C: My name’s Cass, I was born in Brighton. I moved away when I was younger, I lived up in London and Manchester and I moved back in my twenties. I’ve worked in digital games industry for about 22 years now, started my transition about 4 years ago. So, that’s still quite fresh for me.
INT: Cass, your transition is fresh, what’s your story?
C: I was always trans. It’s this cliché, I knew when I was 3 years old that I was trans. I didn’t know it was trans then but I knew that I wanted to be a girl. I remember being jealous of the girls at school and I remember being kind of confused by it. I didn’t really want to be a boy.
I didn’t really understand what it meant either, until I was 7 and there was a documentary on TV about a Trans-woman going to the Charing Cross clinic and my bedroom was above the living room. I remember listening to this programme through the floor, not being able to sleep, and hearing it and thinking “That’s me!” and lying there in a panic, absolute panic, and I remember like it was a big joke and it was in the papers at the time, you know, everyone was joking how bad she looked.
I remember my mum had an antiques shop and the antique dealers at the market were laughing about it and going “Oh yeah! Bob’s your auntie!” and all this stuff and all the time, thinking “But that’s me”, and that’s really scary, because I really didn’t know how to deal with it at that age, and I just hid it by being aggressive and being as tough as I could be, which was a little kind of opposite because I didn’t feel like it was something I could do.
The little girl next door was the only child along my little street who was my age and I used to go and play with her, and she was American. And one day she said to me “Oh, you can’t play with me any more, because you’re a boy and I can’t play with boys because I’m a girl. But if you eat this sweetie then it’s a magic that’ll make you a girl. If you eat that sweetie and then you can play with me”. So I ate the sweetie, and then we played dress up and stuff and we had a great time.
It just felt like it was just terrifying and, you know, like this would be me, this was the big joke about me, this was everyone’s reaction to me if I told people I was trans. And so you bury it, you bury it deeper and deeper.
I think the other thing for me – I’ve thought a lot about this – was that when I was a kid growing up, I was in a single-parent family, there was a lot of kind of attitude towards children in single-parent families in the seventies in Britain, about basically there are only two outcomes: you’re a criminal or you’re a homosexual, or you’re [a] homosexual criminal or you’re a drug addict, but there was no good was going to come you because your parents were divorced.
So, you know, as a kind of loyalty to my mum, I was really scared because I thought I was gay and I thought I was trans and I think lots of trans people think they’re gay, or get confused by this because I just thought it felt like a betrayal of my mum, you know, like it felt very important to me that I proved the world wrong, that I was successful and I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t a criminal and I wasn’t a drug addict, and I wasn’t any of those things, I went to university to get a good degree, be successful, prove all the world wrong, that children of single-parent families weren’t destined to be that.
But this is a kind of a side-track, the layers and layers and layers build up, you know, these layers do mask who you are, and all these things push the trans identity down further.
But it never went away, and I had lots of sleepless nights as a child, worrying about it, and not understanding it. I had lots of fantasies, and they weren’t sexual fantasies, they were just fantasies, you know, if I watched a sci-fi film, in my fantasy dream, there would be a spaceship would come along and they would realise I was really a girl and that they would take me away and, you know, I’d become a girl by magic, because their spaceship was magic. Or it always involved someone else coming in and recognising me for who I was and transforming me to the person I should be, and I think that’s very common in a lot of trans people, and a lot of trans friends of mine have all said the same, those same fantasies and that same kind of imagination when they were children. You know, it’s like there’s the ways of rationalising it, the ways of doing the thing you can’t do, or being the person you can’t be. You can be when you close your eyes.
INT : So, has your fantasy become reality?
C: It’s not a fantasy any more, I don’t think about that any more, it’s not like I have to be a girl in a fantasy world. I can be a woman, I can be the person I am, I don’t have to worry about it. In my twenties I used to play a lot of computer games and take quite a lot of drugs and I think a lot of that, again, was that same thing of getting to another place where you could, you know, hide from it all, that kind of stoner gamer kind of attitude and also it was quite a good mask for emotions, like if there was a computer game where the main character’s a girl, that would be the game I’d play.
INT: How has your transition progressed and is it what you imagined it to be?
C: I think it’s gone well, you know, it’s not easy, it’s not as hard as I imagined it would be. I think the fear of transition and the fear of the whole process is so huge and it’s so deep-seated that it’s hard to say, was it what I hoped it would be?
