A trans man's experience
“My mum waited eight years to have a little girl and I was in constant battle with her from the age of four over appropriate toys, clothing and behaviour. My role models as a child were my brothers and dad as well as men in films and TV, such as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, the dad in Little House on the Prairie and Gene Kelly. (I should probably explain here that I was brought up very strictly Methodist and my TV viewing was limited). I also searched hungrily for children like me such as George from the Famous Five, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and any film with Jodie Foster in it.
Puberty was difficult. Periods, my breasts growing to the same size as Barbara Windsor’s! My body betraying me. I knew it wasn’t logical but deep down I had hoped there had been a mistake and puberty would see me develop as a man. I had boyfriends but they were more mates than lovers. I thought I must be gay or bisexual. (I couldn’t identify as a lesbian because they were women.)
It is kind of hard to describe but at a time when others were thinking about how their lives would be, I was in a sort of stasis. I couldn’t dream myself into the future as I had the body of a woman but many jobs and careers I was interested in were difficult for women to enter (this was the early 80s). I couldn’t see how I would ever have a family or be a father. Like many LGB&T young people, I lacked images that allowed me to see myself in society.
As I grew up I found more acceptance and connection with the gay and lesbian community and would now describe myself as part of the Queer Continuum, but each transsexual person has to find their own place and we range in sexuality as much as the rest of society.
My partner is a very surprised Radical Lesbian Feminist who has only ever known me as male. I am open about my transsexualism and this is important for my partner’s identity as otherwise her sexuality turns heterosexual by default. People’s attitudes to us have changed now. They don’t automatically assume we are two lesbians and no one shouts abuse or even stares at us. We can walk safely anywhere holding hands and show affection in public which would be wonderful if it was because the world was accepting of difference and same sex couples, but it is not. It is normally just because they assume we are ‘straight’.
The transition of the transsexual partner affects the other individual’s identity on a deep level. Without them having changed at all, their own sex, gender role and sexuality, right to be a parent, relationship with their family can all be called into question. And they may also find it hard to talk about their own grief over the changes in their partner because they are trying to be supportive.
So what has the transition process been like and how did I manage it in the workplace? Firstly I should explain that I was going to transition when I was twenty four but needed to put it on hold till I was thirty because my family’s needs were greater than any of my own due to my dad’s illness.
For those of us who reached puberty and adulthood before the late 80s, the services for transitioning and ease of accessing them were patchy and sometimes extremely damaging. By the time the options to transition were more freely accessible, many of us had been living in the gender assigned to us at birth for many years. We had jobs, families and responsibilities so any decision to transition had to take in the risk of losing these and the fallout for our loved ones.
For most of my adulthood I lived a dual life, one gender at work and to family and the other socially. I dressed in fully male clothing, bound my chest and wore prosthetic devices, my hair was cut by a barber and, till I smiled or spoke, many people would assume I was a young lad. At work and to my family I was openly bisexual but everyone knew me by my female name and all my documents showed I was female.
As I hit my thirties my normally androgynous face started to age in female patterns, my hips and thighs started to set more firmly in female weight pattern and of course I was treated by many people as a young man of sixteen to eighteen when I was a mature man/woman of thirty.
It began to affect me mentally and all the body hatred I had learned to live with became unbearable. I wrote a letter to my doctor (I would recommend this to others), which allowed him time to prepare and digest what I had to say. Meanwhile I changed my name by deed poll. The most moving moment of my whole transition happened when I was at the doctor’s and he called my new name. Until then whenever I had heard my name I lost my identity. But when the doctor called me I felt visible for the first time in my life.
The waiting list to go to Leeds or Sheffield Gender Identity Clinics was two and eight years, so my doctor agreed to send me to Charing Cross GIC. First I had to be seen by a local psychiatrist to check I had no underlying mental illness. So far I have had to see four psychiatrists who all agree: I am totally sane. (Honest!)
On referral to the GIC I had to be seen by two Gender Identity Specialists to receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This involved two hour-long discussions during which they asked me about my childhood, my relationships with family, friends and partners, education and work experience and about my relationship to my body and identity. They also checked how much I understood about the transition process and what I was hoping to achieve by following this path.
In my case the process was quite straightforward and I was not required to undergo any therapy or to go through the ‘Real Life Test’ as I was already living and presenting as male both publicly and privately. My Governor wrote a letter confirming that I was presenting as male at work which helped with this initial assessment process.
I was prescribed Sustanon 250, a deep intra-muscular injection of testosterone compounds. Within a few months my voice began to go husky (like I had a sore throat), my chest cavity expanded, my shoulders began to widen, my neck thickened and the first little line of stomach hair delicately crept up my belly. I went through a sort of Scooby Doo phase of broken voice, which everyone found hilarious but it has settled well onto the scale of male voices.
Fourteen months after taking T for the first time my body has changed enormously both in shape and hair growth. My face has changed a lot. My nose has thickened, the fat under a woman’s skin has gone which has changed the shape of my cheeks and the lines of my face, my eyebrows have thickened as has my head hair and my jaw line has squared. People who meet me in the street tend to read me easily as male now and my voice and smile no longer give me away.
I work in the Prison Service and transitioned whilst at work. I began by talking to the Governor and my line manager and they told the rest of the senior management team for me and we agreed issues such as toilet and locker room etiquette. (I agreed that I would use the female toilets till my periods ceased and then would use the men’s.)
I used the informal network within the rest of staff to manage how the information spread, having first told my close workmates. People immediately started to use my new name and change it on official documents but it took about two years for everyone to switch to he / him / his. I didn’t take it as offensive if people made mistakes, which made it easier for everyone. Different people take longer to get their heads round it.
I came in for a lot of teasing but it was inclusive, no one excluded me. If there was any nastiness then other staff must have protected me very well as I never experienced even a barbed jibe. Many of them came up in the first months to wish me well and to say they were proud of me, or “Congratulations”.
Though I was supported at work, this didn’t mean the transition process was easy. Ordinary stresses and pressures don’t conveniently put themselves on hold whilst you transition and the British population is still not very trans-friendly. I had thought I was doing alright with coming out and transitioning but, six months after I had told everyone, I was hit with the after effects of shock/stress that had no connection with how well I had been accepted.
I had sudden anxiety attacks, my confidence took a nosedive and I was not sleeping or eating properly. I found it hard to be in crowds or to deal with everyday interaction, and would react to situations of stress with uncharacteristic tearfulness or anger over which I had no control.
I talked to my doctor and he recommended some sessions of counselling. That was enough to help me get systems in place to cope with these stress symptoms.
This period of pre and early transition is very hard to negotiate as the individual is dealing with a tremendous amount of change, both in body and mental adjustment to the transition on top of the usual pressures of life. I had a great line manager who was flexible about my workload, which gave me time to recover. I am now much further on in transition and am waiting to have reconstructive chest surgery.
I have had so much going on in my life, with changing jobs and moving cities, that the wait for this hasn’t been too much of a problem. In fact, after the early transition period things have been much easier. Nothing much fazes me and I am certainly much more me.”