CONTENT WARNING: Part of this interview covers topics such as homophobia, transphobia, self harm, and suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
In 2015, students from my High School made a Facebook page. This page promoting pride, and the good cause of acceptance for LGBT+ folks. Our school was proud of things like anti-racism, and remembrance of the Holocaust, it never did much on LGBT+ issues. This was despite quite a few of the students being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, etc. I spoke to ‘Rebelle’, a friend of mine who asked for me to not publicly share their name.
‘Rebelle’ was actually Bex, my friend from high school. In the 5 years since that last interview, a lot has changed. Last time, we interviewed Bex, and today, we are interviewing Benton Hodge. Ben’s short film, 1 Year, won the Into Film award for best documentary. I messaged Ben for an interview over facebook, and he accepted. For this post, Ben had full editorial control and was able to make changes and add things where he felt appropriate.
Without further delay, here is my interview with Ben Hodge:
Ben Hodge Interview
BA: Thank you for agreeing to this, Ben. A lot has changed since 2015. Your taller now, at the very least. What has happened since we last spoke?
Ben: Aha this is true! So much has changed. Let’s see, I left high school and went to college were I came out as an ftm transgender person, I started testosterone before going to university in salford. Just under a year ago, I finally got top surgery. So yeah, a lot has happened in those 5 years! I mean, I’m still gay, just for men now
BA: When we did our initial interview, we used your online pseudonym, Rebelle. We did that for a few reasons, do you remember why?
From what I remember it was because I wanted to expose the fact that the school wasn’t supporting our LGBT+ campaign, but didn’t want to get in trouble. Part of me is grateful now I used the pseudonym because then readers won’t know my dead name, but I should have just come out and said what was wrong with what the school was doing.
You and a few other students set up RHS Pride because you were unhappy about how our school was then, in regards to LGBT+ causes, and you felt that it wasn’t doing enough. These days, education is trying to be a bit more open about discussing LGBT+ issues. If I could take you back, what were your feelings then, and how do you feel about LGBT+ education now?
I remember feeling annoyed, and a bit betrayed. At the time, I was the head girl, or at least I was in the running for head girl, and I was very open about my sexuality then. I also very much knew at that point that I was a boy. I felt that if there was greater education, then students who feel just like me would feel a lot safer in coming out. There was a lot of homophobia that I dealt with and, to some small extent, transphobia.
And I didn’t know who I could speak to, or who knew anything about LGBT issues. I still feel that the more teachers that are educated about it, the better education will be not just for LGBT students, but for everyone. We can foster an environment where everyone is welcomed and create a safe space. In my opinion, education should to an extent also be a safe space.
How could schools and colleges better support young people struggling with their identity? Your movie, which I will ask you about in a moment, you mention how your college helped you. How did they help you, and how was it better than in High School?
I can’t begin to tell you how great they were at college. I could’ve stayed on for the sixth form, and the headteacher really wanted me to, to such an extent that even 2 years later when I was invited to an event with him he still wasn’t over the fact I left! But I needed the fresh start, to go somewhere where I could create my identity without there being a large link to my past. The college was supportive from day 1, allowing me to go by my preferred name at the time and putting a note to my tutors about my pronouns. They were all great and allowed me to go out for hormone appointments and the likes.
The teachers were always super respectful and would ask how things are, and just made me feel welcomed and not different. The chaplain at the time even let the LGBT group meet in the chaplaincy! It was just a great environment for me to be in at that time
Your film is framed around you writing a letter to yourself, around the time we did our interview. When you were Bex, you were bullied and you said you didn’t think you’d make it until you were 16. What was going on back then?
Oh boy, I was sad. I don’t remember much from school in the way of happy memories. I regress a lot of the memories from school because if I bring them up it hurts. But I’m working on that, and at that time I used to self-harm and considered killing myself multiple times. I do remember being in school and going ‘I’m gonna be dead by 16, what’s the point?’ and I thought that that was it. But I talk about it so nonchalantly now because I know it gets better, and I’ve worked on myself and had the support to get better. There are still low days, but who doesn’t have low days right?
In the nicest possible way, I feel like the person I knew is gone. Bex is gone, but she has evolved into a completely renewed and re-energised Ben. do you agree?
Hmmm, that’s a really interesting thought and a super good question. I wouldn’t say that my old self has gone to an extent, I’d say I’ve grown into my skin. So in a sense, I guess so, but I’m a lot better now than I was and I am definitely a renewed man!
