Transforming mindsets on the issue of gender

Following his transition from female to male Jack Fitzgerald decided he wanted to help others. He tells Ann Murphy about Gender Rebels Cork.
Transforming mindsets on the issue of gender
UCC student Jack Fitzgerald.Pic; Larry Cummins

PEOPLE in their teens and up to their 60s are attending a support group for people identifying as transgender and non-binary in Cork city.

The Gender Rebels Cork group has been established by UCC final year student Jack Fitzgerald, who has been identifying as non-binary and trans masculine for the past four years.

The 30-year-old, who was assigned as female at birth, is currently undergoing hormone replacement therapy to help transition to a male body.

Jack was speaking in the wake of Prime Time’s Gender Generation programme on Tuesday night, which attracted controversy about its treatment of transgender issues.

Jack opted against watching the programme because of not wanting to contribute to the viewership numbers for it.

But online criticism of the programme, along with contacts from other people in the transgender community across the country, led Jack to assessing the programme as taking a sensationalist view of the issues.

Jack, who opts to be addressed by the pronoun “they”, became aware at the age of 26 that they did not identify as female, after having believed themself to be a lesbian.

Having previously been active with LINC support group for lesbians, Jack took a year to fully come out to friends and family as transgender.

The west Cork native said: “The first person I told was my mom. She was grand – she has always been wanting me to be happy and she is the person I am really close to and been really open with. I was quite lucky to have her.”

Telling the wider world was something Jack decided to do through social media, on Facebook and Twitter, with a new Facebook account.

Jack added: “The only real difficulty I had during that period was that people suddenly became very awkward around me because they didn’t know how to proceed.

“The majority of people are very well meaning and don’t want to bother you.

“There is a fear of people getting a name wrong or a pronoun wrong.”

The Gender Rebels Cork group was founded by Jack over a year ago, for people identifying as non-binary, transgender, inter-sex and gender-variant.

UCC student Jack Fitzgerald.Pic; Larry Cummins
UCC student Jack Fitzgerald.Pic; Larry Cummins

The group is for people over 18 and members range in age up to in their 60s.

Jack elaborated: “We would have people there who have been out for ten years and we have people at the very beginning of their journey, some wondering even if they should be there.

“We have regular meetings – we have a meeting once a month in the Cork Community Art Link. And we do social meet ups – about once a month, in a different cafe around town.

“It gives people an opportunity to be out in public, which I think is important. As part of a group, they can be more confident about being out in public because it is not as intimidating.”

While founding Gender Rebels Cork, Jack was in the middle of hormone replacement treatment through the Gender Identity Clinic in Dublin.

The clinic is headed up by endocrinologist Donal O’Shea and psychiatrist Paul Moran.

The first appointment came 18 months after Jack’s GP set the ball rolling, and Dr Moran reached a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This confirmed a diagnosis by a psychiatrist in Cork through the Northside Mental Health Service in Cork city.

Jack has gone from wearing make up and dresses to wearing more masculine clothes, but admits that it is easier for a transgender person to identify as male than it is to identify as female.

“Identity is not made up of not only how I feel about my gender but how I choose to express it, how I choose to live,” Jack said. “I present masculine because, for me, that is the safest thing to do.

“If I was visibly queer on the street, I would be more easily a target for abuse on the street. Identifying as trans masculine is the safest option. I have 26 years experience living life as a woman and that has informed who I am as a person so I still feel linked to a part of that but not all of it. I am not 100% one or the other (male or female).”

Simple tasks such as going to the toilet can be stressful for someone like Jack, particularly in the early days of hormone replacement treatment.

Jack recalls: “If I walk into a woman’s toilet, the looks that I get! I am also mindful of people in these spaces – I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable.

“My choice of toilets more has to do with ensuring everyone else feels comfortable. But that offers its own challenges – early on in my transition, I would have had sanitary issues but in a male toilet, there isn’t a bin for you or a toilet seat.”

Indeed, there were times when meeting with friends were too difficult to plan because of the issues around which toilet to use.

Jack explained: “It is tough when worrying about where I can go that I can use the toilets. I was fortunate in that I went back to college during my transition and I was in UCC, which does have all-gender toilets which were a godsend to me because I didn’t have to worry about where to go. The people who worked on that did an absolutely fantastic job.”

At present, there are no plans for Jack to undergo surgery – mainly because of the financial costs involved in having to undergo such procedures abroad, as it not currently an option in Ireland.

Last year, the #ThisIsMe Transgender Healthcare Campaign was established, demanding healthcare options for transgender and non-binary people in Ireland.

Surgery is available in Ireland and Jack is on a waiting list at the moment for a consultation for that but “that could fall through – there are no guarantees.”

Jack has already received a gender recognition cert, identifying Jack as a male with a male name.

The certificate took just three days to arrive, after the application form was posted. A new birth certificate has been issued too.

The name was changed by deed poll which was done through the High Court. When the application form for the gender recognition cert was sent, Jack included the deed poll certificate showing the change of name. The name had been chosen because there were several Jacks in the Fitzgerald family tree.

The deed poll process got underway in January 2018 in the High Court in Dublin and the change of name was completed within three months.

“It took three days to change my gender legally and about a year and a half to start medically transitioning,” recalls Jack, who pointed out that the deed poll is more recognisable for people than a gender recognition certificate.

A medical card covered the hormone replacement treatment and Jack also used money he had received as presents to cover legal costs incurred with the deed poll and the gender recognition cert.

For those interested in more about Gender Rebels Cork, meet ups take place at the Cork Community Arts Link on the second Monday of every month, at 7pm. The group is for people who are transgender, non-binary, gender-variant and inter-sex.

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