When Jake Tanner pulls on a costume nowadays, it’s because he’s indulging his love of cosplay, a hobby that involves dressing up as sci-fi or comic book characters. But the 21 year old used to feel like he was playing a character all the time. In 2014, after years of struggle and anxiety, Jake realised the source of the feeling: he was transgender.
Coming out has been transformative for his mental health.
“I feel like myself for once. I’m feeling the world for the first time, I’m no longer just a passenger. A lot of my experiences are really raw, and I’ve got to deal with stuff now rather than just hiding behind an act,” Jake says.
The ride hasn’t always been smooth. As someone who lives on the NSW Central Coast, Jake’s access to support services has been limited. He’s travelled to both Sydney and Newcastle to get physical health care such as hormone injections, and psychological care such as to join support groups run by The Gender Centre.
The cumulative burden of travel on his time and budget has meant today Jake relies mostly on support offered by his local Headspace. But it’s not the same as trans-specific care.
“Unfortunately there is a big difference between being trans-friendly and trans-knowledgeable,” Jake explains. “Having places that know about trans issues and are aware of what’s going on is vital. It’s much more than just being accepting. If staff don’t know about trans issues then services can be quite unsafe unfortunately. They end up being accidentally insensitive.”
Jake nominates Sydney’s Taylor Square Clinic as a great example of a trans-sensitive service.
“They had a lot of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender] posters and stuff around so you felt like you were very welcome there. I often brought my partner along and the doctor never skipped a beat. He would always ask us both, ‘how are you?’ It gave me a feeling of, ‘we’re cool with you.’”
Other supports that have been critical during his transition include chats with other LGBT people, Facebook trans groups, and family and friends. The biggest help that loved ones can offer is researching transgender issues and language, Jake says.
“Asking questions is great but it’s really exhausting if you have to explain everything. Learning about what being transgender entails and what you need to do to be there for someone is a huge help. It shows that you care because you’re willing to put in the time. It can be hard when you’re going through it to tell someone what you need.”
Jake’s also learning to manage his anxiety, which is a separate issue.
“I feel like if I wasn’t trans I’d still have anxiety,” he explains. “There are people I know who are trans who don’t have anxiety, and people who aren’t trans who have anxiety.”
Medication has been part of Jake’s anxiety treatment plan, as has being assertive with doctors about what he needs and “being forgiving of myself”.
“It’s not about getting better, it’s about managing,” Jake has realised. “I wish the doctor had told me that at the start.”
One of the many upsides of transitioning is that Jake can imagine a future for himself for the first time. He is currently completing his Certificate IV in Mental Health, and hopes to complete further studies in peer work. His goal is to be the support worker he never had.
“Most people just want to know they’re not alone. A peer worker is someone who can do that. I’m not a big scary therapist, I’m a person, I’m a peer. It’s me! I can legitimately say to someone, ‘We’re in the same boat, we’ve got this’. It’s so much less threatening. I would have responded to that a lot better.”