Josephine Hughes (00:03): Hi, I’m Josephine Hughes. I’m the mother of two transgender daughters who came out in their teens and early twenties. I told my own stories in series one of Gloriously Unready, and in season two, I’m finding out more about transgender people’s experiences because as I adapted to having transgender daughters, it helped me a lot to get to know transgender people. In this series, I ask, what’s it like to come out as transgender to a world that is not always ready for you? And how can you ever be ready to tell the people that you love, that you’re not the person they think you are?
Today’s guest is Max Siegel. Max describes himself as a career queer. He shares his transition story via social media, and also as a public speaker. Max uses an approach of honesty, vulnerability, and lived experience to allow his audiences to understand how it feels to be an LGBTQ+ person in the world today. So I’ve known Max via LinkedIn, really, and it’s just so lovely to meet him face-to-face today in the recording studio. So I’m going to talk a little bit more to introduce Max myself. But Max, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and who you are and what you do?
Max Siegel (01:36):
Yeah. Hello, everyone. My name is Max Siegel. My pronouns are they, he, I am a proud trans man, speaker, content creator, activist man with fingers in many pies who will do pretty much what anyone will pay me for. But mostly if I’m at a dinner party, I tell people I am an LGBTQ inclusion consultant.
Josephine Hughes (01:58):
And that’s how I’ve seen you on LinkedIn, is you…
Max Siegel (02:02):
Yes, my professional presence.
Josephine Hughes (02:03):
Yeah, you talk a lot there, don’t you, about what being trans is about and some really, I do encourage anybody who’s listening, if you are on LinkedIn to follow Max there because it’s so insightful and learning about Max’s life and also some of those things that people say to you as well have been quite interesting to read about and what you face as you’re talking about inclusion. It’s quite personal, but I wondered if you could tell us a bit about yourself and your journey and how you worked out you were trans and where it’s taken you.
Max Siegel (02:41):
Yeah, I feel like there’s either a really long version of this story or a really short one. I’m going to try and hit it somewhere in the middle. So I came out as a queer woman at the age of somewhere between 18 and 21, depending on who you were in my life at that time. Contextually, I grew up in rural South Devon, so every stereotype in the book, I could literally see cows when I woke up in the morning, I didn’t really know what a gay person was. I didn’t know anything about queer identities. The only visibility that I had was very limited TV. So I was born in 1992, so I’m coming out and growing up in the early 2000s, very, very limited visibility. I used to watch the L-word on my computer that I wasn’t supposed to have on after 11:00 PM, I used to watch that at 3:00 AM in the morning when I wasn’t supposed to be.
And I’m very much the internet generation, MySpace, Tumblr, et cetera. And that really helped me figure out a lot to do with my identity too. So ended up coming out and living openly as a queer woman from about the age of 18. I didn’t come out as trans until I was 27, 28-ish. It was February 2020. So a brilliant time to choose to make a big announcement to the world. So there’s a lot of other things going on at that point. And that was when I started using the name Max. I changed my pronouns to they, them and then eventually to they, he. And it had quite a lot of, I guess, life experience before that. And I think something that’s so interesting about the popular trans narrative is that we see either that someone comes out very young, so from a very early point of consciousness they’re saying, no, I’m in the wrong body. This isn’t right for me. I’m not a boy, I’m a girl, et cetera, or we see people coming out much later in life. And Caitlyn Jenner is a lot of the reference points that people have for this.
Either way the context is the same of this idea of always knowing, this idea of I’m in the wrong body and everything is wrong and I’m just uncomfortable. I didn’t have that. And I think it’s really important to talk about that because we often well-intentioned, we expect people to have that narrative in order to be able to talk about their transness. We expect people to have always known to be a thousand percent sure to be almost suicidal, and at points definitely suicidal because we’re so uncomfortable. And as much as that is true and a valid story for a lot of people, I think there’s also a lot of people like me who did not have that. I had a rough sense of unease for most of my life, but I had no idea why. I had no idea that gender identity was in any way something you could change or choose or object to. It was just a given in my life.
So one of the reasons why it took me as an adult quite a long time to come to terms with who I was, was because I had no idea that that option existed. If I could go back and find 15 year old Max and be like, Hey babes, this is what a trans person is, and you can do this if you want to, and this is something that is okay and you’ll be happy and you’ll be fine. If I could do that, I would. And I’m pretty sure that little Max would be like, that’s me. However, nobody did say that to me. Nobody even said, this is what trans person is. So instead, I had this much longer combination of the internet and TV and books and my own consciousness as a person, which came to me realizing in my late twenties, actually, this is who I want to be.
