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Watch words: self hate, self harm, self destruct

  • Posted on September 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Now that the gender dysphoria bit is over, I am walking over some old ground, just picking up stones, those things that hurt the feet of people following after me. You see, I remember walking down Fulham Palace Road to the gender identity clinic the first time, knowing every step of the way had been trodden by so many like me, and quite a few with familiar names …

Well, in recent months, maybe this past year, there have been more and more sensible and informative media events about trans people. Some more competent than others, some quite personal and individual, others more documentary style and explanatory. But overall, quite a lot is being said that reveals us as pretty ordinary folk, living ordinary lives. The trans celebs who are noticed more are just saying the same as us as well, which brings us all down to a level, a commonality.

Suddenly if feels just OK to be trans, and here am I fussing over my privacy being broken at work! I transitioned before I got my current job, and it still felt like I was the peculiar one, so much so that I welcomed my work colleagues being warned in advance that a transsexual employee was on her way – so behave! And now I don’t want anyone to be told, whilst at the same time posting my photo on Twitter under #WhatTransLooksLike, which turns out to be terribly (confusingly) ordinary.

And yet.

And yet all of this ordinariness and growing acceptance (at least in general, and from a very poor start) underlines something extremely sad and tragic. And it is that for the majority of us it has been a mixture of terrifying struggle, self harm, self hatred, self doubt, despair, loss, depression and suicidal intent.

I want you to think: how much do you talk (or hear) about how society ‘tolerates’ trans people? Or about an increasing ‘acceptance’? At work, it seems people have been ‘accommodating’ of my being trans among them. Are these feelings you have, as a way of saying things are getting better? How do you think it would make you feel, if something about you meant that you as a person needed tolerance, acceptance or accommodation? Or knowing this, would you willingly place yourself in a position where this would even need to be so?


In a world that really accepted that some people are born trans, things would be completely different. Imagine, if you will, for a moment, that every child growing up was free to express their male-female-both-neither selves freely and without criticism. Imagine every adult simply knew this was the way things are. Imagine no penis-adult minded a penis-child wearing vagina-child clothes, and no vagina-adult minded a vagina-child avoiding vagina-child toys. How comfortable those children would be that the other children knew this from their parents too. Each could find their sexuality as they developed, and learn the differences between love for reproduction and love for friendship and love for life. It isn’t that families would cease to exist, or that adults settled in their gender would not pair up to have children. But just maybe, everyone would be a bit more comfortable doing what comes naturally. Fewer spouses would turn away from their beloved partners because it was all a mistake, had they known before. Maybe it would help break the sexism that pervades society, if it were not odd to find a woman with oily hands, power tools and an executive job, paired with a man in feminine clothes working as a childminder and organising dance events.

People on the trans spectrum may be one in a hundred, but that doesn’t make us rare, it just means most are invisible because they are suppressed.

I do wonder what proportion of trans people would be happy to be the woman with a penis or a man with a vagina, if nobody else minded either. Not all of us, because gender dysphoria runs much more deeply than this, and there is a level of inateness that predates any social expectation. But for some whose gender identity sits uncomfortably in the gender binary based on genital expectation, maybe, just maybe, there would be peace in growing up and living a normal life freely as they feel themselves to be.


Where are we with acceptance now? This is how it has largely been for people like me: if you feel you don’t belong with other penis-children-called-boys, you belong nowhere. You do not fit and you cannot explain it. Somehow people, especially parents and teachers, don’t want to know, because you screw up the way things are, and you make things awkward. You add something that has to be catered for and coped with. You are a nuisance to them and to yourself. If you are a vagina-child who doesn’t belong with other vagina-children-called-girls, people don’t notice quite so much at first. But underneath the tomboy is a place grown-ups don’t want to go.

