around me adhere,

place. I could do whatever I wanted. Whether or

more and more strictly, to these invisible rules

not I was a boy (or a part-boy, part-transformer, an

about what you could be and how you could act if

employee of boy enterprises, or a boy-milk latte)

you were a boy or a girl. It was realising I wasn’t a

didn’t depend on whether other people saw me as

part of those rules, that I didn’t want to be a part

one, and it still doesn’t.

of them and didn’t know how I’d even started being

I know who I am. I don’t have to bar myself

a part of them in the first place. I grew up wanting

from practices considered feminine, because I

to distance myself from the feminine as much as

have no reason to distance myself from those now.

possible. Since I didn’t realise not being a girl was

I dress in bright, goofy clothes, no matter which

an option, I did everything I could to be a girl poor-

part of the store they come from. Security in my

ly. This, as it turned out, sucked. It was an angry,

gender identity gives me the freedom to ignore all

frustrated way of expressing myself. I was telling

the obsolete social conventions I used to worry so

the world who I was by the negative space I didn’t

much about. I paint my face with makeup every

occupy. Defining yourself by what you aren’t is

day, and the makeup spells out ‘boy makeup’, be-

never productive.

cause I am a boy, and I’m wearing it.



As a man, I am privileged.


did not know gender. Back home, in Ita-

ly, ‘gender’ is what you use in grammar to decide which one of our ten articles (the translations of ‘the’ and ‘a’) goes with a certain noun: ‘flower’ is masculine and ‘moon’ is feminine. That was all I knew about gender growing up. Of course, I knew I had to tick the ‘M’ box on forms, and go in the toilet with the symbol of the little person without a skirt, but that was pretty much it. I never questioned my gender before coming to university and starting to explore my sexuality. When I came to university, I had the opportunity to introduce myself as a new person, without the baggage of who I was back home. I started being less afraid of pinpointing my sexuality to my friends here. But, while externally I was expressing myself more freely, internally I was struggling. I was battling with my traditional upbringing and my internalised homophobia. I was having trouble reconciling my orientation with my identity; my brain was saying that, if I liked men, I couldn’t be one. I had been called names in school because of my mannerisms, which are less macho than most typical Italian teenagers, and because I had good grades (which also are, according to my peers, a tell-tale sign of homosexuality). There, on those school playgrounds, I associated my sexuality with my gender identity.


I would be known as the one who gets ‘whipped around’. It’s the fear of not being strong enough, for I would be called ‘a girl’. It’s the fear of being vulnerable, for I know I would be called soft. It’s the fear of crying, for they would call me a pussy, a faggot. I’m not hurt physically, but all of this still hurts nonetheless. It’s no one’s fault in particular; it’s all of us. It’s me when I assume a woman might be less techniJust before moving to the UK, there was a big

cally skilled than a male counterpart. It’s me when I

issue in Italy about teachers teaching children

see defined muscles and I think ‘manly’. Of course,

about the ‘theory of gender’ (it sounds weird in

that doesn’t reflect how I feel, but it’s in that split

Italian too, because ‘gender’ doesn’t get translated,

second it takes me to realise how wrong I am, that

despite a translation existing and being current-

I see how internalised my toxic masculinity is with-

ly used in normal speech). The infamous theory

in me. Despite being able to think rationally, and

from liberal America that was accused of disrupt-

to make decisions based on that, I am guilty of

ing traditional family values. You say ‘traditional

holding some irrational beliefs I do not agree with.

family’ and Italy screams with a raised revolution-

It’s the fear of shame, for what do I call the person

ary fist. To me, it sounded mysterious, dangerous

looking back at me in the mirror?

and interesting. Little did I know, my next three

I am a victim of myself too. I’m guilty, and

years would be spent studying and writing about

that’s the price I feel I’m paying for my privilege.

it. Gender theory helped me understand myself,

My redemption can’t be personal, I can’t change

it disassociated what happened on those school

those associations in my mind that I know are

playgrounds; issues with gender identity and sexu-

wrong, it has to be a social one. I can only use my

ality. With that realisation came the awareness that

privilege, my power, to speak up, to say mea culpa,

I belong to both a liberation group and to the group

to change the way we all think. It’s my duty to use

that oppressed me the most throughout history; I

the platforms I am given in society to give others

was both victim and perpetrator. I came to realise

a platform. Seeing is believing, and I want to see

the dichotomy present within my gender identity.

men crying, being vulnerable, unafraid. I hope we

As a man, I am privileged. I’m not afraid of walking

can redefine masculinity, re-write strength as the

alone at night. As a man, I also pay a price for that

ability to be emotive, revise power as the will to

fearlessness, it’s the fear of being afraid, for I know

be kind and compassionate, re-read rationality as

nobody would help me if I felt that way. It’s the

also including emotional freedom. Let us men be

fear of not being able to be the leader, for I know

human first.





he year is 2009. Our class is on the run-up

to a school play, a silly little kids play called Oink! Our teacher is reading out our roles. A nine-yearold me is excited! Who was I going to be? The cool, badass, big bad wolf? The reserved, yet charming, Postman Pigeon? I can’t wait to find out! The list goes on and on and I’m still waiting… I’m getting bored. The teacher prefaces the next role with a, “No offence to this person” and announces that the role of Bernadette the Bearded Lady was mine. The class instantly finds this hilarious, of course. Who’s ever heard of a bearded lady, right? That’s not right! Right? My character was a one-liner in their fictional ‘freak circus’, literally. I had a single line announcing the character’s name and then I’d sit back down. The whole audience thought this was hilarious. Though I didn’t think much of it as my little nine-year-old self, this wouldn’t be the last time I’d be made to feel like the punchline to a joke. As most have, I grew up with many standards regarding how a ‘lady’ should look and behave. Facial hair was a gross and crude joke, there were constant jokes at school. In the media, I saw perceptions of hairy women being, for lack of a better word, obscene. I remember my schoolmates making fun of girls with more hair than them, they all talked about shaving their legs at age 11. It was a societal pressure that we didn’t realise had been instilled in us. School was kind of hell in terms of bullying; anything different was hilarious. That’s what we were brought up to think anyway. Though I wouldn’t get a diagnosis for a few more years, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which, in its simplest definition, means that I have more androgen and masculine hormones than the average woman. Through puberty, side effects


I wanted nothing but to be made my voice seem deeper than many feminine

that’s what I feared. I just didn’t see me in the mir-

people in my classes, even some guys. I was also

ror when I was in a dress; I saw an imposter trying

pretty fuzzy. I got picked on relentlessly for these

to be the feminine princess everyone thought they

traits, getting asked to say things just so others

could be.

could make fun of the ‘manly’ voice that came out.

I didn’t know how to voice these feelings, and

I was asked repeatedly if I was a dude, some asked

I wrote many memos on my phone just to get the

sarcastically why I had a moustache. I sometimes

thoughts out there. I was so tired of people trying

felt that every inch of my being was a joke, I was

to compliment me in a dress because I didn’t feel

disgusting to others. During those school years, I

lovely, I felt dumpy, dumb, bad… and I realised how

learned to reject these parts of myself and tried my

badly I just wanted to be handsome in a suit, sharp,

hardest to ‘fix’ them. Because, of course, who’s ever

and charismatic. I wanted to be just like the dap-

heard of a bearded lady? People like me, with too

per suited men I saw in music videos, be able to

much hair, are gross and a joke, right? So college

own the suave look of the Doctor, to look equally

was a bit of a mess.

as cool as all the guys in suits going to prom. But,

Skipping to my A-Levels, things seemed better.

instead, I found myself frustrated and crying to my

People were adults now, so I didn’t get picked on

mum in a fitting room. Nothing fitted right, noth-

as much, though younger years still picked on me

ing looked right and everyone was looking at me. I

for my ‘moustache’. Although things still seemed

must be selfish to be so picky. I felt awful. I didn’t

good, internally I struggled so very much with my

like how my chest looked, I hated that my legs just

appearance and feelings about myself and who I

didn’t look right, my short haircut clashed so heav-

am. I felt these feelings especially strongly towards

ily with how I was supposed to look. I looked like I

the end of my last year of A-Levels, when prom

didn’t belong. All I really wanted was to bind, and

was coming up. I would have to wear a dress and I

wear some suit with an obnoxious pattern and a

desperately didn’t want to. Despite my love for ka-

bow tie, to be me, and it felt like I just wouldn’t

waii fashion and cutesy colours, I just realised I felt

ever get to do that.

