Blog: Becoming an activist

A man punches the air

This week Comic Relief is delighted to be celebrating #iwillweek, a week-long celebration of young people – just like Tristan, who shares his story below – who are changing lives. 

Five years ago, I was suicidal. Enormously depressed and suffering from poorly repressed gender dysphoria, I was certain I wouldn’t live to see twenty, let alone achieve anything whatsoever with my life. Three months ago, I celebrated my twentieth birthday, learned that I had earned an average of a first in my first year at university, and received the news that I had been accepted onto Stonewall’s Young Campaigners Programme. 

The huge turnaround in my life can’t be attributed solely to any one event but I will say that coming out as trans helped me enormously, despite bringing with it so many challenges. Opening myself up to transphobia from almost every source was not an easy thing to do, particularly given the lack of support I felt like I had. Before I came out, I had never met another trans man before and it was hard not to feel like I was the only one. Though I had managed to connect with the wider LGBTQ+ community and did meet a small number of others, I never really felt like I was a part of a specific trans community. I still felt isolated. I had to navigate the new challenges that come with identifying as trans, to see the things I wished would change, but I had to do so alone and with barely any idea of what to do about it all. 

Inspired by some fearless and incredible activist friends of mine, I tried my best to do what I could for general LGBTQ+ and specifically trans inclusion and acceptance at university. By breaking down these barriers before they could affect anyone else, I hoped to make other trans people’s lives just that little bit easier. No one else seemed to be doing the work and I didn’t know of any other visibly trans people involved in local activism. But I was still fundamentally caught in the thought that I couldn’t take on the title of ‘activist’ for myself. That was for people who knew what they were doing, who were smarter and better and did more than I could ever do. When I applied for the Stonewall Young Campaigners Programme, after having seen it advertised on social media, I was convinced I wouldn’t make the cut. Why would they want me, of all people?

Well, it turns out they did, and I’m so phenomenally grateful.

The programme was designed to give young trans people exactly the skills, knowledge and confidence that I myself was lacking. I spent three days staying just outside London with a team of fantastic trans people. They taught me and a group of some of the kindest and most incredible people I’ve ever met, not only how to run and develop a good campaign, but how to look after ourselves while we do it. ‘Inspiring’ can be such an overused word, but that truly is what this programme was to me. The staff and other campaigners were such an inspiration, both with their own work and goals and the support, encouragement and advice they were able to give me. Truly, I can’t praise them all highly enough. It was only a few days, but I came away completely changed.

For the first time, I didn’t feel powerless. I didn’t feel incapable. I didn’t feel alone.

In the few months since the programme ended, I’ve already done more than I thought possible. So far, I’ve joined an LGBTQ+ project working group in my students’ union to help run History and Pride month. I’ve started work on training resources surrounding trans inclusion which I hope to share with all members of staff at the students’ union and university. I’m in the process of developing an online map of all gender-neutral facilities in the university area.

I’m arranging meetings to discuss and develop policy that will support trans people in all areas of university life. I’ve already pushed to remove titles from our ID cards to avoid outing anyone unnecessarily, and called for gender-neutral sexual health services on campus. I’m also consulting and working with other activists to put forward trans-inclusive programmes and resources for survivors of sexual violence, victims of hate crimes, and those experiencing healthcare discrimination. 

You may have noticed I said ‘other activists’. Thanks to Stonewall and the amazing people I had the privilege to meet in those few days, I feel like I am worthy enough to use the word ‘activist’ to describe what I’m doing. My sense of self-worth isn’t perfect, nor is it unshakeable, but I now know I have the skills, a support network of both cisgender and trans people (of course I remain in contact with my Stonewall family) and a level of confidence I would never have imagined having five years - or even five months - ago. And unlike five years ago, I plan to keep going for a very long time. 

Stonewall’s Young Campaigners Programme is supported by Comic Relief and the #iwill fund. The #iwill Fund is made possible thanks to £40 million joint investment from the Big Lottery Fund, using National Lottery funding, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities.