INT: What is your name?
B: My name is Ben.
INT: And how old are you?
B: I am 33, almost 34.
INT: And how do you describe your gender identity?
B: I would describe my gender identity as a man, but I’m also a trans-man.
INT: Okay, thank you. Why are you taking part in this project?
B: Because I think it’s a really important project to take part in. I live in Brighton, and have a lot to do with the trans community and I think it would be fantastic to have an archive of lots of different people’s stories from the trans community, who’ve had something to do with Brighton or Brighton… they live in Brighton or Brighton has affected them in some way, or they’ve come here because of it being Brighton. So yeah, I think it’s a fantastic project and I can’t wait to see the finished outcome.
INT: Great. You said you were born in Brighton, so have you lived anywhere else?
B: I wasn’t born in Brighton, my family are from Brighton, which makes me sound like they moved away to have me, because it wasn’t safe for me to amongst the public. No, they grew up in Brighton, both sets of their families are from Brighton, but they moved to Hertfordshire because my dad got a teaching job up there and I think they were both sort of at pains to leave Brighton. So I grew up in – I was born in Hitchin, and I grew up in Stevenage till I was six, and then we moved to a place called Bishops Stortford which is about halfway between London and Cambridge, still in Hertfordshire and we used to come back to Brighton every… because they’re both teachers – they’re retired now, but they were both teachers – we used to come back to Brighton every school holiday, or most school holidays, because they wanted to see their family and we wanted to see my grandparent was my only… my grandma was my only grandparent from about the age of, well, when I was about 4 or 5, so she was the big matriarch of the family, like the Godmother, we used to call her, no we didn’t, just me. So, we used to come back to see her and I always felt that when we came back I much preferred being in Brighton and my mum and dad always wanted to come and move back to Brighton, but it was difficult obviously because I was at school, they obviously both had their jobs there, but I always felt much more comfortable with Brighton, even though I didn’t know from that, you know, from an early age, I didn’t quite know why, I just felt that it was much more open, you know, anything went in Brighton and I always felt that when we went back along the, I’m sure it’s the M25, if it isn’t then I sound like an idiot, but I think it was the M25, to go back to Bishop’s Stortford, I just felt that everything narrowed in and it was very… it was just… it was on the border of Essex – now, I’m not going to be judgemental, but it did feel pretty Essexy in the worst way that somewhere can feel Essexy and it wasn’t a very nice place to be.
So, yeah, they, they was always wanted to move back here, so when I came… I decided to come to uni here and I got into Brighton Uni. So soon after I came here and started living in halls in the first year, they finally, you know, it was the perfect time for them to come back, so they came back and they don’t live in Brighton they live, you know, on the outskirts, but yeah, so they finally made it back.
INT: What communities do you feel part of in Brighton?
B: I didn’t really feel part of any sort of LGBT community until probably the last about, you know, 2 or 3 years ago when I first started going to FTM Brighton. Before that I guess I felt more… my main community that I was part of was a theatre group, there’s a main theatre group I belong to, I’m sure I can probably name it – the New Venture Theatre. It’s very good… anyway, I belonged to… well, I still do belong to that theatre group and obviously they’re the sort of… they’re the people that I became good friends with, and I’ve made some very good friends, my best friend is from… I met her through the theatre group. So I didn’t really have… I really did feel like I needed to start making other friends, because obviously the people I’d been to uni with had moved away and so on and I saw… I met you – was it you? No, I met a couple of other people that set up FTM Brighton, just before it was set up, I can’t quite remember how, I think I bumped into one of the guys at an FTM conference about four years ago now, and he said that, you know, this was something that was maybe in the pipeline and I was so happy that it was going to be happening because I mean when I… I transitioned while I was at Brighton Uni, so that’s a good – well, I’m 30… what am I, 33 now, I started Brighton Uni when I was 20, and I transitioned between the first year and the second year and I really felt like we desperately needed an FTM Brighton, a support group for, you know, trans guys in Brighton. I knew there was obviously the Claire Project, I think it had just kind of started around then and I did go to one of the meetings but I think obviously it was quite early on in their, you know, sort of progression as a group and there was only, I think there was only one other trans guy there, so obviously as welcoming as it was, and as lovely as the people there were, I didn’t really feel I could relate and there didn’t seem to be anyone else I could really, you know, talk to, you know, about the stuff that I wanted to talk about and my transition, I did feel when I transitioned at uni, it was a very lonely thing to do, as much as I got supported from the uni and stuff, they didn’t understand completely. I didn’t obviously know any other trans guy, and the thing about that is I did look into going to FTM London, because obviously that’s been going a long time now, but it’s kind of weird and I know from being now on the management committee for FTM Brighton, that some, I don’t know, some guys that have come to the group have said the same thing to me, I felt kind of intimidated, it feels kind of weird now, now I think about it, but when I was first transitioning, you know, I was so uncomfortable with my body, I was so sort of not confident, and I just felt that any other trans guy I saw, whether it was, obviously it was mostly online or, you know, in forums or whatever it was, or on the TV, I always felt that they were so much further ahead, you know, their body had all changed, they’d had all the surgery, their voice had gone really low and I just felt really intimidated and I just felt I don’t really want to meet any other guy because I just feel that I’m not going to measure up. So, I didn’t… I think I went to one FTM London meeting and they were lovely, but I just felt really, you know, it wasn’t their fault at all, but I did feel very intimidated.
So I didn’t really reach out to anyone else after that, so it was quite a lonely thing to go through, for the rest of uni, and then I got into my longest relationship I got into soon after I graduated, so I kind of, you know, got most of my support from her, my partner then, and also my family, my mum who I’m very close to. So I just felt like I didn’t really need anyone else, and I kind of wish now – I mean I think it’s so great when you get the guys, the young guys, or anyone that come… any guy that comes along to FTM Brighton, because they’re reaching out and they’re getting all the help early on and I just think, I didn’t help myself because I just didn’t… I just felt like I couldn’t reach out or I didn’t want to reach out.