Somehow there is an undercurrent to this view of you that is linked with a moral or ethical dimension. These are the rules that seem to come from nowhere, and just ‘are’ because they get repeated. What you feel is not quite right about you, in terms of likeness with others, becomes something wrong. People don’t like it because they think you are being deliberately different, that you have a choice. Some will say that it (the way you feel about yourself) isn’t natural. Others will say that their god says it’s bad, and bad that you should dare to even think it might be OK. That you must therefore change, and put all these feelings about yourself away forever. Hence the prevalent self hate, self harm and self destruct, mental and physical that trans people experience.

Worst of all, gender and sex have long been so confused a distinction that being trans has been viewed a sexual perversion, a bizarre psychological pathology. And if sex is naughty or dirty or bad (my upbringing taught me this), then being trans is doubly so.

Because the adults think this, their children, your friends and classmates think this too. You get bullied, or at best left out and seen by some as not to be included. This combines with your sense of not belonging. There is no way out, because no-one is talking about it, leastways not so as to allow that it’s natural or normal or permissible.

This, as I grew up (and is widely still the case), was an inescapable truth about myself: there was something bad and wrong about me, deep inside. Trans people simply knew there was nothing they could do to get rid of the disconnect between being a penis-child and a vagina-brain. Cis people, generally speaking, thought they could and should. And now this is changing, bit by bit.

What will it take?

If you are not sure whether this move or drift towards trans-as-normal is comfortable for you, think what it does to trans people growing up, and the legacy it has left to those of us rather older. I’m not seeking pity – far from it, only saying please understand, when you think you are being kind for letting us live and look differently, that your attitudes and reactions, if anything short of full acceptance as equal and normal, are creating inner traumas still.

I fully recognise that I did not grow up recognising diversity, that I too felt uncomfortable with everything LGBT because it is what I was taught to think and feel. What this means is that the denial I lived with, and above all the guilt, must have been there as I brought up my own children. My son thankfully was trans-aware probably before I was. And my daughter’s current inability to be associated with me in any way must in part be down to what I brought her up to think. I wonder what she will teach her children one day when they ask about their missing grandfather …

The words you choose shape the way we all think

  • Society is very tolerant these days of people with red hair.
  • I think we are becoming much more accepting of left-handed people.
  • I’m glad to say that nowadays we accommodate lesbians in the workplace a lot better.

Does anything strike you about these statements? If this is how we bring up our children, and how we speak to each other about red-haired people, left-handed people and lesbian people, they will intuitively understand that these three ‘conditions’ are suspect and not quite right, that these are people to be wary of, who are not quite what they seem (Wait until she takes her hat off! Did you see when he started writing? I went to her mum’s house once and she lives with a woman!).

This is exactly the inference we exchange amongst ourselves about transgender people. This is why it took me 55 years to realise that my self-hatred, my sense of guilt and shame, my constant self-destruction inside was completely unfounded and unnecessary.

Can you begin to understand this stone in the grass that I’ve picked up? Don’t leave it for someone else, above all someone else’s child, to cripple themselves on.

I can at last love myself, and indeed, I love my ‘new’ body for the first time. Shame about the five decades.

Never tolerate me. Never accept me. Never accommodate me.

I am. We are.

Just like you.

Passing: please be honest

  • Posted on August 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

As one who has been there, please take this as sound advice, not as criticism. I too stood behind my own front door wondering what would happen if I opened it and walked down the street. I too spent ages doing my make-up, trying to work out when too much was more obvious than not enough. In the shops, I too had to scan the skirts racks dressed as a man. I too walked the same direction of the traffic to avoid passengers’s eyes. I too took selfies and doubted myself, sat in the back corner of cafés and still got noticed.

I too played the passing game.

This week, just to show everyone I was doing fine after surgery, I quickly popped a picture of myself wearing flowery trousers, on Facebook. It wasn’t to invite or ask anything, just to say I’m OK. 60 ‘likes’ later, I thought: that’s nice!

And this week I dropped out of a transgender group on Facebook because I’d had enough of the constant parade of cellphone selfies (cellfies?), either in mirrors or at arm’s length, all captioned: ‘Do I pass?’. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the feelings, no, it’s the intended kindnesses that are unhelpful and disingenuous.