Josephine Hughes (06:37):
With my… I’ve got two daughters, one who said she always knew, and the other one who said that she didn’t know, but she knew, she felt different. And it was finding, like you say, being able to put it into words that, that was the moment at which she was able to realize who she she was. And I think it’s really important that we do have this other narrative that you are talking about, because I think it means people question you more, don’t they? If you-
Max Siegel (07:02):
Josephine Hughes (07:02):
… if you haven’t always known. Well, how do you know you’re right?
Max Siegel (07:05):
Yeah. Yeah. And just we attach this idea of trauma to transness, which is interesting because we attach the idea of trauma in that, well, you have to be miserable and unhappy and have experienced all of these things to know that you want to do this. But then often the anti-trans narrative will flip that on its head and be like, oh, well you are just traumatized, and they’ll look for a reason why this is a symptom of something as opposed to an answer.
Josephine Hughes (07:29):
Max Siegel (07:29):
One of the reasons why I talk about it in this way is because I want people to know that actually it’s very similar to a lot of other things that you may come to terms with in your life, whether that’s sexuality, whether that’s neurodiversity. I cannot think of anything in my life that I’ve ever been completely a hundred percent sure of. And I genuinely think if someone says to you that they are a hundred percent sure, I think they’re lying because you’re always going to have a nagging doubt. I’m getting married in a couple of months, I’ve got tattoos. I’ve done some pretty permanent things in my life, and yeah, I’m 99% sure it’s going to work out, but it might not. And it’s the same thing about transition. We hold trans people this like, well, you have to be a hundred percent sure because this is permanent. And I’m like, you have kids?
Josephine Hughes (08:12):
Max Siegel (08:12):
That’s permanent too. But I’m getting on my soapbox now, so I’ll stop. But yes, I think it’s an important part of the narrative.
Josephine Hughes (08:18):
Yeah, no, and I think it’s important to hear this, because I think, especially it’s the parents that there can be such fear around it because it’s such a different way of being that perhaps parents haven’t considered before. And I think as a parent, quite often you want your kids to be sure.
Max Siegel (08:36):
Josephine Hughes (08:36):
Which, of course, is putting them under quite a lot of pressure. One of the things that you’ve said, because obviously like you said, you’ve done some fairly permanent things. One of the things you’ve done is have top surgery, haven’t you? Was that a difficult thing to make a decision about or was that fairly straightforward? Was there a fear there or did you feel more sure about that?
Max Siegel (08:58):
So it’s interesting, and I think there’s a common thread here with this idea of very linear journeys that we expect trans people to have. And most people, the view is, okay, well you realize you’re trans and you come out and you have a surgery, you get hormones and then you’re finished and then you live your life as another gender. And again, my journey doesn’t look like that. I know a lot of people whose journeys didn’t look like that. When it comes to chest dysphoria and top surgery, the medical term being bilateral mastectomy, when I try and give people context, it’s similar to what a cisgender woman might have if she has breast cancer, but with a different kind of reconstruction. So you have a more masculine reconstruction. For me, I knew definitely a few years before I even came out as trans that I was uncomfortable with my chest.
I would experiment with binding. I have a very strong memory of saying to the long-term girlfriend who we broke up just before I came out, not related to that, but I remember saying to her, if I didn’t have to explain it to my parents, I would have top surgery. And I also remember saying if I could have my boobs attached with the Velcro and just take them on and off when I did and didn’t want them, I would also do that. So when I look back on it now, that is an expression of dysphoria, it’s an expression of discomfort. But I didn’t recognize that, and I very much viewed surgery as something quite extreme. And I think as I learned more about myself as I experimented more with my gender presentation, so with binding, which for those people who don’t know is wearing a compression top, similar to a sports bra, to reduce the appearance of your chest to give you a more masculine looking chest.
I was experimenting with it, and then I decided to just wear a binder full time and see if that made me more comfortable. And it did. So I was learning a lot about myself, and it was that process that allowed me to get to top surgery. I definitely knew that top surgery was something that I wanted, I think even before I really accepted trans as a comfortable label for myself, and I think this is, it’s common in two ways. It’s common in that there are people who don’t necessarily identify as trans or who don’t want to pursue any other form of medical transition, who will access top surgery and gender affirming care, which is completely valid. But I also think there are people who the first thing that they can identify when it comes to that discomfort is something around their chest. For me, it was that it was so present and so there.
