Living as a young pre-op trans-sexual in Omagh, Chantelle Mitchell says she has been the victim of verbal abuse and her home has been targeted by vandals.
Despite this negative and hurtful attention, Chantelle believes she has remained strong and true to herself and wants to be an inspiration for members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) community locally.
Although still a victim of vile abuse, Chantelle said it has significantly reduced in recent years. She even feels there has been a notable improvement local attitudes towards LBGT people since first coming out as homosexual almost ten years ago at 16 years of age.
Chantelle says she has always considered herself as a “female trapped in a male body”, and has been undergoing hormone and blocker treatments this past year.
The 25-year-old now says that she has never felt so good about herself and comfortable in her own skin as a “heterosexual woman”.
“When I first came out it was terrible,” Chantelle told the UH.
“I was shouted at by young people, received a lot of verbal abuse and had my home attacked a few times. But as a young pre-op trans-sexual, I now feel that things have improved in Omagh within the last two and a half years. The LBGT communities are accepted more than they were, however the transgender community is still not accepted and more work should be done. This will take time but it can happen.
“I still get stared at when I walk through Omagh, but that verbal and transphobia abuse has reduced.”
Chantelle is passionate about LBGT rights and equality. She felt compelled to speak out this week following controversial comments by West Tyrone MLA Tom Buchanan, who described gay marriage as an “abomination” and “not right” in response to a question from a school pupil recently.
Chantelle has bravely taken the step to tell her story as she does not want to see such comments undermine the progress made in Omagh and put society back into the “dark ages”.
“This sort of attitude is bigoted and very damaging to LGBT people and the rest of society. Many people from the LGBT community suffer isolation, mental health issues and may consider taking their own lives or self harming as a result of homophobia and transphobia. Making such comments was reckless behaviour from an elected MLA and this needs to be challenged by society as a whole.
“LGBT people are valued members of the human race. No wonder young people in Northern Ireland want to leave and go somewhere they are accepted.”
Reflecting on her own experience, Chantelle said she felt very “isolated” when at school and feels more information and support should be made available for young LGBT people.
“It would have also been extremely helpful for young people, parents and teachers to be educated more on LGBT issues to highlight the support services that are available. This is something that should be considered in the future.”
From the age of 16 onwards Chantelle said she had the mindset that she wanted to be a female and started wearing make-up as a gay male until the age of 19, when she started to also dress as a female at weekends. From the age of 21 she has fully embraced a public identity as a female. It was then she decided that she wanted to be a trans-sexual and started to see consultants to take the first steps of this process.
“I am on a gender reassignment programme in Belfast,” explained Chantelle. “This year I have been taking the hormones that soften your voice and hair growth and enhances breast development and a more womanly shape, while the blockers block male testosterone. I underwent a two year programme to make sure that this what I actually wanted, but the length of time depends on each individual.
“It was the hardest decision of my life. I knew I would lose some friends because of it but I didn’t really, as the real friends stood by my decision and support me now as Chantelle. I am also making new friends as me, and I now feel a lot happier within myself.
“My life has been extremely difficult at times,” she concedes. “But in the past year I have started to feel more comfortable living as myself in Omagh. Thankfully there has not been as many people staring at me or shouting abuse at me.
“I feel absolutely amazing in my own skin and also getting female identification has been a great boost. My driver’s licence, passport and electoral ID are all as a female. I changed my name by deed poll and my former male name is in my past.
“Even though I am pre-op and have not had all my surgery yet, I feel the old person inside of me is dead. I am female and I should be addressed that way by my new name, Chantelle.”