“Too young to be this depressed” – Ramses’ story of growing up as a transgender man

Ramses Oliva is a valued colleague at Mental Health UK, as well as a transgender inclusion specialist and writer. One of his biggest struggles growing up was not having the words to describe his identity. Not only did this not stop him from being gay and transgender, but it also made it extremely difficult to ask for and receive help. Here’s his story.

 

I first realised I was a trans man when I was 13 years old, but that only marks when I was able to explain my identity. Before then, I just felt like there was “something wrong with me”.

I grew up in a quite conservative community in Southern Italy and I didn’t know any other LGBTQIA+ people in my hometown. I went to an all-girls school for most of my life, and I could sense something was different, but I didn’t have the words to explain why. It felt like everyone in my class had a rulebook about how to be a girl, that I was never provided. I was left guessing what was expected of me, but it felt more and more like pretending. At the same time, I started feeling discomfort around my body, and I would cry every time people would tell me what I beautiful woman I would grow up to be.

Any attempts to try and explore the reasons why I didn’t fit in were met with pressure to try and conform to my friends, and any conversations about my struggles were dismissed. I was often told I was “too young to be this depressed”, and that I “didn’t have anything to be stressed about”. All the adults in my life – teachers and parents alike – were convinced not exposing me to LGBTQIA+ topics would protect me from discrimination. But I still experienced bullying, and the confusion around my identity just made it harder to navigate school years. Instead of reassuring me, I grew up being afraid of the future: if I was already struggling that much, the idea that things would get worse as an adult was unbearable.

Even once I slowly reached out to my community, and found a support network, most people were my age, or just slightly older than me and so they were still finding their feet too. I didn’t talk to any older transgender person until I was in my twenties, and for the longest time it was very hard to picture what my future would look like. Every time someone would ask me where I saw myself in five or ten years, any reply I could come up with didn’t feel genuine: some of it was because of the lack of representation, some of it was depression.

Reports show that 82% of transgender individuals have experienced suicidal ideation, and while I manage to seek help before getting to that point, I am familiar with feeling like I had no way out, or like everything in my life would always be an uphill battle.

But what no one had prepared me for, either because they hadn’t experienced it themselves or because they were trying to push me back ‘into the closet’ – was the joy I would find alongside my social transition. While part of me had hoped to achieve happiness despite being transgender, I found myself being happy because I am transgender.

And I would have never realised that without the support of the community around me. The community that was ready to offer help whenever I needed it, but that was also there to celebrate my successes. It was there giving me guidance when I was questioning, and resources when I didn’t know what I needed.

Pride month for me, while it has certainly been commercialised in the past decade, boils down to this: a reminder that pride can’t be taken for granted, but can be taught and learned. That pride wouldn’t exist without a strong community and isn’t an individual effort. And that pride needs to be celebrated, not only by us, but collectively – to show that queer joy exists, that it’s always worth it, and that it can inspire change.

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