And I think that, I’ve spoken to a lot of trans people about this, it’s often the presence of something that shouldn’t be there rather than the lack of something that should be there that can spark that dysphoria. So for me, it felt like every time I looked at myself, there was this thing that just did not look right on my body. I couldn’t dress properly, I didn’t feel comfortable. So it was something that I knew I wanted, but I had this real mental block when it came to accessing the services themselves because A, I have ADHD and I’m terribly disorganized. But B, taking that step and saying, I am going to do this and I’m going to spend this money and this time and this energy into that was a lot. So I actually ended up starting hormones before I had surgery. And people will often say to me, well, how did you do the research around surgery? That there’s so much, et cetera, et cetera.
And I tell them that my best friend, who is also a trans man and is autistic, had done all the research on every surgeon in London because we were both living in London. And he’d landed on this particular guy, Miles Berry. And I went, yep, cool, I’m booked in with the same guy. And it was a hundred percent, I have so much trust in Tey and not everyone can say that, but for me that that was the decision. But it was something I knew I wanted for a very long time. And then it became very urgent, very quickly.
Josephine Hughes (13:00):
Did it? Yeah.
Max Siegel (13:02):
Yeah. There was a sudden moment where I was like, I need to get going on this. Yeah, yeah.
Josephine Hughes (13:04):
Need to do this now. Yeah, yeah. I’m really interested in what you said about, it’s almost like it’s not the absence of something, it’s the presence of something that doesn’t really fit. And I think that’s a really interesting thing for me personally as a mother to actually to think about in relation to my own children. And I know you said about your surgery, you said it felt like it was the day my life began. Is that right? Yeah.
Max Siegel (13:32):
Josephine Hughes (13:33):
So how was it living with, this was a new start, but also you had your previous life as well. So how do you reconcile the two almost, like this was the start of my life, but then there’s also the past?
Max Siegel (13:47):
With great difficulty, I think is the best answer to that. I do not claim to be good at any of this. I’m definitely still navigating it. I have to remind myself that in trans terms, I am a baby. My chest is about 18 months old. My existence as Max is nearly three years old. So you have to give yourself a little bit of time to adjust to things. But I think the biggest reason why I would say that that’s the day of my life began is because, and everyone can relate to this, you don’t realize how much something was impacting you until you no longer have to deal with it. How many times have you come out of periods of trauma or stress or anxiety and been like, oh my God, I was really ill.
Maybe it’s more me and not having an awareness of my own, how I deal with things, but coming out the other side and not having to think constantly about my dysphoria around my chest, not having to think, well, what can I wear that’s going to cover me up? How am I going to manage going on holiday and going to the beach? How am I going to go through a security scanner at the airport? There are so many things that this comes into. And it also gets particularly difficult because pre-testosterone where people would generally gender me as female in a public space, they would expect me to have that chest. I didn’t have top surgery until I’d been on testosterone for a year. So people were pretty much gendering me as male, which made me even more scared, what if they see my chest? What if they’re like, okay, what are you? So there was so many things that that came into and waking up and coming to terms with the fact that I’d had top surgery and relaxing into this body, all of those things just fell away.
Josephine Hughes (15:34):
Max Siegel (15:34):
And there are so many things that, personal things that I enjoy doing that are now so much easier. I love clothes and fashion and really, really interested in style. So I’m able to wear so many more things now without thinking about it. I travel a lot, so being able to go to hot countries and not worry about binding or taping my chest and things like that, it’s unending the amount of changes that are positive changes that it’s brought to my life.
Josephine Hughes (15:59):
I just think it’s really interesting. And people might not even realize the difficulties of something like traveling. This is something you’ve talked about on your LinkedIn, isn’t it? Is, yeah, countries or states now in the US that you can’t travel to because it’s not really safe. And even like you say, going through body scanners at airports can be problematic, can’t it? Because my own daughter had this problem quite recently. It’s something that people don’t even consider how set up our world is in a binary, with binary expectations. But I’m really interested in did you find it difficult to find your style because you’ve moved, like you say, in the sense you were a baby in terms of your-
Max Siegel (16:35):
In terms of trans. Yeah.
Josephine Hughes (16:38):
… baby trans. Yeah. So I find this with people who are very critical of the way transgender women wear, what they wear. And you just think they’re finding their feet and it’s so difficult. Cis people have years of teenagers being a teenager where they can experiment with all these different styles, but we expect trans people to suddenly arrive fully formed and fully fledged, don’t we? And often people are criticized for their clothing choice. I just wondered how you found your style and how important it was for you to do so.
