Significant Others

Benson Bell is the first Trans man to appear on this week’s series which is asking the question ‘is it wrong to change gender?’ He is also the first person this week not to appear on his own: he was accompanied by Mary, his girlfriend of three years, and he is just 18 – but he knows himself extremely well. I wish that I had been able to articulate to others my own sense of self-awareness, as he has done, when I was his age.

Benson began by saying that it is not a sin to change gender because this is not something people want to do: it’s what they need to do in order to be happy – by which he meant happy and at peace with themselves.

Benson is unable to identify as a woman – to appear or dress as a woman would be alien to him. He presents as a young man but longs for the hormones that will masculinise his body and confirm his identity as a male.

Mary sits just behind him as he speaks. They are often perceived by others as a lesbian couple but Benson is uncomfortable with that because it means that people are not seeing him as a male person. Even the insulting term ‘Tranny’ would be preferable as it would at least affirm his masculinity.

Mary remains silent – that is usual in this format – but she knows that Benson is a boy, and always has been, and that he struggles living this in-between life: that he must ‘do what a man’s got to do’ and begin the process of transition.

Mary, who has encouraged him to do just that, is one of many significant others of transgender people, and sometimes they’re overlooked in these discussions. Keith Tiller spoke about significant others in last night’s programme when he said that some wives and partners find it impossible to accept when they discover that the man or woman they are living with is not the gender they appear. In the end Keith decided not to transition but his female gender identity still cost him his marriage.

Mary on the other hand represents all those partners who do understand, encourage and then stick by their loved ones when they set out on the journey of gender reassignment. As Benson acknowledged, he’s not sure what he would do without her.

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