So, yeah, I feel very much – what was the question? I feel very much like I am part of the trans community now, in that I’m on the management committee as I said for FTM Brighton, I’m also part of the Trans Alliance, which is a new group that’s recently been set up this year, where it has representatives from each of the trans related groups in Brighton, so it’s a bit like the Power Rangers – the Trans Alliance – I do think we should have a costume, but there were are. So, yeah I’m part of that and I just feel like I’ve connected much better with other, with, you know, other people in my situation or similar journeys, if we’re going to use that word, over the past couple of years, 2 or 3 years, and it’s made me feel a lot stronger and a lot more empowered, you know.
INT: Just to clarify a few points. What was the… when was it when you first went to the Claire Project, what sort of year was that? And how did you find…
B: That was… that would have been when I was just starting to… or my official transition at uni, so I would have been about 21-22, so that would have been about 2001/2002/3, something like that, 2001/2002. So, yeah, I think having talked to Steph, who’s the Chairperson of the Claire Project, recently, I didn’t realise until now that they’d only just really set up then, they’d only been going for about a year or so. So, yeah, it was, it was very helpful, but I just felt that there wasn’t really anyone there I could relate to, you know.
INT: Okay. You mentioned that you had a long-term relationship, has your trans identity affected relationships, past or present?
B: Yes, it has a lot. I mean that’s the one thing I find quite difficult in that… well, I was surprised… the one thing that has been a big surprise for me in becoming part of the trans community is that I now feel like – it’s going to sound a bit awful, well, not awful but it’s quite a funny thing to say – but I’d always feel I’m a bit like the only straight in the village at points, because I didn’t realise, I guess I always thought once I became part of like the trans community with other trans guys, I thought most trans guys would be like, I don’t know why I assumed that, but I guess I was just going from the normative of, you know, the life I’d been in before, I just assumed most trans guys would be straight, you know, just wanted to be a guy and not really… and just be attracted to women and blah, blah, blah, and so obviously my eyes have been very much opened from, you know, getting to know people in the sort of queer community and realising that it’s not, you know, it’s not a set, just one set pathway when you’re a trans guy or a transwoman, or whatever, but I do feel that sometimes I’d like to know more straight trans guys, but the problem there is that I think a lot of straight trans guys make the transition and then disappear. They, you know, they do their thing, maybe they’re part of the community while they’re transitioning and then they go and live their life and obviously they’re not open about it, they’re stealth, they don’t want people to know, so it’s very hard to really get to know any other guys like that.
But to go back to your question, I find it difficult because it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve kind of been more open to meeting women who say would identify really only like a bisexual, I mean I am more open to meeting a woman if she, you know, identifies herself as queer. I think in the past I was always worried that they wanted me for the wrong reason, maybe they wanted me because of, you know, looking slightly feminine in some way or, you know, having quite feminine sort of characteristics or whatever, and that always worried me. But I guess as I become more confident in myself it’s not so much of a problem now, but yeah, it has, it has affected, it affects me all the time, I mean in my long-term relationship I met my partner then online, soon after I’d graduated in 2003, and she, she was straight, she is straight as far as I know still. So, when I got to know her online I didn’t… I’d already transitioned, I’d changed my name obviously, I hadn’t had any surgery yet, obviously I’d been on testosterone for about two years by then and I did worry, and I just thought I’ve either got to leave it until, because she lived… she didn’t live where I lived, so we were sort of communicating online for a good 2 or 3 months before we… well about a month or two before we met up and I was just really worried that once we… like the minute we met she’d know, I don’t think she would have done, but I was just paranoid about it. So I told her like the night before we were going to meet, we were going to meet halfway in London and obviously I just thought she’d turn round and say “Oh forget it then, I don’t want to know” but she was so, you know, she was fine about it. Obviously, she always said she knew there was something I wasn’t telling her, and so it was fine, I mean it was a big thing for her to get her head round, because obviously she’d never been with a trans guy, she’d never really had anything to do with the LGBT community, she was very… I mean it’s only now, I think, I look back and realise how, how understanding she was. I don’t mean that in a kind of, you know, she put up with it type way, but she was very understanding. I mean she was fantastic in that she only ever saw my body as being male, even though I hadn’t had any surgery, but I mean it did cause a lot of problems, because obviously I mean I’ve had very bad depression, and I still have very bad depression, and that… in my… it’s not the same with all trans people, there are trans people that don’t have depression, but I feel that that was affected because I, you know, that came on because of my whole hatred of my body, I also got bad things like very bad OCD with washing, which still affects me, and so I think all the things were sort of interlinked. Plus the fact that she had a bit of a thing against hospitals and doctors, so a good job it didn’t last, because she would have been driven absolutely hysterical by this point.
So, yeah, I mean we got… it ended in the end for other reasons, but I think, you know, it did cause a lot of problems in that I had a lot of sort of baggage obviously, but then so did she, so does she and so does everything. But I passed… I mean since then, I… this year I’ve sort of dated more and I suppose, for want of a better phrase, I’ve got around more, which has been a lot of fun, but it’s also been quite traumatic, in that if the woman hasn’t known about it beforehand and if it was a woman who was straight who I’d just met say online or in a bar or through a friend or whatever, I still have that problem where because my lower surgery isn’t complete yet – that’s a whole other story and I’m sure we’ll get onto that in a minute – but because it’s not actually finished it doesn’t… it’s something that I have to kind of explain to them and either I have to sort of say, “Oh it’s not working properly” and not talk about the trans stuff, or come out with the trans stuff and I’d only… I’m only happy to start talking about that if I feel like the relationship’s going somewhere. But obviously not in a one night stand type of situation, it’s very, very difficult and I did have a very, a very uncomfortable situation a couple of month ago, where, you know, someone kind of questioned me about it, in the middle of everything, shall we say, and didn’t chuck me out or anything, and didn’t react very badly, but obviously it was very uncomfortable and it just made… it knocked my confidence a lot, so it is… I don’t know, I’m hoping once the lower surgery’s all finished and, you know, it won’t be an issue, but at the moment it’s a huge issue.