Well, it’s not quite what I’d hope it to be, because I’m tall and I will never be the woman I would love to be, you know, I’ve got big hands and all those clichés. But, when I got on the bus and I [got] called “Love” by the bus driver, you know, that’s what I wanted. It’s like when taxi drivers stop calling you “mate”, that’s confirmation, that’s kind of the great step, because if they don’t see a woman, they will call you “mate”. So when they stop calling you “mate” that’s the big step, and when you get called “darling” or “sweetheart” that’s terribly sexist, but it’s a great confirmation. But I’m lucky I come from Brighton and I work in a liberal industry, surrounded by creative people and most people are cool, most people are amazing, most of my friends are still my friends, you know. I think some of my male friends don’t know quite what to say to me, any more, and a few have said “Well, you’re a girl now, you can’t be in our gang”, which is a shame, because I miss them, but at least it’s honest, you know, I don’t know if I want to sit in the pub and talk about football anyway.
INT: How do you feel about gender stereotypes?
C: I don’t know, I don’t want to be a stereotype. I mean I still wear Dr Martens boots, but I wear them with different kinds of top, it’s like all the women I’ve always known and loved and had as friends have all been the kinds of women who, you know, they’ll wear a dress one day and if they’re cleaning out the garden, they’ll wear Dr Martens boots and an old jumper, and if they’re going to a party, they’ll wear a dress. I think one of the nice things about becoming a woman is there’s a freedom in terms of, you know, the wardrobe you can choose from is broader, you can choose the dress, but you can choose not to wear the dress and one of the things that has been great as my transition’s progressed and the hormones have transformed my body, is that I can get away with being more butch.
I think at the beginning it’s really tough for trans-women. I even felt like I had to make a really big statement, that I wasn’t a girly bloke, I wasn’t a bloke who was just a bit effeminate, who wore make-up, I was being a woman and I think that’s quite tough, I remember feeling a tough, and you’re harassed about, you know, wearing a lot more skirts than I do now, because I had to make that point to people that, you know, I’m not just a David Bowie fan.
When I first came out, before I started my transition, I know a lot of people in Brighton and it went round, and then we were going to a pub with some friends and one was this kind of quite strong feminist friend of mine and she was “What’s it mean to be a woman? What’s the difference? How does it feel to be a woman? How can you know you feel like a woman?” and I said “I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman, but what I know is that I’ve got to stop pretending to be a man, that’s all. and I need to work out where that goes, and as far as I know that would involve me becoming a woman”.
Because I think, for a lot of people who aren’t trans, who don’t have that experience of the trans community, they see transvestite and they see this whole spectrum and it’s confusing. I remember getting bored with this whole conversation and like this whole thing like I’ve just woke up one day out of the blue and thought “Do you know what? It’d be really cool to be a girl”, like it never occurred to me ever before in my life that I might want to be a girl, but now, in my mid-forties, I’m going to go off and do all this because it never occurred to me. And it’s because, it isn’t –I mean it’s deep-rooted, it goes so far. And, you know, the other one is like it’s attention-seeking, you know, that’s a real classic, you’re just lonely and you want people to notice you, so, you know, “I’m going to do something really outrageous” and you just go, this is the wrong attention, this is not the attention I want.
But yeah, I think with the gender stereotypes, I think that is really important that I made the conscious decision… not conscious decision, I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be and the kind of woman I wanted to be wasn’t that clichéd woman, who wore nail varnish all day and, you know, worried about her nails all the time, and wore heels. I’ve got 3 pairs of heels, I don’t wear heels, I’ve not reason [to], because I’m tall enough already, but it doesn’t really fuss me, you know, it’s like it’s not the point. It isn’t about wearing a skirt either. It felt, at times, when skirts were forbidden that it felt it was such power because they were so forbidden, you know, that was such a big deal to wear a skirt, that it was like that was the biggest rebellion, that was the big deal, you know, like the first time you go out of the house in a skirt, it was like “Oh my God! The world’s going to explode” and it’s so… you know, stressed and scared and… it’s hard to imagine, I remember I turned all the lights out in my flat, and I was watching out of my window, to make sure no near neighbours were walking past or getting in their car. It was quite late at night, it was like my street will be quiet, it was dark, but I was in terror that I’d meet someone, one of my neighbours and what they might think, you know. It took me about an hour just to get out the front door and walk to my car and drive round Brighton in a dress and then come home again. I was like shaking like a leaf, and it feels so ridiculous now, and it’s like I don’t care what my neighbours think, it’s like the last thing I worry about.
