A CONCERNED mother of a transgender man has said that she fears for her son’s safety every time he goes into Omagh.
Jane McGrath, who lives in remote countryside several miles outside Omagh, said that her son, who was assigned female at birth, had experienced relentless harassment – including both verbal and physical abuse – for much of his teenage years, just for being different.
The situation only improved when he moved to a new school in time to sit his GCSEs and A-Levels. In his new surroundings, he found a more accepting environment that allowed him to concentrate on his studies.
Now aged 20, he will soon enter his second year at the Ulster University in Coleraine with hopes of one day becoming a film maker.
His mother said, “There were concerns when he was choosing universities that Coleraine would be closed and have parochial attitudes, but it doesn’t. Because they have student life about their town, they let them be.”
However, Ms McGrath, who is disabled, said that her son still spends a lot of time in Tyrone as he is her main carer. He is also currently undergoing medical treatment as part of the transitioning process, which will take many years to complete.
Despite finding acceptance elsewhere in the North, she claims her son remains scared of entering Omagh on his own, particularly at night, due to the attitudes he encounters on a regular basis. A native of Omagh herself, she said she felt “deeply ashamed” of her home town because of the constant harassment.
She said, “My son’s life is a living hell outside his home and when he goes into Omagh. My son and his community are treated like second-class citizens. This needs to stop.”
Ms McGrath claimed that, when her son went into Omagh on errands, he is always very nervous until he gets home.
She warns that the town and surrounding area are in danger of losing talented young people like her son “because of the attitude of people who can’t let them live their life”.
The concerned mother said that there were others going through similar experiences to her son who were choosing to “suffer in silence”.
“A lot of his friends are staying quiet. Some of them have come out to their parents and it hasn’t been a good outcome,” she said.
Calling for attitudes to change radically, Ms McGrath also said that there needed to be more support for the local LGBT+ community.
“There is no outlet for them, there are no safe places for them,” she claimed.
Gavin Boyd, policy and advocacy manager at LGBT+ charity the Rainbow Project, said that research had found that LGBT+ people living in rural areas were less likely to be out to family, friends and neighbours than LGBT+ people in urban areas.
He said, “Rural dwellers were more likely than urban dwellers to experience personal, emotional or mental health problems.”
As part of the charity’s efforts to combat experiences of social isolation in rural areas, the Rainbow Project runs a group in Omagh for people aged 18 and over. It meets on a monthly basis in a local coffee shop.
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‘Whenever I come back here, I shrink’
WHILE he was assigned female at birth, Jane McGrath’s youngest child – who now identifies as transgender – always felt that something wasn’t right as he grew up.
Always more interested in boys’ toys, he didn’t like being dressed in pink clothes “and all that other stuff”.
“Looking back, I was showing all the signs of a transgender child, but I had no idea about what the word was or anything,” he said.
Because of the way he looked, he was an easy target for school bullies as he entered adolescence.
“It never stopped. Even at lunchtime or on the bus or anywhere. There was no safe place for me at all,” he said.
During his darkest moments, he attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions.
But then, after watching a BBC3 TV documentary called ‘My Transsexual Summer’, he began to research transgender issues.
“As soon as I realised what ‘trans’ was, I knew that was exactly what this is. I started telling my friends, call me this and call me he/him.
“They were all very supportive,” he said.
Describing going to a new school for his GCSEs as a “fresh start”, he felt confident enough to tell his parents, who gave him their full support.
While he is now a university student, the taunts he receives when he returns to Omagh still make him feel vulnerable. He doesn’t see his future in Tyrone.
“Whenever I’m away in university, I feel like an adult. I feel independent,” he said.
“But whenever I come back here, I shrink.
“I turn into this vulnerable, scared deer in the woods surrounded by wolves. I just feel like whenever I’m walking down Omagh, everyone’s looking at me, everyone knows.
“I don’t stoop down to their level, because that’s what they want.
“They want a reaction out of me. I will turn my back,” he added.