very uncomfortable wearing dresses. Despite their

Then it just hit me, like a bus of messy feelings,

potential cuteness, I hated how my legs looked in

before the end of that final school term. I just really

a dress, or how my shoulders are so broad, or how

didn’t feel attached to femininity, and being read as

no matter how much I shave I’m still just going to

simply “that girl with the purple hair” made me feel

be perceived as a “gross hairy woman”. At least

super uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be “a sweet


unapologetically me pretty girl”, “beautiful young woman” or whatever

different looks and drag personas, and soon came

anymore. I couldn’t even take their compliments

up with my drag persona of Jasper Fae. He’s that

seriously after years of being bullied; how can they

dapper-suited, confident and wannabe suave guy I

think I was beautiful in a dress? I’m not even good

was longing to be and, finally, I was just that! I felt

at being a woman, according to what they said. I

so empowered. I soon found some friends also into

wanted to be me, to just be Gem. I wanted nothing

drag in their own ways, and it feels so great to be

but to be unapologetically me. I voiced all these

able to just be who I want amongst pals who feel

feelings to my closest friend, and that was the first

just like me. I can be as masculine as I want, or as

time I had ever really admitted it all out loud. To

feminine as I want, I can be who I am. After years

say out loud all these heavy, complex frustrations

of being made fun of for my apparent masculine

felt so scary, yet so freeing, and my heart warmed

traits, as Jasper, I’m now deliberately putting hair

when they understood and respected all I said.

onto my face and, instead of being mocked, my

They’ve been nothing but supportive, as my other

friends support me. There is honestly nothing more

close pals were when I finally told them also. I’m

freeing. My confidence has increased since allow-

so lucky to have them by my side. That’s also the

ing myself to be freer and, though I do have my

first time I started going by they/them pronouns. I

self-conscious moments still, they feel more man-

never felt more at home.

ageable than ever. Being gender non-conforming

From that point on, since July 2018, I have

and a newbie drag king has helped me dismantle

started to try and be more me than I ever have

all these gender norms that I felt trapped by for so

been. I started trying to embrace all these mascu-

long, and it feels pretty damn fantastic! I’m final-

line traits I was bullied for during my high school

ly me, fearlessly, totally me. “Who’s ever heard of

years. I dressed how I wanted and was bold and

a bearded lady?” What an outdated joke. People

‘unladylike’ as much as I wished. I took a lot of

can look and identify however makes them most

interest in drag kings, and admired how free and

comfortable, or most themselves. I hope one day

confident they seemed on stage, and became in-

everyone can feel this unrestricted in their gender

credibly inspired by the king Adam All. Hearing

and self. Or more so. I’ve never felt happier in who

how they talked about breaking down gender

I am! The future is free.

norms and how drag helps them express their own identity, I started wanting to do drag myself and, well, I did! I threw myself into experimenting with



hy can’t I play with you?” I asked. “I

can play basketball. Scared you’re going to lose?”

I am not a waste of a woman

“No!”, the boy fires back. “We don’t like playing with girls cause we have to give you special treatment.” If you’re gonna make it easy for me just because I’m a girl, then that’s not my problem, that’s yours. I’m just here to play ball. I was born a girl and I’ve been proving my worth

to suggest the same idea, it is not only carefully

to be in the playing field since I was young. We’re

considered but also credited to him. To have male

taught what we can’t do, how we must behave, and

peers not believe that your answer is correct, and

that ‘special treatment’ means we don’t belong.

instead seek confirmation from another male peer,

That’s never stopped me from doing what I love

or otherwise double check your working them-

and what I’m good at. We learn early on how things

selves, before they believe that you are right. To

work, that we will always have to prove ourselves

have male peers ‘mansplain’ your own research to

before we can be taken seriously. I study in the

you. To endure casual sexist comments in class

male-dominated field of engineering. Although we

from either professors or male peers. And most of

have a very good percentage of female students in

all, to feel that extra pressure to succeed not only

Renewable Energy, we still have a long way to go,

as proof that women can be successful in this field,

but I am lucky to have supportive female peers.

but also to be a good role model for the next gen-

I had known from an early age that I would

eration of girls.

pursue a career in STEM. From my 15 years of ac-

Whatever I put my mind to, my parents were

ademic experience, I’ve learned that it is not un-

always supportive and never let me doubt my own

common to walk into a classroom and see only

capabilities. All those times I was called bossy or a

a handful of other women there. To see peers

bitch only fuelled my leadership skills and drive to

assume your capabilities before you even start

pursue what I want to achieve. All those times I was

working together; to have your contributions dis-

underestimated by my male peers only made me

missed pre-emptively, but if a male colleague were

more confident and assertive. I’m an overachiever,

17 so there are times when being strong-willed has

labels and think it hinders us from normalising the

helped in this field, but that should not be a re-

idea of women in STEM by constantly separat-

quirement to be successful. Often, it is being soft

ing ourselves from our male counterparts. Not to

and compassionate, it is the feminine traits that

mention, men’s side of the story in which they are

society frowns upon, that make us successful.

discouraged from expressing emotions. All their

In this generation, feminism or gender equality (whatever you may choose to call it) is a discussion

arguments are valid and show different aspects to this important conversation.

we must all have. I have friends who are whole-

Outside of STEM, I am still battling gender

heartedly supportive of the movement. I have male

stereotypes. If not in athletics, it is from relatives

friends who think that encouraging girls into STEM

who hold different opinions of what a woman

is unnecessary. I have female friends who dislike

should be, and who incite competition between other women. “Surely you have a boyfriend, being surrounded by all your male classmates all the time!” or “You’re too pretty to be an engineer!” or “You’re too career-driven! What a waste of youth and beauty!” With all due love and respect, I am not a waste of a woman because of the path that I chose. I sincerely hope that we reach a day where it genuinely does not matter what gender we identify as and that we are seen based on our merit as individuals instead.


19 become men”, he continued. It was the first day of two years of hell. We weren’t allowed to be scared, we weren’t allowed to complain or show weakness. Those were the traits of gu-niangs and pussys, we had to be men, but how could we? We’re just a bunch of 18 to 20-year-old kids who lived comfortable lives in Singapore. The only AR-15s we fired were from Call of Duty, the only hardships we had to go through were the ass-whoopings from our parents when we were young. We all knew that


we would be conscripted, it was one of the pillars of Singaporean national education, and we were constantly told that National Service would turn us

, Kenny Chen KangYi, having entered the

into real men. It was going to be tough, it was going

service of the Republic of Singapore under the En-

to be hard, but we were all determined to become

listment Act, do solemnly and sincerely swear that

true men, we just didn’t realize that it would hurt

I will always bear true faith and allegiance to the

so damn much.

Republic of Singapore. I will be ready, at the order

Military service is not for everybody, it requires

of the Government, to rise up to the defence of the

a special breed of men and women. It puts you

Republic of Singapore. I will obey the laws of the

through absolute physical, mental and psycholog-

Republic of Singapore and the orders of my com-

ical hell, designed to break you, designed to de-

manders. I will carry out my duties with integrity,

stroy whatever social conditioning you had built

courage and commitment at all times, and I will

up. It’s designed to reveal the person that you tru-

preserve and protect the honour and independ-

ly are. Not the person you’re projecting, but the

ence of the Republic of Singapore. With my life.”

person you are deep down inside, and turn that

I still remember that day, the day I was con-

person into a soldier. None of us had a choice, you

scripted. It was the first day of basic training,

pay your debt to society; the alternative would be

it was the first thing I did as I surrendered my

imprisonment in a military prison for up to nine

identity as a citizen and became a soldier in the

months before being forcibly conscripted and they

Singapore Army. I was ordered to take the 11:40

would escort you into your assigned base upon

ferry to Pulau Tekong, an island military base off

completion of your sentence.

the coast of Singapore specially built for Basic

“Don’t be a pussy” and “Man up” were what we

Military Training. A stout middle-aged Chinese

heard every day for the next four months while we

man with arms the size of my head walked in and

were doing basic training in an island the size of

introduced himself: “My name is Master Warrant

Falmouth and Penryn combined. We were con-

Officer Jerry Lim. I’m your Chief Master Trainer.

stantly hammered by our instructor during phys-

From now on, you will only address me as sir. You

ical training, even for minor infractions. I’ve had

address me as anything else?! There will be f*cking

everything I ever owned thrown out the window of

consequences. Do you all understand?” His thun-

my bunk because the photo of my family wasn’t

dering voice echoed throughout the auditorium.