‘You look gorgeous, hun!’ can be true, but only in exceptional cases. What we really want to say to each other at this stage is, ‘Well done for trying, chin up.’ What we need to really say, is to share some tips on getting past the dead giveaways. We need to point out the obvious that we’d prefer went away, and tread an honest line between the knock-backs and the sound advice. This week I did read one honest and kind response, extensive and helpful.

What I really want to say is, don’t tell someone they are ‘passing’ when they clearly are not, because they have some things to urgently learn. It does them no favours to have a false impression, so is not a kindness at all. This is a very practical business, not a bundle of fun, however liberating owning your own gender feels.

I’ve written this from the MTF point of view, because to keep writing the alternative FTM in can be unreadable, and this is the way round I am most familiar with. But much applies both ways; don’t feel slighted.


Passing is a poor term that is supposed to mean ‘convincing in the gender role intended’. It is important, because you’re never going to gain confidence if everyone thinks you look, sound or behave like a man when you’re trying to live as a woman. If you are ever going to gain confidence in your gender, whatever it is, then looking like you’re in disguise, rather than natural, will not help. This is not to reinforce the binary model of gender, but to say that if you are trying not to stick out, do try to blend in. You will only do this through keen observation, not of other trans people, but cis people.

If you hold yourself as a man and dress as a woman, you will stand out. If you walk as a man, or gesture as a man, you will stand out. If your clothes feel unnatural to you, or if you dress inappropriately for your age or your social setting, you will stand out. If you speak (verbalise) like a man, and make no attempt to modulate your voice or change pitch at all, you will stand out. It’s a lot to do all at once, so go and use the Internet, scour YouTube, and practice out of public gaze until you understand what it takes. Find a cis friend or a trans friend prepared to weather your storms and need for attention, but only if they are prepared also to be honest.

And understand this: you will not be great when you start, you will need to grow a thicker skin, but that one day you will look back and cringe – because you are no longer like when you began. We are not gorgeous, hun, we are making do, trying our best. But we need the truth, matched by the determination to get each new thing right. And in the end a selfie on Facebook will not be about passing, but about looking happy and natural.

The biggest lesson to learn is that when you have tried to blend in, nothing makes so much a single difference as your own confidence. You will probably never be a paradigm of the femininity you have in mind (though you might), but that does not mean you can’t be just like a lot of other women your age. They are not all idealised magazine models either. But you can tell they are comfortable in their own skins and clothes. That is what you are aiming for first.

I see ‘passing’ much as I see transition: it is a process that you think about at the beginning and forget about at the end.

What about non-blenders?

This is an equally important perspective: those who almost belligerently assert their right to look different, even odd: ‘I am being true to myself, I don’t care what people think, why should I?’

Maybe for you this is important, at least for now, and indeed you have every right to walk safely, looking however you like. Attacks on goth-attired youngsters are not unknown, just as on any LGBT person. If being different is important to you, please just look out for yourself and play safe in places where violent and/or drunk people have been known to attack. No, it isn’t fair or right: the street is as much yours as anyone’s. No attack or abuse is your fault; just recognise things as they are, when you need to be safe – and report all hate crime, if not for you, for the next person.

But also recognise that not all of us are like this. Many of us going through transition do go through the ‘exciting phase’ – after all being set free feels pretty damn good. But to get on with life, whether it’s working, entertainment, shopping, meeting up with friends or whatever, we want to ‘arrive’, by which I mean becoming naturalised in our felt gender. For us, going out with friends who are non-blenders can make us very self-conscious. It isn’t transphobia, it’s just running counter to what we’re trying to achieve. We might be the most supportive person you’ve ever met, but that doesn’t mean we want to be blatantly outed by association. If we support you, try also to support us, and if that means trying harder, being more careful, blending (you may think it’s compromising), then at least think about your impact on other trans people.