Max Siegel (17:09):
I’m going to answer this in two parts. And the first part is a wider comment on the expectations that we hold trans people to. Because we like to be like, oh, people can wear whatever they want. And particularly for women, oh well it doesn’t matter if a woman wears trousers, has short hair or whatever. And then when it comes to trans people, we seem to forget all of these fairly progressive rules that we put in place. And we say, no, you must look like the most womanly woman who ever existed. And as a trans man, you must be the most masculine and you must be big and strong and wear boring clothes from Sainsbury’s and all of those things. And I’ve always been pretty camp in the way that I present myself. I’m not a hyper amassing person, never have been, never will be, fully fine with it.
But it really throws people because they’re like, people are like, oh, don’t you want to look a bit more manly? And I’m like, Ooh, no, I don’t want to, that sounds awful. I’m going to wear whatever the hell I want. But I think particularly you mentioned trans women, and this especially comes from other cisgender women who are perpetually held to these really unfair standards of womanhood and these really unfair expectations of, well, I’m not going to respect you as a woman if you don’t dress like a woman. We take that and we put that on trans women. What if a trans woman wants to be butch? Also fine.
Josephine Hughes (18:33):
Max Siegel (18:33):
It doesn’t matter. And trans women themselves have to navigate that, also quite often try and pass meaning, be perceived as cisgender in public. I hate that word. I have a whole thing about it, but we do not have time for that. They have to try and pass public for their own safety, but also try and navigate what makes them feel comfortable, what allows them to feel the most themselves. It’s so complicated and I feel like we have to just release this expectation of gender roles that we put on trans people.
Josephine Hughes (19:05):
Max Siegel (19:05):
People love to say to trans people, oh well, don’t you want to be more feminine? If you’re a woman, then act like a woman. I’m like, what does that mean?
Josephine Hughes (19:13):
Yeah. It’s very regressive.
Max Siegel (19:14):
What does this mean?
Josephine Hughes (19:14):
Max Siegel (19:15):
People say to me, it’s so regressive and it’s so Victorian. I have people who comment on my Instagram and they’re like, you can at least dress like a man. I’m like, what does that mean? Again, I’m sorry that I’m wearing a crop top. I like it. I have a cute belly button. It’s not my fault. So speaking of my personal style, I’m very much on a journey with it, but every six months I’m like, I hate everything I own and I sell it all and buy new stuff.
Josephine Hughes (19:42):
Max Siegel (19:42):
And it’s a process. I’m really, again, reminding myself that I’m just a little baby and I very much was a masculine presenting woman and that was my shtick was wearing a lot of men’s clothes, but as someone who was still perceived as female and still walk out of makeup and whatever. And then during the earlier stages of transition, I would choose what to wear based 98% on, will I be safe? Will I pass? How masculine will this make me look? So very loose, baggy, boxy things, dark colors, et cetera. Now I’m coming out the other side of it and part of that is a privilege in that I do pass as cis and I am therefore safer in public, but also the privilege in that I can pretty much choose to wear whatever I want with the way that my body looks.
So I’m now at this next level of I can wear anything. What do I want to wear? Do a lot of vintage because my partner’s really into vintage. We wear a lot of 40 suits and stuff like that if we’re going to an event. But a lot of the time when I’m just left on my own devices, it’s more like a toddler regression is the only way that I can explain it. So I’ve got a pair of shorts from a brand called Lazy Oaf, which do these very bright colors and they’ve got silly cartoon hearts all over them. And it is really like how you would dress your toddler. I have matching clothes with my one year old niece. I love a pair of dungarees. I love a bright color. I love anything that people would not expect me to wear. I really enjoy that. I really enjoy that just if I can change my gender, then I can wear whatever I want.
Josephine Hughes (21:25):
There’s a freedom there, isn’t it? It’s almost like you’ve crossed this huge divide. I don’t know how you found coming out, because I think coming out is such a huge thing to do, isn’t it? And I think especially coming out as transgender, because you risk so much in coming out and having crossed that divide, that conquered that particular fear, it must feel as though sometimes that you’ve done what you can. So what else is as scary as that? I don’t know what your experience was.
Max Siegel (21:55):
Oh, I use that all the time. I use that. If you can come out as trans to your family, get top surgery and speak on a stage about all of your experiences, there’s pretty much nothing you can’t do.