I last saw you at Liverpool Pride in 2019, with your boyfriend, and you met my girlfriend. I was struck by how happy you looked. Would you say you’re happier now?
Oh yeah my boyfriend must have been there 😛 also you two were (and are) adorable together <3 Oh god I am much happier. I am where I want to be in life, like I said I still have down days, but I am constantly reminding myself of how far I’ve come and the amount I’ve done to be proud of. I think happier isnt the word, I think I feel more alive than I ever have
Looking at the film, you being with your mates, who seem like a great group of people, they sound like they have been very supportive. How have they helped you?
My mates are pretty cool 😛 both from back home and from uni and everywhere else in my life, they have been my biggest support and my biggest fans in a way. I have a great group of friends who see me for me and who I can be completely open and honest about myself with, and I value them so so much. My friends are such a mixed bag of people, and I love that, I get to learn from all their perspectives and experiences, and I love that. They are just amazing people and I love them with my whole being
I’ve watched your film a couple of times, and two things strike out to me. Firstly, in what reality would you think buying a cheap binder from eBay was a good idea? Never cheap out on comfort, that’s a life lesson 101! Don’t bruise your ribs!
Ahahah I had no money and wasn’t totally out to my parents! I remember picking it up from Argos and being absolutely made up. And I don’t even want to think about what I looked like! I remember not being able to fully move for 2 days and having big purple bruises along my ribs, I cried so much and my mum was like ‘what’s up?’ and I just told her everything about how I felt about myself, she bought me a real binder and I was able to do it safely. We learn from our mistakes, right?
And secondly, the amazing ending. I watched an early version of it before you released the film, I remember it being on your Facebook. That one year on T did a lot to your body. What is that experience like, what is transition like?
It’s amazing. Feeling your voice break and seeing the body hair come through, you feel like you belong in your body. Listening to the voice messages back, I can’t believe how high my voice was and that I thought that was deep!! Also, I saw a recent snap memory where I took a picture of stubble and said that I’d be Hagrid soon, I can’t believe how excited I was about that, because my facial hair now is so much better. But going through those motions were so exciting. The lack of sleep I got and the overheating was not something I expected, but it was worth going through to get to where I am now
Besides this film, you also do Stand up Comedy, you’ve performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, done a number of stand-up shows in Salford, and presumably much more. What sort of topics do you talk about, and who/what are your comedic influences?
I mainly talk about life through the lens of a gay, transgender man. I talk about dating, working, all sorts! I’m currently working on a new set which covers the idea of things being retro alongside threesomes because they’re obviously connected. I love love LOVE Tom Allen, Suzi Ruffel, Joe Lycett, Alan Carr, all the cool LGBT comics!
Five years since you did RHS Pride, you are still being an activist, of sorts. You’ve spoken at Parliament, you’ve run as an NUS Delegate and presumably done more that I’m not aware of. Would you like to tell people more about what you’re doing on that front?
Well at the minute I’m Trans* Officer at my university, I work with different charities in the North West on translate* issues and have been a trustee for around 4 charities over the years. Currently, I’m getting more activism done in performance and film, as I love these mediums and want to use them for social change. I’m currently seeking funding for a film idea I have about trans* men and pregnancy, and I’m doing more stand up as well.
This is a question I asked you 5 years ago. With added experience and insight, what advice would you give to anyone who is dealing with similar experiences to yourself?
It may feel like things aren’t great at times, and you may feel like you want to give up, but it really does get better. I’m living proof of that. Trust me, if I can get better and be who I am finally after years of dealing with crap, you can too.
And finally, what’s next?
At the minute I’m doing some TV work and working on sets, and I’m also doing presenting and acting work as well as my 3rd year of uni. So I guess we’ll see what happens when I graduate right?!
Ben has clearly done a lot over the last five years that have made things that little bit better for himself, the people around him, and the wider community, just by being himself. And that makes Ben an inspiration to everyone, from all walks of life. In the past, I’ve been guilty of not giving the appropriate support to my LGBT+ friends. I’ve mispronounced names, I’ve mistakenly mis gendered people, and have had a lot of foot in mouth moments.
I own up to that, in the hope that I am doing better nowadays, and making the effort to understand and support trans and non-binary people. And you can do the same. A big thanks to Ben for his time, and for doing the interview.