INT: So, at one stage you’re scared, you break that barrier, through practice…
C: And just choice, you know. I’ve always said, it’s like you can choose to be embarrassed by stuff and you can choose to be scared of stuff, or you can choose to let the fear stop you. It’s like I hate heights, but I will go up the Eiffel Tower if I’m in Paris, even though I hate heights, because I’m not going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower, and actually when you get to the top it’s fine, it’s actually really nice and you go “Wow! Isn’t Paris beautiful?” and it’s kind of like that and I wasn’t going to let the fear stop me. And the more you do it the more you realise there’s not that much to fear.
INT: Is that what would you tell other people who want to transition, that are scared?
C: Yeah, yeah. I think I’m lucky I live in Brighton, you know, people always tell me, “Oh you’re so lucky, you live in Brighton”, and I think I am. I think people are more tolerant here, I think generally people kind of are… “Oh there’s another trans-woman”, you know, that’s the polite way they might put it.
I think there’s also a lot more people who are tuned into recognising trans people in this town, because there’s a lot more of us in this town. I mean Paris [Lees], talking to her about it, she said that she found Brighton worse than London. When I was more early in my transition, before hormones I remember feeling much more self-conscious around Brighton than I would like in London or somewhere like that, because people in London, they don’t really give a shit about what other people are doing, but also they’re not looking for [trans people], and I think queer people in Brighton, of any spectrum, are much more a target than in other places, that people come looking for us in this town.
I feel lucky because I haven’t had abuse in the street, I mean I have had once, in London on the bus, and that was my second time I ever went out in daylight, I think, as a woman and this guy was walking down the bus and he was hitting on everyone on the bus, and he looked drunk and a bit scary and so I just turned away, looking out the window, it was one of these bendy-buses, and you could see him coming all the way down the bus. When he got to me, coz I turned away and was looking out the window, he stepped right in front of my face, because he wanted to get my attention, and as soon as he got in front of my face he started shouting and screaming and calling me a freak and a pervert and stood back in the middle of the bus, kind of [declaiming] at me, as if now he’d pointed it out to the rest of the bus that I was trans, the rest of bus would rise up and lynch me, or something. But the rest of the bus just kind of scowled at him and ignored him, as typical Londoners, and I just carried on ignoring him and he got off the bus.
I was scared that was going to happen a lot, you know, that is the fear, I mean I think it’s not unreasonable to have that fear, but actually, that was the only time it happened to me and I know from other trans people that’s good, that’s lucky, I feel, you know, if that’s Brighton or just me that I do it well. And that’s the thing about passing, that’s the fear and that’s the obsession with passing isn’t it, it’s like the thing about being called “mate” by the bus, the taxi driver, but it is actually fear of those thugs seeing you and seeing something that they don’t like and beating you up for it and I think it comes back to the stereotypes.
I think when I was early in my transition, when I was more kind of gender-queer, when I had a shaved head and I didn’t, you know, make a big effort to be feminine, didn’t wear a wig, I’d get a lot more comments, a lot more people would say things to me and if I made a big effort and was very feminine, then people would just leave me be or wouldn’t notice me, and you get to a point where you just think, you kind of lock it down and go with that, because passing is about survival more than anything else.
It’s like when I’m talking to other trans people online, at the beginning, there was this kind of rush, it’s this kind of urgency to get to a point where you pass as soon as you can, because the sooner you can get to that point where you can pass, the easier your life can be. I know that for a lots of trans people, they have issues with the hormones, that they can’t get the hormones until they live full time, and they don’t want to go full time because they’re scared of not passing and I understand that fear. But I think personally I felt it was good for me to… it’s kind of… oh, this is stupid little macho really considering, it’s like a rite of passage.
I think you have to get over yourself, you have to learn not to care, you have to go “Do you know what? I’m walking down the street and that woman gives me a funny look, I can’t take it personally” and I know that I can’t get rid of that feeling and I know trans people who have transitioned in their twenties that, you know, 25 years ago, who are now at the same age as me, in their forties, who you’d never know they were trans.
