So, I am a 43 year old trans person who went full time 6 months ago. It has been a long journey that really culminated aged 39 3/4 when stress got the better and after an explosive argument with my Dad, led to beginning the process of searching for help to sort out and unpick some feelings that have been there almost since I can remember, that something wasn’t quite right.
Every trans persons story is different and there is no common thread to ‘when someone knew’ they were this, that or the other. Even though I pretty much knew from my mid teens, accepting it was a decades long roller coaster. Self-acceptance didn’t come fully until half way into a 2 year wait to see a Clinician at a Gender Identity Clinic. That may sound a bit mad but it is true, I guess in part because I was afraid of what coming out of the closet in public would be like.
Some of those early experiences were hella confusing and I am sure many people who are comfortable in the skin they were born in have shared some of the same, but linked together they have all lead me to a place where I can now look forward feeling some contentment.
In pre-school nursery there was a female teacher I identified with, in that way that when grown up I would want to be like her.
In the first year of infant school I had a toilet accident. There must have been no spare boys underwear so I was sent home wearing girls. My parents made a joke about it and I can recall feeling ashamed. They weren’t to know of course but I have never forgotten that feeling.
The following 5 years were interspersed with little experiences of not always feeling at ease amongst my male peers. A little AVON Cosmetics promotional calendar my Mum was given found its way to a corner of a bedroom wall because I secretly saw myself as some of the models upon it. Boy George – okay I know he is male – hit the charts and just Wow! James Bond films came & went, and despite not wishing to be snogged by Roger Moore et al, to be a woman being kissed rather than being James doing the kissing always struck a chord. I always felt jealous of the girls in my class doing each others hair into plaits or ponytails. I loved some of the strong female TV characters during the ’80s and was attracted to a good number of them too, but it wasn’t as simple as that – they were like role models. There were many male role models on TV too but it wasn’t quite the same. I enjoyed the character of Jim Bergerac, but it was Susan Young and Philippa Vale who I wanted to be like.
One morning in the penultimate year of Primary School, a classmate decided to play class bully. In a quiet but animated voice he asked ‘Are you Gay?’. I was stunned and others in earshot noticed. This became ‘a thing’ over several days where supposedly under the teachers radar during lessons, the question was repeated constantly and it felt horrible. I was pretty fucking sure the teacher was aware of what was going on but either didn’t know how to handle it or just chose to ignore instead. Twat.
With the house empty until early evening, I used to go to my Great Aunts flat after school, and by the Friday at the end of my tether, I broke down & told her. Unintentionally, she told me not to listen to the bullies and that I should think ‘nice thoughts’ rather than think I was Gay…yep that helped…not. If I was, as sure as eggs are eggs it obviously would not go down well.
She did tell my Mum though & miraculously the bullying at school stopped so Yay!
That episode left me scarred and it wasn’t until befriending a gay man at work in the late ’90s – incidentally the first open lgbt person I knew in real life – that I felt completely at ease with Gay men. I am not proud to say that this was likely a fear of being seen as ‘one of them’. Fragile or what? That is how such experiences can leave you. Just as ignorant as the bullies.
What that classmate had seen was something in my character that rang an alarm bell. In those days boys were boys & girls were girls. He wasn’t the only one. At least one other childhood friend up until our early teens used to occasionally hint, and even state, that he thought I was gay. It wasn’t that I was gazing longingly at boys because I wasn’t (honest!) There must have been some underlying quality though that I wasn’t consciously aware of.
This was AIDS hysteria time by the way and careering towards Section 28, in a hetero-normal environment of elders with conversations littered with casual homophobia.
High School began in late ’87 and soon after began male puberty. Yuck. Don’t get me wrong, discovering orgasms was a hoot but I didn’t feel overly comfortable. Being left home alone occasionally I answered a pang to try on some of my Mums clothes and whilst they always felt wonderful, a little shamefully at the time they sometimes felt sexy also. I feel less shame about this now in that taken into context, bubbling male hormones and an increasing awareness of women who were…well…sexy…I can now see that those experiences were just a teenager exploring feelings.
