News Article

Embracing my true identity: Ali's experience

If I was ever given a television comedy to write, I know exactly what I would create. 

I'm in the wrong degree for it (three years into Medicine), but over my time at King's with the revelations I've had in my identity and how I experience life, I know how to encapsulate that story. 

Have you ever been asked the question, perhaps in an interview or an honest conversation with friends, "Given the opportunity, what would you tell your younger self?" My younger self was a cheeky little girl with long curly hair who grew up on the border between Cumbria and Lancashire, right in the northwest corner of England. 

She struggled at times with the idea of being "a girl", styling herself with light up boys trainers and shorts, turning to LEGO instead of Barbie or My Little Pony, being one of two girls in the village who played football every half term. I am fully aware now these are very stereotypical things to say, but that was the world she grew up in. She was labelled a "tomboy", pretty happily at that. But that label fades when puberty comes and biology, to put it frankly, disappoints you. It becomes increasingly hard to ignore the body you are given. 

My television comedy, for any studios reading this, would be to physically transport my younger self into 2023. To show her my life now. To show her that you can still wear cargo shorts and you don't have to keep that mane of hair if you don't want to. Because to simply tell her, at 10 years old, or 16, that she will figure themselves out when they hit 20, I don't think would have been in the slightest bit believable.

I would show her my wardrobe, the baseball caps and chequered overshirts and men's suits and trousers I realised I could own. I would show her the clippers I use to keep my hair short. I would take her to a comedy gig to meet my friends and see the euphoria that opened my eyes to another possibility than resignation to the gender I was assigned at birth. I would show her my name badges that now display the name she chose when she was 10 because it sounded cool, but never thought it would actually be hers. 

14 or so years have passed since the first ideas she had that maybe things didn't have to be as they were. Today is brighter, with more visibility, more and wider representation, more acceptance globally that there is a population of us with rights that deserve to be met. An increasing number of people respect our calls for our pronouns and identities to be acknowledged in healthcare, in the workplace and education, and in everyday encounters.

Whilst I, in reality, can't bring past me to see today's society, I have another indication of the brightness of 2023. My cousin who is 10 and lives in the area I grew up in recently came out to our family as non-binary. The sheer fact that is possible, that they have been shown the language it took me until 21 to see, is evidence of society's sharing of the message that if this collection of experiences matches yours, that's more than okay, and you are loved. I'm excited to experience life with my trans sibling and support them in the way my community has for me. 

But there is an even brighter future we need to fight for. If myself or my cousin want medical help to transition, be that HRT that has been available for cisgender health purposes for decades or life-affirming surgery that can reduce dysphoria and the mental health impacts that can come with, we face a five year plus waiting list before our first appointment on the NHS. The non-binary gender identities are still not legally recognised by the UK Government and many governments around the world. We may be subject to ideas, implicitly or out in the open, that our very being can be changed if we sign up to "Conversion Therapy" to rip us of our truth, our very identity. And we face discrimination and abuse in every aspect of life, which leads to more lives lost from violence and suicide, mental and physical health consequences of maltreatment within and outside of healthcare, and trans* lives stifled by fear of facing abuse and prejudice.

Even at King's, there are things that can be changed to help trans* students flourish. I've been very privileged in the position I was in when I came out, and the smooth transition by those who could help me change my name on my email for example, but a simple and widely communicated process to do this still doesn't exist. Across many of our campuses, King's commitment to gender neutral toilets has been allocating Accessible Toilets as gender neutral spaces, which does Disabled Students no favours. Gender dysphoria is a very specific and hard to describe experience to someone who's never been through it, which our Counselling, Mental Health and Advice services need to reflect. 

A brighter future is within reach. I've felt the glow of it over my time at King's College London and, at risk of pushing a cliché too far, I've been in the right place at the right time to step out of my own shadow into it. Every student, every person deserves that right. The right to stand tall and proud. Because we are magical, beautiful, and we carry our own light.


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