Josephine Hughes (22:09):
Max Siegel (22:10):
That’s my general rule. I’m like, it’s hard to worry about hitting rock bottom when you’ve done stuff like this. I have exposed myself physically and mentally to an insane degree all over the internet by choice.
Josephine Hughes (22:24):
Max Siegel (22:24):
It’s very hard to embarrass me now.
Josephine Hughes (22:27):
Max Siegel (22:28):
It is very hard to make me uncomfortable and I revel in that.
Josephine Hughes (22:32):
Max Siegel (22:33):
I have found so much resilience in this journey. I was talking to a friend who’s going through a really bad breakup, but is also coming out as non-binary at the same time. They wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate it. And I said the word resilient because I was like, trans people are so resilient and they are so powerful in that resilient. And no, we shouldn’t live in a world that makes them be that, but God, does it make us bad asses?
Josephine Hughes (23:00):
Max Siegel (23:00):
Because you cannot mess with trans people. And you also, I know you’re obviously the parent of trans people and there’ll be parents of trans people listening to this. There is nothing more powerful than a parent of a trans person who’s supportive, because I’m not a parent, but I see parents, I see that evolutionary fierceness that I think particularly mothers have about their kids.
Josephine Hughes (23:22):
Max Siegel (23:23):
If you take that and you put that behind trans, it’s like, whew.
Josephine Hughes (23:27):
Max Siegel (23:27):
Josephine Hughes (23:27):
Max Siegel (23:29):
… who are on the whole quite chill about most things, they will mess you up if you come for their kids. The future of trans rights is in the parents who are like, actually no.
Josephine Hughes (23:40):
Max Siegel (23:41):
And I’m so here for that energy. I love it.
Josephine Hughes (23:43):
Max Siegel (23:44):
I also don’t have that from my own parents. They haven’t rejected me or anything, they’re just not P flag parents. So I really revel in it.
Josephine Hughes (23:56):
I remember I was talking very loudly on the tube bemoaning some political thing. I don’t know, I can’t remember what it was there. And this little old lady came up to me, she go up to my husband actually and waved her handbag at my husband because it had a pride badge on it. And it’s like-
Max Siegel (24:14):
Josephine Hughes (24:15):
… I’m marching on behalf of my granddaughter, it’s just fantastic, I think, the grannies are out. And indeed my father-in-law and mother-in-law were so fantastic with my kids. They just said, you tell those kids, they’re welcome. And just that support is so important, I think. And I was going to say, doing this podcast, it isn’t really something I would imagined myself doing, but no.
Max Siegel (24:43):
It’s so powerful. My grandparents are huge allies. It’s the trans allyship equivalent of lifting a car off your child, having that sudden moment of strength, I have spoken to so many people like you who absolutely do not see themselves as activists, do not see themselves as writers or podcasters or whatever, but their child is being threatened and they can find anything within that to, excuse my language, fuck people up who try and challenge them. I love that. And I just think it’s so powerful and I genuinely feel privileged that I get to speak to so many parents in that position. They come to me to thank me for the work that I do, and I’m like, no, I want to thank you because you remind me of how powerful this can be. And I love it. It brings me so much joy.
Josephine Hughes (25:32):
And speaking of joy as well, just to go off on one, because this is something else you talk about, don’t you? You say that we don’t talk enough about gender euphoria, and I’m still really interested in this because the narrative that’s out there is all these poor trans people, false narratives really about transgender people, but saying that you’re confused or confused lesbians, all the rest of it, and then, oh well they’ve got gender dysphoria. Isn’t that a problem? But of course, we don’t talk about the other side of it, which the only reason you have gender dysphoria is because you aren’t living in the way you want to live. So tell me a bit more about gender euphoria and what that’s about.
Max Siegel (26:14):
So I think all of this sits in the more corporate phrase of positive representation. And we’ve already talked a bit about how we have this requirement for trauma for trans people. And I first came across gender euphoria because I read something that absolutely blew my mind, which is that it is very, very difficult to describe gender dysphoria in the things that give you gender dysphoria. It’s difficult for trans people to describe it. It’s difficult for cis people to describe it. The example I always give is, you’re in a clothing shop, you pick up a T-shirt, you go to the changing room, you put it on, you go, oh God, no. You cannot describe that feeling. There’s just something that doesn’t work about it. You don’t like it, you put it back. That is how gender dysphoria feels to me, but euphoria is very specific.
