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Andi looking at camera, old office in the background
November 23, 2021
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As we approach our most momentous annual general meeting, I want to explore the concept of change and our understanding of gender diversity now compared to 2005 when Chrysalis began.

The butterfly metaphor

Once upon a time there was a young woman assigned male at birth. She hated her body, everything that it represented, and she transitioned. Using terms like “born in the wrong body” she was supported in her transition by some incredibly skilled and caring medical professionals who diagnosed her with gender dysphoria and provided medical solutions to her dysphoria. As she transitioned she took cross gender hormone therapy and many surgical interventions to make her body the one she knew was right for her. For this trans woman, and many like her, the metaphor of an ugly caterpillar undergoing a magical transformation into a beautiful butterfly symbolised her transition.

This medicalisation of being transgender created an expectation that all trans* people would be dysphoric. Therefore gender dysphoria could be cured through undertaking a linear, medical transition.

The old view of binary transition included inevitable loss

The image and understanding of being transgender with a binary transition to change oneself worked for many people. The butterfly became the symbol of Chrysalis. Symbolising an organisation which helped people become the most beautiful version of themselves. It was assumed that to transition meant leaving the past life behind and creating a new one. There would be trauma and loss, and that marriages would break down and family would not understand.

How the butterfly metaphor excludes trans men

Time passed; more people sought support from Chrysalis. Trans people spoke to other trans people. The internet expanded communication and discussion. Language and understanding began to evolve.

First the moths began to revolt. They told us the language of butterflies, of beauty and delicacy, was inherently feminine and thus excluded them. Work was done to make our spaces more obviously inclusive of trans men, every ‘feminine’ workshop was counterbalanced by a ‘masculine’ one. The language of dysphoria and a binary medical transition still dominated, the insect metaphor held.

The start of Chrysalis’ transition

In 2018 Chrysalis began its own transition. We integrated our past into our vision for the future. Respecting and accepting our origins because without them we would not be. As a therapeutic organisation much of our work is empowering individuals to understand and love their past self. Mental wellbeing comes from acceptance that the strength of our past self was in enabling us to reach this place of personal development.

The insect metaphor started to dissolve. Beauty became about self-respect, self-worth, and the understanding of one’s own gender diversity. People challenged the old binary understanding of transition, the assumption that one was ‘moving towards a fixed destination’. Non-binary people found their voices and their allies within trans* spaces.

Our Vision

Our vision of ‘a world where every gender diverse person is free to be their authentic self’ took shape. So the language we used began to evolve. We listened to our members and to those who wanted to become members. If every gender diverse person was to be included within our charity, how could we show them we accepted them?

Acceptance

We changed from Gender Identity Issues to Gender Identity Matters. Everyone’s gender identity matters, is important and worthy of respect. Yet not everyone’s gender identity is an issue. Being trans, or gender diverse, is simply an aspect of human diversity.

A safe space to explore

We included the word ‘questioning’ clarifying the freedom of the individual to undertake their own exploration.

Non-binary identities are valid

Soon after we moved from trans and questioning (T&Q) to trans, non-binary and questioning (TNQ). A clear statement that non-binary people are welcome, and that not all non-binary people use the trans label. The World Health Organisation definition of transgender is ‘a person whose gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned at birth’. This definition shows that being trans* is not about a destination.

Supporting the supporters

Our next linguistic shift was changing from the ‘SOS’ moniker of ‘significant other’s support’ which screamed that being trans* was a problem, to family and friends’ support. Safe spaces for loved ones to process their own thoughts and feelings so they too can make healthy decisions about their futures.

Beyond the binary

Our volunteers, members, our supporters, those who attend our training understand that everyone’s transition is unique, a movement away from the gender assigned at birth. Many members will socially transition, changing names, pronouns, and appearance to express their authenticity to the world. Some members will access medical support for their own, private transition.

What is the future beyond the butterflies?

Now, in 2021, we are finally ready to move Beyond Butterflies. To leave the old binary image of medical destination behind. Demonstrate the holistic understanding that everyone’s transition is unique. Come along to our AGM and find out how we are moving forward to support trans* people achieve mental wellbeing through empowering them to make their own, healthy, decisions about their own transition.

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