Written by By Alexandra Elliott-Street, CNN
It’s two years since Beth Harmon came out as transgender and living as a woman, a decision she had to make with her medical insurance. As the CEO of the Britain-based TransAVOCS , which seeks to reduce isolation in the lives of transgender people, Harmon works with a network of transpeople and promotes their voices as well as the work of third-party activists, artists and activists — many of whom have been trans for decades. In keeping with this philosophy, her art often makes reference to transgender experience.
What’s your biography?
My background is primarily as a professional artist. I studied graphic design in New York and gained international recognition with my immigration poster. I’ve done a lot of socially-themed work in terms of activism, highlighting issues that intersect with the transgender community. When I came out as trans, it was a very difficult thing to do. I lost a lot of friends and my own healthcare was taken away. So I went back to school to get my training as a graphic designer. I started my own business and it was a very challenging time, both professionally and personally.
Who are your friends and mentors?
My trans friends range from the arts world through to social media and humanitarianism. One of my very closest friends is Victor Naval, a transgender activist who started TransAVOCS. I’ve got a bunch of very talented and supportive trans trans people who’ve helped me and who I support.
What has your journey been like since you’ve been out and living as a woman?
Through adolescence and college I lived as a boy who thought he wanted to be a man. By the age of 15, I became increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I was much more of a feminine person and sexualizing myself became more and more difficult. I started going to workshops for women, including queer feminists, and those changed the trajectory of my life. They taught me to embrace my beauty and my femininity as an aspect of my identity and not to suppress it.
What does it mean to you to have been vocal in telling your story?
I’ve realized, and also it’s a reality for many transpeople, that when we speak out about our experiences, it can take us away from our families, and my mother’s livelihood, in that it can be difficult to not be connected with the part of you that someone understands. So I find myself, now in my 40s, not letting anything get in the way of telling my truth. I never went into art as an outlet for my feelings or my unrest, but it seemed to be a reaction against a world I felt no control over.
What do you think about the current state of the transgender movement?
I think the figures show it’s moving along pretty well. The cause is reaching a lot of people, people are much more in touch with transpeople’s rights than they were in the past. Over the last few years, I think a real reaction from the transgender community and its supporters. There are lots of resource groups, and a lot of people are talking openly about their experiences.
How do you think this movement can further grow?
I think a lot of people feel excited about what’s going on and are thinking about it more. It’s changing the fabric of society. It’s an unusual issue that trans people have a right to. For a long time we felt disenfranchised and ignored by the world. For a long time, it was a very dull discussion. Now people are like “hang on, we all need this.” But there is still a lot to be done.