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From service user to role model, 20-year-old moss (they/he) reflects on how important our residential weekends have been on their journey

As I traveled to my first residential in an anxious state, navigating through London with my mum by my side, I wondered whether I would fit in.

I was unsure of who I was going to meet or how I would be able to talk to so many people I had only just met. I went with little expectation and a lot of nervous feelings.

Meeting my family

What I didn’t know was that these people were my family. They understood me and accepted me into their group within minutes of meeting me and I felt, after a long time, like I was at home and at peace with myself.

These residential weekends became a place where I felt safe, un-judged and able to be fully free.

My mum often tells the story of looking for me, to check I was okay because I had been so nervous before we arrived, and how I just wanted her to leave me alone so that I could continue to get to know the people I had met. These connections are so valuable and me and mum have made friends for life.

Mermaids staff and volunteers, wearing blue branded t-shirts, smile for the camera
Staff and volunteers at a Mermaids’ residential

I had only been out to my mum for six months at the time, and that first weekend brought up a lot of emotions. It was an intense experience meeting other young trans people and their families.

Embrace, empower, educate

I learned some things about myself in the self-love workshop and met some role models who shared their own stories. The disco on Saturday was full of energy, and a real celebration for all of us, letting go of all the inhibitions the world makes us feel and truly being ourselves.

Six years later, and we were on our way to volunteer for yet another Mermaids’ residential.

Excited but hesitant, as I am now one of the role models that I used to look up to. I felt so grateful to be in this position as I have come so far, not only in my transition but I have grown so much within myself and my gender identity and expression.

I used to feel so pressured by the outside world to fit in, to make myself smaller and put up with what others told me I had to be. But being a part of the residential allowed me to explore my gender and expression and understand that I can be whoever I want to be.

Making connections

Now, as a volunteer, I see the same things happening that I experienced my first time. Families and young people with hesitancy and nervousness to start with and then, as the weekend goes on, talking to more and more people.

It’s amazing to see them making connections and coming out of their shells, realising that they too have found a safe space to be themselves.

Even for me, someone who is generally not a social person and is often unsure of social situations, these residentials have become my home, my safe place and a stable source of trans joy for me. It feels like other young trans people experience it there too.

A white sticker on an orange background. The words read Be whoever wear whatever, and are surrounded by cartoon doodles of clothes
Be whoever, wear whatever: A sticker from a G(end)er Swap workshop

Residentials allow me to express myself in any way that I would like, and even as a volunteer it feels incredibly refreshing to be in a trans space where everyone is understanding and nothing but kind and accommodating. 

Telling my story at the role models panel feels incredible. I have come so far from being a service user at Mermaids to a volunteer who is able to talk to all of the attendees without fear.

It’s okay to be you

It is so heart-warming to be able to stand up and speak, to give the young people a voice and allow them to feel heard. It is so important for me to be there and provide positive non-binary representation and to be able to show people it is okay to be you, no matter how you express yourself.

It was so lovely to see such a focus on trans joy and euphoria this year – celebrating these moments is incredibly important at events like this as it is an escape from everything else in the cis world. As a part of this panel, the feeling of it is intense and emotional but also so positive as it gives worried parents hope and teens are able to see that it does get better.

The weekends are packed with activities and informational sessions such as how to bind safely and giving parents and older trans teens the opportunity to ask questions about medical transition with a few people who have gone or are going through some of it. 

Then there are creative sessions like creative writing, gestural painting and fashion and gender workshops which allow everyone to explore their identities and expressions and give them creative outlets that they may be able to take into the real world. 

Celebrating trans joy

One of the sessions that had the greatest impact on me was gestural painting. We laid out large pieces of paper on the floor with paint pallets, brushes and a stimulus of music was played as we were encouraged to just paint what we felt.

Three people with paint on their hands, faces and legs smiling
Getting messy with gestural painting

This was the work of parents, staff, kids and volunteers and there were no rules except to paint what you feel. By the end we had a large painting that was created by everyone – the collaborations gave me a sense of community which is what it is all about.

There is so much transphobia in the world still, and without these residential weekends, families and children may come across damaging information online and in the media. So the focus on trans joy, making friends and having fun for a weekend really is very special and I feel honoured to have been a part of it. 

Our next residential will take place in Autumn 2022. Sign up to our forum for more details.

Looking back on our first residential weekend in more than two years

Last Saturday, I threw a rucksack on my back and ventured out into the murky morning. Destination: my first residential weekend as a member of the Mermaids team. 

Watching the rain drip, drip, drip down the train window as we pulled out of the train station, I was nervous. Painfully so. Not only would it be the first time at a Mermaids event, but the first time meeting my new(ish) colleagues and the people we support since starting as Digital Engagement Manager at the end of August.

The feeling in my stomach was turbo charged butterflies. Mutant ones. I silently hoped the train would break down, thus giving me an excuse to turn back around and retreat to the safety of my bed. 

Spoiler alert: it didn’t. 

Walking through the doors, though, all my anxiety evaporated. The warmth radiating from the venue immediately put me at ease and though I’d never been to a residential before, it felt like coming home. 

What followed was two jam-packed days of laughter, learning and late-night glitter tattoo sessions and what a joy it was. 

This residential weekend, for me, was an important and timely reminder that we are human beings, not click-bait headlines or topics for debate. And that can be easy to forget, especially when you spend as much time on social media as I have to do. 

So while outside of the venue’s doors a war against trans people raged, it felt incredible to be in a safe, affirming space where we could just be. Without judgement and without apology. 

We played tennis. We carved pumpkins. We hula hooped. Nothing sensational, nothing scandalous, nothing all that special, really. But oh, how special it was. 

The highlight for me was our binder safety session, where trans masc and non-binary young people were able to learn how to properly measure and fit their binders, before going off to try them on. Watching them come back into the room, grinning from ear to ear, was witnessing gender euphoria in action and it made my queer heart soar.

But of course, it couldn’t all be fun and games, and conversation, at times, inevitably turned to the challenges faced by young trans people. From frustration and desperation over waiting times for NHS treatment to concerns about mental health and bullying, the harsh reality of what it is to be a trans kid in the UK today was evident.  

It was intense, emotional and humbling to meet trans children and their families and hear, first-hand, the difference we’re making to their lives. Be in no doubt, Mermaids is life-saving. 

Saying goodbye was hard, but heading back out into the real world again, I felt invigorated and inspired, and so very, very proud of the work that we do. 

Our next residential weekend will take place in Spring 2022. Find out more here