I have learned to work through discrimination and the fear of others. When I was a teacher I was advised to keep my being HIV secret as it was then deemed an insurance risk, my blood considered as toxic as the asbestos in the ceiling. 'Keep still', they would say, 'Don't let 'you' seep out'. I learnt to hide the side-effects of my drugs in the toilets before work. My hospital appointments became days off sick and my losing or gaining weight became 'happy/not happy' rather than as a consequence of 'effective/not effective' drug treatments.
When I told my employers that I wanted to teach and transition at work they told me it was possibly best for me to leave, by the back door, and take some time out. To hide.
When I first told my GP that I was transgender and would like to move forward with surgical options they laughed, literally laughed, and said, 'In tough times no one is going to pay for an HIV positive person to have elective surgery'. It was deemed a choice and people like me weren't given choices, just the barest sliver of space in which to exist. For ten years, I fought for the right to have surgery; I had conversations with GPs, with private clinics here, in the U.S. and Bangkok. All of whom, for 10 years, said no. That their insurance wouldn't cover surgery on an HIV positive patient.
I once sent off 15 emails to cosmetic surgeons to enquire about breast implants. Everyone turned me down. At the end of that day I looked in the mirror and saw a sadness that I hadn't seen before. Some of their words of rejection had slipped under my skin; where there should have been silicone implants, there lay stigma.
But I stood tall, head held high, breathed deeply and said, 'Move on Juno, move on'.
One day, I walked into another doctors surgery, said I was transgender and that I wanted surgery. I was armed now with the law and my rights and I was defensive – understandably so. But I was met with a change: they said yes, the doors are open, you can come in.
I write about my truth now. I try and write honestly and openly, even if it feels uncomfortable or painful or like the wound is still open. I write because I think it may help someone who is trapped by the stigmatising views of others. But I never imagined, after my long struggles, that I would have to defend myself and my words for days after publication from people who readily accept their title of 'troll' and their online role as 'trolling'.
A 'troll', as we know, is a mythical Scandinavian being who is depicted as a hunched creature or a giant living under a bridge, often waiting to jump out onto unsuspecting passersby. A troll uses its size and stealth to attack, scare and often eat people. There is something quite childlike and childish in the troll myth. It is brutal, simplistic and often fatal. As myths go, it lacks meaningful narrative. Trolls are often a device used to terrify the edges of a tale.
I wonder if the people who class themselves as 'trolls' or their behaviour as 'trolling' see themselves as childish, brutish and capable of delivering fatal blows; like an unwieldy, wooden, oversized club? When people have said no to me in the past it has often been couched in simplistic terms of power and powerless. I was seen as powerless, while they had the power. They laughed.