INT: You mentioned that you’ve had quite a few sort of mental health issues, I mean what’s your experiences regarding mental health services?
B: I mean up until… I didn’t feel I had much help, I really haven’t had much help until the last few years, I mean when I… it was only… I think things are better now, but obviously when I first start having the depression, the OCD and everything that kicked in, when I was a teenager, because it’s obviously it’s very common that this sort of thing kicks in when you hit puberty, because obviously you hate your body and the hormones are rampaging and blah, blah, blah, so all these other things sort of creep in with it, and I kept, you know, my mum knew I was very depressed, I was having a lot of sort of anger problems and aggression problems and she kept sort of trying to get the doctor to listen and to… and you know, she knew that I needed to speak to someone, but it was only, they only took any notice of me when I got to about 18, 19 years old. So I had to go through all my teenage years of, you know, doing the whole cutting my wrists… not… I didn’t try and commit suicide but obviously the kind of – I can’t think of the word – self harm, and doing all that and, you know, I hated my breasts as they were then, so much that I was sort of attacking them every day, making myself bleed, blah, blah, blah and they only took the… obviously the NHS, they only took notice of me when I got to about 18, 19, and by then, you know, I’d just gone through so much hell, and my parents had gone through so much hell, and I’m just… I mean I’m very, very lucky in that my parents are very supportive, particularly my mum, I’m very close to her. So, yeah, it was only then they… I talked to a doctor, they recognised I had depression, so they put me on anti-depressants, but the trans side of it didn’t really come up, because I think even though I’d always wished I could be a guy, I just had kind of pushed it back down inside me, because I felt like it’s not going to happen, that sort of thing only happens to American people on Ricki Lake, it doesn’t happen in real life. I mean all joking aside that’s kind of where I’d seen, I think the only trans people I’d seen had been on things like Ricki Lake or whatever, and they were so sort of extrovert and so, you know, kind of… I don’t know just flamboyant or whatever, and I just thought that’s not me, you know, I just want to be a normal guy – for want of a better word. So, I just thought that’s a silly, that’s a silly thing, that’s not going to ever happen. So I pushed it down and yeah, I just… I mean I went through loads of problems because I thought I must be gay, because I’d only ever fancied women, and just had a lot of issues, but as I said, no one really took any notice of me till I started, you know, kicking my foot through the door at home and doing all this stuff.
But it was, it was… they put me on the antidepressants but it was only then when I went to a college in Cambridge to do my art foundation, I think everything came to a head then, I was about 19, 20 years old and I just… I’d put… I’d lost a lot of weight when I was in the sixth form, I’d lost about 5 stone, and I when I went to college I put it all back on plus more in a matter of about 3 or 4 months and then, yeah, I started just… I suddenly had a breakdown in the middle of one of the classes, I sort of locked myself… we were doing photography, and I locked myself in the darkroom and just completely broke down. Didn’t really know why, I was just so unhappy and the tutor told me to go to the counsellor there and I formed like a really good sort of, you know, close bond with the counsellor and it was her that said to me at one point… because I kept saying I hate my chest, I just want my chest reduced, and she said “Well is it… are you sure that’s what you want?” and I was like “Yeah, that’s what I want,” but obviously then she started bringing up things about, you know, “Do you want to be a guy, have you ever thought about being a guy?” and she was the one that kind of made me realise it was possible, so yeah, I kind of have a lot to thank for her, but it took a lot of time then for the doctor to refer me to a psychiatrist and then the psychiatrist to refer me to a psychoanalyst, and it just went… I went from person to person until they finally referred me to Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic and then I started there when I was about, you know, just before obviously transitioning at uni, so I was 20, 21. But it took me a good few years there before I decided that I did want to go ahead with it all, because I knew it was such a scary sort of thing to do.
INT: And how did you come to make the decisions regarding medical transition?
B: I just followed kind of the given path back then. I mean I think things are a bit more… a bit different now, even though that was only, you know, what 14, 15 years ago. I just followed the route that I was told that the NHS, you know, did it in as in, you go to your doctor, your doctor or your psychiatrist or whatever, refers you to this other psychiatrist, the psychiatrist then refers you to Charing Cross, and they were the ones that, you know, once I decided this is what I definitely wanted to do, they said “Yes, we think you should do this” because I just wasn’t very sure for a good two or three years and then they put me obviously on the sort of the testosterone. Unfortunately it was… I mean I knew, I hadn’t really thought about the lower surgery at all, I just knew that I wanted to get rid of my chest, because obviously I know it’s not the same for every trans guy, I mean I know most guys want to get rid of their chest, but a lot of guys obviously always feel like they missed having a penis or whatever. I never really felt like that, I mean I just felt like “get rid of these disgusting things and if you don’t I’ll cut them off myself”. So, but unfortunately, because of the waiting list with the NHS then, it also wasn’t a very common operation, I had to wait six years between starting the hormones and having the chest surgery. So that was quite a hellish time, because obviously I was getting the facial hair, the voice was dropping, I was getting the body hair, you know, I had changed my name, and, you know, people were reading me as a guy, but I was still having to, you know, strap the chest down, and it was just very, very uncomfortable.
So, I think once I’d had that done, I was so much happier, the OCD got better, I was happier in my relationship, and I thought “Yeah, that’s all I want, I’m not really bothered about the rest,” and then within a year, I was like “Yeah, I am bothered about the rest, I want to have the lower surgery”. So started looking into having the radial artery forearm flap phalloplasty, yeah, and then that started in 2008, I had the first op, I had it here in the UK, but unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of issues, a lot of problems, both with the surgery and with infections and things I didn’t feel were explained properly, things that I didn’t feel were done properly, and unfortunately it’s still not completely finished and it’s almost five years later, so that’s quite depressing.