A holiday around this time to Puerto Pollensa, Majorca exposed me to my first experience of Transphobia. We holiday’d annually with a family we were close with. Walking along the front towards a restaurant one evening, my otherwise lovely surrogate auntie had overheard a conversation from a couple walking towards us that there was a ‘man dressed as a woman’ sat outside one of the hotel bars. It was the Hotel Romantica…these things have a habit of etching themselves to memory…and as we neared, our party & several other nosey bastards gazed into the hotel garden where sat a lone mortified trans woman (although I didn’t possess the language at the time) trying her hardest to remain composed & avoid looking back towards us.She was visibly embarrassed and aware she was being glared at and the experience makes me feel sick to this day that I was stood amongst onlookers triumphant that the ‘man dressed as a woman’ hadn’t fooled them.
A couple of years into High School and not fitting in particularly well with my peers, I spent a short spell experimenting with getting high from aerosol cans as I had seen others do on the School Bus – basically solvent abuse. This led to a series of panic attacks at home. The ‘high’ with an aerosol is a huge rush where your nerve endings jingle & your heart races. A feature of the ensuing panic attacks were heart palpitations that mirrored that aspect of the getting high & I was terrified some damage had been done. In hindsight I am amazed it hadn’t.
The attacks initially happened in private, although a particularly bad attack in front of my Parents & our next door neighbours wouldn’t end. They bundled me into their car and raced to A&E at the local hospital where I hyperventilated and passed out several times. Whilst unconscious apparently my heart rate stabilised leading the Doctor to conclude I was physically okay. With my Parents out of the room a Nurse calmed me down and asked what was worrying me. I confessed to the solvent abuse and shared that I thought I might be gay. This calmed me down. She shared this with my parents who reassured that things would be okay and we went home.
I spent the following couple of weeks off school. The ‘Gay’ thing wasn’t discussed. A day was spent wearing a heart monitor, along with a follow up appointment with a doctor at the hospital who said my heart was fine, and was anything bothering me. My parents were gazing in my direction and the answer was no. Don’t get the wrong impression…my parents aren’t bad people and weren’t coercing me…but I didn’t feel comfortable discussing feelings in front of them back then & just closed up.
The first day back at School began at Register where the Form Tutor welcomed me back and asked if everything was okay. I thanked her and explained the panic attacks & hyperventilating because something had been worrying me. Unwittingly, she asked if I would like to share the source of worry with the Form! With all eyes gazing, I nervously declined.
A few weeks later in an awkward Father & Son chat that Dad seemed keen to get out of the way, he bumbled through explaining that it was normal to feel a bit strange when growing up. Somehow (!) misinterpreting this to be a reference to getting high, I replied with something along those lines and we quickly moved on. It was only whilst going over all this in my head years later that I realise what he was referring to.
So, with some of the confusion aired and abated for the time being, the world carried on turning and good ol’ puberty carried on in the wrong direction. Through masturbation I discovered how amazing the prostate can feel when stimulated and yes, being uneducated in such matters and the prostate being located in the Ass region, I wrongly associated this with gay sex. Any masturbation involving such stimulation always came about by desire, but always ended with feelings of shame because I was confused, afraid, and I didn’t find my male peers or men for that matter sexually attractive. Another thread was seeing myself as female in my sexual fantasies. Isn’t that what a certain obnoxious Dr refers to as (BS medical terminology alert) Autogynephilia? Whatever.
All of this was internalised. Not good, and not surprising that the more acceptable method of getting occasionally wasted – alcohol – became a thing from mid teens onward.
Having all that confusion, white noise & shame bouncing around in a persons head ain’t healthy. Being uncomfortable in your skin & self image doesn’t equal being an outgoing confident kind of person either. Friendships slowly dissolved and new ones became difficult to develop. Six months or so into the early adult world of work, your Tran here was someone lonely without any social life as such, until a change of employer and some great new colleagues who remain friends today began to coax me out on the weekend.
