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Herne Bay transgender man tells of journey to become 'happy with who I am'

Tyler Chitty has been the target of shocking abuse, threats and violence.

While living in Chatham, thugs sent rags soaked in petrol through his letterbox, ransacked his home and even mutilated his cat before dumping it on his doorstep. He was terrorised for months.

Tyler Chitty is co-founder of Herne Bay's LGBTQ+ Trust
Tyler Chitty is co-founder of Herne Bay's LGBTQ+ Trust

Why? Because Tyler is transgender.

“Some people down the road from where we lived at the time found out about my past. I had a beard, and they noticed a change,” Tyler recalls.

“They started causing me and my partner a lot of trouble. We used to get things put through our letterbox, like human excrement. One of our cats had been laid out on our doorstep and gutted.

“We put our own CCTV up, but we still got hate mail through the post. It’d have dog **** all over it, and you’d get covered when you opened it.

“We knew who it was. They didn’t like gays or lesbians and didn’t want them in the area. We then got broken into when we were away and words like queers, trannies, poofs were spray-painted on the walls.”

Tyler Chitty photographed on his old motorbike seven years ago
Tyler Chitty photographed on his old motorbike seven years ago

We’re sat in Tyler’s living room. Thick-set and tattooed, he’s perched on his leather sofa, arms folded, as he recounts his life as a transgender man. All the while Tyler’s cats – Willow, Bandit and Ozzie – are scampering around the Herne Bay flat.

Born in Hampshire, the 44-year-old lived for years as a woman. He grew up in the Bay, attended the town’s high school, played rugby for England under-18s and enrolled at Canterbury College.

After completing his studies, he joined the RAF, serving in the armed forces for about four years before he shattered his left leg in a training exercise. For the following 20 years he worked the doors at venues across Kent.

But throughout his life, he was unable to feel comfortable in his own skin, taking steps to conceal his femininity. There was a disconnect between how he felt and what he saw in the mirror.

He would bind his breasts with shop-bought bandages. At first, he tied them loosely, but then wrapped them ever more tightly. That was until his ribs broke under the strain.

Tyler Chitty aged six
Tyler Chitty aged six

“I carried on doing it for two or three weeks, but did it a little looser because it hurt on one side,” the veteran adds.

“I only found out after I got knocked off my motorbike. They took me to hospital, X-rayed me and that was when they noticed I’d broken two of my ribs. I was lucky I didn’t puncture my lungs.

“I was binding for years to hide my chest. It felt comfortable. I was trying as hard as possible to hide the parts of my body that made me look female.

“I always felt I was in the wrong body. I just didn’t realise what was going on when I was younger.”

As Tyler struggled to reconcile his conflicting emotions, his mental health spiralled out of control. He tried to take his own life at the age of 27 – the first of two suicide attempts.

Tyler Chitty aged 13
Tyler Chitty aged 13

The doorman was discovered in his lounge by police, who pulled him from the jaws of death prior to the arrival of ambulance crews. Tyler was then sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

“I didn’t feel I should be on this planet any more as who I was,” he winces, holding back tears. “No one was listening to me and wanting to accept who I was.

“It was during discussions with mental health workers that I realised I should be male. They thought I was going through a breakdown, though, so I got put in counselling and on drugs. They thought I was a lesbian with mental health issues.”

The bouncer read about others who had transitioned. The thought “that’s exactly how I feel” filled his head as he waded through the case studies. Following a meeting with his GP – at which he told the doctor “I don’t feel like a woman” – he was referred to a London gender clinic in 2011.

This set in motion a 12-month series of consultations, which began with a “nightmarish, horrible” anatomical examination. The “humiliating” experience saw Tyler studied by gynaecologists flanked by students for several hours.

“Because I had certain natural male traits – I could grow facial hair without any hormones, had size nine feet and broad shoulders – they wanted to do all sorts of tests on me,” Tyler explains.

“They did it with as much dignity as they could, but it was still intrusive. I had cameras down there and there were students in the room watching. I was there for five or six hours.

Tyler Chitty in his 20s, prior to transitioning
Tyler Chitty in his 20s, prior to transitioning

“They were exploring to see if I was intersex. When I went back for the second appointment, all the tests came back showing I had high testosterone levels. They found a testicle that was hidden away during their examinations. It proved I should have been born a male, but for some reason I wasn’t."

After attending three more appointments in the capital, Tyler says he was “more determined than ever” to transition. He was referred to surgeon Dr Andrew Yelland for a double mastectomy.

But it was while he waited to go under the knife that the security worker was targeted by a group of Medway transphobes, after they noticed his appearance starting to change. The louts were eventually arrested when they were caught on CCTV breaking into his property with their hoods lowered. Fearing reprisals, police moved Tyler and his partner to Herne Bay.

