67% of transgender respondents in an official survey stated they had avoided “being open about their gender identity for fear of a negative reaction from others”. Everyone deserves to feel like they belong in their body, and everyone deserves to feel happy with who they are. But the process of coming to terms with being transgender can be a challenging road for many.
Ryan Lewis Rooney, previously known as Gemma Louise Rooney, shares his journey so far. Growing up, Ryan always felt like a male born in a woman’s body and was always treated as “one of the boys”. In his early teens he came out as gay which he describes as being unsurprising to those around him. Coming out as transgender was more of a challenge, he comments, “Coming out as transgender in my late 20s was met with mixed reactions although I think my family and friends already knew deep down.”
Living with his partner, biological daughter, 10 and his partner’s son, 8; Ryan kept himself hidden for the first few years of his relationship. Despite being surprised at first, Ryan’s partner was very supportive of him. But, he faced challenges and difficulties in opening up to other family members and friends.
He elaborates, “Telling my dad, who had brought me up as a lone parent in my younger years was difficult. He had always supported my lifestyle choices such as playing male sports, dressing like a male etc. I’ve always tried to drop hints in past conversations so did not expect the first initial reaction he gave me. He didn’t understand and thought I needed to get help and that I was mentally unstable. This caused a big divide in my relationship with him for some time but eventually he came to accept my decision, and has been supportive since”.
Telling his mum and his mum’s side of the family was extremely difficult too due to his grandad’s battle with cancer at the time. Ryan explains, “I told my mum and gran and we felt it was right to hide this from my grandad as his condition deteriorated and I wanted him to remember me as I was before he passed.”
Fortunately, his grandmother’s – known as Gran – reaction was calm and understanding which came as a surprise to Ryan due to her being from the older generation.
Ryan’s mother struggled to understand as she felt as though she was losing her eldest daughter, he comments, “Even now, a year on, she still refers to me as my previous name, Gemma. I think she is struggling to accept this change but she is trying to accept it as she knows I’ll be happier and that’s all my mum wants for her children.”
Telling his and his partner’s children was difficult for Ryan as he had brought up his daughter as a single parent for 7 years who had previously called him ‘mum’, as well as his step-son who had previously called him ‘Gemma’.
Ryan recalls this time explaining, “The most important part to me was my children’s reactions. Telling my daughter was one of the hardest things I had to do as I didn’t want her to be upset or confused. At first she was upset at the thought of not having a mum but in time as we have spoke about it to her and explained most of the changes she has grown to love and accept the idea of me becoming her dad. She also has the choice to call me Dad or Ryan and she loves that idea. Telling my partner’s little boy was easier as he is younger and doesn’t really understand yet, plus he has always seen me as a man.”
Confiding in his boss who he had worked alongside for the last five years was “very easy”. He states, “as I work in the construction industry I faced more challenges at work as female than I do now as male.”
Ryan comments that overcoming these difficulties and challenges required being honest and straight to the point. Before approaching his friends and family, he carried out his own research on what being transgender was to “gain an understanding for myself before explaining this to family and friends”. A key factor in helping Ryan face many of these challenges was speaking to other transgender people from online support groups. He states, “It’s a lot easier to speak to people who understand how you are feeling and for you to see that you are not alone”.
Ryan’s siblings and friends have been nothing but supportive, “My friends’ reactions have been amazing including my best mate Claire who, for my birthday, bought me 28 cards for all the birthdays I missed as Ryan. The whole football team have been amazing and so supportive to me. I recently set up a just giving page and the donations have been amazing so far and couldn’t ask for a better bunch of girls to be friends with.”
Touching on the advice he would give to his younger self as well as anyone who may be in the same boat at the moment, Ryan comments, “The first bit of advice I would give to others feeling the same and questioning their gender is don’t hold back and be in denial, speak to your GP or someone you feel you can trust. Never be ashamed of how you’re feeling, it is normal and you are never alone. You also have to prepare yourself for the negatives but don’t allow negativity to stop you from being you. Be determined and focus on the positives as this is your life, no one else’s. The one piece of advice I would give to my younger self is to come out a lot sooner instead of living with the fear of other peoples opinions”.
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