The Gender Battle; Newcastle Pride Next Month Will See Thousands Celebrate in the City Centre. RACHEL WEARMOUTH Talks to Members of the Transgender Community

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL WEARMOUTH

WHEN someone reveals they are gay, the vast majority of people will no longer be shocked or surprised.

As the gay marriage bill continues its journey through Parliament, it is clear society is more at home with homosexuality than it was a generation ago. The Office for National Statistics says around 1.5% of the population is gay, lesbian or bisexual.

We hear far less about those who are transgender - and yet it is estimated they account for up to 5% of the population, with around 0.01% of the population thought to be transsexual (post-gender reassignment surgery).

The tragic case of Lancashire teacher Lucy Meadows, formerly male teacher Nathan Upton, acts as a sharp reminder of how cruelly society can treat a transgender individual.

An inquest heard last month how Lucy took her own life after what coroner Michael Singleton called her "character assassination" in a national newspaper article which questioned her right to teach. Sadly, Lucy Meadows is not alone. The suicide rate among the LGBT community is higher than the rest of the population, and it is at its highest within the trans group as they grapple with being targeted for transphobic abuse, rejection by friends and family and the process of identifying themselves.

An NHS survey showed that 34% of transgender people (transgender being an umbrella term for people who don't conform to the traditional division of male and female) have considered suicide.

But Tara Stone, chairwoman of Tyne Trans, who has herself attempted suicide, says the last response she would hope to get is pity.

The 38-year-old from Newcastle, is today a role model and provides one-to-one support for people at Mesmac NE, which has seen numbers rise steadily to around 75 this year after a support grant from Newcastle City Council. She said: "If you want to slap me with a label then wider society would label me as a male-to-female pre-op transsexual woman, but personally I think labels belong on food and not on people. "Myidentity ismyown. I wasn't born wrong. I wasn't a birth defect. I'm not becoming anything. I am already me, myself, and my identity is assured. "My first memories of having gender dysphoria were at the age of eight. "For me it was a sense of knowing, I just knew that I felt more female and that my interactions with other girls were more rewarding. "I was unhappy with my body, I wanted a more female physique and to be able to express how I felt inside.

"At that age it was a confused set of feelings, but even then I was able to understand that those emotions, those thoughts, would be seen as wrong by others, that I would be mocked, taunted for being different, and so I buried those emotions and feelings. "They resurfaced in my adolescence. I expressed them via dressing a few times in my mother's clothing. "I watched how mainstream media paraded and mocked trans people as a circus. "We were treated as freaks; objects of scorn, pity and mirth. Not much has changed, it's better now, but not by much. "I buriedmygender dysphoria;compartmentalised it and got on with my life. If anything, I overcompensated in myattempts to assertmymasculinity. I tried to be one of the lads, with mixed results." It was as this 21-year-old lad that Tara met her first long-term partner, but her life as a man saw her fall into bouts of depression for more than a decade, returning time and again to doctors for help. Tara, an IT professional by trade, felt paralysed by fears and eventually got help from NHS services. She said: "I feared I'd losemypartner, my family, my friends, my job, my social standing.

"I feared being mocked or pitied by society, I hated my body and feared that I'd never be able to feel comfortable in my own skin. "My early work with my therapist was about addressing those fears, about gettingmeto a place where I felt that I was strong enough to forge ahead. "As it was, a lot of my fears did come to pass, my partner of 17 years left me - we tried to make it work, it didn't -my parents rejected me, I was a freak to them, they were concerned about the social stigma and the embarrassment that I would bring to them. …