UK’s first trans festival makes glorious return: ‘A microcosm of everything trans’

A photoshoot of both Shon Faye and Juno Dawson

London’s Trans Festival 2022 was a celebration and exploration of trans life in Britain, discussing everything from love and parenting to religion and poetry.

The event – first created in 2020 by gender-affirming makeup brand Jecca Blac – returned from a two-year hiatus on Saturday (13 August) at London’s Pennington Street.

Among the speakers were author Juno Dawson and actor Jake Graf discussing trans identities in the media, model Kenny Ethan Jones on trans masculine representation, journalist Freddy McConnell on trans parenthood and Danielle St James and Cairo Nevitt on the UK’s support of trans people.

Representatives Elliot Higgins and Sharniya Ferdinand spoke on the role of businesses in activism, ambassador Eva Echo opened up on their involvement with trans healthcare, and Reece Lyons did a live poetry performance.

Acclaimed author of The Transgender Issue Shon Faye discussed and read an extract from her upcoming book “Love in Exile”an insight into the author’s love life and how western society’s heteronormative assumptions on love can affect expectations.

Speaking to PinkNews, Faye said: “I just think it’s the next step, at least in my career, to be talking about things that are human universals, whether that’s love, death, grief but from our own perspectives.

“Being trans gives you a unique look at things sometimes because of the [obstacles] we go through that others maybe don’t.

“In many ways, I wasn’t given the chance to practise love in a healthy way and as a result of that I have had to go on a learning curve. I’m interested in creating work that speaks to a lot of people as I think that topic of love does.”

Faye noted that speaking to an audience of trans people is an entirely different challenge to her usual speaking events.

British author and activist Shon Faye.

British author and activist Shon Faye. (Jecca Blac/Provided)

“A lot of the work around my writing is done at cis events, just because the general public is more likely to be cis,” she explained.

“I feel more like I have to be an authority for cis people because they just look at you and they’re like, ‘could you explain this to me’, whereas here I was more interested in the questions because it’s more of an interactive experience where people are able to share back.”

She added: “This is a bit different and it comes with its own challenges. You’re essentially talking to people who have standards for what they want, but I enjoy that. Especially considering I was sharing work that’s not yet published, it was nice to share that in a trans designated space.”

Generally, the atmosphere around the various rooms was uniquely welcoming in a way that’s only really possible through an event like the Trans Festival.

All across the building people were having the conversations they could never have outside of a safe, inclusive space, even if those discussions were just about how much they liked someone’s outfit or hairstyle.

In Q&A sessions, often questions put forward were based on some sort of lived experience the person was either struggling with, was interested to learn more about, or was simply excited to chat about it.

From doctors to inquisitive allies, it truly felt like the world was kept within these walls – as if a microcosm of everything trans people are experiencing in society today had its moment to shine either on stage or in the crowd.

There was even a wholesome moment where around four or five trans people each shared their experience with working in a religious school or dealing in religious practices while identifying as trans.

One of them, a vicar named Sara, won the crowd’s heart with her story about coming to terms with who she is through the lens of religious enlightenment.

Sara started her training to become a vicar in 2012 and has worked across the country with various parishes. After the initial COVID-19 lockdown put her into a state of introspection, much like everyone else experiencing isolation during that time, she eventually decided to start her transition.

Sara is currently closeted, but tries as avidly as she can to preach the openness and acceptance she has interpreted from the bible within the confines of her identity, including that “Jesus said to love everyone, that includes LGBTQ+ people”.

Three designs of Zoah Swimwear

The various designs of Zoash swimwear. (Zoah)

St James spoke to PinkNews in July after the underwear was released, saying her “number one priority” for the clothes was “comfort over style”.

“You name a tucking option, I have tried it. I’ve done the electrical type, I’ve cut the waistbands off of tights and cut the ends off of socks, I’ve done the gaff, all of it and it’s always painful,” she said. “I wanted to do something really fab for the swimwear and do something that’s flattering on the body. I took those learning curves from the underwear. All of the details that make my underwear work make the swimwear work.”

Also in attendance, and sponsoring, was the private healthcare provider The London Transgender Clinic, which aims to provide gender-affirming surgical procedures, healthcare, and guidance for gender-questioning adults. Support provided also includes mental health services such as counselling and psychotherapy, according to the company’s practice page.

Violet, a representative for the company, told PinkNews the clinic had also attended the 2020 event and helped to create “awareness” of the alternative healthcare methods out there, as well as providing a “bridging process before [trans people] are able to access public care”.

“It’s about accessibility,” she continued. “It’s important to show the options that are out there and to create awareness.”

It’s very rare an event can invoke such a rapport with a majority of its crowd, but through a profound understanding of not only allowing for LGBTQ+ expression but ensuring all identities feel represented, Trans Festival achieved just this.

The Trans Festival might still be in its infancy in terms of its age, but its maturity on tackling subjects that other events might be too scared to touch upon was something to behold.