But this is a digression: ‘passing’ means blending, not asserting our right to be immune from opinion. Some is unavoidable. Some of us do not want specifically male or female identification because we’re non-binary. People of all kinds and ages encounter problems when others can’t tell what we are. But this is not what I’m writing about here. Uncertainty is one thing, and society has to get over it. Being a non-blender is your choice, and all I’m saying, non-judgementally, is that standing out affects blending trans people too.

What about non-transitioners?

It is perfectly legitimate to see yourself as fluid or dual gender. Just because I have transitioned into what I guess is a binary way of life, does not mean that I have forgotten my early earnest assertions to be two-spirit, both in one person. If this is you, then the same applies. If you want to just live a natural blended existence, your aim is to feel comfortable in your own skin. It might be you like wearing a pink tutu at Sparkle, but just don’t expect not to get stared at for wearing a mini skirt and showing your stocking tops, in a too-shiny synthetic wig in the city on a Tuesday afternoon. If being dual gender is you, then why stand out in the female part, when you don’t stand out in the male part? If you like the attention and stand out in both, then feel free, but don’t protest society’s raised eyebrows. Maybe one day we shall embrace flamboyant lifestyles wholeheartedly, and maybe you can be an agent for change, but if you do not want to, as above, observe keenly, YouTube, practice and learn what it is to live and move as your fellow-gender friends and groups.

If non-transitioning is your holding-place, while you work out what you need to do, perhaps facing family problems, breakups and so on, you may find critical break points. Do you go for that permanent laser treatment on your face? Do you get your ears pierced? Do you pluck your eyebrows? Remove the hair on your body or legs? Or even grow your hair out? Only you can decide, but recognise that in these times of compromise you will need workarounds.

Most of all, this is a time to be working out just how far this will need to go, and if you don’t get it right enough to avoid stares, comments or worse, it will ruin the confidence you need to go the distance, or make a decisive change. Going ‘full-time’ without confidence is a psychological disaster. If you row your ducks up: name change, clothes to the charity shop, all your documents in order, gender clinic, counselling, support groups, etc., you need to roll over quickly and with certainty. Then is not the time for people to be telling you you’ll never make it, because you look ‘like a man in a dress’. And even if you have a fair idea that this is what they’re thinking but not saying to your face, it will make the whole process anything up to and including unbearable.

If you are not intending to put yourself through this kind of trauma, don’t do it to anyone else by suggesting they are ready and presentable when they are not.

Honesty, please

Honesty is not cruel, if it is constructive. Don’t tell someone they look crap, tell them too much pink doesn’t work on it’s own, try balancing it with a bit of grey. Tell them to learn to hold their head up and smile. Tell them about better foundation, or pan-sticks, tell them to moderate the eyeshadow, hint with mascara rather than plastering it. Tell them to brush their hair the other way, or to have it cut to the shape of their face. Tell them that to alleviate a square jaw, wear a lower, rounded neckline. Tell them that a really nice necklace is more distracting of an adam’s apple than a black polo neck, or that a lower heel would be really elegant.

Tell them things that have worked for you, point them to websites that help you learn to change your voice, or walk differently. Tell them that fun as those tights are, women their age tend not to wear them to work. Tell them that their body shape can’t do stripes, or to practice a gentler smile, a head tilt. Tell them what you have found to be different about the way that women speak, discuss, ask in shops, and gesture. Tell them how you have learned to observe, where has been better to go when in the learning phases, tips on discrete behaviour on public transport.

Tell them all these things, because that’s how we get there in the end. But don’t think it’s a kindness just to add your ‘gorgeous, hun’ to the Facebook accolades.

This is confidence game, not a pageant, and it’s hard work feeling natural. You grew up learning to imitate other boys and men so that you would fit in. There is a lot of undoing to do. You didn’t copy the girls’ mannerisms; they were doing it to fit in with each other too. Natural behaviours and fitting in only come with confidence, and the only confidence worth having is that based on honest self-appraisal and learning the work-arounds for the things you can’t change.

It isn’t about ‘passing’, it’s about confidently being yourself, with a bit of (honest) help from your friends. Don’t ask if you’re passing, ask what the most immediate giveaways are, and take it on the nose.