These new social adventures always involved excess alcohol, although physically I was in good shape thanks to plenty of visits to the gym along with some running & cycling. On one such evening of ending up in a local nightclub, before getting wasted & falling asleep I caught a fateful glimpse of a lovely girl and moved in with some cheesy chat up lines that I am grateful she saw through. We did click though. I escorted her home, we arranged a date later that week and the rest is history 🙂
Around this time I was in the early stages of flying the nest. In the event, by the time the conveyancing was completed, we were so close that moving in together happened pretty quickly. The desired new found freedom to explore my feelings in private though had gone but suppression didn’t last long and within a year or so I couldn’t avoid sharing some of this. We explored things occasionally as a fetish, and sometimes just wearing what felt right around the house. It was towards the edges of the envelope where she found things worrying, asking ‘Are you Gay?’ (aaaaarrrrgggghh!!!) and telling me on one crushing occasion that ‘You are not a Woman’.
That latter comment was passed during an intense period where I had begun to pluck my eyebrows and was experimenting with a home electrolysis kit from Argos(!). The cheapo electro didn’t work, but did result in patchy facial hair growth for a while along with some of my work colleagues noticing. One colleague who has since retired, patted me on the shoulder one day and made a faux reassuring comment about what I was doing with my appearance – not a nasty comment by any means but just to let me know it was noted & being discussed. Naturally that lead to what is known in our community as a ‘purge’, where suddenly some extra space had reappeared in my wardrobe.
This cycle was repeated over the following 15+ years including a wedding and twice becoming a parent, up to the point where my blood pressure was raised, due likely to the anxiety & depression that now dwelt in my head. Everybody has a pressure relief valve and mine was wearing out.
Our wedding day incidentally was wonderful apart from that one nagging detail inside and I remember my best friends partner at the time, a woman I adored for her character, looking into my eyes and holding my gaze for a long few seconds across a table as she read that something wasn’t 100%. We are no longer in touch as they separated a few years ago but I have always wondered what she saw in that moment, because I felt emotionally unwrapped.
After attending three funerals of family friends in close succession, the first of whom I am pretty sure was Gay but closeted to most of the outside world, I was getting a crash course in mortality and asking myself some heavy questions. One in particular was that I couldn’t see myself in the future – not ‘dark thoughts’ as such but a pretty good indicator that I was treading the wrong path. Jim who I am referring to above by the way was someone of my parents generation who was loved by all and whilst I respect his privacy if that was the case and that he had friends in that part of his life who loved him equally, I am saddened that we likely didn’t truly know him for reasons of what was seen as being ‘okay’ for his time.
Jim loved music, and during my unsociable dark spell he struck up a conversation at a family get together that lead to him dragging me along to the Manchester Apollo one weeknight in 1994 to chance buying some tickets to see the Black Crowes. We lucked out in getting 6 rows from the stage and it is without doubt the best gig I have ever been to – a young band in their raw prime and I am forever grateful for him giving me the chance to see them.
Approaching the age of forty with a lovely Wife and two amazing Daughters I cracked and drew the line in the sand. I confessed to my Wife of the state my head was in and where things were likely heading. She was upset but supportive. Eldest Daughter wasn’t far behind, closely followed by my Parents.
It hasn’t been an easy couple of years, but having just turned forty three as an ‘out’ trans woman who is finding her feet, things are slowly getting better and importantly, I can now see a future. I identify as a Lesbian*, maybe Pan*, definitely Gay*, Queer*, Whatever so my early peers were partly on the ball. It is a shame I couldn’t find myself much earlier and I hope the journey is easier for the younger generation. I am grateful for my little family though and in that respect am content in my Mums belief that ‘sometimes things happen for a reason’
* Wife as it happens identifies as none of those things but is still fab