regulation sized. We were forced to do so many

“Yes, sir”, we shouted. “The army is where you boys

push-ups that our arms just gave way, but even

and gu-niangs (Chinese dialect for ‘feminine men’)

then we weren’t allowed to lift our bodies away

KENNY CHEN from the scalding parade square. We were forced to run three kilometres every morning at a dictated pace or face punishment. Every time our mind or bodies gave way, we were told that we shouldn’t be “pussy ass bitches” and we should “man up”. We could never show weakness or pain, most of my weaker-willed peers developed mild forms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. All of which would be dismissed by the military doctors as “military adjustment disorder”, which is considered the common cold of mental disorders for those in the services. Those that talked of, or

the pain was too much for me

contemplated, suicide, were given a pep talk by the army counsellors, which was basically a softer version of the same narrative fed to us, “Man up

six other young men who were in the same situa-

and suck it up”. If you tried to talk to your fellow

tion as I was. One wrong command and they might

recruits about your crippling depression, you’d be

suffer lifelong injuries, or even death. My platoon

met with, “Bro, we’re in the sh*t as well. Suck it the

was under the tutelage of ex-Special Forces com-

f*ck up”. To be honest, I was like that; we drank

manders, and probably the manliest men in the

so much of the army’s Kool-Aid that we expected

entirety of Singapore. It was them who explained

everybody to be just like us. But what could we do?

to me the origins and rationale behind the machis-

We were a practical bunch; sugar-coated words of

mo of the military.

affirmation would not solve our issue. Bruce Lee

“Regardless of race, religion or sexual orien-

once said, “Don’t wish for an easy life, I wish for

tation, a man’s job is to protect his country, his

the strength to live through a hard one.” We could

brothers in arms, and those who could not pro-

only rely on ourselves. Don’t get us wrong, we ab-

tect themselves. If we don’t make men out of all

solutely sympathized with our fellow recruits, we

of you, you will not be able to handle the horrors

just weren’t equipped to help them. So we did it

of war, you will drop your rifles and run, you will

the only way we knew how: with toxic masculinity.

kill yourselves before even firing a single round,

“Don’t be a pussy, man the f*ck up.”

you will abandon your home and flee instead of

After four months of absolute hell, I graduated

bleeding your enemies dry. Your generation is not

from basic training, but what came next broke me

like the older generation, your generation might be

both mentally and physically. The only thing that

better problem solvers but you are not as resilient,

brought me back from the brink was masculinity

and in warfare it’s about how much you can bleed

and a maverick of a shrink. I had graduated basic

and make your enemies bleed. So why do we push

training in the top 90 percentile and was shipped

you to the brink and tell you to man up? Because

off to Specialist Cadet School, where I would be

we want to turn you into better men. When this

trained to lead my fellow soldiers into combat. Not

cruel world strikes you down, we do not wish for

only would my fellow cadets and I be faced with

you to crumble, give up and whine like so many of

an elevated training tempo and curriculum, but we

your generation. We want you to have the strength

also had to bear the burden of command. I held

to get back up and fight! Fight for what you love,

the lives of six young men in the palm of my hand,

fight for what you want and fight for every inch of

21 happiness in your life.” This came from my compa-

longer the gung-ho special forces wannabe that

ny commander, an 18-year veteran of my country’s

first walked into Leader’s Square with his perfect

Special Forces, who had trained with the US Army

weapon’s score. I can prescribe you the usual

Rangers and Army Special Forces, who, in short,

cocktail of antidepressants that would help you

was a badass. He was the very definition of Asian

immensely. But, in my opinion, drugs are not ideal

masculinity; he was physically strong, well spoken,

as a long-term strategy. You’d become a slave to

well educated and respectful. He would regularly

the effects of the drugs, you’ll never truly recov-

push us to the brink, both physically and mentally.

er, you’ll only be merely delaying the inevitable.

All of us understood that the pain would make us

As your body acclimatizes to your current dosage,

better, the pain would make us… men.

you’ll need something stronger, which will snow-

But the pain was too much for me. In the final

ball into a serious drug habit. You might even seek

months of my training, I suffered a crippling spinal

out illegal drugs and alcohol to self-medicate,

injury. My body wasn’t able to handle the physical

which is a slippery slope that you’ll never climb

tempo and stress of leader’s training; three sec-

out of. I want you to man up and fight your de-

tions of my spine collapsed into each other, crush-

mons. If you want to, you can always request an-

ing my spinal nerves and I lost sensation in my legs

other doctor and he’ll give you the usual cocktail.

in the process. I had essentially lost my ability to

But if you work with me, I can help you fight this

walk. The first week at the hospital was one of the

monster. I’ll help you become a man.” That was

lowest points in my life, I truly wanted to die. I was

Dr Cheong, who had gotten his PhD from Harvard

prepped for surgery to insert metal plates into my

Medical School. His ‘treatment’ was a combination

spine, but the road to recovery would be physical-

of life planning and exercise. It was like being at a

ly and mentally painful. Post-surgery physio was

fight camp. We formed a game plan and trained for

painful beyond measure. I felt weak, I felt useless

the fight. We simply started out by making small

and I felt like dying, but my trainer would send

goals and a regular exercise. He knew I used to do

me essays encouraging me. His letters would al-

MMA before I enlisted, so he paid for my mem-

ways end with this particular quote, “The meas-

bership to one of the most expensive MMA gyms

ure of a man is his ability to stand up after getting

in Singapore (around £750 per year). Slowly but

knocked down. Be a man and go 12 rounds in the

surely, I punched and kicked the demon inside me

fight against life.” I would regularly read his letters

to submission. He would tell me, “The only way to

before my physio sessions. It helped me push past

beat depression is to man up and fight it head-

the pain because I was determined to be a man.

on, not with drugs or alcohol, but as your beaten

After three months of intensive physio, I recov-

self. Mind-altering substances mask the person

ered and regained my motor skills, but the psy-

that you truly are inside, and you’ll never win the

chological scars still remained. I was diagnosed

fight unless the real you is the one doing the fight-

with severe depression by the Army Medical Board

ing.” According to the Army Medical Board, I was

and was referred to an army psychiatrist. Little did

officially ‘cured’ of depression, but Dr Cheong re-

I know that this particular army psychiatrist was a

minded me during our last session, “If the demon

known maverick in the world of psychiatric care;

comes back again, he’d not be facing the Kenny

he had a particularly unique way of dealing with

that first came to see me, he’d be fighting Kenny

depression and I had a front-row seat. “Kenny,

the man.” I still hold his quotes dearly to this day.

your mind is f*cked from your ordeal, I understand

I managed to beat my demons by manning up and

that. You are a shadow of your old self, you’re no

facing the demon as my true self.


I found myself having to escape from a persona I had created

Okay, I’m being a little facetious there. Adolescence, wherein the homosexual faces their Herculean labours. It starts with pursuing girls, only to realise that you are pursuing them to replicate a scene from James Cameron’s Titanic, not for any sexual gratification, but to romanticise the dramaturgical perspective of true love. Next on the docket, study ‘the craft’ to state your desires of becoming a thespian but become disheartened when realising you are the only flamboyant individual in the class. Quite a stereotypical allegory, right? There’s more, lots more, and this whole wild, pubescent journey ends somewhere between telling a boy, “I fancy you” and playing tongue wars with said boy. After sexual enlightenment, what could possibly be the next thing a young man explores? Gender. Drag. Let’s begin. With bits and pieces of makeup from a friend at your disposal, the first heavy mask of smeared lipstick, congealing mascara and powdery eyes is only a taste of the transformation which drag can offer. It begins physi-


cally, somewhere between throwing on a cheap wig and smoking another cigarette, something happens where you are injected with the charac-

asculinity dictated my childhood and

teristics of said mask. Impassioned with this reve-

contradicted my adolescence, and now, as I enter

lation, I became Demi Gorgon; a living, breathing

the gender miasma of young adulthood, the bina-

‘F*ck you’ to any memory of masculine normalcy

ry spirit of manhood has begun to diffuse within

I had retained. Now, I had gone against the algo-

a body fed on glitter and rainbows. My childhood

rithm that was dictated by the world around me.

stands as one no different from many other queer

Lost in the noisy glamour of clubs, but with bright

men, I’m sure. There were limitations with cloth-

hair and sequin armour; I felt invincible.

ing, toys and behaviour. To this day, I consider

In a place like Cardiff, where drag is paved by

the cliché of how different my childhood would

a history of cabaret and pantomime, it can prove

have been had I interacted with a Barbie instead of

difficult to break a mould decided by glitzy fore-

an Action Man. Such reflections awaken me from

bearers. My desire became to express an uncon-

slumber at some god-forsaken hour, riddled with

ventional face of the art form, one which isn’t

guilt over a boyhood deprived of pretty things.