INT: What do you wish you had known before embarking on hormones and surgery?
B: The hormones I think I knew, I had kind of researched into stuff and I knew… I mean they say because you’re kind of going through female… well, this is how it was explained to me, you’re going through female kind of menopause at the same time as you’re becoming a, you know going through puberty as a guy, so I found that quite hellish. I think I was like “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” you know, they said “Oh, you’ll get quite angry, you’ll get really horny,” you know, I’m like “Great, bring on the horniness,” and it was fantastic, obviously you get… so I think one of the nurses told me, I don’t know if it’s true, but you… when you first start on hormones, you go… you become ten times more horny than most, you know, cisgendered guys are, and I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but that’s the way I felt anyway. But I did get very, very aggressive when I first went onto the testosterone, and that was a lot of… that caused a lot of issues where I was living – I was sharing a flat – and I just wasn’t happy and anyway it wasn’t a great time. It was fantastic once I got into my long-term relationship because obviously being that horny, and especially when you first get with someone it was amazing, but I didn’t realised quite how big the mood swings would be. So I found that was a big issue and if you speak to my mum she can remember it well, and she doesn’t really want to remember it, because I was extremely moody. So yeah, I wish someone had said that.
With the surgery, the chest surgery I feel I probably didn’t… I think with both the surgeries I feel like I hadn’t really researched into it enough, but I think there’s only so much you can find out, you only find some things out as you go along, and I saw – I presume I can mention a very good surgeon – Mr Yelland, he’s based in Brighton in fact, and I saw him for the chest surgery, but he was… I was only, I think the second trans guy he’d operated on in that way, to do the chest. So I was pleased with it, but I think he’s developed a lot more since then and so I would like to go back and have that, some of it revised. With the phallo[plasty], oh there’s so many things that I wish they’d told me or I wish I’d been able to find out or whatever, it just… I don’t know, I sometimes think maybe I should have gone to one of the clinics abroad, there’s a very good one in Belgium, but then you never know, things could have gone wrong when I went there. So, I think it depends on the person, but I would say to anyone – and I say to people in the group – for anyone’s who’s planning on having the phallo surgery, do as much research as you can, the best thing to do is talk to people who’ve had it already, maybe who have gone to all the, you know, different clinics, whether it was abroad, or whether it’s here, and just find out as much as you can, because there’s just, you know, I’ve had to have certain things operated on, you know… I’ve had over 13, 14 operations now over the last five years, and as I said it’s still not finished, and it does take a massive toll on your sort of, not only your physical health, but your mental health, you know, it’s caused a lot of depression and, you know kind of resentment and feeling like my life’s being held back and yeah.
So I don’t think I could have gone through life not having had the op, but at the same time it’s not been a fantastic experience.
INT: It sounds like there’s lots of ups and downs there. Has being trans taught you anything?
B: I think… I have to try and remind myself of this when I have sort of down days, but I think being trans is fantastic and I’m presuming transwomen as well feel the same way. When you’re trans, because you’ve… I’m not saying you’ve lived, you know, as a man or a woman and a man and woman, you know, both, because in my case I didn’t ever feel like I was particularly a woman, but you do… I feel that I have a much better sort of view of things, I feel like I’ve got a much more rounded kind of view of things. I guess because, I think even I probably would have felt like this even if I wasn’t trans, in that I’m very close to my mum, and I’ve always felt it easy to get on with women than other guys. So I guess from that perspective, I have a lot of sort of female characteristics in that, you know, I would say I’m very caring and understanding and sort of empathetic with people. So, yeah, I think, I think it’s great, because you can… you can see different sides of things and people can relate to you in different ways. But at the same time I feel sometimes that it holds me back a lot because I still have times when I feel like I’m maybe not on the same level or not as good, or not as much of a guy as a cisgendered male.
INT: It’s interesting what you say about feeling like you have quite feminine traits still, and earlier you described your gender identity as male, so I wonder what are the aspects of your gender that you do enjoy, that’s about being male?
B: I mean I love, obviously, having a male body, I love looking male. I love having a beard, and I feel it’s kind of weird, I do have a Samson and Delilah type moment, if I ever shave too much of my beard off, I suddenly feel like I’m a girl again, even though I don’t look like a girl. I do probably look about 17. But yeah, I love having that, and if I ever get down that is something I have to think about, I have to think about the times when I was like 5 or 6 and drawing a moustache on, or drawing a beard on and going “Oh, this is never going to happen”. I like… what else do I like about it? There must be something.
I don’t know, I just feel much more comfortable, I don’t think it’s particularly about being a guy or being a woman if it was the other way round, I think it’s just that I feel much more comfortable being in the skin, being in the body that I always should have been in.
INT: Okay. A slight change of tack here, you talked about sort of drawing on moustaches, it sounds like there’s a sort of creative type inside you. How do you engage with the arts and express your creativity?
B: Excellent link, well done! I’ve had a lot to do with the arts, I still do, in that at Brighton Uni I did theatre and visual art and I’ve always been very much into the arts, both my parents are very arty and I’ve been brought up in that sort of mindset, brought up with Radio 4, you can’t go wrong. Anyway, so I’ve always been into the arts and that was always the kind of career I wanted to have. I don’t know kind of how… I guess it’s only been really now that I use… it is only now that I’ve started to use my trans sort of past, my trans status, whatever, in my art or, you know, expressing it through my art and through my sort of creativity. I did, as I said, theatre and visual arts at Brighton Uni, which was a mixture of sort of art and acting and, you know, visual practice and it was kind of make it up as you go along – no I didn’t say that, but it was. So, I did that there, then kind of as… after I graduated just kind of realised what I really wanted to do was more kind of straight acting, straight in the kind of… rather than just performance art type stuff. So, it was since then that I, I mean I guess that is one very good thing about having transitioned, I can now be in roles, play characters that when I was at school, you know, there’s only so many times I think when you’re really young you can get away with it, when you’re at primary school you can say “Oh, can I play the guy?” Once you hit, you know, once I went to a… I went to an all girls secondary school, there was just not the opportunity, you think there would have been, being an all girls school, but I just… my confidence wasn’t there, then because I guess of all my issues and stuff, especially with my body.