One came out to me – I thought she meant she was going to become a man, and I was so shocked, and I’d worked with her for a long time, I had no idea and we were having a cup of coffee and she just said, “You do know I’m trans, don’t you?” and the thing for me that was really critical was that “you do know I’m trans”, because she assumed that I knew she was trans, because she assumed that the world knew she was trans and that of course I had no idea she was trans. If she still has that paranoia, I’ve just got to accept that I’ll never really be free of that paranoia. You have to just go, “Okay, that’s just something, you know, you just park it”, and you have to learn to not care, you have to learn that even if they see a trans-woman walking down the street, why shouldn’t they see a trans-woman walking down the street actually? Which is the attitude I needed to find and actually [the] difficult bit at the beginning gave me that energy, that power, it was just like, actually no, [I] want them to see this, to see a confident, happy trans-woman.
INT: Do you find, though, that that makes a schism in your head, a divide, between being a real woman and settling for being a trans-woman? Is there a difference? I’m not judging…
C: No, no, no, no. I think I have settled for being a trans-woman, I think very early in my transition I used to go to a social night for trans people in Brighton, and this trans-woman who’s much further, you know, she transitioned a long time before me and she’s said, “Don’t worry about being the perfect woman, you just be the best woman you can be, with where you are, who you are, and what you’ve got” and I think actually, when talk to a genetic woman, or all the different terms for it, who haven’t got my history, they all feel the same, they all go, “Do you know, I’m just the best woman I can be, I’m not perfect”. I think when I used to complain about feeling like my body didn’t work in the clothes I wanted to wear, and all my women friends were “Well, welcome to womanhood, honey”.
Of course my body didn’t work as well as them, and there was a huge gap there, and this is the hormones obsession with trans-men, I’m sure for trans-men there’s a similar [feeling] if the clothes don’t work on you, the clothes don’t work and that’s the give-away, and that’s really when you look in the mirror and it just doesn’t add up, it doesn’t work and that’s heartbreaking.
I feel good and it’s great now, because the hormones have done their trick. I look in the mirror and I don’t see the bloke I used to be. Looking back now the body doesn’t jar with the clothes. I think it’s great, I’ve got a new lease of life, it’s interesting, I think.
I’ve got to a point where I think I need to kind of now go and focus on other stuff, it’s time to move on from the self-obsession, you know, the transition is a massive self-obsession, you go in so deep and I remember writing reams and reams and reams, I’d just blog, and then you go “Oh God! I’m boring myself now, I’m actually bored with myself, I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to think about it” and it’s probably one of the first times I’ve talked about a lot of this stuff for a long time, you know, because I just want to talk about the film I saw, or I’ll talk about the book I want to read, or I’ll talk about who’s going to this party next week, with my friends.
It’s quite interesting now, when I meet friends I haven’t seen for a while, and haven’t seen me for like a year or two, then it’s always the “Oh my God! What happened to you? You’re… you know, you look amazing!” which is all wonderful and you go back over the whole thing a bit, but it’s nice, it’s kind of sweet, and it’s all really positive and I think a lot of my friends feared for my transition, because I was quite grumpy.
I was quite a grumpy man, a grumpy, hairy, man who rode mountain bikes and wore butch shorts and stuff, which was all a mask, and I think people, when I told them, they were all kind of “What?!” And I’d shave off the beard, and you do all that, so those people that haven’t seen me for a long time, it’s quite a big leap, it’s quite a big deal and it’s quite amazing. Because I always forget now, I just forget, because it’s just me, wherever I go, I go to the shops, whatever, I can run my life, so, it’s not that I forget I’m trans, I just forget that it’s an issue.
INT: And yet it is a massive part.
C: I don’t know if I ever finish my transition, I mean when you’re told, “Oh, you know, you’ve finished your transition, you know, move on,” kind of thing, and it’s kind of I have but I think things that bother me now are different, I think the issues now are different. You know, the paranoia thing, I think I’m working on the paranoia…
INT: What about sex?
C: It’s… it’s awful. No, no, I was seeing a guy, last year, it was really sweet, it was good, he was quite posh and quite well off and his attitude was, “I like boys, I like girls, and I like everything in between and I don’t care who knows”. And he was the first guy I’d met who wasn’t embarrassed by me, or wasn’t uncomfortable, we didn’t have to find some secret pub to go to, because so many of the guys are so insecure, so worried, I mean this is the trans community, what are the guys who like, you know, they’re kind of the “tranny chasers”, people call them, it’s so horrible, but lots of them are quite sweet guys and they just generally like us and, you know, but a lot of them are quite creepy, but he was quite straight forward, but I think because he had this kind of libertarian, kind of laid back attitude to sexuality and sex – and I know wasn’t the only person he had in his life, so he kind of moved on. My mum died two years ago, and so I[‘d] kind of been in an emotional lock down a bit since that, so when I was seeing him, when she died, that was really nice to have him in my life, but I didn’t really have the energy or was in the mood to go out and find someone else.
