Alex and Jake

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - Alex’s book Trans Mis­sion: My Quest to a Beard is avail­able from 2 Novem­ber, @alex_ber­tie, @jakeft­magic

Since com­ing out as trans­gen­der six years ago, YouTu­ber Alex Ber­tie has been fear­lessly shar­ing his tran­si­tion journey with the world. Three years ago, Alex met Jake Ed­wards, a fel­low trans YouTu­ber, and the pair have been a cou­ple ever since. But in a time where trans is­sues are be­ing ruth­lessly ex­ploited for tele­vi­sion rat­ings and po­lit­i­cal gain, be­ing a young trans cou­ple can be chal­leng­ing. We caught up with the pair to dis­cuss hor­mones, men­tal health and help­ing oth­ers.

“I didn’t re­ally have a con­cept of gen­der when I was a child”, says 21-year-old Alex Ber­tie. “I’d wear boys clothes, but that wasn’t me be­ing ‘a boy, ’I was just be­ing me.”

Af­ter com­ing out as trans­gen­der when he was 15, Alex be­gan mak­ing videos on YouTube to doc­u­ment his tran­si­tion from fe­male to male. His videos give a re­fresh­ingly hon­est in­sight into the tran­si­tion process, in­clud­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences of bat­tling the health­care sys­tem, start­ing hor­mones and re­cov­er­ing from ma­jor surgery.

Three years ago, Alex was in­tro­duced to

Jake Ed­wards, a fel­low trans YouTu­ber, at a trans group in Dorset. Jake de­scribes their first meet­ing as a typ­i­cal ‘fan girl’ moment: “I used to work with one of Alex’s friends from col­lege”, he ex­plains. “She in­vited me to this trans group and I turned up and he was there. I watched his videos all the time so I to­tally freaked out!”

Shortly af­ter meet­ing the pair be­came a cou­ple. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, a lot of peo­ple have trou­ble un­der­stand­ing the idea of two trans men dat­ing. “Peo­ple al­ways ask ‘How do you have sex?’ or ‘What are your gen­i­tals?’” says Jake, ex­plain­ing that these in­tru­sive ques­tions are made worse by an inability to dis­tin­guish be­tween gen­der and sex­u­al­ity.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing there are two types of peo­ple”, he rea­sons. “Those who as­sume you’re tran­si­tion­ing to be straight, and then peo­ple who as­sume all trans peo­ple are gay.”

But rigidly en­forced gen­der norms, com­bined with a lack of in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion in schools, means that nav­i­gat­ing the mine­field of sex­u­al­ity and gen­der can be most con­fus­ing for trans peo­ple them­selves. “I thought I liked girls when I came out as trans, so tech­ni­cally I was a gay wo­man. Then it was com­ing to terms with the fact that I liked guys too”, ex­plains Alex. “I think my mum gave up in the end. She was like, ‘What are you? Gay? Straight?’ I just thought I liked ev­ery­body.”

Jake re­mem­bers mud­dling his way through a sim­i­lar cloud of con­fu­sion as a teenager. “There’s that point in your sex­u­al­ity where you like one per­son and sud­denly you’re straight for a day. Then the next day you’re gay for the day”, he says. “Hav­ing to ed­u­cate peo­ple about your iden­tity when you’re still con­fused about it is the worst thing ever.”

Al­though both Alex and Jake’s fam­i­lies are now sup­port­ive of their re­spec­tive jour­neys, it hasn’t been all plain sail­ing. Alex says that his mum came round the fastest, but it still took a while. Al­though his dad was never against it, he wasn’t quite on board un­til re­cently. “Six months ago my dad called me his ‘son’ for the first time. I was a mess”, he says. There’ve also been moments where his videos have caused fric­tion. “My par­ents have some­times said they don’t want to watch my videos be­cause I slag them off oc­ca­sion­ally”, he ad­mits. “But that’s real. Things weren’t al­ways per­fect.”

Alex hopes that doc­u­ment­ing his tran­si­tion, and pen­ning his first book Trans Mis­sion: My Quest to a Beard, will help oth­ers in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion. “I wanted to be able to look back and see what I was feel­ing and not take where we are to­day for granted”, he ex­plains. “I watched peo­ple do­ing the same thing and it made me think, ‘Maybe I am trans?’ I wanted to do that for other peo­ple.”