So it’s been since uni that I’ve really started acting properly, going to this theatre group, being in lots of different plays, putting on… I put on a fringe, a Brighton Fringe show with my best friend and sort of collaborator. So, yeah, and it’s been this year for Trans Pride, that was on this summer, first ever Trans Pride in the UK, that I… I mean I’ve done… I feel like I’m going back and forth, but I, I’ve been doing stand up comedy for the last sort of 3 or 4 years, and until this year, I had never mentioned the trans stuff, I’d never… because I just… I guess also because I wasn’t out about it in my real… in my proper life anyway. So, I always kept it back and I actually did a stand up course in Brighton that a lot of, a lot of people do here and that’s how I got to know about the circuit and know other comedians and so on and we were told, when I did the sort of beginners course, we got… we had to find something that set us apart from all the other comedians, we had to find something, you know, that we could… whether we felt it was a strength or a weakness or whatever, we needed to us that and obviously at that point I was like “Oh should I talk about the trans stuff? I don’t know,” it’s comedy gold, how, you know, why am I sitting on it, why am I not using it, but I just did not feel comfortable, obviously I wasn’t out to anyone at that point, that was a good, you know, like I said 4 or 5 years ago, and since becoming, you know, a member of FTM Brighton and having a lot more to do with the trans community, I made the decision finally, this year, to start using my trans… my trans material in my act, and I did it… I did a couple of gigs before the big Trans Pride one and they went very, very well, and it was extremely empowering to do it and I did at Trans Pride and it was one of the best gigs I ever did, because I can’t remember how… I think it was 1500 people, was it, that came in, footfall of 1500. Anyway, so it was a good… I’m sure… I think I performed to about half that however many were in this big outside area, I did it up on this… they had a big inflatable stage, and it was just such a lovely atmosphere and I did all the trans stuff and I guess it is a bit of… of course they’re going to laugh, a lot of the people there were trans or had something to do with the trans community, but I just felt so strong at that point and so empowered to be able to talk about, you know, all my stuff that I’d gone through, issues to do with hospitals, issues to do with surgery, issues to do with dating and so on. So yeah, I did that there, and the plan was to go on and do, well it still is, to go on and use it with other gigs, but obviously there’s a big leap between doing it to an audience who can relate to the trans stuff and doing it to – for want of a better word – you know, a normal or a usual audience in a pub say or something like that. I guess I find that quite a scary kind of step, but at the same time I know other trans comedians who do it and are absolutely fine and in a way, I think people don’t sort of heckle them, because maybe they, you know, they admire them and they respect them, so perhaps it’s a good tool to use.
INT: Do you feel that being trans, therefore… because you talked about being out and not out and things like that, has it affected your working career?
B: It hasn’t… well, it has… I guess it has affected it a lot in that I feel like I’ve never really been able to get on and do anything, especially when I started having the lower surgery. I think… I mean part of that is me anyway, I’m not a particularly driven person, which I’m only starting to realise now. But I do feel that I was always waiting, I was waiting to start the hormones, I was waiting for the chest surgery, I’m now waiting to finish the lower surgery and I have done stuff obviously in between, I’ve, you know, went to uni, graduated, I’ve been in loads of different plays, I’ve created my own performances, I’ve been a stand up, I got engaged to my long-term partner and was, you know, step dad to her kids. So I have done stuff and I have to remind myself of this, but I do feel, I do still look around and think that these other people that are my age, I try and not to look at people on the telly that are my age that are billionaires, but anyway, I do have this thing that I always compare myself to people and that leads to a lot of the depression I guess. But yeah, I do feel, I still feel very held back in that I just feel I can’t… I’m still waiting to live the life that I should have been able to live from the beginning, or at least, you know, most people get to start living their adult life when they hit, you know, whatever, 19, 20, when they go to uni, or particularly after they’ve graduated you get to start your proper adult life, and I still feel like I’m not quite there and I’ve had a number of people saying “Oh you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t see things like that, because if you do that, you’re forever waiting, you’re not starting your life, you’re missing out on opportunities”, but on the other hand, I just… I want to enjoy life with the complete body being able to function, sexually, how I want to function, you know, not having to go through all the rigmarole do I tell people, don’t I, you know, why is it not working, blah, blah, blah, blah? So, in that way it has held me back, I guess from getting on with life in general.
INT: There’s quite a lot of food for thought there. I mean from everything you knew prior to transition, has your experiences matched your expectations?
B: In some ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t. It’s… I guess like I said I think I always thought “Oh, once it’s all finished, everything’s finished, you know, I’ll have a much better life and I’ll be much happier”, well obviously as things have gone on I’ve realised that isn’t the magic key, just because you transition, you’re not suddenly going to be become some extremely happy individual, because I think it’s part of my nature to have that kind of depression and to have the OCD, but I’m hoping… obviously the idea is once the surgery is finished that that will, you know, that will get better, it won’t… I don’t think it’ll ever… either of the things will ever be cured, I think I’ll always have a bit of depression, a bit of OCD, but it will get a lot better… I always find the happier I am, or the less down I feel, you know, the less problems I have with the depression and OCD. What was the original question? [LAUGHS]
INT: Oh, do your experiences match your expectations?
