'I’m no longer gender dysphoric, I am simply Sara Jane'

'I’m no longer gender dysphoric, I am simply Sara Jane'

Sara Jane Cromwell  who has established the support group Gender Identity Ireland. Picture: Larry Cummins

A new organisation aims to support people struggling with their gender identity to just be themselves, “without prefixes or labels”, and offers a safe space for people to talk through their concerns.

Gender Identity Ireland (GII) has been founded by Cork-based author Sara Jane Cromwell, who has written extensively about the struggles she overcame growing up in 1960s Ballyfermot as one of 12 siblings, from abuse at home to being labelled “retarded”, multiple traumas, and attempts to take her own life.

Sara Jane says she refuses to be a victim, or defined by any one story, least of all the fact that she was also born in the wrong body, having been diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2003. Gender dysphoria is the discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between a person’s internal sense of their gender identity and their sex assigned at birth.

For Sara Jane, her male body was fundamentally at odds with the woman she knew herself to be. She completed her transition to female in 2015, has not looked back since, and doesn’t think anyone else should either. “I completed my transition in 2015. So I’m not transgender, I’m no longer gender dysphoric, I am just simply Sara Jane Cromwell,” she says.

GII aims to provide holistic and family-centric support to people struggling to understand their gender identity, so that they can make informed decisions about steps such as transitioning, and ultimately just be themselves.

I want it to be education- and support-based, rather than political or activistic, and get away from all the limiting fixations. This is about the freedom to be who you are, the person you are born to be. No prefixes, no labels. Just be. Just be yourself.

She says people can become fixated on her gender journey, still referring to her as “trans” when she has completed her transition to becoming a woman. She says for people struggling with their own gender identity, some can also be consumed by their “label”.

'So much more to life than gender identity'

“None of us should hang our lives on just one story. As we go through life, there are so many things that are ultimately going to shape us, not any single one of them, and what troubles me about this whole subject of trans and gender identity is that people will fixate on it as the be all and end all, and they fail to understand that there’s so much more to life than you or your gender identity.”

Sara Jane says that increasingly, people are becoming fixated and defensive about the language surrounding gender identity, isolating well-meaning people from the conversation, and causing confusion about gender dysphoria.

She hopes GII will be able to offer a safe space for people to talk through their confusions around gender identity. “Everything including the kitchen sink is in under ‘trans’ today, and people haven’t got a clue what’s going on,” she says.

“It’s very hard in the best of circumstances to understand and to be supportive. To make that more complicated by creating what is to all intents and purposes a foreign language to people, and that’s accompanied predominately by hostility, by anger, and by blaming when they get it wrong, it’s massively, massively confusing."

Sara Jane says she acknowledges there is a spectrum of gender expression and freedom for people to identify how they wish, but that there should be a clear understanding of what gender dysphoria is, and safeguards against someone going down the path of a potentially irreversible gender transition without a clear understanding of whether it’s what they really want.

“There is a small cohort of people, like myself, who are absolutely certain they were born into the wrong body. It’s not just another self-declared gender identity, it’s far more fundamental than that. You have so many people thinking that they might be gender dysphoric, but actually they’re struggling with their sexuality, or with traumas, and people with gender dysphoria are getting lost in all of this."

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