Euphoria is looking at myself in the mirror and being like, God, I look great. It’s trying on a shirt and thinking, yes, this is incredible on me. I can see my top surgery scars and that makes me really happy. It’s recognizing yourself, it’s seeing yourself and that caveats into a phrase I use all the time, which is trans joy. And the reason why that’s so important is because as you said, we focus on this negativity, we focus on this discomfort, we focus on this sadness. And that is important, but not because we should sympathize, it’s because we should empathize with that. And we should say, I offer you my empathy and I want to help you feel better about this. And trans joy is about looking at the end of this process, whether that’s coming out, whether that’s social transition, medical transition, and looking at how happy and stable and fulfilled the huge majority of trans people are.
I’m not sure what the transition rates are sitting at at the moment, to be honest. A lot of the research on it is so heavily biased that it’s really difficult to talk about it. I’ve seen anything from 1% to 4%, but it’s an incredibly low number of people. And it’s also pretty well recorded that the numbers within those, most of them are detransitioning because of transphobia and how difficult it is to be trans, not because of their experience. So what you’ve actually got is the huge proportion of people who are taking whatever steps towards transition towards being their most authentic selves and are just having a great time, are happy, are joyful, are living their best lives.
If we put it in a much more sociable responsibility concept, who are contributing to society, who are good citizens, who are good employees, who are contributing to a capitalist economy, this is something I always like to bring in, because we don’t like to talk about the capitalist side of inclusion, but if you let a trans person transition, they’re probably going to do a better job at the end of it because they’re not going to be so worried about all the other stuff that’s going on. There’s all of these great things that come out of it. And I always say, if you can listen to me talk about how incredibly happy I am, how I look in the mirror and see myself the first time in my life, and I genuinely feel joy every time I wake up. And the only thing that you can think to say is, but what if you regret it? You’re not listening, you haven’t listened to me. That is based in purely on your own understandings.
And there are so many of these stories out there, and I’m very lucky I have a platform to talk about it and I shout about it all the time. But I think that we have to put it into that context because when we have these negative conversations, we just create this cloud of fear and confusion and assumptions around transition. You actually mentioned it before, A lot of parents want the best for their kids. My mom said to me when I came out as gay, I just want your life to be easy because you can recognize as a parent that this is going to be more difficult. And she said the same thing to me when I came out as trans. And I said, I would rather have a harder life and be this person then have a harder life because I’m hiding who I am.
Josephine Hughes (30:21):
Max Siegel (30:22):
But we have to see those positive narratives. We have to see people saying, yes, coming out sucked and surgery was expensive and hormones are complicated. And sometimes people are mean to me. A lot of the time people are mean to me on the internet. Would I change any of it? No. Would I do it all again? A hundred times. Because it’s that joy that shows people why we have to let people do that. So I am incredibly passionate about it and everything I do is trying to focus on that. I’m trying to help myself feel more joy, be a better person, be a better person to other people.
Josephine Hughes (30:59):
Max Siegel (31:00):
This is what helps me do that. This is a vehicle for that gender euphoria, that trans joy, whatever you want to call it.
Josephine Hughes (31:08):
Yeah, yeah. In my experience of my own children, they’ve been out now for about eight years and I can really see that they are living their best lives. And I think that’s a really important thing to say because I think when your children first come out, like your mum said, I think this is going to be hard for you, but there’s not within that, that recognition that actually if you don’t come out, you’re just living a hard life in another way, aren’t you?
Max Siegel (31:39):
Josephine Hughes (31:39):
That’s the difference. It’s not as though, yeah, perhaps you won’t meet as much discrimination, for example, and perhaps you won’t have to go through surgery or whatever, but you are not being the person that you really are. And I’m a great, well, I’m just a great believer in people being who they really are because I think that is what enables them to be creative. We talked about capitalism, but creative if not productive. It’s-
Max Siegel (32:06):
Yeah. Creative and kind.
Josephine Hughes (32:08):
Max Siegel (32:09):
And the biggest thing that I’ve found has changed about my personality when it comes to transition is how much easier and how much more able I am to offer grace and kindness to other people. I was a very angry, uncomfortable person for a really long period of time. And now I look at that person and I just think like, God, she was a bitch. I wasn’t a very nice person to be around. I was uncomfortable anyway, but I also, transition didn’t solve my problems, it made me able to deal with them. It made me able to explore my ADHD, my anxiety issues. I have OCD, I’m now able to treat that because I have capacity to do so. And I’m really just a lot more chilled out. Very few things bother me anymore, because I’m like, I’m happy. Happy people are much better members of society, that’s what it comes down to.