B: Oh right, yeah. Yeah so I guess I’m still hoping that once it’s finished I will just generally be a bit happier, but yeah, I think I had a bit… as much as people said it’s not going… I did get told from the beginning it’s not, you know, going to cure everything, it’s not going to suddenly make you this fantastic, you know, kind of successful, happy, you know, individual, but I guess I always thought I’d be a lot happier than I was.
INT: Sure. And it’s interesting what you talk about mental health sort of getting in the way of things, and things like that. Do you think that… how do you think people with different abilities sort of fit into the trans community, are there spaces that are more, or less, accessible? And when I say accessible I don’t mean like just physically accessible, but a space that you might feel more able to use or…
B: I do think… I mean it’s, it’s all the sort of trans-related groups I’ve been along to, or anything that’s to do with the LGBT community it’s always… it seems to be a very a thing that’s emphasised very strongly that it’s very accepting of everyone, no matter kind of what pathway you’re on, whether you see yourself as, you know, trans, intersex, queer, whatever, that it’s always been very sort of equal opportunities and so on, so I’ve always felt, and I guess I’m… I don’t know, I have always felt very sort of accepted in those spaces and I’ve always felt very safe, and obviously at FTM Brighton, we make a big deal of the fact that it’s a safe space and it’s confidential. I think that was obviously used to be a huge issue to me because I was stealth, you know, up until, like I said, the last couple of years, so I didn’t want anyone to know, I didn’t want work to know. So I went on… after I graduated, I worked for a couple of years in a video shop, then went back to work at the University of Brighton, back at the Students Union, and when I was there, working, I didn’t ever tell anyone, because I just didn’t want them to know and I was just fortunate in that I knew with that job I’d get some holidays off and the Christmas holidays, so I, you know, had surgery done then, but it’s only since I’ve been back there recently and done a little bit of work for them, that I’ve kind of found out some of them knew anyway, and also since, I think you and I did our FTM Brighton session about work and transition in work, I’ve found out a lot more about, you know, the kind of the terms and things that the employer has to do, if you’re transitioning at work and I kind of wish I had kind of talked to my employer back then, because being a student union, they would have had to, you know, adhere to it all. So but you live and learn with these things.
INT: I’m intrigued, because you talked about, you talked about university quite a lot and Radio 4, thinking about class, what class do you identify yourself as?
B: I would identify myself as middle class. I don’t know… that probably is to a lot to do with the Radio 4, I don’t know. I guess… it’s always an issue, I never quite know, because I’m not really, and I don’t know whether you’re going go on to this subject, but I never really, until now, I’ve never really seen myself as an activist in anyway and I’ve always been quite happy to sort of be in my class and, you know, be brought up the way I was brought up and that was fine and not really feel like I had to, you know, think about any other class or whatever. But I do feel that, I mean especially some of the people – God I’m going to sound so kind of anti other classes – but I think I’ve sort of been out with people, whatever, that maybe were in a different class in that I met people online and I think at points I didn’t… I think I thought well, you know, I’m going to have to go out with… not particularly… it wasn’t to do with their class, it was more the person, maybe we didn’t really suit each other, whatever, but I always felt that, oh well, I’m not really going to, you know – it’s sounds awful – but beggars can’t be choosers type thing, I felt so sort of un-confident, I guess I just went with people who took some interest in me, and that has led… it did lead to problems in that maybe I was going out with someone who maybe I felt, I don’t know, in a different class, had different interests, they just were into, you know, they hadn’t been to uni or they didn’t want to go to uni, they didn’t really know anything about anything I knew, and maybe that’s more to do with just the way I was brought up rather than it being a class but I did feel that that was a problem sometimes, because we just had different interests, so I guess it’s very important to me, someone doesn’t have to be from the same class as me, but they do have to have similar interests to me, I guess that’s more what that’s about.
INT: What do… I want to talk about activism in a second and this actually does relate to activism, I think, especially with your working on the FTMB management committee. I mean what do you think can make trans communities be more inclusive and way above not just class, but things like different ethnic origins or abilities?
B: I’m not sure, I guess… I guess with FTM Brighton, we just have to always make sure that we advertise ourselves wherever we can to, you know, online, in papers, posters, flyers, making sure they go to places where it’s not going to be always the same type of people, for want of a different phrase. I don’t know really, I guess with Brighton, Brighton is a very sort of white, middle-class place anyway, so it is… I do find it can be quite difficult sometimes to reach out to people of different ethnic backgrounds, different classes or whatever, because I guess we all kind of – well, I do anyway – mix in similar circles and I don’t really know how to get round that, because we just… we do… I think we do need to, you know, get such a, you know, a huge diversity of different people along to these things, but I guess it’s just… I guess in London it’s a much more mixed community, so you’re automatically going to… people are going to come along anyway, but I guess it is a bit of a problem in Brighton.
INT: And more on the activism, would you describe yourself as an activist?
B: I’d describe myself as an activist in that I’m part of the trans community and importantly I’m part of FTM Brighton and now the Trans Alliance, so in that way I’m working towards, you know, giving a very positive view to people that don’t have anything to do with the trans community. I’m trying to sort of, you know, show that we are normal people. We are, you know, just like anyone else, we’re human beings, so I guess in that way, I’m an activist, but I don’t feel and I’ve never really felt that need to go on demonstrations or march or whatever, and I guess up until now the marching side of it has been probably more to do with I didn’t want people to know that I was trans. So, it’s kind of weird, like with say Pride, normal LGBT Pride in Brighton, as opposed to Trans Pride that we did this year, I did… I went to that for the first time a couple of years ago, and was part of the march, obviously with FTM Brighton, and even though I was beginning to feel more open about being out, I still felt quite uncomfortable in that, you know, I get… and I’m sure a lot of people feel like this whether they’re an activist or not, but when I was marching along I did feel like people were kind of looking for you to be flamboyant or looking for you to sort of entertain or, you know, some people were maybe… and it’s obviously not very common in Brighton, but I think sometimes when those marches go on, some people go along to kind of like poke fun or to just see, you know, these weird people that are walking along, or whatever. I just felt like I was kind of on display, so in that way, I always feel very uncomfortable at those sort of things, but I certainly think it’s good that other people do it. Now I suppose personally, I just feel quite uncomfortable doing it.
