Alex and Jake
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.”