As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police. This is a continuation of the systemic racism pervasive in our country since its inception and we are committed to standing against racism in all its forms.
This week I interviewed Mx. Harris Eddie Hill (they/them), my first British guest! Harris is cohost of the Transection Podcast. An entrepreneur and seasoned LGBTQ+ advocate, Harris is dedicated to making every story as familiar to us as our own. Harris is an incredible resource for learning how to support transgender and nonbinary loved ones.
Attitudes have evolved around gay rights; 70 percent of Americans and 77 percent of Brits support same-sex marriage. But according to a GLAAD study, 84 percent of Americans don’t personally know anyone who is transgender. At the same time, more people are coming out as trans every year. That’s why this conversation and the resources offered by Harris are so important for all of us.
If a child, sibling, parent, friend, or coworker comes out to you as trans or nonbinary, you’ll want to be prepared so you don’t risk damaging your relationship or even worse, contribute to their mental health challenges. The Trevor Project found that three in ten young trans people in America have tried to take their life in the last year, and six in ten trans and nonbinary young people have seriously considered taking their lives.
Little Harris unhappy in a dress
Born in Hertfordshire, northwest of London, Harris is the eldest of three children. Eccentric and dramatic as a toddler, they enjoyed construction and building things. Fortunately Harris’ parents let them be creative and weird.
Before Harris knew they were transgender, something always felt wrong. Even before they knew what transgender meant, they would ask themselves, “am I a boy?” They never knew they could be queer.
“I remember the night before my 18th birthday, I realized that once I turned 18 I would be legally classified as a woman, and I was just really horrified about that.”
Harris as a teen
Harris didn’t tell anyone how they felt but knew they weren’t a boy. At age 26, Harris came across the word “bi-gender,” bringing them to a list with all sorts of definitions. They knew in their heart it felt right.
“’She’ and ‘her’ pronouns have always felt like nails on a chalkboard, and my name never felt right...I was dressing in a way that would garner social affirmation.”
Harris started out renaming themselves. Harris is their family name, and Hill is their mom’s maiden name. Changing the name is not difficult in the UK, but it took them two years because they had no one to ask about how to do it.
We talked about what it’s like to be trans in the UK vs. the United States. The UK has laws that say you can’t discriminate against people. Religious conservatism exists, but it doesn’t have the same influence that it does in the United States.
The National Health Service (NHS) pays for transition services such as counseling, hormones, and surgeries, and “ensures that transgender individuals are treated with respect and sensitivity while they are in custody, and that the safety of anyone in our care, transgender or not, is prioritised.”
In the United States, many trans people have to save a huge amount of money to pay for transition surgery. I told Harris about Janet Mock, who grew up poor in Honolulu, Hawaii, and had to do sex work to save money for her surgery. (I highly recommend Mock’s books, Redefining Realness and Surprising Certainty, both excellent!)
According to NBC News, “While the Affordable Care Act has extended health care to millions, many trans people are still uninsured or are denied coverage for transition-related care, including hormones and gender-affirming surgery. According to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, only 24 states explicitly require private insurance companies to cover gender-affirming treatment. And nine states, according to the fund, have explicit exclusions for trans-related coverage under Medicaid.” As the NBC article states, it’s also difficult to find culturally competent health care providers in the United States.
But the downside of the NHS is that Harris has had to wait for years to go onto testosterone, waiting a year or two between required appointments. Although Harris understands NHS wants trans individuals to have been living their true authentic selves for at least two years, by the time people come out, it’s unfortunate they have to wait so long to go on hormones or get other services.
Harris has also discovered some gatekeeping about what titles can be used for their name. At their last doctor’s appointment, the office wouldn’t allow Harris to use the gender-neutral title “Mx” until they’d completed their transition. Mx is a gender-neutral honorific used by people who don’t want to be defined by their gender.
Transitioning is like going through a second puberty. Even after you have your hormones, transitioning can take 2 to 5 years depending on what you need. Trans people have to still exist in the world while society’s not affirming them, and the added waiting time can make things worse.
Although trans people have to face many challenges, Harris finds that much of the conversation about trans issues is about what’s wrong or what’s difficult.
“It makes us focus on the negative quite a lot...not to mention that the medical model in itself pathologizes us...even though being trans is not a disorder...it still makes so much of the conversation about what’s wrong or what doesn’t feel right, when actually I feel that we should be focusing more on euphoria and what feels good and how we can support each other and become better allies to each other, including myself. I feel that we should be celebrating the joy of people, realizing who they are and honoring their soul...”
The trans community has so many talented, wise, and loving people, and our world is missing out by relegating trans people to exist quietly and force them to conform to certain standards.
Harris and I talked about how as we are talking about trans issues more openly, we’re seeing changes in the younger generations. Kids have so much more capacity for understanding multiple genders. But it’s imperative that parents and other adults try to understand.
“Your kids might be part of this community, and they need to know it’s okay. So many young trans and nonbinary people are suffering from poor mental health because they don’t have support, and it’s shown that just having one supportive parent or adult in your life can minimize the risk of suicide by 90 percent.”
Making it very explicit to your kids and your friends that you are an ally and you’ll respect their boundaries can make such a difference. This is partly why Harris does what they do.
We’ve made a lot of progress on the lesbian/gay front, and now we need to work more on trans education and advocacy, especially with older people. Harris pointed out that it’s hard when you’re older. Even the ones who really want to get it right will mess up.
“That fear of getting it wrong, because adults don’t like being amateurs, is one of the things that holds people back from trying or getting involved or maybe even lashing out because they resent being put in a situation where they’re being asked to rethink things that make them feel safe and secure...”