Josephine Hughes (32:59):
Yeah. So I’m interested in the, you do get a lot of online abuse, don’t you? And you did do a brilliant series for a while, which I think you might have stopped, but the Bigots of LinkedIn, which I really enjoyed.
Max Siegel (33:16):
I think that the bigot community have learned not to mess with me, because they haven’t popped up recently. It comes back occasionally. But yeah, I think maybe I’ve blocked most of them.
Josephine Hughes (33:24):
So, what’s it like to be so out and to be working in inclusion and to be somebody, like you say, you’ve put yourself out there on social media.
Max Siegel (33:35):
Sometimes it really sucks. There are days where I’m like, why the F do I do this to myself?
Josephine Hughes (33:42):
Max Siegel (33:43):
It’s been a steep learning curve the last two years. I’ve been a queer person on the internet for a long time, but particularly the past two years going freelance. So obviously growing my platform on LinkedIn, but also on Instagram, like nearly 35K-ish. So it’s been a steep learning curve. I’ve had to teach myself a few boundaries or coping mechanisms. One of them I came up with recently, which is that people expect you if you have a platform to accept or allow a level of nastiness, I guess. And I think it’s a reflection of, if you think about very, very famous people in paparazzi, most people will be like, oh, well, you are famous, so you have to deal with it, you deserve it. And I think people apply that to influencers and content creators really unfairly because A, I’m not Kim Kardashian, and B, I don’t have to accept abuse and hatred from people just because I have a platform.
Josephine Hughes (34:45):
Max Siegel (34:46):
So the way that I’m currently dealing with it is I see my spaces on the internet as my house. So if I wouldn’t let you come into my house and speak to me the way you’re speaking to me, I’m not going to let you do it on the internet.
Josephine Hughes (34:57):
Max Siegel (34:58):
Instagram and LinkedIn haven’t promised you free speech. I haven’t promised you free speech. And a lot of the time it isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech, but I don’t have to listen to this. I don’t have to engage, I don’t have to respond to you. I can just block you.
Josephine Hughes (35:09):
Max Siegel (35:10):
Obviously in order to do that, I do have to read it, which is sometimes a lot. Sometimes I will use it as a learning point, which I do really like to do particularly on LinkedIn, particularly if it’s something that is unintentionally offensive or really shows some of the misinformation that might be being shared about my community. But I have very strong boundaries with online abuse and I on the whole have become very resilient to it. I don’t think it’s something that I want to be resilient to, but unfortunately I have to be. The one thing I do find really, really difficult is when I get abuse or trolling or whatever from people within the community. So within the LGBTQ community, there are a vocal minority of people who are very anti-trans and like to come for me. And I find that quite difficult because a part of me really empathizes with their fear and a part of really, really empathizes with their journey because I’ve had that too.
And I see someone who is so hurt by what they have been through that they see the answer as attacking another member of their community. And they don’t necessarily feel that aligning our fights is actually the way to approach it. And instead they see it as very separate and they see it as a, if you are allowed your rights, that takes away from mine and the internalized homophobia that comes within that makes me so incredibly sad. And I find it a lot harder to challenge those views because I understand the pain from where they’re coming from. And that doesn’t mean I accept it, but I do find it difficult. And I also find it difficult when I on occasion receive hatred or abuse from people within the trans community because again, that internalization of what we’re told about ourselves, that internalized transphobia, there’ll be conversations about trans medicalism. So whether or not it’s valid if you’re a trans person who doesn’t medically transition all of these things or people coming for me about the work I do and saying I’m profiting off trans lives and things like that.
I’ve had some really horrible things said to me. And that’s really painful because that’s people within my community and part of me thinks you should know better. But then I also again try and extrapolate it out into this. I know where this is coming from. I know the pain that this is coming from. I understand internalize transphobia because I am constantly working not to do that. Yeah, it’s a process. There are days where I delete my Instagram app and I go outside and I breathe, and there are days when I absolutely take people down and post screenshots for everyone else to enjoy. It varies a lot, it’s a lot. And sometimes I do have to take a step back and just be like, this is a lot. It’s a lot of emotion for sure.
Josephine Hughes (38:08):
Yeah. Yeah. So just to move on, do you think, because the other thing that obviously is part of who you are is that you’ve got ADHD. Do you think that has a part in you being queer or is it just… Because I know this is something that can be leveled against people.
Max Siegel (38:25):
Oh God, people just love to find any excuse to be like, you’re not really who you say you are based on zero information.