INT: Tell me more about Trans Pride.
B: Trans Pride was set up by quite a few people that I know in the trans community in Brighton. Some of them came from a show… well, they didn’t come from a show, they were alive before they went on the show. They were on a show called My Transsexual Summer, which was a big show on Channel 4 a few years ago, so I know some of the people from that and it was some of them that have gone on to form… become part of this Trans Pride committee, with some other people from the trans community and it was such an amazing thing for them to do, it was originally set up, I think by one individual, a transwoman who then couldn’t go on to take part in it any more unfortunately because of various personal reasons, but these other people stepped up and put together this amazing sort of… it was very community based, it was very sort of grass roots and a lot of people that went along to it, in the summer, said it was very much how, you know, Brighton’s main LGBT Pride used to be, it was a very sort of, like I say, community feeling, family feeling, it felt very safe, obviously it was much smaller than the usual Pride, and it was fantastic because I got to be there as part of FTM Brighton, so I was on the FTMB stall, but I was also there as Ben Pritchard the stand up, just plugging myself because this is being recorded, Ben Pritchard the stand up as well and so it was great to have those two point of views and to go round the stalls, and just… it was just a lovely, lovely atmosphere. I know they’re planning to do it again next year, and for it to even bigger and better and yeah, it was a fantastic… it was the best thing about this summer.
INT: Okay, brilliant! I’ve run out of questions.
B: And I thought I’d talked on for long enough.
INT: No, no, no, there’s plenty of things. Is there anything that I’ve not asked you about that you’re really itching to talk about?
B: I don’t know really, I mean I think I’ve touched on the surgery, the main things I wanted to talk about was obviously the surgery, how it affects me in relationships and also the acting and the stand up, I mean more on the acting and the stand up, it’s… at the moment I’m – and I’m not saying this to plug – but one of the things I’m trying to do at the moment is put a website together, and I’m in this quandary at the moment about whether to say on the website – I mean it’ll be a general website for sort of me as a stand up comedian, writer, whatever – and I’m in a bit of a quandary at the moment as to whether to put that I’m trans, because I have a Facebook page at the moment and that was quite a big step for me, and it was actually someone I met in the summer, who kind of pushed me and I’m very glad she did push me, to put this Facebook page together and in that I sort of made this big leap and put Ben Transman, comedian, blah, blah, blah, I didn’t put that as the only thing, but on the other hand I do worry sometimes that that means I’m then categorised and I think that was the thing that worried me about being out, about being trans in my comedy, I don’t really want to become “that trans comedian” or “that trans guy who does comedy” or whatever, but I’m thinking that’s kind of the nature of the beast, if you use it as part of your act, it becomes your thing, and I guess that’s the thing that’s going to get you noticed, that’s the thing that’s going to, you know, push you more with publicity or so on, so you have to use that, but at the same time I don’t really want to be seen as, you know, this kind of freakish guy, but that’s probably more in my head, but anyway, at the moment I’m trying to think whether to use that on the website or not, because as a stand up it’s fantastic, it’s your sort of, it’s your thing that you can use, but with the acting obviously you kind of have to be a blank canvas, I don’t want someone… I mean it would be fantastic to be in something playing a trans guy, playing something, because I’d really like to help out with getting a positive image of trans guys out there, but with being, you know, any other usual role, you have to be a blank canvas and you don’t want an audience going along and sort of looking at you, going “Oh, he used to be, he used to be… have a female body, he used to… I wonder what his name was before,” or whatever, you don’t really want that, so it’s quite a difficult thing to judge at the moment.
INT: And you’ve touched on kind of being in stealth at times, and you’ve got this quandary at the moment about whether to be fully out, as opposed to just it’s…
B: If it comes up, yeah.
INT: … something I’ll talk about, but yeah. How… your experiences of being stealth, I’m really intrigued about, what to you are the sort of like, if you will, the pros and cons of being stealth and if you, if you could start again would you chose to be fully in stealth or would you be out from the beginning or… is there times when it’s more, or less, appropriate to be more out and more stealth?
B: Yeah, that’s a good question, because I really don’t know, and I guess I haven’t really thought about that. As I said, I mean I’ve thought about it in the way that when I went back to work at the uni, in the Students Union, it would have been a hell of a lot easier for me to just tell them because I think all the people there would have been very understanding anyway, because they were very friendly and lovely people; but also obviously being the Student Union they would have kind of had to accept it, being sort of very equal opportunities and blah, blah, blah. But at the same time I didn’t feel that comfortable about it and I think, as I said before, I’ve only felt more comfortable… it’s kind of weird, it doesn’t really make sense, in a way it makes sense, in a way it doesn’t. I’ve only felt more comfortable being out, being open about being trans, I don’t go round telling people, obviously if it comes up I will say, although I still find it obviously very difficult with dates because I don’t tell people unless it starts going somewhere. But yeah, it’s only really been since I’ve almost finished all the surgery, since I’ve been a lot more comfortable with my body and this year I’ve lost a lot… I’ve lost 5 stone this year, so that has helped a lot in that I feel much more comfortable with my body, obviously the curves that were still there have gone, although they do go a lot when you start on the testosterone, your body sort of structure changes slightly, muscle structure. So I really don’t know, I think even if I’d wanted to be out more earlier, I just don’t think I would have felt comfortable because I just… it’s only, like I say, since almost finishing everything, that I… I don’t know, it sounds strange, but I feel, I feel that I’m strong enough in my male identity now, to be open about my past, whereas whilst I was going through it, I was so self-conscious that I just did not want people to know. So yeah, it’s kind of strange. I’m fine about it now, now I kind of look completely like a male and no one would guess.
