‘TRANSITION OR DEATH’
Text: Paul Hofman
Foto: Remon van den Kommer
Video: Paradox Productions
Transman Jason Bhugwandass (24): ‘Transition or death’.
In an old neighbourhood café around the corner from Jason’s house, we talked to him about his youth, life, transition and studies. Together with BeyonG, he is a transgender pillar of the trans community. My transition has been more than worth it. I am finally grounded.’ It is a remarkable story in which he shows his deep emotions. Without any hiccups, he tells about the difficult time his transition entailed. ‘From woman I became man. I am now well grounded.’ He grew up in a broken family. His father is an alcoholic, his mother has her hands full keeping the family going in this turbulent situation and doesn’t look after him much. Born as a girl, Jason has nothing to do with girls. Playing outside and romping around are everything to him.
As a child, he is often left to his fate. When he was thirteen, Jason realised that something was wrong. He cannot name it. But one thing was clear: he doesn’t feel at home in his body. He doesn’t dare to talk about it with anyone. I bottled it all up. Could I possibly be transgender? I tried to get that thought out of my head.’
The idea that the burden of being different would later be over literally kept me going. He became unmanageable and often had suicidal thoughts. Eventually he was admitted to youth care. Really a ‘hell on earth’, Jason says softly. That’s why he and a few others started a petition called The Forgotten Child. The purpose of this petition is to bring the abuses in the closed youth care to the attention of politicians. It was signed almost 150,000 times. Recently he handed the petition over to the State Secretary of Youth and Prevention. The item even made it to the NOS news that day.
The medical transition took place two years ago. I was very reluctant to do it. But I couldn’t go back. I was ready for it. I was as fragile as a toothpick.
The path to this transition is not without difficulty. Many conversations with psychologists and social workers preceded the operation. The moment he woke up from the anaesthetic is forever burned into his memory. With tears in his eyes, Jason shows the video on his phone of the first time he saw his operated breasts. On his upper body, we can see a large horizontal wound at chest level. ‘It felt like coming home after a long journey. For days I didn’t want to cover my upper body, I wanted to share it with everyone. Man, I was so happy.’
BRAKES ON LIFE
As a trans man and a care experience expert, Jason believes that there should be much more attention to the specific needs of LGBT people with mental health problems. I am shocked by the high risk of suicide. At the gender clinic of the hospital, I experienced that a path to change gender is even more difficult and rigid if you come from a care background. That can put the brakes on your whole life. He was given ten diagnoses, and every psychologist who treated him stuck a different label on him. It’s maddening. He sighs: ‘I have seen the dark side of life, especially of youth care.
‘I ended up in closed youth care. It was the first care I received. His story of those terrible experiences with the care system was impressively shown in a heartrending television documentary. It set many tongues wagging.’
He is a good example for others, Jason says without hesitation. I myself have always benefited a lot from trans people who were a bit further along than me. Now that I am at the end of my transition, I feel grounded. I am close to myself. The operation took place two years ago. The moment he came out of anaesthesia and saw the result of the operation is burned into his memory. Jason proudly showed the video of those moments. The images still touch him. He laughs: ‘The first few weeks I didn’t want to cover my upper body. The contact with my body was recovery. I wanted to share it with the whole world.
His agenda is filling up rapidly. The ambassadorship of Pride Amsterdam comes at a good time. I’ve pulled myself up to the Jason of the future before. When I look at how long and how hard the road has been to be here in this way, I am very proud of this younger version of myself. I took on the battle myself.’ It defines him. ‘With all the difficulties, it was worth it.’
What does it mean to you, now that you can finally be yourself? ‘I don’t feel that you can experience life if you are not close to yourself. It offers the opening to function according to your full potential and wishes. If you can’t do that, it certainly leads to resistance.’
‘What was at first a great burden and a struggle with myself and my environment, has in fact helped me later. It has made me more self-assured, more authentic and more resilient. I hope that as an ambassador I can pass this on to everyone in the same position.’
His new life is smiling at Jason. He is now a second-year psychology student. As an ambassador, Jason is going to give one hundred per cent. ‘I did not fight for nothing. I am allowed to be there.’
Pride ambassador since 2022