Debbie’s Story: ‘Newcastle United became the family I lost through my transition’

During Pride Month, Newcastle United Foundation is sharing Debbie’s journey to better mental health through support from the charity’s Be A Game Changer campaign and campaign champions, United with Pride.

Debbie felt desperate and alone after being rejected by her family for living her truth. Moving away to start a new life living as a female full time, Debbie eventually found acceptance and new friends to turn to through a shared passion for Newcastle United.

During Pride Month, Newcastle United Foundation is sharing Debbie’s journey to better mental health through support from the charity’s Be A Game Changer campaign and campaign champions, United with Pride – Newcastle United’s official LGBTQ+ supporters’ group.

By Debbie Cannon

As a trans woman, I struggled with my identity for many years, and this brought with it a huge amount of loneliness, confusion, and stress.

I never really acknowledged that what I was experiencing was a mental health problem because it was so wrapped up in my identity – in me not living my truth.

But looking back, I can see that, while my identity and the challenges that came with it may have been the cause of how I was feeling, the subsequent depression and eating problems were mental health issues that needed addressing.

In July 2012, I made the decision to live as a female full time. I couldn’t go on not living my truth, and I had lots of counselling sessions leading up to this point to help me understand and make sense of the process that I was going through.

I was 39 and, because of my transition, my family rejected me as they couldn’t accept me for who I truly was. So I made the decision to move far away from home, which meant living in a new town with a new job and no friends or support network.

Starting a new life alone

It wasn’t long before I felt completely out of control and totally isolated. I was struggling at work, depression was taking over, I was missing my daughter terribly and I had nobody to talk to about it. I was also experiencing transphobia, with people shouting at me and calling me names in the street.

Feeling so out of control, my mind focused on one thing it knew I could control – food. I began restricting what I was waring and as a result, I lost a lot of weight. This, combined with my depression, created significant challenges for me – all adding to the challenge of transition, which was difficult enough.

Feeling desperate, I ended up reaching out to an LGBTQ+ organisation called Over The Rainbow. They had a trans support group led by a therapist and after a one-to-one session, I was welcomed into the group where I was able to meet others who were going through the same things that I was.

All of a sudden, I was no longer alone. I had people who I could turn to and who understood me. I quickly made friends and it felt like an extended family of other trans people which really helped me. This really lifted me and my mental health problems started to fade into the background.

Looking back as those early months as Debbie, I realise now that I took an awful lot on in one go. I was probably quite naïve in thinking that, once I’d transitioned socially, that everything would be okay.

But I didn’t really give myself the space to think about the adjustments I needed to make both physically and mentally. I now know that for anyone looking to go through a transition, you absolutely must focus on your mental health as much as your physical health. While you transition you get support with regards to the changes you will be making physically, but it’s important to look elsewhere for specific mental health support as well.

The Newcastle United family

I was always a big Newcastle United fan and having moved so far away from home, I reconnected with the club through its United with Pride group. I’m not on the committee and have been for over three years now and they’re definitely like a family to me.

We all share a love of Newcastle and that’s why we’re together, but we all share other challenges too that many in the LGBTQ+ community face.

We go to watch matches together and get involved in sharing our stories and providing peer support. I’ve been involved in Be A Game Changer activities too, doing pieces to camera at St. James’ Park, taking part in sessions and holding the banner to raise awareness.

I’m trans – but that isn’t the whole me

People are multi-faceted. I love Newcastle United, I’m vegan, I enjoy red wine and I am trans. It’s part of who I am. So I’m really lucky that I am supported In speaking out about my journey by the United with Pride community who are Be A Game Changer champions with Newcastle United Foundation.
My energy used to be really fixated on the negative parts of my journey, but now my life is filled with positivity.

I’ve also found that going to a match isn’t a problem for me. Most people don’t give a hoot about you – they’re far more interested in watching a match. After all, that’s why we’re all there.

I remember my first experience as Debbie at the match was the FA Cup game when we were playing Blackburn and Rafa Benítez was manager. I was so nervous about going to the match as a woman that I went on my own – I didn’t even tell anyone from United with Pride. I just felt that this was something I needed to myself.

I remember getting to St. James’ Park and asking the steward, a young girl, where my seat was. A family arrived on one side, another family on the other and there were loads of lads in front of us. I was so anxious about it, but everyone was just soaked up in the game.

I remember turning to the woman on my left and asking what the toilets were like and she told me there were fine – in that moment, I realised that she saw me as female. It was such a relief and, since then, I’ve always felt comfortable going to a match.

I also know that through United with Pride and the Club’s zero tolerance approach to prejudice that I would be supported if I did experience any problems.

Today, I’m happy and confident in who I am and my mental health has improved significantly. It’s been ten years and I have a great support network – both my trans family and my Newcastle United Foundation are so important to me. Community makes all the difference.

Be A Game Changer is Newcastle United Foundation’s mental health awareness campaign providing advice on mental wellness and signposts to support with the ultimate aim to reduce suicide rates in the North East and eradicate stigmas surrounding mental health matters.

United with Pride – the club’s official LGBTQ+ supporters’ group – announced during their AGM held at St. James’ Park during LGBT History Month in February 2022 that they would be working with the Foundation to encourage all supporters to talk openly about mental health.

For more information about the Foundation and programmes near you, follow Newcastle United Foundation on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter for regular news and updates.

Be A Game Changer

Our award-winning mental health awareness campaign Be A Game Changer provides peer support opportunities for our entire community.

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