Being, as entertainment

  • Posted on August 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

There was a time when people with congenital deformities accepted that the only way to survive was to accept a place in a freak show. A woman with a lot of facial hair would be the ‘bearded lady’ and sit to be stared at, talked and laughed and wondered at, rather than try to live a difficult life in the mainstream. The circus at least meant acceptance, and probably the friendship of other ‘freaks’. She probably had polycystic ovaries.

Accepting being different, knowing being different, exhibiting being different was a response to misunderstanding and exclusion for being different. We aren’t there any more, are we?

I remember the pain of watching Little Britain, and the falsetto cross-dressing sketches: ‘Aim a laaydee! Come orn Emily, let’s do laaydees’ things!’. Long before, I remember the awkwardness of Monty Python and the very popular ‘I’m a lumberjack’ and the transvestite bit of the song. These and many similar jests were all saying to me that I could either laugh with it (and everyone else) and be a secret freak, or expose myself as a freak and be laughed at. Where was the in-between recognition that a joke was being made out of valid non-binary, non-heteronormative identity?

I recall documentaries: don’t show too much interest in wanting to watch the programme, or you might give something away. Don’t show enough interest, and there is no opportunity to introduce an aspect of yourself and have a sensible dialog. There was My Transsexual Summer, the Channel 4 series in 2011, just as I was coming out, where six people of mixed age range and stages of transition came together over a period of weeks to share their experiences and aspirations. This was unavoidable, informative, presented to retain an audience, not quite entertainment, not quite just factual. ’You don’t want to do that though, do you?’ Scary.

How many tabloid front page headlines have we seen, exposing a ‘sex-swap sensation!’? I know several people who have been that person on the page. How does this make other people feel, who have any questions about their gender identity? Safe? At risk? Normal? Bizarre? The only difference between headlines and TV series, is the duration. Last week’s headlines get forgotten because it isn’t this week’s news. A series – with personalities, celebrities, oddities – becomes part of social dialogue, workplace conversation, pub sharing with an edge of inebriation. This is the point where the trans person, suspected trans person, gender queer, ambiguously-identified person gets drawn in for comparison.

The power of social comment

It has been a good season in the media by and large, with prominent trans personalities receiving awards and accolades, and significant articles being written that situate gender identity in objective sociological contexts where it can become mainstream and ordinary. We have also just had a tabloid turn towards the better. Two tabloids were kept at bay by legal injunction from outing Kellie Maloney until she achieved a deal on her terms with another. The big difference? The media expected a real sensation as the boxing world turned on the freak man-become-woman sex-swap fantasy. Only it didn’t. Kellie was embraced and accepted, better still, supported. End of story. Almost.

Predictably, however good the story was as it rattled around, and however reassuring the story about the non-story became in the wider media, comment threads online continued to feature hatred and bigotry, ridicule and rejection. Any trans-emergent person breathing a sigh of relief over Kellie was at once confronted by obvious and unchanging social hostility. This level will take a long time to resolve, just as despite social acceptance in LGB matters has brought almost complete social acceptance, has not deterred attempts to sensationalise sports men and women coming out, nor the comments people feel obliged to leave online. Nevertheless, when it comes to LGB issues, bigots really do look like bigots. Hatred is seen as hatred. Religious intolerance is seen as sickening.

I wonder if we are anywhere near this with trans issues though. It’s back to my ‘midas touch’ theory. Anyone can defend a top sports personality, in regular conversation, and accuse a friend of being homophobic or intolerant, because they know that (a) their friends won’t respond by saying ‘oh, so you’re gay too then?!’, and (b) even if they were gay themselves, it would not matter. Joke over, sensation over. Mild surprise; end of. The trans scenario? More likely a jest about secretly wearing a dress on Friday nights.