The so­cial im­pli­ca­tions that come with chal­leng­ing gen­der norms of­ten dis­tract from the in­tense phys­i­cal and hor­monal changes that peo­ple go through to med­i­cally tran­si­tion. Both Alex and Jake re­mem­ber how Alex’s top surgery, which re­moved his

“I thought I liked girls when I came out as trans, so tech­ni­cally I was a gay wo­man. Then it was com­ing to terms with the fact I liked guys, too. I think

my mum gave up in the end!”

breasts to cre­ate a more mas­cu­line chest, was a par­tic­u­larly stress­ful time. “I’d never been un­der be­fore”, Alex says. “The worst part was try­ing to ex­plain to my mum, ‘I need to do this. I know it’s re­ally scary but I have to do it.’”

Hav­ing a com­pan­ion through­out this ex­pe­ri­ence has helped both Alex and Jake to stay pos­i­tive. “I’ve had a hard time with my men­tal health”, Jake ex­plains. “Be­ing with Alex has helped a lot. Hav­ing this con­stant com­pan­ion­ship has made it eas­ier when I was feel­ing bad about my­self.”

But be­ing to­gether while nav­i­gat­ing the dif­fer­ent stages of phys­i­cal tran­si­tion has cre­ated unique ten­sions. “Both of us be­ing trans is a bless­ing and a curse”, says Alex. “We can re­late to each other and we don’t have to ex­plain our­selves, but for in­stance right now we’re both tak­ing testos­terone, which has been a huge hur­dle.” Jake re­calls a tough time last year when Alex be­gan tak­ing hor­mones while he was still wait­ing to hear back from doc­tors. “I was at a big blank spot where I hadn’t heard any­thing and no one was get­ting in contact”, he ex­plains. “Alex was re­ally ex­cited about these changes, but I was re­ally de­pressed and felt iso­lated.”

Go­ing through all this at such a po­lit­i­cally tur­bu­lent time has also been chal­leng­ing. Across the At­lantic, Trump is press­ing ahead with ban­ning trans peo­ple from the US mil­i­tary. In the UK, pub­lic figures such as Piers Mor­gan reg­u­larly mock or dis­miss gen­der iden­tity is­sues on na­tional tele­vi­sion. Ev­ery­day spa­ces such as bath­rooms are be­ing ruth­lessly politi­cised to paint trans peo­ple as harm­ful de­viants.

“I think peo­ple are us­ing trans is­sues to push a wider po­lit­i­cal agenda. It’s not about trans peo­ple. It’s a big­ger po­lit­i­cal mes­sage”, says Jake.

“When you’re liv­ing your life, you aren’t think­ing about that stuff, you’re just think­ing about get­ting a job and do­ing nor­mal things. But then you read what peo­ple think about you and it’s shock­ing be­cause you can’t see how you’ve con­trib­uted to that.”

Shar­ing their lives pub­licly means that

Alex and Jake have in­evitably en­coun­tered their fair share of on­line trolls. Yet they ac­knowl­edge that trans women bare the brunt of hos­til­ity, and that they are priv­i­leged com­pared to oth­ers in the com­mu­nity.

“As trans men we have it a bit eas­ier”,

Alex ex­plains. “Peo­ple are less likely to be phys­i­cally ag­gres­sive with us. Trans women re­ceive the brunt of phys­i­cal abuse and peo­ple are so much quicker to be vi­o­lent.”

Al­though they’re both im­mensely ap­pre­cia­tive of the treat­ment they’ve re­ceived on the NHS, the pair think that wait­ing lists for trans pa­tients are still too long. “You’re at your most vul­ner­a­ble when you’ve been told you’ve got to wait. You can’t face wait­ing 18 months for your first ap­point­ment”, says Jake. “That’s not even for hor­mones. It’s 18 months to wait an­other 18. It’s just dire.”

Mov­ing for­ward, Alex and Jake stress the im­por­tance of bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion re­gard­ing gen­der iden­tity in schools. This is some­thing that they can see them­selves be­com­ing ac­tively in­volved in. “We did a talk at a di­ver­sity con­fer­ence and all the kids were re­ally en­gag­ing and laugh­ing with us. They re­alised that we’re real peo­ple”, says Alex, be­fore ex­plain­ing: “There’s def­i­nitely no short­age of trans peo­ple will­ing to ed­u­cate. We want to show that we’re just reg­u­lar peo­ple try­ing to live our lives and make our way in the world.”

“As trans men we have it eas­ier. Peo­ple are less likely to be ag­gres­sive with us. Trans women re­ceive the brunt of phys­i­cal abuse and peo­ple are so much quicker to be vi­o­lent.”

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