Student remains positive during journey to become a non-binary trans person

Beck Paterson is transitioning.

Unlike male-to-female or female-to-male transitions that make the news, Paterson is going through a “non-binary transition.” This term describes a gender identity that doesn’t fit within the more widely known binary model that classifies people into one of two genders.

Information on non-binary transitions is difficult to find, as it is not considered the “norm” for transgender transitions or identities – something Paterson is very aware of.

Paterson, who prefers the plural pronoun “they” as a descriptor, understands this can be a difficult concept for people to grasp, which causes some to react negatively.

“It’s one thing to say I am binary transitioning and it’s a whole other thing to say I am non-binary transitioning, because nobody understands it. People understand enough about binary transitioning, like okay, you want to be a girl and you were raised a boy, but people don’t understand that there is a middle ground.

“The way that I like to explain it to people,” Paterson continues, “is that if you were to introduce yourself with the wrong name, like purposefully with the wrong name, it kind of feels awkward in your mouth when you say it out loud, and that is kind of how I felt about myself for my whole life.”

Paterson, now 22, has always felt as if there was something disconnected about their life, but it wasn’t until a friend came out to Paterson as gender-queer, meaning a person who does not subscribe to typical gender stereotypes, that they truly began to think critically about their situation. That was more than four years ago.

“I did it very gradually, so I was really sure when I took the next step, like, yeah this is what I want.”

The person that stands before the world today is confident in themselves with a sharp smile and a quick wit and is positive about the future, but getting to this point wasn’t easy. It was a process, and that process began with filling in the people they trusted.

Paterson’s confidence has greatly improved since coming out to friends and family, as they are finally living as their true self. Photo courtesy of Facebook Paterson’s first step was to come out to friends, who have always been a great support system for them. From there, coming out to family and then on social media were the steps that made the most sense. For Paterson, changing names from their birth name to the name Beck was a big step.

Negativity was expected, but they chose to surround themselves with positive people, and focus on those they knew would support them. Eventually, coming out across the board was the next logical step.

“I just felt that it was easier to have people react negatively than people not know and continually mis-gender and mis-name me.”

Paterson says that although they still experience mis-gendering and mis-naming, the understanding that this is a transition for others as well is important to them.

James Demers, executive director of the Fairy Tales Presentation Society, knows well the process of transitioning. Demers began his transition about seven years ago in Alberta and now advises other trans people regarding the proper medical practices involved.

But Demers would like to see a shift in the media exposure of trans people. He believes trans people should be able to talk about their lives on a personal level and not feel obligated to talk about the medical procedures, adding that these personal matters should remain private.

Though Paterson is comfortable talking about the medical procedures involved with being trans, their priority is stressing the importance of these processes in becoming comfortable with who they are.

“The biggest thing for me right now is that I am much more comfortable day-to-day. I don’t have to worry about someone’s perception of me,” Paterson says. While the physical transformation is important to Paterson’s transition, the journey will be a long one.

“I am at the very beginning of the process of the medical stuff. The waitlist is up to 20 months long to get in to see the psychiatrist to get on the list for everything else, so that’s hard to think about, but hard not to think about,” Paterson says.

One of the common misconceptions of transitions is that they are quick, and current media coverage of the issue is adding to that stereotype. Melanie Carroll, a relationships, identity and sex programmer at the Pride Centre at Mount Royal University, knows this to be the case.

“For most people the process of transitioning is many years – five to 10 years – and so representations like Caitlyn Jenner make it hard for the public to understand what is really involved,” Carroll says, referring to the seemingly quick transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner.

Katie Wotherspoon, one of the main members of Paterson’s support system, has always made sure making Paterson comfortable in their skin was a priority. Photo courtesy of FacebookFor Paterson, the issue becomes about resources, or a lack thereof. Someone like Jenner, a former Olympian and TV personality, has a seemingly unlimited amount of money and resources at her disposal, while other trans individuals cannot say the same.

“On one hand it is nice to see people recognizing that transgender is real, but on the other hand you have people like Caitlyn Jenner who have all the privilege in the world, and are only accepted because she fits into the box of what an acceptable trans person is.”

For Paterson, the journey that they are on is much more “outside the box” because they are not transitioning into another gender, but rather transitioning out of a gender that they never fit into. The stereotypes being portrayed in the media are only making the transition more difficult.

“No matter what I do, or how I dress, or if I walked around all day lowering my voice, I am automatically read as female because of the way I look, everyday, no matter what. It is still really unrealistic and sets unrealistic goals for what it means to be a trans person.”

As far as being an ally or support system to someone going through a transition, Carroll suggests one of the following methods:

• Stand beside someone on their transitional journey, walking with them and supporting them throughout the process.

• Stand in front, with permission from the person on the journey, as a supporter protecting someone on a trans journey from trans-phobia and negativity.

• Stand behind, supporting this person as they walk this journey on their own terms.

“I think it is important for… an ally to take the lead from the people that they are supporting,” Carroll reinforces.

As far as what the future holds for Paterson, going back to school for Social Work is at the top of their list. They feel that helping other young people who may be experiencing what they are still working through is crucial. Paterson often reflects on their younger years, and can’t help but feel that what they’ve learned along the way gives them something to offer others in a similar situation.

“I think about who I was all the time, and if I could tell that person one thing, it would be that it won’t last forever.“

kpedersen@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail courtesy of Facebook.

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca