It’s 2016 and there are still many people who don’t support the LGBTQ+ community.
Although its allies are increasing in number, there are still many cases of harassment, assault and abuse being reported.
Those who are transgender are probably the most alienated from general society compared to other groups in the LGBTQ+ community.
Shocking statistics show just how difficult it is to be transgender, and one women who has faced this discrimination has shared her story with Artefact.
Aillee McDonald aka Miss Kitty Star, from Newcastle, is a proud transgender woman and like many others, she went through highs and lows to get to where she is now.
She has experienced the dark side of the sex industry and urges anyone considering going into that line of work to understand the traumas that it has caused her.
Aillee was only three years old when she was aware of being different: “Throughout my whole childhood, I used to dress up in my mum and sister’s stuff. My parents thought it was a phase but I knew that this meant something else.”
“My parents thought it was a phase but I knew that this meant something else.”
This process happened in the 1980s where there was almost no coverage of transgender women in the media or even in daily social settings, but that didn’t stop her from expressing what she felt was innate.
She knew that she was trapped in the wrong body.
Like many people in Aillee’s position, she had a tough adolescence; although she had friends, she knew that she couldn’t come out to them for fear of being rejected.
“My friends would take the mickey of anything considered different, effeminate, or out with gender norms. I knew if they found out about me that it would destroy my life so I kept my secret hidden.”
Although she and her family moved up to the Scottish Borders, to a place called Ettrick Bridge, a small village in the Ettrick Valley that Aillee described as a “backwater”.
She recalls her time there as being “difficult, lonely and very isolating”, and this prompted Aillee to leave home at the age of 17.
It wasn’t until she moved to Edinburgh that she was finally able to come to terms with her identity as a transgendered woman.
“I told my mum after a day of shopping and she was very chill about it, she was like ‘OK. Fair enough.’, it was the complete opposite of how I thought that she was going to react.”
A great reaction from Aillee’s mum but, unfortunately, that’s not the case for millions of other LGBT people: more than half get a negative response or face being disowned when coming out to their family and friends.
During her college years, her biggest fears became a reality; Aillee lost all of the friends that she held on to so tightly after revealing her true identity to them. To her dismay, “they practically washed their hands of me”.
“You know that you’re being used and you’re just a piece of meat to them.”
Aillee’s process of becoming who she always wanted to be was unnecessarily long. She started seeing a therapist, however, they weren’t a specialist in dealing with LGBTQ+ issues.
“It was the only thing around that I could afford; most therapists charge £100+ an hour. I didn’t have any help at all when I first came out, I had to figure out this whole mess on my own.”
After seeing her GP and explaining to him that she needed help with her transition to become female, he mistakenly thought she was trying to transition from female to male, and told her: “You’re not doing a very good job.”
Aillee was referred to a gender specialist based at The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but this was delayed by a further 18 months, so in order to speed up the process, Aillee sold many of her personal belongings so she could use the money to see the same gender specialist at a private clinic.
Eventually, she was referred to Charing Cross Gender Clinic in Hammersmith, London, to discuss completing her transition and being able to have her Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS).
However, it still took her three years on the NHS waiting list until she received the surgery that she needed, one of the 32% of trans people who had to wait that long.
She finally underwent surgery in 2011, followed by rhinoplasty in 2012 to correct damages caused by previous conflicts and a breast augmentation in 2013.
The NHS deemed the surgeries as “not necessary” for her transition, so she had to go into private care in order to complete her transformation.
Although rhinoplasty and breast augmentation are normal for some, it was hugely significant for Aillee in order to mould her physical appearance to match her true identity.
Like many others, Aillee funded her operations by going into the sex industry, as it is virtually impossible for women like her to get a normal job.
Aillee describes the company that she used to work for as “extremely close-minded and discriminatory”.
“I lost my job when my boss found out about who I was,” she told us, and that this resulted in her losing the mortgage on her flat, which consequently made her homeless.