afraid to expose the fact that you’re a man in heels,




where you’re able to grace the stage with body hair, ripped tights and an untucked penis. Fortunately, a masculine edge proves exciting to audiences in a culture which is slowly uplifting the talents of alternative queens and drag kings. That’s what they call you when you don’t shave: ‘alternative’. Despite the applause for cutting humour, and all-around grotesquery, the crowds didn’t care about the boy behind the drag, I knew that much. They were just seeking the thrills of a crude act to entice their imaginations of what was possible. And, as with all successes, time passes and after a while it became apparent that life valued the Demi Gorgon more than Benjamin. I found myself having to escape from a persona I had created, fleeing to nourish a boy I had abandoned for loud nights and free booze. Nowadays, I realise that drag wasn’t bad, but my relationship with drag is what enabled a sour imbalance. Drag offered me permission to interpret my personal journey through the deconstruction of gender, and to understand that femininity doesn’t inhibit masculinity. With the conclusion of my teenage years, a whole new stage of experimentation came to the foreground: everyday androgyny. Within the male form I inhabit, I exaggerate feminine qualities, such as hair, to contrast the parts of myself deemed inherently masculine. The sense of play is what activates my gender identity, exuding an odd equilibrium for the standards of Western society. Manhood has led me to a place of accepting both masculine and feminine energies, akin to the native American term ‘two-spirit’. I’ve embraced a responsibility to cultivate these twin forces. All I can say right now is that I know people in blue places and people in red places; but I’m just floating around in a genderf*ck vortex called purple.


to be addressed with different pronouns, but then I realised that when people referred to me as ‘he’, it felt right, it felt like me. Ever since I was a child, I was much more drawn to characters that were men; until 13, I was convinced that I was Peter Pan! I didn’t know why I identified with this, but it felt


y experience of masculinity is different

more right than me identifying with anything that was a woman. I live in an era that is much more accepting than if I had lived at any other time, for which I’m very lucky.

to cisgender males because, being trans, I’ve had

When I first came out, the ultimate goal was

to fight to be seen as masculine, and for a long

getting testosterone, growing a beard and being a

time I felt like I had to be completely masculine.

man. Now I’m not sure if I want to do that. At the

I wore jeans, t-shirts, polo shirts and denim jack-

moment, I just want to find a way of being comfort-

ets, and tried to fit in with other men as much as I

able with me rather than changing myself. I would

could. But now I’ve realised that I don’t want to be

never judge anyone for transitioning, but for my-

like that, I want to dress however I want, wheth-

self, I just want to work out what I want. It may

er that be wearing heels, makeup, whatever. Be-

come to a point when I want to carry a baby, and

ing masculine isn’t about being big and wanting to

you can’t do that after you’ve reached a certain

protect women. It’s just to do with thinking, “Hey

point of transition. I think I would be happy doing

I’m a man, this is my idea of masculinity”.

that because, yes, I would be a man, I would be a

In the future, if I want to transition further, I will have to pay to seem more masculine, which

father, but I can still carry a baby and I think that is kind of beautiful, it’s kind of lovely.

is a completely different experience to someone

Because of things that have happened to me

who was born into it. However unfair that may be,

before, like dysphoria, not feeling right in myself

I feel that it does give me and every trans man a

and eating disorders, I’ve never felt very comfort-

choice as to whether we want to conform to typ-

able in my own skin. So before I go through these

ical masculinity or if we just want to do our thing

huge physical changes that would happen with

and have fun with it. I also feel like this makes me

transitioning, I just want to learn to chill out and

less judgemental of less gender conforming peo-

be comfortable as I am, which I think I’m getting

ple because it doesn’t matter to me at all. To be a

towards. It’s fun.

man you just have to be a man, to be a woman is

My advice for cisgender people: if you see

the same, you just have to be who you want to be.

someone and, to you, they look like a boy in a

My style is androgynous at the moment; I feel like

dress, you might not be correct, that might be a

that makes me more comfortable in my masculin-

woman or it might not. You need to learn how to

ity than someone who is stressed out about having

throw away your ideas that conform to gender

a small dick or something. I feel like I have power

norms, your ideas that conform to masculinity and

over them because I can do what I want.

learn not to make everything so binary. You need

If I was referred to as ‘she’, or by my birth name,

to learn to accept that some people don’t always

it didn’t sit right. When I started exploring these

conform to your little box of ideas about gender,

feelings, I thought I was gender fluid, so I wanted

because it’s no fun if we’re all the same.


To be a man you just have to be a man


29 The concept of what a man is nowadays is completely toxic compared to what it needs to be, which is just being a human being. Saying you’re a man shouldn’t have to mean that you’re masculine, it should just be saying, ‘This is part of the person I am’. I spend a lot of time changing how I come across to different people because I feel like I have to act more masculine to people that I don’t know, than with my friends and family. My friends know exactly who I am, they know that I’m just a small cuddly person with a really big heart. When I meet people for the first time, it’s almost like there’s an expectation that I have to be someone with a really deep voice, be really aggressive, show no emotion, and sometimes that can really mess with my head. Trying to be a normal person in day-to-day life, I question myself. Am I doing this right? Am I coming

I’m just a small cuddly person with a I really big heart

across as manly to all these other guys? That’s one reason why I hate all men’s sports. Psychologically, it massively affects me having to live up to this masculine stereotype and I’m not the only one. I know a lot of guys in the same boat, who struggle because they don’t fit that standard.

think society’s idea of a man is hugely based

around the idea of masculinity. They assume mas-

culinity is power and strength and all of that, which isn’t good, because then you’re assuming

that every man should adhere to this stereotype of being powerful, strong and big, and that women can’t be, as it’s considered to be a masculine thing. I think that’s what makes masculinity so toxic. So-

ciety is obsessed with the idea, like in magazines with these big-built guys pictured saying, “This is a man, this is what is manly.” It’s implying that every other man should follow in those footsteps and anyone who doesn’t fit into that category feels alone and separated from society.


I think only now we are starting to talk about

because of the way I look. It just shocks me that

this openly. People are starting to notice it; it’s be-

I’m being stereotyped before I’ve even got to know

ing brought up more in media, the concept of toxic

someone. We shouldn’t be doing that. We should

masculinity. It’s getting better, but there’s just not

be accepting of, and revelling in, people’s differ-

as much of a focus on this as there is on other

ences. I love being short, bald and bearded with

things going on in the world. At the moment femi-

a bit of a fancy voice, a bit sassy, because that’s

nism is being talked about a lot, which is great and

how I reflect my personality! I shouldn’t have to be

something we really need to push, because we’re

like, “Grr, f*ck you, I’ll punch you in the face” in

the ones who’ve kept women feeling like they had

a pub. That’s not who I am, but I guess, for some

no power at all. That, again, is to do with the whole

guys, that’s who they are, and that’s what they feel

idea of masculinity, because ‘powerful’ is not what

fits them.

we expect women to be. It’s wrong. Have you ever

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wears

seen a woman give birth? That’s f*cking terrifying!

makeup because that’s my preference. I don’t tell

There’s more power there than me getting a cramp

other guys that they can’t wear makeup because

in my leg or whatever. On social media, the ex-

it’s totally up to them. I throw axes and, yeah, that

pectations for men are starting to be talked about

comes across as a masculine thing, but it’s actually

a bit more, but I think it’s still something a lot of

just something I enjoy doing. I also enjoy watch-

people find difficult to talk to each other about,

ing romcoms whilst wrapped in a blanket with a

especially among guys, because you don’t want to

cup of tea at night-time. I shouldn’t be stuck to

come across as that person who’s weak. As if being

one standard, no one should ever be stuck to one

weak is a bad thing! Because it’s not! But there’s

standard. I grew up playing with both Bratz dolls

still that fear… it’s a very fear-based thing.

and Action Men. I don’t think those things should

Being a man in society, especially doing a sci-

determine how I’m supposed to be later on in life.

ence degree, I am expected to separate my emo-

Why tell your kid he can’t dress like a princess?

tions from my work, particularly if I see anything

It’s just a piece of clothing! What are you worried

being hurt. You’re supposed to get through life and

about? If they’re going to grow up to be a football-

not cry at movies, and the thing is, I’m the biggest

er then they’ll do that by themselves, they don’t

sop I know. I cry at every movie when anything sad

need you to decide that for them.

happens! My best friends are all girls and that’s

I think I wanted to do this because I am sick

because I have no fear of showing emotion around

of the standards I’m held to because of who I am

them, I find it so hard to make friends with other

within society, which is a guy that likes to do sci-

guys because I don’t fit into the masculine stere-

ence and cry at films. I think that’s okay. It’s okay to

otype. Other than physically, anyway, being bald

be whoever you want to be, you should never have

and bearded.

to stick to a hypermasculine lifestyle if it doesn’t

There’s a lot of people I meet, and I talk to, and

make you happy. You should only meet that stand-

they’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t expect your voice to be

ard if that’s how you want to be, not because of

like that.” When I ask what they mean they’ll say, “I

everyone else around you.

was expecting it to be really deep and growly,” just




mulled over the theme of masculinity for

the solo show I have to do for my acting course several times. I definitely wanted to talk about lots of different things. I had a thousand ideas, but masculinity stuck out the most to me. I started doing research into it and, when I began playing with the idea, I got really hooked. I knew I definitely wanted to talk about this. It is a really serious subject, but to me, some aspects of it are quite funny as well. There are loads of dark undertones and serious social issues, but then it is also like men can’t paint their nails, men can’t wear pink. Stuff like that is just really funny to me, all the rules that are involved in “being a man”. I want people to laugh, but at the same time, I want them to reflect on their own behaviour. Hopefully, it will say



anything.” If I have to be dominating and threatening to come across as straight, then I’m happy that people think I’m gay. Call me gay, it’s fine! In first year, when I started dying my hair all sorts of crazy colours, people were asking me why I was doing it, wondering if it was because I was coming out. I was like, no I’m just dying my hair fun colours because I want to. I feel, a lot of the time, if you do something out of the norm, it’s expected to mean something and some sort of big revelation around it is expected. Whereas, in actual fact, you are just doing something because it is fun. I think if more people did that it wouldn’t be such a weird thing for other people to see or be a part of. I do think it’s going to get easier to ignore these

you’re a man and that’s just what men do

rules because there are lots of movements at the moment breaking down the barriers and getting people to be themselves.

to them that some of these ideas aren’t healthy. I

just wanted people to have fun with it, not drag everyone down. I want to make people laugh but

also feel guilty. I want to present the rules and the expectations of what you can and can’t do as a

man, what you’re supposed to do and what’s expected of you. I want to go on stage to challenge things and break those rules. The way I behave, the way I dress, and the way I look isn’t very manly, so people have always char-

acterised me like that. Other men don’t see me as a threat. Whenever I meet new people, at some point they say, ‘“Oh, I thought you were gay, I’m sorry.” I’m not offended if they thought I was gay, it’s not a problem and it isn’t a bad thing. I ask why they thought I was gay, and they say, “Well, you’re just so nice”. It’s hilarious! They’re like, “You’re really nice, not at all dominating or threatening or


I think I’m pretty lucky being surrounded by

an unbeatable force all on your own because

the people on my course. The thing about my act-

you’re a man and that’s just what men do. They

ing course is that most of us don’t give a damn. We

sort things out on their own. I think that’s bullsh*t.

are pretty carefree towards the unwritten rules of

The idea that anyone should have to suffer just be-

what men are allowed to do. I find the most honest

cause of who they are is crazy. Anyone can talk,

and open people when talking about manly top-

you just have to make sure you talk to the right

ics are gay people. They’re the ones I can have the

people. If someone judges you because you’re a

most honest and open conversation with about

man and you’re opening up, then they’re an out-

how they’re feeling, what they’ve been through and

dated moron who doesn’t deserve to witness your

what it’s like at the moment to be a man. When

immense bravery. The main method to combat this

it comes to the social norms that we have, guys

issue is to dispel the idea that men shouldn’t talk

buying drinks and holding doors open for girls, I

about feelings. Neither men nor women are better

don’t really know where I sit on those arguments.

at conveying how they feel, everyone has the po-

Is it patronising? Is it belittling? Or is it manners? I

tential and ability, it’s just whether you feel safe

guess it all depends on the motivation behind the

enough to do so. Whether or not you feel you’re

action on the man’s part. If a man is buying you

allowed to. Find the right people and you can say

a drink just to sleep with you then he’s not a nice

whatever you want, free of judgement and per-

guy, he doesn’t have good intentions, whereas if a

secution. Gender shouldn’t be a prison. It is re-

guy is just holding a door open for you, he might

ally important to ignore the rules and just think

just be holding a door open.

about yourself.

My feeling is that men’s mental health is not

I’m a massive believer in doing things for the

taken seriously. I think it comes with the stigma of

joy of it. If you ever feel the shadow of masculinity

what it is to be a man and that masculinity means

looming over you whilst you’re having a bath with

that you shouldn’t have emotions. If you are un-

a moisturising, pink bath bomb from Lush, just put

happy, you need to speak out. There are no social

more cucumber on your eyelids and block it out.

restrictions that should stop you from being hap-

Societal rules shouldn’t dictate what you can and

py. I don’t think rules, especially unwritten rules

can’t do. Only you can do that. It’s understanda-

with regards to being a man, should stop you from

ble that people are going to judge you because

doing anything at all. Especially talking about how

you’re breaking the norms. You’re intimidating

crappy you feel. Male suicide is such an incredibly

and frightening them, that’s all. Which is packed

sensitive and important issue at the moment. I’m

full of irony, really.

sure it has always been a massive problem, but it only seems to be recently that people have started talking about it or have even been allowed to start the conversation. It feels like, due to the immense restrictions surrounding being allowed to talk about emotions and how you feel as a man, it creates an inescapable prison. You’re trapped fighting


school were girls, apart from a very few select guy friends. I was very much the guy who hung out with the girls, which has paid dividends in later life because I can now be more understanding of girl-


friends and female friends. I think it causes a lot of problems for guys because they don’t feel like they can be themselves, guess the stereotypical image of men would

and that in itself causes massively deep-rooted

still be the Chris Hemsworth or the chiselled, fairly

problems in people. As I’ve got a little bit older,

strong, man. I think ‘man’ is, I hate to say it but,

gone past being a teenager, I’ve pulled myself out

robust, tough. I think that is already on the road

of that mental health threat. Part of it was just be-

to change. I’m kind of a paradox, part of me be-

ing who I am and trying to be me, genuinely, every

lieves that men should be men, but at the same

day. Sometimes though, you need to learn to curb

time, I believe that men should be able to express

your emotions a little bit. Men can have the poten-

their emotions and, for god’s sake, cry of all things.

tial to be very angry people, so it’s finding that bal-

Otherwise, you’re just suppressing a basic human

ance between curbing negative emotion but being

emotion. In years to come, I think it will change.

able to express that negative emotion in a healthier

I think we’re taking very good steps towards that.

way. I think a lot of guys struggle with that because

The Mental Health Awareness Day that hap-

it’s either nothing or it’s everything. Then you get

pens every year, and the thing that’s been going

these massive explosions of frustration, angst and

around on social media with “it’s okay not to be

anger, and it’s really unhealthy.

okay”. It’s small steps, but it takes generations. I

The male suicide rate speaks volumes. It’s

think toxic masculinity causes a lot of problems

because they don’t have the opportunity to talk

in the male population. Handshakes, that’s where

about it. I feel like a lot of guys struggle, become

my old-school mentality kicks in. It’s all about a

depressed, become uncertain and insecure, be-

firm handshake. It’s little things like that with men.

cause of this lad culture. Men need to learn to be

It’s almost an insecurity shield, “I am totally calm,

more empathetic. I’ve always been someone who’s

confident and a man, so here’s my firm handshake.”

had people come to them. I’ve always sat, listened

Realistically, most of it is an act.

and helped them. I think men are afraid to talk

I struggled a lot as a teenager because mascu-

about it with other men. It’s a social thing more

linity was a problem for me. I’m typically masculine

than anything. You can provide as many helplines,

in my hobbies, but not in my personality. Coming

talk services and suicide prevention charities,

to terms with being a fairly emotional guy was ac-

but it doesn’t change until the generational ide-

tually quite a challenge. I suffered from insomnia

als change. You know in time things will change

and depression from 15 through to 18. Insomnia

but it’s frustrating, especially for me as a teenager,

mainly, depression on the side. I think a lot of it

because it isn’t changing fast enough. The stigma

was caused by me not being able to find my feet in

needs to be broken. I’ve had friends who have gone

my own emotions, so I’d take everything very per-

to very dark places and I have gone to some dark

sonally. I’d struggle socially because I struggled to

places as well. It’s horrible that men get pushed to

get on with guys. All my friends during secondary

such levels. It breaks your heart.


it’s either nothing or it’s everything




hroughout my early teens, my own gen-

der was a blurred and confusing concept. I found it difficult to sit with anything on the spectrum for a while. So, to try and make it easier for the people around me and myself, I identified as gender fluid for a short time. This took the weight off being confused and stressed about my own self-identity, but after half a year things still didn’t sit right. I remember seeing trans men, reading their stories online about when they first realised they were trans, and I realised that I was feeling almost exactly the same as they were. Some came out slowly, making the gradual shift to the ‘other end’ of the spectrum, and I thought to myself that, if I shifted more towards identifying as a man, that it would ease the dysphoria and discomfort that I was feeling. Over time, I realised that it was the right thing to do. Something clicked in my mind and body and suddenly it felt like that jigsaw piece just slotted into the right place. For me, it was puberty and all the bits that came with living in a biologically female body which made me realise that I didn’t feel right being a woman. I was an early developer and I remember being praised for it, cheered on, whilst I absolutely despised it. I wasn’t excited to go through all these changes. I felt all this discomfort so early, for so long, and it messed my head up, more than a cisgender woman would as they learned to embrace it. To be honest, years before I could even understand questioning my own gender identity, and although I didn’t know what I was, I felt uncomfortable being called a ‘woman’, ‘girl’, or ‘young lady’, and now I know why.