Transsexuality, less-known as gender dysphoria, is still viewed in the popular mind as a sexual thing: fetish, intrusive, threatening. It is something that you cannot align yourself with in understanding, because you don’t. Accepting that society has a substantial peppering with trans people feels unsafe. Despite the triviality of the figures, there are always comments that ‘I hope they’re not expecting me as a taxpayer to pay for their surgery’. Ignorance is rife, objectivity is a stranger. If it isn’t this, then it is seen as a psychological disorder: wrong in the head, even if it’s getting better described in the DSM manual of diagnosis (the universal Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders issued by the American Psychiatric Association). Transsexuality remains a curiosity, an embarrassment by association. All of this makes the trans person in society a thing rather than a person, unlike gay and lesbian people.

‘I saw Conchita Wurst [Eurovision winner 2014], and thought of you!’

‘I see Keith, er Kellie, Maloney is on Big Brother! Isn’t that good? I thought of you.’

And the ensuing conversation:

‘Did you see Big Brother last night? And Kellie! Not surprised she’s scared. Nadia did alright though didn’t she? Still, being transsexual is a bit freaky isn’t it? Is she gay?’

‘Oh yes, and didn’t you know, that woman who works upstairs, Andie. She’s a transsexual.’

‘Oh, is she? Has she still got her bits – you know?’

‘Don’t know. The Mirror says Kellie has. You can have it done on the NHS.’

Of course it won’t happen. Of course. I don’t mind if it does. Just don’t stare at my crotch. I’ve been in hospital and away a few weeks. Work it out.

Really, I don’t mind that much, except that the chatter goes round and the focus drifts away from whether I can do a professional job without this junk going on in the background. Nor do I want you to download that plug-in, called ‘acceptance’. Do I have one for you, to accept that you are normal, cis, hetero, gay, whatever?

I’m lucky, it probably won’t happen like this at all, but what I am illustrating is that participation in the media as a trans person does not make you a good representative, or ambassador, and does not necessarily help other trans people, closeted or otherwise. Too few trans people writing and presenting reduces the perception of our natural diversity. Being young and with a stimulating back story of incarceration, drugs, prostitution, is great for people in that zone. But the ordinary middle-aged person who simply loses their lifetime of family, prosperity and love? They lost it because society is not ready for them, and the story is boring. What do you expect, sympathy? No. I just want you to know how many of us there are, who remain invisible, disadvantaged, lonely simply because all you know about us is that we are separate, different, challenging. Even knowing us, changes you. And I’m simply asking: why?

The way to change popular perception is through education, not entertainment. Unfortunately, even news has become entertainment, and I for one, was very glad when trans people walked away from BBC Newsnight, refusing to be part of an entertaining debate on the validity of the trans identity.

More fundamentally, why is any trans person, famous or otherwise, a story at all, let alone a component for entertainment? The Victorian bearded lady had polycystic ovaries. I was born with whatever caused my gender dysphoria.


  • Posted on August 3, 2014 at 10:45 am
Pride flags

I have only actually fully participated in one Pride event. I never knew in advance when it was. My mother always knew: ‘Pride comes before the fall’, she used to say. Maybe that’s it. Pride was a bad thing, signifying arrogance. It meant putting yourself above others. And to be honest, being brought up like that, where even to say you loved yourself was a sin, I could hardly look at gay men in weird strappings and think I belonged in any way. That was before I knew what a lesbian was. That was before I knew why I didn’t…

Light at the end

  • Posted on June 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm
Are you just realising that you are transgendered? It may be a joy for some. For most of us it is unstoppable and scary. What are you going to do, at the point where it seems unmanageable, and potentially starting on a long journey with a lot of change. I never said it was easy, but here’s a view from the other end of the tunnel.

October 2010, and a man in smart-casual clothes and close-cropped grey, receding hair is sorting through the sale rack in a quality store. He’s forgotten about being surreptitious, and given up thinking about how this seems. He is buying his first skirt and feels he just isn’t going to stop himself any more. In the back of his mind, he knows something is changing forever. A recess of sadness is a shadow on the relief he feels, because there is no way he is going to be able to explain this. At this point he doesn’t even know that he is transgender, that there is a diagnosis for this, that it is normal for people born like him. That there are thousands of people within a few miles radius of this store, who were born the same.