When he eventually underwent the surgery, doctors spent several hours operating on his chest. By the time he roused, his body was concealed by a welter of pads and bandages. And rather than being overcome by pain or concern, he recalls finally feeling “free”.

“I could physically pass as a man on the street and not be questioned. That was what I wanted more than anything. I didn’t want to be known as the he-she, she-he or it, which was what so-called close friends would say to me. It inspired me to go further with my transition.”

More meetings with specialists followed, as the biker sought to undergo surgery on the lower half of his body. Tyler was given a date for the operation – but the procedure had to be scrapped after he suffered a stroke.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve had to go through or suffer. I want them to know there’s support out there..."

Experts advised the then 37-year-old to wait 12 months. Shortly after receiving this advice, though, he was struck down by a “widow-maker” heart attack at work, only kept alive by a quick-thinking colleague.

Tyler was consequently classed as too high-risk for the procedure. This was the precursor to his second suicide attempt.

“Being told I couldn’t have that lower surgery and that I’ll always have that female part made me very unstable mentally. I was thinking ‘who’s going to want to go out with someone who’s half-and-half’, and I spiralled out of control,” Tyler says.

“It’s taken me many years to come to terms with the fact I can’t have lower surgery and that I’m always going to be who I am. It’s only really been in these last two years, more so this last year, that I’ve become happy with who I am.”

It was while he manned the doors of Sundowners gay bar in Margate that Tyler started to feel at ease with himself. He mustered the confidence to come out to some of the regulars, who helped him shed the fear of telling others.

Along with three pals, he has since launched the Herne Bay LGBTQ+ Trust, the membership for which has swelled to more than 170. Tyler hopes to be able to help others avoid the difficulties he experienced.

“I tried to keep myself a secret because I was frightened of the ramifications of coming out as trans,” he says. “However, pretty much over the last year, I’ve started to be myself and when people ask, I tell them I’m a trans guy.

“I accept myself for who I am now. Because I feel so safe with the people around me, I feel like it needs to be safer for the trans community. There’s a lot of people unwilling to be open because they’re petrified of the backlash.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve had to go through or suffer. I want them to know there’s support out there.”

'Widespread abuse'

Tyler is one of many transgender people across the country to have encountered bigotry.

A recent survey led by community interest company TransActual found “staggering levels of abuse” had been aimed at individuals.

Campaigner Jane Fae
Campaigner Jane Fae

Two-fifths of those who took part in the study reported being prejudiced against when searching for housing, while more than 60% experienced discrimination when looking for a job.

Eighty-five per cent of transgender women questioned said they had been subjected to on-street harassment.

TransActual director jane fae, who does not capitalise her name, told KentOnline: “Abuse, whenever it happens, is appalling. And in the UK today, it is sadly widespread. These figures are substantively worse when an individual is also black, POC or disabled.

"When it comes to abusers, what can we say? You are wrong. You are bullies.

“If you think your actions are somehow 'saving' someone from something, you could not be more misguided.

“Think about what you are doing - and ask yourself if you really want to be remembered for being someone defined by hatred."

Ms fae also says the routes down which people wanting to transition can go down are “problematic”.

She estimates that having the procedure privately can set a transgender woman back as much as £15,000, while transgender men face forking out more than £60,000.

“In the UK today, transition is a process that will realistically take 10 to 12 years..."

"The NHS service is – mostly – delivered free, and is accessed, in the first instance, by applying to a gender dysphoria clinic,” Ms fae continued.

"However, the issue with going down the NHS route is the impossible length of waiting lists.

“In many areas, it can take five to six years to secure your first appointment, another couple of years of assessment before any treatment can begin, and years more before any hope of surgery.

“In the UK today, transition is a process that will realistically take 10 to 12 years.

"Not surprisingly, an environment in which abuse is normalised, coupled with such seemingly impossible barriers to transition, has negative mental health impacts.

“Overall, trans people are widely recognised as significantly more at risk of suicide.

“But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Other negative outcomes are common, including self-harm and addiction to drugs or alcohol.”

‘Intrusive doctors’

Meanwhile, bosses from charity Mermaids UK also stress that some young people and families it supports have run into “challenging doctors, intrusive lines of questioning, or discrimination when seeking help”.

Speaking on behalf of the organisation, Joao Espirito-Santo said: “We often hear about trans people who have to present a story that might not be their own in order to be believed and access care.

“This usually involves having to rely on a performance of rigid understandings of femininity and masculinity to achieve an unknown and clunky threshold to access medical transition.

“The scarcity of services, long waiting times, and the expensive private alternatives encourage people to follow this script, instead of having a genuine conversation.

“Transitioning looks different to everyone. Some people are happy with a social transition and others seek a medical transition.

“Social transitioning can include changing your name and pronouns, updating your wardrobe or experimenting with different haircuts or beauty products.

“Medical transitions may also look different for different trans and non-binary people - some people just want to take hormones, some would like to have different surgeries or procedures, and so on.”

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