I asked Harris for suggestions for people like me who identify as male or female and make a mistake with pronouns or other issues. Harris advises just apologizing, correcting the mistake, and moving on without making a big drama about it. They appreciate the intention and the desire to get it right:
“It’s so refreshing to interact with someone who’s trying and really cares about your interaction being positive and affirming and respectful...(better) than to find themselves realizing they’re talking to someone who is verbally or physically attacking them.”
Getting pronouns right is important because it shows you are an ally and not a threat. Trans people constantly fear being on the receiving end of violence, verbal or otherwise.
It might be just a slip-up for us, but a trans person might wonder if they’re safe. 2020 has been the deadliest year in history for trans people in the U.S., especially Black trans women. The Human Rights Campaign reports that young, transgender women of color living in the South are disproportionately targeted by gender-based violence, with Black transgender women constituting 66 percent of all known victims of fatal violence.
In fact, Harris and I talked about Laverne Cox, star of “Orange is the New Black,” and her Netflix documentary “Disclosure” when this interview was recorded a few months ago. Just 10 days ago, Cox and a friend were physically and verbally attacked while on a walk in Griffith Park. After she was triggered and shocked by the experience, she decided to go live on Instagram to share her story...because “It’s important for me to remind myself and remind you that, when these things happen, it’s not your fault...It’s not your fault that there are people who are not cool with you existing in the world...We have a right to walk in the park.”
When talking about trans issues, Harris finds people tripping up the most is around reproductive health. People often forget that trans people have reproductive health as well, and they shouldn’t have to misgender themselves to take part in a conversation. If menstruation, abortion and birth control, reproductive cancers are ever discussed, they are almost always gendered discussions. “It can be true that I’m nonbinary,” said Harris, “and it can be true that I have reproductive health.”
Harris is host of the Transection Podcast, in which they talk about trans issues, but also mental health, racism, and spirituality...all the things that make us different. Topics have included nonbinary and trans 101, euphoria and dysphoria, trauma and PTSD, trans power, navigating spirituality, sex, intersectional movies, inclusive marketing, and empowering Black women. I first discovered Harris when preparing for my interview with Ash Prasad by watching their conversation about intersectional movies.
That led us to a conversation about trans-inclusive and transphobic films and the importance of positive representation...and the ever-relevant topic of J.K. Rowling.
In case you’re not aware, J.K. Rowling has emerged as an anti-trans activist of sorts, defending a researcher who had lost her job after expressing anti-trans views, tweeting criticism of “people who menstruate” instead of using the word “women,” comparing gender-affirming medical care for trans people to the harmful practice of conversion therapy, promoting an anti-trans store to her 14 million Twitter followers, writing a male serial killer who dressed up like a woman to kill his victims into one of her novels, and now claiming she’s received hundreds of letters from women who regret having gender reassignment surgery. She is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), a term used for feminists who are transphobic.
Harris and I agree that it’s incredibly disappointing that someone who wrote amazing stories about oppression and prejudice could become such a big spokesperson for anti-trans bigotry.
“I always think to myself, how can we best use our energy and our voices and our platforms...She can think what she wants, even if it’s wrong...I do think it’s right that we hold people to account and that we say this is unacceptable behavior. I think we are better off to concentrate on the things we need to concentrate on. There are always going to be people who don’t get it or speak out against people.”
I told Harris about the wonderful podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” which goes through each chapter of the books, treating them like sacred texts. I wondered what the hosts, the phenomenal Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan were saying about this TERF stuff, and I found a wonderful statement prominent on their website. Expressing absolute love and support for their trans and nonbinary friends, they gave all of us Harry Potter lovers a reason to continue savoring the books.
“This all reminds us of one core principle of what we believe at Harry Potter and the Sacred Text: That ‘sacred’ is an act, not a thing. It is what we do together, as a community, around the Harry Potter books that makes it sacred. It is not these texts that are magic. It is you. That is why we feel comfortable condemning JK Rowling in her transphobia, but still gathering around the books. They aren’t her books, they are ours. And they have inspired us to love more and better. To take care of our friends at the margins. To fight for what’s right. (Maybe JK Rowling should read them.) We understand if you need to take a break from Harry Potter. And we invite you to still love it without supporting Rowling’s capitalistic endeavors surrounding it. Fan art, fan culture, the library, your already owned books - Rowling cannot profit from these things. They belong to us.”
Harris has created an incredible gift for people to learn about trans and nonbinary identity and inclusion, Trans+Gender Identity: A Guide for Beginners. The free guide offers a glossary of terms, top five things to know when someone comes out to you, three key questions to ask, and what you should and should not do when talking to or about nonbinary or trans people. I’ve been learning about these issues for several years now, but I found it incredibly helpful. I highly recommend you download the guide and share it widely. It will help you be an ally, and it will also prepare you to be as supportive as possible if someone comes out to you.
“I really wanted to make sure that information is available for anyone who needed it so that we could have a lot more positive experiences, particularly of coming out and supporting each other rather than negative ones.”
I asked Harris what would they say to 21-year-old Harris? They responded, “Fasten your seatbelts!” Sometimes they wonder if they would tell themselves “you’re not weird...you’ve not found your words yet, you’ve not found your community...you haven’t worked out these things.” But they also had a lot of mental health issues to deal with, so if they’d come out younger, it would have added to their plate.
“Those years lost not being yourself are expensive in terms of mental health, energy and happiness.”
Harris is choosing to think of coming to it later as a positive thing, but they wouldn’t promote that approach to everyone.
Harris finds great joy when they are able to help others find clarity or comfort, because sometimes it can feel like they’re sh