it felt like that jigsaw piece just slotted into the right place


I think society’s portrayal of a stereotypical

called anything else makes me extremely uncom-

man is gruff and hyper-masculine. Being trans and

fortable. I’m comfortable being called a trans man

coming out from such an early age, I was influ-

when being addressed in reference to trans peo-

enced by that quite a bit. I remember when I first

ple, but I shouldn’t be seen as just transgender.

came out, I became hyper-masculine. I got into

Yes, it’s a big part of my identity, I’m transitioning

some unhealthy ideas about men and how they’re

as I wasn’t assigned male at birth, but being trans

expected to act in society. I adopted masculine

isn’t everything about me. I am a man regardless of

traits like ‘manspreading’; sitting down with your

body parts or my background and that’s it.

legs wide open, just trying to prove a point. For

I think, to a certain extent, toxic masculini-

trans people, I think gender ideals are hard to get

ty and societal expectations of masculinity are

your head around because it’s such a big part of

things I feel able to talk about. Men tend to open

your identity. I wanted to be seen as a man, and to

up around me a bit more because they either see

be seen as a man you have to adapt to these stand-

me as someone on the same level as them, or as

ards. I think it has affected me from a young age,

someone who’s a bit more open. Some men just

and I think that’s why representation is important.

need to be around an empathetic person. Lots of

I’m seeing a lot more things nowadays that say it’s

people need that push because it’s not seen as

okay for men to cry, as well as raised awareness

manly to be emotional. I think if expectations go

for male suicide rates. I think it’s all very important

down a bit, men will feel more able to share, they

because it shows that men can be emotional too.

won’t feel the need to appear so macho and tell

I think there are emotional challenges men

one another to ‘man up’.

face; not being able to express things properly,

My own personal safety is a big worry, as sadly

not being able to cry in certain situations, people

there are still transphobic people in life. Every sin-

telling you to “man up, grab your balls and move

gle day I worry what kind of people I’ll come into

on”. Growing up as a trans guy meant that I felt I

contact with and how they’ll act around me, simply

needed to suppress my emotions. I’m one of the

because they could find out I’m trans, as I feel that

most emotional people you could possibly meet,

I still don’t pass for a man straight off. Passing is a

if there’s a sad advert on TV I’ll burst into tears, or

massive issue in the trans community, and it’s be-

if someone says something a bit sad, I’ll start sob-

come an obsessive worry, as we don’t want people

bing uncontrollably. I think having to suppress that

to know we’re trans because, more often than not,

healthy emotional side, especially when you’re a

people knowing can be dangerous.

teenager, is really very bad. For trans men, I think

The borders of masculinity are becoming more

it’s hard because there’s this expectation to prove

blurred today, as there are more role models, influ-

to people that you’re enough of a man, which

encers and open-minded people in the world, and

is bullsh*t. I think people are becoming more

thank f*ck for that. The era of toxic masculinity

open-minded, though, and beating the stigma.

needs to end. The important lesson to take away is

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve come to

your masculinity is defined by you, and you alone.

terms with myself, but I have found where I sit on

If there’s something you connect and vibe with,

the gender spectrum and I’m happy. I have felt this

take it and own it. You are your own person and

for over five years and will continue to feel it for as

you define yourself. Don’t force yourself into a box

long as I live. I want to be seen as a man and being

that other people have created for you.




o be a man is complicated nowadays,

Male suicide is a difficult topic. We are obvi-

mainly due to the fact that we are experiencing a

ously missing something about understanding how

time when there is so much change happening. Be-

men cope with pressure and unexpected issues

ing a man in the past, it was a general thing. Men

that face us in life, whether that’s to do with feeling

went to work, men did all the typically masculine

a sense of failure about something, or being una-

things. Whereas nowadays, because of equality

ble to express who we think we really are, which

and more openness towards different ways of life,

is something I struggled with growing up. I guess I

it opens up different genres of what men can be.

can only speak of my own experiences, but I know

I grew up in a traditional way, so there are things

I’ve always been that person who’s very good at

that I think I should do as a man: be a gentleman,

giving advice but reluctant to take it myself. Maybe

respect people and have manners. I had an amaz-

that’s due to my opinion that I shouldn’t put the

ing upbringing, but the values and concepts and

burden of my own personal issues on anyone else.

ideas were conservative. My dad being Italian, they

I’ve always felt that I would never want anyone to

I am still reluctant to tell people how I really feel

feel as close to rock bottom as I have. If I’m not making someone else’s life better every day, then what’s the point in living? It could be anything from a smile to just a general chat, but doing something positive gives both you and the recipient something to remember. You don’t know what anyone is

are very traditional, men do one thing and wom-

en do the other, and that’s accepted there. I think

there are so many different aspects of being a man; where I fall into some, others fall into dif-

going through, so why is everyone not just kinder

ferent ones, it’s a collective of things. Anyone who

to each other? We need to bring back empathy. I

disrespects another person, whether they’re male,

am still reluctant to tell people how I really feel

female, whoever they are, no matter where they

because I don’t know what they’re going through,

come from, no matter who they are, they should

so why should I burden them with my problems

be held to account. We are all people and should

too? That, I expect, is one of the main reasons for

know better. We all have access to the knowledge

male suicide.

of what is right and what is wrong. Especially in the

Anyone who experiences that kind of rock bot-

world today. With social media, you have access

tom is having issues that no one else can really

to every type of perception that there is, so you

comprehend. Whether it’s that they’re gay and they

should be able to make a logical decision about

hate the fact that this is who they are, which was

what is acceptable and what is not.

the case for me. I really hated it for years. Now, I accept it and live with it, but I still struggle. It


was right from the start of secondary school, when

a thatched-cottage village, with both very rich and

you realise that you’re not quite who you think you

very poor, it was not the place to be a gay teenager.

should be, or act quite like how other people do.

Therefore, I hid it for years because I loved and

The problem I had was that my parents owned a

was loved by everyone in that village. I thought if

pub and had quite a big presence socially due to

people knew, it would be a totally different sto-

their success and reputation. I felt I had to match

ry. People grow up with different backgrounds,

that, and still do. All of my life, I’ve been inspired

so I’m not resentful of people that don’t approve

by their kindness and resilience through times of

of homosexuality, because it’s just how they were

hardship, so upon realising who I was, it felt like

brought up. Although it annoys me greatly, I’m not

a total sink in the stomach. I hated the fact that I

the type of person to get into an argument about it,

was gay. For years, I was in denial, or not so much

because there’s still a part of me that wishes I was

denial but more ashamed about it, because I en-

straight. My main issue with my sexuality was how

joyed the life I had, or thought I had. Growing up in

I was perceived by people. I wanted to maintain the relationship I had with everyone, including my parents and family, so to effectively come out, or be ‘outed’ as I was, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had happen to me. It’s liberating yet incredibly uncertain, it’s like I started a completely new chapter, but one that I’m so happy now to be living. Whether my feelings during that time could have turned into something worse, made me feel so bad that I wanted to kill myself, I don’t know. I had people around me that supported me through it, but there are a lot of people who don’t have that. They go into this downward spiral that they can’t get out of. It’s all about support really. It all comes down to people, not necessarily talking about it, but knowing they can talk about it. People have just got to be nicer to each other.




asculinity is strength, knowing your-

self, responsibility and care. It’s also an indescribable feeling in my shoulders, chest and hips. It’s also about being cool and smooth. Maybe, in a way, it’s also about enforcing a healthy amount of distance. To me at least. Although, if the distance is done in excess, it can be toxic, and that distance can cause unhealthy isolation, and with that, anxiety. So, finally, I guess masculinity is a see-saw of trivial fun and emotional weight to be wary of, I guess? But as a genderfluid person, one could say things are always in a see-saw state for me. I think I am masculine, my internal dialogue is often, if not mostly, masculine. In terms of gender expression, most would contest I am not masculine at all. I’m a curvaceous, long-haired, woman-passing person who doesn’t hesitate from donning


I think a lot of people would like it if I were more ‘conventionally masculine’, so it would be easier to explain me to their friends, or just strangers in general. Many people, friends and not friends, have said this to my face, not realising how drenched in painful naivety that is. But, at the end of the day, you have to get over that knee-to-the-gut feeling it gives you and forgive them, because it’s just that; naivety. I’ve been out as genderfluid for almost eight years now, but I think I am still dipping my toes into the idea of being more masculine in the open. Internalised transphobia is definitely a factor, of

it’s just that; naivety.