Aillee joined an escort company soon after: “A lot of trans women join the escort business because they don’t fit in anywhere else and it’s also the quickest way to get a lot of money. More money in a quicker amount of time means that they can have surgery sooner.
“There is an allure to the rising income compared to the typical job. A lot of women also fall into the trap of being involved with clients; finally feeling accepted.
“But if you’ve got the right brain on your shoulders you know that you’re being used and you’re just a piece of meat to them.”
Society is brutal to women who are not “passing”, a term used to describe transgender women who look like cisgender females, with statistics proving that transgender women who look more male have a greater chance of being attacked compared to a woman who has completed her transition.
“It’s something that no one should ever go through.”
62 per cent of all trans women have experienced harassment from strangers in public settings.
Aillee considers her time as an escort as one of the lowest points in her life. “It’s something that no one should ever go through.”
It wasn’t until a trip to Birmingham that she realised that this way of life, was not for her.
“I had to go to Birmingham to meet a client and me being naïve I thought he was going to show me around and that I was going to have a good time but it took a sinister turn when it became night-time. What had started as a normal night out turned into me overdosing on drugs and alcohol and then vomiting in the bathroom.
“The guy wasn’t happy at all and got annoyed very quickly. I couldn’t move and was basically helpless and he decided to get his money’s worth seeing as he came all the way here. He then proceeded to rape me.”
“They basically washed their hands of me.”
One in two transgender women in the UK are sexually assaulted at least once in their lives compared to one in five cisgender women.
Not only does a large majority of the trans community have to experience these ordeals, but many are dealing with a traumatic aftermath.
A reported 84 per cent of trans people have considered ending their lives and 35 per cent have attempted suicide on at least one occasion.
Aillee also explained that a lot of young people are considering going down the same route her because they think it’s the easy way out.
“I’d never wish that on anyone. A lot of people aren’t even planning to go through gender reassignment because they know that they’d get more money but you shouldn’t stop yourself from being who you want to be. It’s not suitable for anyone with a fragile mindset.”
She describes her experiences as incredibly harmful to her growth as a person and as the “worst thing” to have ever happened to her.
Just like other communities, it is essential to have role models to encourage their youth to be the best that they can be.
But one current role model in the trans community doesn’t sit well with Aillee: “Caitlyn Jenner is the worst thing to have happened. She doesn’t seem genuine and seems to focus too much on money.
“She’s a terrible example of what it means to be trans and goes against what I believe in. She has lived her life as a Republican white male for 65 years so she knows nothing about what we need.
“All that white male privilege has led her to be misguided. She said she was going to vote for Trump and she supports Teddy Cruz, both of which are incredibly homophobic and transphobic,” Ailee told us.
On the other hand, there are still a few people she feels are great ambassadors.
“Laverne Cox is great but I think RuPaul is incredible. He has a broad mindset and has done a lot for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Although RuPaul is not a transgender female, he is a drag queen who has contributed to the blurring of the lines between genders in mainstream media.
This has been highly beneficial for transgender females and males when it comes to being accepted in the wider community.
Aillee is currently onto bigger and better things. She has a music career under the alias Miss Kitty Star, in which she plays piano, drums, and percussion and also produces her own music, which you can see on her Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
She is also an avid cosplayer and is looking forward to attending Newcastle Comic Con later this month and Liverpool Comic Con next year.
She’s planning to dress as Wonder Woman.
If you are a young transgender individual who wants to know more information about how to handle life and stress or even if you want someone to talk to, there are numerous helplines and websites that can make sure you get the help that you need. Examples of these are:
The Mix: A website that helps young people understand gender and sexuality. www.themix.org.uk.
Mermaids: A support group for trans teenagers. You can call them on 0208 123 4819.
Beaumont Trust: A charity that educates groups on all subjects concerning trans. You can call them on 07000 287878.
All images by Aillee MacDonald.