Josephine Hughes (38:31):
Max Siegel (38:32):
I think there are some real intersections between queerness and neurodiversity. And I say this as someone who’s very much speaking from their own experiences. A lot of things in the trans universe, there are very limited levels of research into a lot of these topics. So it’s really hard to speak about them on a scientific level. For me personally, I think that there’s a lot of people who are trans or queer and also on the neurodivergent spectrum. I think that is because of the level of introspection that comes from having either one of those things. I know plenty of people who have gone from, I’m queer and now I think I might have ADHD or be autistic or the other way around. And for me it’s because all of those identifiers, all of those parts of us that are very intrinsic require a lot of self introspection, a lot of understanding of ourselves, a lot of reflection on who we are, what we do, how we perceive things, how our brains work.
So I think that if you are neurodivergent or if you are LGBTQ, you are already quite used to looking at yourself with that external gaze and understanding that you might be different. So I think that that there’s some stat that’s like you’re three times more likely to question your gender identity if you’re autistic. And that makes sense to me because my understanding of autism from my friends and the research I’ve done is that you pretty much question every societal norm around you. So it doesn’t seem surprising that someone’s questioning gender identity and gender roles.
Josephine Hughes (40:10):
Max Siegel (40:11):
The other thing that there’s some emerging research into is the connection between trauma and neurodiversity. Effectively that experiencing levels of trauma, particularly in younger life, will result in a higher likelihood that you might experience issues with ADHD or autism and brain development later in life. Again, this is still an emerging field, but it doesn’t surprise me because the LGBTQ community has huge amounts of trauma, particularly as younger people. And I’m not just talking about people who maybe come out and have terrible experiences with their parents, become homeless, looking about, if you can call it lighter trauma, the experience of growing up and knowing that you’re different. The experience of growing up and maybe being bullied or not feeling welcome, that’s all trauma too. My partner had a fairly abusive childhood and is now exploring an ADHD diagnosis. From what we know about deeply seated trauma, it seems unsurprising that she’s now experiencing these issues.
So I think there’s a huge amount of crossover. And the other thing that’s really interesting when I look at it from my perspective is how similar the UK trans and neurodiversity journeys are in terms of misdiagnosis, in terms of lack of support from healthcare, in terms of how much self-advocacy you have to have in order to be treated correctly, in order to have your accommodations. I’m only just learning to request accommodations for my ADHD, and part of the reason that I’ve been able to do that is because I’ve had to learn to advocate for myself as a trans person.
So I think there are so many crossovers and I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the research come out and understanding a bit more about it.
I just hope that it isn’t misused by the people who want to see it as a, oh, well, you’re just this, or you are just that, or you’re just traumatized, because what it comes down to, take all the labels off it, these people are struggling, they’re finding it difficult to participate in their jobs, to socialize, to be healthy physically and mentally. We need to help them regardless of what label might be put on them.
Josephine Hughes (42:14):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So we’re reaching the end of our time together. So Max, it’s just been so, so good to talk to you and hear your perspective on stuff. It’s been really helpful. I’m sure it’ll help lots of my listeners as well, lots of parents who-
Max Siegel (42:30):
Josephine Hughes (42:31):
… often come to the podcast having just been told that their child is transgender and wanting to know more. And so it’s so good to hear from other transgender people what their journey’s been like. So thank you very, very much for coming along. And finally, where can people find you?
Max Siegel (42:49):
LinkedIn, Max Siegel, Instagram at They’re Queer. That’s pretty much it. If you put in Max Siegel or They’re Queer on Google, it should show up if my SEO is working. And I also run a company called Trans& which is a trans inclusion consultancy. We produce content, we have speakers, we do everything under the sun at the moment, still working on narrowing that one down.
Josephine Hughes (43:17):
It’ll come. And yeah, I’m sure there’ll be more exciting things to hear from you about in the future as well. So thank you very much, Max, it’s been brilliant to speak to you. I hope we get to speak to you again, and thank you very much for coming.
Max Siegel (43:28):
Josephine Hughes (43:29):
It’s often said that parents simply want their children to be happy. One of the surprising changes that you face as a parent of transgender children is that you can no longer ignore the issue of safety. For many transgender people in society today, it isn’t safe to fully express themselves. And I think Max’s willingness to share themselves and take the flack for it is exemplary. As a parent, you want your child to be happy and safe, but is that possible? What price is society paying for the fear around transgender issues? I feel sad that people are unable to be themselves, to express themselves creatively and to be productive in society.