course. I’m also a criminology nerd, which has left me overly aware of the statistics of hate-killings against the trans community, which scares me

makeup and long, form-fitting skirts. I also have a defence mechanism of getting very feminine when nervous which, much to my frustration, is often. Many argue these factors reduce my masculinity, and I guess it does cause confusion in some social contexts, but I don’t think any sort of material product should have any power over my masculinity, that just seems so fragile and stupid to me. When I catch myself in the mirror, dressed up all pretty and femme, or just hanging out in my bedroom shirtless, I feel at my most masculine, because if I can still naturally think, ‘Hey there handsome fella’ whilst in those states, regardless of how other people would label me, surely that shows just how secure I am in my masculinity, no?


sh*tless. Despite this, I know I am masculine, so I

think I confuse people, because I think a lot of

don’t see why I should rush myself for the comfort

people equate masculinity with those who perform

of others. Though to go back to the theme of the

sudden unwanted machismo, and I simply don’t

greater public, I don’t think cisgender people un-

believe in that. I love being masculine, may it be for

derstand how much of an intense lesson in gender

seven days or seven minutes. In a way, I think being

theory growing up trans is. You learn so much of

genderfluid has given me so much agency that I

the weight and gifts of each gender, you have to

would not have found had I been forced to pretend

spend your whole life unpacking that and trying to

to be a cis person following the rules of the gender

decide which morals you are going to align your-

binary. If I lived in a world where this word wasn’t

self with. It’s constant mental gymnastics, and we

available for me, I’d be in such a rut. It’s given me

all deserve more naps.

a great third person perspective on how men and

I can only speak from my own experiences, but

women act, yet I can still strongly empathise and

I have grown up seeing a lot of men and boys col-

participate in it whenever I feel like it, which has

lapse under the pressure of masculinity, and sub-

proved to be very useful. I think I definitely still

sequently become cruel because of it. I have also

fall into the trap of caring too much. I think, when

seen a lot of women fall victim to such men, which

you’re raised as a woman, you’re expected to take

led me to receive a lot of cautionary tales from

care of everyone and perform endless emotional

scorned women. These tales were usually a mix of

labour at your own expense. However, my mascu-

scary, but good, advice on how to be safe whilst

linity allows me to take a step away from that. Of

navigating the world as someone born female (i.e.

course, my femininity also teaches me what mas-

don’t walk home at night alone and, if you do, have

culinity couldn’t, like how to love my emotions.

carry your keys between your fists like knives), but

Life is too short to not exclaim in glee when some-

which also sometimes contained a lot of bitterness

thing brings me joy, even if it’s ‘trivial’! Anyway, I

and emasculation (i.e. men only think with their

am so grateful, I love my gender. Even if people

dicks). So, from an early age, I had to mentally un-

don’t “get it” and can be painfully naive, it’s mine, I

pack masculinity and make conscious decisions as

know I’m not making it up, and I love it.

to which traits I had to be wary of.

I guess what I would add is a message to all

This all meant that when I finally came to the

transmasculine folk; don’t shudder from your

realisation of my gender, I felt no need to enforce

feminine experience growing up. You can learn so

my masculinity other than choosing a more mas-

much from what you’ve been told, especially the

culine name and informing people I will be using

lessons you reject. And a message to all those who

him/his pronouns from now on. I was already so

reject or refuse to see my masculinity; that’s your

well versed in masculinity’s potential toxicity and

problem, not mine. I will be over here chilling and

its after effects that I made every effort to not be

enjoying being me.

part of that group of “bad men”. Which is why I

RIVER O.B custody thing and that often men don’t generally get custody if a marriage fails, but hopefully it


never gets that far for me. It also worries me that often men don’t speak out. I don’t talk about having had really bad dethink we are pressured into calling ourselves

pression in my mid-late teens, to even the closest

men. I would call myself a man and I’ve always told

of my friends. I didn’t want to burden them, but

myself that I do all these manly things. Until I start-

I’d hate to think that if one of my friends felt like

ed university, I didn’t realise how weird that con-

that they hadn’t been able to speak to me about

cept is, because now that I’ve stopped playing con-

it. I would feel I had let them down as a friend,

tact rugby, I’ve started doing cheerleading and I’m

and yet I still don’t ask them, it just isn’t the ‘done’

an actor as well. I’m not a stereotypical man. What

thing. I think most people now know the “78% of

it means to be a man is a very broad question. It’s

suicides are men” fact. I think that if people don’t

difficult to answer succinctly.

open up about it, we tend to follow suit and be

I definitely think that cheerleading wasn’t ac-

quiet about how we are feeling too. I hardly ever

cessible to me when I was younger. I didn’t even

speak about my feelings because I don’t want to

know we had cheerleading in the UK. And men do-

bore or worry people, or have them think that I’m

ing cheer? Out of the question. On the other hand,

not as strong, but that is such a bad mindset to

I did a lot of acting from a very young age and I’ve

have. I still can’t believe the biggest killer in men

always been a drama queen, so I didn’t miss out on

under 45 is suicide.

that. It is possible that because I wanted to do it, I

I just hope that everyone can learn to live and

found the time to do it; whereas I won’t ever know

love each other for whoever they are. It’s wrong

whether I wanted to be a cheerleader when I was

to misgender people, I have done it before and

younger. I only became aware of cheer through a

I felt awful. We all need to have in the backs of

friend and then went to a social and thought, “Sod

our minds that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions

it, I’ll have a go.” Lucky really.

when we meet a new person with regards to what

I know that toxic masculinity exists, but I don’t

they would like to be called. I think that hate will

know what it is exactly, which is maybe why we

decrease and peoples’ minds will be broadened.

don’t really know how to conquer it at the moment.

Some motivational speaker said, “In some ways, I

In the university rugby team, there is so much tes-

wish with all the bad stuff going on that I didn’t live

tosterone knocking around the changing rooms

here, but where would I be?” We live in a world full

and on socials that it could easily put people off,

of opportunities, with growing technology and the

or make them feel small or insignificant. For sure,

ability to spread communication to every corner

I’ve felt pressure to be a man. The rugby culture is

of the world. We will do so much more than ever

all to do with getting drunk and talking about girls.

thought possible and it would be a waste to give

We don’t chat about normal things. It’s kind of a

up on everything now. We are incredible people

shallow spectrum of communication and relation-

and incredible humans. But we all need help with

ships. But it would be so weird to not have that

everything; relationships, communication, support,

relationship with the rugby team in my life.

that’s what being human is. We are all the same,

As a man, one of my biggest worries is if I have

lucky to be doing everything we get to do. Being a

a child. I hope that I get the chance to down the

man, woman or whoever you want to be, you are

line but then, deep-down, I do think of the whole

very lucky.




guess the story of my relationship with gen-

der is unlike most people’s. I was assigned female at birth, but I identify as non-binary, which means I’m not female or male. I have struggled so much with understanding my gender and being comfortable with it, especially since I came out. When I was younger I liked Playmobile and Polly Pockets, but I was also obsessed with dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt. Toys don’t define your gender, but it helped me work out that something was different. In primary school, I didn’t really have that many friends. I didn’t relate to the girls or the boys. I got bullied for being different and I didn’t understand that, because I was just trying to be myself, even though I didn’t know what I was. One of my clearest memories of primary school was when we were making printing blocks out of cardboard and string. Everyone paired with their friends, but I didn’t have a friend at the time, so I worked with a boy. Other kids were laughing at us, saying we were dating. Truth be told, I felt


the most comfortable doing the project with him.

of progress we are making, such as my mum call-

We were both very artistic, we worked well togeth-

ing me Tabby instead of my birth name. I guess I

er and our prints turned out great. Rather than it

also struggle with people taking me seriously when

being a girl and boy sat together, I saw us more as

I say I’m non-binary. I’m very used to ignoring it

equal. It felt better than working with any of the

when people use the wrong pronouns and name

girls in the class.

for me, but I should be correcting them because

In sixth form we had a uniform. I preferred

my gender and identity are important to me.

wearing the suit uniform rather than a kilt but some

I’ve faced quite a bit of hate for being non-bi-

days I’d still wear my kilt. One person said to me,

nary. I received the usual words: tranny, dyke, fag-

“I know what you are and I’m proud of you”. I think

got. I got called most of these when I was figuring

they assumed I was female-to-male transgender,

out who I was, and that set me back for a while. I

so I tried identifying as female-to-male transgen-

was researching all this gender stuff and then I’d

der for a while. I thought, maybe they’re right, may-

get called these things and I’d think, “Wait, is what

be I am, but it still didn’t feel right. Forcing myself

I’m doing wrong? Am I wrong?”

into a binary box made me miserable. I would rather be non-binary and happy.