He will go home and hide his purchases and wait for a coming weekend when family will be away. His daughter and wife are having a girls’ weekend in London. He is defined out of his own family. And he will be a girl for the weekend. There is no fantasy or fetish attached to this, and in the end he will confess. That he bought a skirt and jumper, spent a couple of days wearing them. That he simply felt perfect. And will realise with joy and horror that ‘he’ is not appropriate. The realisation will come tumbling in, and very quickly ‘transgender’ will enter his vocabulary. He will gradually begin talking about being both genders, dual gendered, two-spirit, a normal trans person, and soon, very soon, acknowledge that he is she, take on a female name, use it online, acquire a separate email address, and turn the page.

The acknowledgements page faces the contents page, and the chapter titles are frightening. She is seeing unfamiliar headings and can no longer close the book. Months will become years, in which she will write every week about this journey. It will be Andie’s Place. This will be the hardest journey in her 55-year life, traumatic and filled with grief, anxiety, the need for constant justification and she will lose completely the life and family she has loved and depended on.


It is now June 2014, one month away from the end of the procurement of change. She will grow and leave the journey behind, having learned so much more about life, about love, about being different. There is nothing more to ask for, or persuade others about. No-one to stand in her way of personal identity and fulfilment. No reason to stand out, or defend. No special service, no professionals as gatekeepers to her life. She will awake from anaesthesia, euphoric. Several weeks of pain and then a few months with discomfort will simply have to be borne, but with a now-familiar gratitude for closure.

The feeling she has is, yes, relief. The realisation of being transgendered – and then that transition is a lengthy process, not an event – has become clearer, as being a journey with an end. Her history will include all her life events: a slightly incongruous mix of experiences, expectations, conditioning, confusion, fatherhood and womanhood, constraint and freedom, that is rich, unusual, but integrated.

Her conversation will change perceptibly, because the one pursuit that has driven her life for so long will be achieved. Her poetry has already changed, its voice being still reflective, but outwards. Her dance has changed, having developed out of nothing. Her movements have noticeably lost their defensive, protective and escaping shapes, and now she skates, swims and flies, extended fully in the space.

Her employment is still good, but she is realising that stepping back and down, as a comfort and space within which to find herself, is a frustration to her leadership instincts. Working as a woman has been interesting, from encounters where men don’t expect her to have an answer, let alone a correct one, to those where she is simply not quite equal – or conversely where being transsexual is a good enough reason to expect differently from her than an ‘ordinary’ woman.

Life has come not exactly full circle, because whilst back in the real and ordinary world, ‘real and ordinary’ have been redefined. It has been a spiral, thankfully upwards.

With the end in sight, her message to anyone feeling they are at the beginning of this story, is that whilst the journey feels unavoidable, dark, destructive even, it is not a blind alley. The tunnel may at times be water-filled, but you can hold your breath long enough. It may be dark with no light at the end visible, but it is only a bend. There is only one person in this particular tunnel, because all are diferent. And that person is you. It may seem lonely, because no-one else can walk, crawl or swim this way with you. There may be blockages to worm around, or currents in the water that throw you about. But there is no reason to die in here, or to despair and give up simply because it is dark and unknown. People may be unkind, even cruel. Many will never understand. But they are not what matters. You entered this place not knowing what it would be like. The entrance seemed big enough to engulf you. As you leave, and you will, the way out will seem small, because you will have grown. It will be quiet, leafy, green and bright, undisturbed by thrashing limbs and protests. No-one fights to get out, because the air and light and freshness is simply welcoming and wonderful.

She still remembers him, and why he is no more. Not dead, transformed, made real. He received love for being him, but it was at enormous cost. Now she is only known for being real. Love may still seem a world away, but the world is loving in all those spaces that mean most. Being appreciated for music, for writing and for dancing is a wonderful confirmation of her personhood. Above all, among women, she finally and fully belongs.