INT: Interesting. Okay, so we might have already asked this already, but hopefully you haven’t, what’s the best thing about being trans?
B: [LAUGHS] I think we have answered this before, but I’m going to try and think if I can think of anything else. The best thing about… well, the best thing I guess for me, about being trans, I’ve just thought of this, is now that I am part of the trans community, getting, you know, some really, really good friends out of it, and I’m really good friends with you and I’m really good friends with the other guys in FTM Brighton, particularly on the… obviously the management committee, and so that is probably for me has been one of the best things about being trans, sort of becoming part of a different community and becoming part of a community that understands you and understands where you’re coming from. And as much I’ve said, “Oh I’m different in that I’m one of the few straight guys, I know” it’s not really about that, it’s about, you know, all having come from the same place in that we weren’t happy with what we were, physically or mentally, or whatever. So in that way it’s just been lovely to be part of a community and also, like I said, when I was at Trans Pride, that felt amazing, because there were so many people there, trans-women, trans guys, you know, gender queer, just a whole different range of diversity of people there and we just all felt so united, so I guess that is probably one of the best things to come.
INT: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
B: Share with the group? Don’t think so, I think I’ve plugged myself enough as a stand up comedian and actor and available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and all of that. No, I think that’s – what time are we on?
INT: We’re just coming up to 55 minutes.
B: Okay. Think of something else, quick. [LAUGHTER] I probably, what I will talk about just for a few minutes is… there’s the other thing I think I touched on it earlier was I still feel quite… I don’t know, not as uncomfortable as I did, but I still feel… the one thing I do wish is that I felt comfortable, much more comfortable around other cisgendered men, and cisgendered as in were born biologically male. I still don’t feel that and I still feel that there’s a massive divide between me and other, you know, guys that were born biologically male and I do feel that leads to a lot of, a lot of problems that I have in that feel that I just kind of would like… I mean I’m an only child and I think I’ve always wanted to have like a brother and I don’t know whether that would have made me feel more comfortable, probably in male company. It’s strange, because I look obviously, very, very male, but I still… I get annoyed with myself, because I still feel quite uncomfortable… well, very uncomfortable, I go to the gym, I work out, but I still go there and feel not particularly that people look at me and go “Oh, he’s obviously trans… or he obviously used to be biologically female” or whatever, but I still feel a lot of the time, “oh, I don’t look like them, I don’t look good enough, I don’t…” whatever and also I do find it a problem, like I said earlier, in that a lot of the things I like – and this is probably something I should have talked about – I get… people often think I’m gay, and obviously I’m not gay. It’s not a problem that they think I’m gay, but it is a problem if it’s someone, a woman that you like and you’re trying to date or, you know, attract or whatever. I find that an issue, one problem… one of those reasons probably I look like a big bear, because one of the downsides about being a trans guy is you lose, if it runs in your family that you lose your hair, then you lose your hair fair early on and I have a bald patch, and I hate that about being trans, and am very thin on top, so I have to do the shaved head thing, and obviously I love having a beard, so I look like a big bear, but apparently you can have a straight bear.
Anyway, so I guess I get quite worried sometimes in that I don’t… I’m not acting, or being male enough and I guess the way that I am, my personality being caring and being more into sort of female, stereotypically female things as in music, theatre, you know, I do listen to Woman’s Hour, but you’re allowed to, when you’re a transman. That, I’m not maybe helping myself sometimes, but then I get annoyed because I just think “Why should I?” Why should I change to be, you know, to fit in with guys that like football and drinking and blah, blah, blah, blah, but I do, I do sometimes feel very torn because I would like more cisgendered male friends.
INT: It’s interesting what you say about going to the gym and things like that. How do you find accessing the gym in terms of changing rooms? Do you… is it a big open gang, is there cubicles…
B: Yeah, it’s kind of funny you should say that because I mean obviously I have to remind myself now about the issues that trans guys, or trans people in general, are going through, when they’re first transitioning, because obviously it’s different for me now, I look male, even when I take my clothes off, you know, guys in the gym would probably just think “Oh he’s got loads of scars” but they wouldn’t think, “Oh he obviously is trans”, so I guess it’s not as much of an issue to me. Having said that, the gym – I won’t name them – but the gym that I go to at the moment, they’re sort of… they’ve had a big overhaul with all their sort of facilities, and they’ve changed, you know, repainted stuff and blah, blah, blah… [now] they don’t have a cubicle loo in the changing room, or near the changing room, they only have a urinal. So, that obviously would be a big issue for guys that hadn’t had any kind of lower surgery… I went up to the loo the other day, and they’ve repainted and everything… they’ve never had obviously like a unisex toilet, they haven’t even got a disabled toilet, go up the stairs, there’s a man’s toilets and a woman’s toilet, and now, as if we’re in any doubt before, one’s been painted blue, one’s been painted pink, with a picture, obviously the pink one, as if, you know, you didn’t know, because it’s pink obviously, so you must be a woman, if it’s pink, there’s a picture of obviously a woman in a dress, that goes on the pink one, and on the blue one obviously it’s the normal kind of guy in trousers. But I was quite tempted to take a photo of it actually and put it on our Facebook page the other day, there’s also a chair in that area, which is green, so it’s okay, because anyone can sit in a green chair – thank God they said that.
So, yeah, it’s one of those things where do I bring it up or don’t I? I think I’d like to bring it up at one of the council meetings that I’m going to go to, but I still would feel quite uncomfortable bringing up at the gym as a guy, because they’d be like “Why have you got a problem with it?” and I don’t really want to tell them I’m trans. So I don’t know, it’s one of those things, I don’t want the council to know about it though, because I just think it’s awful.
INT: Thank you, Ben.
B: Thank you.