I remember when I got my first chest binder. I put it on, looked in the mirror and cried with

The thing I have struggled with most since

joy because it felt so right. It was just the start of

coming out is my relationship with my family. They

figuring out my gender, but it was a huge step in

still love me as their child, but they aren’t very ac-

the right direction. The next few years were rough

cepting of my gender. It is frustrating, but I know

as I faced a backlash from people online, and by

it’ll take time, and I’m happy with the small steps

some people I knew. Non-binary was very new to


I have struggled so much with understanding my gender everyone (it still is), so I was accused of making

things up for attention. Nowadays, a lot more people are accepting. I’m blessed to have wonderful

friends that respect my pronouns, and even some family members too! It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better than how it was a few years ago. I can now say I’m the most comfortable with my gender that I have ever been. I used to just wear masculine clothing because no-one was taking my gender seriously, but I think I’ve reached a point where I wear what I want because my clothes don’t define me. I have feminine and masculine days, but I’m always non-binary. I completely understand that gender differences are difficult to wrap your head around if you don’t experience it yourself, but it does exist! I’m living proof! I don’t mind too much if people don’t understand my gender, but they do need to respect my name and pronouns. I think the best thing to do is to show respect. Just treat us like normal people, because that’s what we are!



hat does it mean to be a man? To be

little things in my life. I can sometimes get insecure

honest, that is an excellent question. I think tradi-

about what people think about me, which doesn’t

tionally to be a man is to be strong, to take care

fit the male personality stereotype. I’ve never really

of people. Certainly in a family aspect, you need

felt that I live up to that stereotype, but growing up

to be seen as the breadwinner. You are the top

I’ve learned that it’s okay not to.

dog. But today things are changing a little bit. It

Toxic masculinity is such a big issue. I’ve got

is becoming okay to not be the manly stereotype

mates who play rugby, I know what they get up to

that we once had to be. To be a man today is very

when they’re not playing and it’s the stereotypical

different than it used to be. A lot of the time, I’ve

lad culture. It can be a bit intimidating sometimes.

experienced not living up to what I think it is to

I think toxic masculinity still exists because people

be a man. I’ve never really been the stereotypical

didn’t speak out against it. It’s dangerous because

manly guy. I’ve never been physically strong, or

it forces men to feel that they need to fit the male

muscly, even though I’m tall. I’ve never been into

stereotype when in reality we don’t need to, and it

manly things. In terms of my personality and male

could make men pretend to be someone they’re

stereotypes, I tend to approach everything with

not. I think it’s important we hold each other to

caution. I also worry and overthink a lot about the

account with lad culture and sexual assault too.


If you surround yourself with people who always

it’s okay to talk. I think men are more prone to

agree with you and say yes to whatever you’re do-

suicide because at least from what I’ve experi-

ing, you’re never going to grow or improve. You’ll

enced, we rarely talk about our deeper thoughts

repeat the same toxic actions and cycles. I think

and feelings. It then makes opening up more diffi-

we need to be more open about who we are. We

cult because we don’t know how people will react,

don’t need to play into these masculinity stereo-

whether they will react in a positive way or not.

types anymore. We need to be more inclusive of

When we don’t open up, our thoughts and feelings

all types of men. I think the fact I’m doing this in-

stay deep down, we don’t deal with our problems,

terview is a testament to how we are realising the

which can in the worst cases lead to suicide. It’s

toxic nature of masculinity.

very easy to say you need to talk to someone, but

I think male suicide is our biggest challenge

it’s so hard to open up. I’m contradicting myself

because we aren’t opening up. From personal ex-

now, because if we get more people talking it’ll

perience, it’s really hard to open up about these

make it easier to open up about it. We just need to

feelings. As a man, you’re told be strong and keep

be persistent. Make sure we are all talking about

a brave face. I think we need education on what

our feelings and are open to others talking to us

help there is out there and to let men know that

about it.



t is the connotation of the word male that’s

the problem at the moment. I’ve never really agreed with a lot of the stuff men do. It is hard fitting into that group, but also there are so many good people on that side as well. I feel uncomfortable relating men to someone like Donald Trump. He is the antithesis of a person. Everything that is wrong with any person can be exemplified in him, but it is not rare that it is a man that is the problem. Saying I am a man is a bit odd. It’s not the first thing that I jump to unless I’m filling in a legal document. The idea of masculinity is super poisonous. When you are told you are a man, a lot of the time you have to aspire to be a certain thing. It is the same for women. This whole idea of two binary, sh*tty, gender stereotypes. You always have to try to ascribe to something and then you are disappointed when you do not live up to it. I feel


I always feel like I fall short of the mark.

like I am very anxious and shy and not very forth-

of men just love that kind of thing; men in power

right. There’s that horrible machismo thing where

taking it back to the good old days, which didn’t

you have to stand up to people and shout and all

really exist. I feel like I get left out but, when I think

that. I always feel like I fall short of the mark. You

about it, I’m perfectly fine with being left out from

have to be in charge, in control, you have to know

that group of people. Often, I feel left out of jokes

what’s going on at all times. It’s very strange. The

and when I get the jokes, I don’t want to because

times are changing for the better, but I feel like a

they’re kind of disgusting. I feel left behind a lot

lot of people are stuck in the 50’s and 60’s with the

when it comes to masculinity and men, especial-

‘breadwinner’ role and all that. I don’t know if mas-

ly if you look at popular culture and all the mus-

culinity should be anything. It’s such an outdated

cle-bound men. For me, the comparisons started

concept. It’s all about bravery and standing up for

at around 10 years old, which is disturbingly young

what you believe in, but women do that constantly.

to be upset with who you are as a person. It’s really

It’s not a binary thing.

weird getting left out of something you don’t agree

I went to school with a lot of people who are

with. You should stick to your morals and that’s

big in the EDL scene at the moment. I’m from the

great, but then you are kind of left on your own.

countryside, which is either super hippy and pro-

Thankfully, I’ve met a lot of people who feel the

gressive, or far-right and terrifying. I feel like a lot

same, who have a moral compass.



y relationship with gender has always

those who do not conform to the cisgender, binary

been a complex one. Luckily, as a child, I was nev-

ideals. Any trans/GNC person who is growing up

er made to conform to the gendered stereotypes

in present day society would know, it’s impossible

that are often forced on us, the pink and the blue,

not to internalise at least some of the transphobic

instead my parents allowed me to explore and ex-

messages that western culture and media feed us,

periment however I pleased, and this helped me

and this is what leads to internalised transphobia.

discover and come to terms with being non-bina-

These feelings and thoughts really tried to

ry. Although I am so lucky to have the continuous

force me to suppress my gendered feelings and

support of my parents, I think, in a way, not having

attempted to make me conform to the binary of

the gendered constraints that many other kids had,

either boy or girl. The feelings tried to strip me of

I came upon my time of self-discovery quite late.

my gender fluidity and force me to pick one, as

I had no concepts to base my gendered questions

society often tells us to. For some, this is a possi-

off, and this led to me searching in the dark for

bility; for me, it was not.

a couple of years. I experimented with presenting

I have always felt as though my concept of

myself with overly masculine traits, but I was in-

gender has been flawed. It’s always just a step too

creasingly uncomfortable. I then made an attempt

far away for me to grasp and so, after many years

at presenting overly feminine traits, but that too

of attempting to understand it, I just gave up and

caused me discomfort. Eventually, I found a type

became happy with not knowing. This, in itself,

of ambiguity to my expression. After growing up

helped me realise that it’s okay to view my gender

fixated on the way I appeared to other people, I

as fluid, as something that is always changing, or

adopted a strange coping strategy that was heavily

that doesn’t always exist. This experience is some-

intertwined with my gender. As I often feel discom-

what unique and although people may not com-

fort from being perceived as female in public, the

pletely understand it, it is mine, and that makes it

way I try to combat it is by meticulously planning

true, and authentic.

my outfits so as to attempt to force others to perceive me as something other than a binary gender. It’s a strange obsession that I have only seen in other trans/gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals. Personally, I think of it as a safety net. If I make myself appear alternative or ‘dressed up’, the people looking will perceive me as something other than ‘normal’, and for me, this confirms my ambiguous gender. As problematic as this is, it provides me with some form of comfort. Unfortunately,




the way I present is only one of many symptoms caused by internalised transphobia. Although it does grant me some escape, it all comes down to a similar issue; the negative view society has on

I found a type of ambiguity to my expression.




Harry Bishop

Enrico Artuso



Lexi Goodland

Lucy Sarjeant



Madi Pringle

Danielle Goodland



Alice Cass

Mikki Choy



Allie Guy


Josephine Walbank

Lily Kadera Harri McLady Katie McVey Kira Taylor


Abbi Whitney Fran Northcott

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Voices Volume Seven — Gender