I mean now I’m at a position where if I go to gay places I meet women, I get chatted up by women, which is nice, it’s very flattering, and the gay men don’t look at me, which is also very flattering, but it’s disappointing because it’s the gay men’s attention I’d like. I wasn’t always gay, I always considered myself bisexual, I’d been with women most of my life, just it’s kind of more convenient, but I never had considered myself to prefer men over women, you know, I’d like both. But hormones have changed that quite a lot in that I definitely it’s men for me and… I’d still appreciate women, but it’s not sexual at all any more. So, I don’t know, it’s a tricky one, because heterosexual men tend to be quite narrow-minded, generally, not all of them, I know plenty that aren’t but yeah, especially when it comes to who they sleep with.
INT: How do you cope with it?
C: I don’t know, it upsets me. I’m at a point in my life where the next step in my life is going to be to my fifties and then sixties and it’s going to be harder and harder to meet someone as I get older, and I don’t particularly want to live that bit of my life on my own. Who knows what’ll happen, but I have no expectation, I don’t think, I can’t see anyone turning up, you know, I go to parties and I meet guys and get chatted up and I tell them “Oh, by the way, I’m trans” and they go “Oh, I’m a straight man, I don’t like men”, and run away and you go, “Okay, fuck you then!” But then again are lots of women in my age range, who are quite strong willed and kind of together and I think have the same issues, you know, I’ve lots of women friends who are in my age range, who are struggling to find any men who are up to them. I think most of the good men have been got a long time ago.
INT: Or we’re all bastards.
C: I know.
C: Yeah, you’re all bastards! Don’t know. I mean I know from having been a version of a man that I know lots of really lovely men, who have got, you know, great ideas and lovely, gentle souls and aren’t bastards and it’s all a lie. But they’re all married.
INT: [Let’s] talk about kids, and the issues that are specific to being trans, would you like to tell me about some of those for you? What did you go through?
C: If someone said “Oh it’s fine,” you know, they’re fine with [a] person being trans but it’s very different when it becomes your dad, your mum, your uncle, your child, your sister, your brother, and suddenly it’s not what they hoped for from you, and they worry that you can’t be happy or, you know, it’s a difficult path.
As a parent, the guilt connected to hurting your child like that is appalling, it’s the one thing that’s slowed me down in my transition. It’s held me back because I wanted him to get used to it, to understand it and I didn’t want it to be “Fuck you, if you can’t cope with this!” because it’s not fair on a child.
My whole approach has always been [that] my transition is an evolution, as much as anything, but there has been big compromises, as a parent, with my child, we have a kind of an agreement, which is no skirts, no make-up and when I told him, it was difficult, you know, it was heart-breaking, it was absolutely heart-breaking, it’s the hardest conversation I ever had, you know, it’s scary when anyone sits someone down and says “We have to talk about this, there’s something we have to talk about” and the look on his face, he’s thinking, “What? You’re dying” or, “What is it?” and you think… I don’t know where to start.
I wrote it down and I wrote this great kind of, fairy story down, and then he got too old for that and it felt too patronising and I looked up lots of advice and all the advice online and books about it were all aimed at much, much younger children, like, “some people are boys, and some people are girls,” and you’re just going “No,” just be honest and explain it and, you know, we’re getting there.
He still calls me “he”, he still calls me “dad” and I don’t think he likes the idea and he doesn’t particularly want to talk about it. I need to move on because he’s uncomfortable with the idea of surgery, and so until he’s happy with the idea of surgery I’m kind of leaving that to one side really, because I want to take him with me. I might have left it a bit late now, because he’s becoming a teenager, so he’s going through his own transition, so it kind of makes it more tricky, but I think it also means he’s got a better understanding of the world, so I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s a good time or a bad time, you know, I think some children cope with it better than others.
My own approach to parenting has always been as long as they know you love them, that’s the thing, that make sure they know you love them, and then you can just keep on with that.
INT: What advice would you give to other trans parents trying to face it and come forward with their own transition? What have you learned?
C: I think don’t push them too hard, because they’ll push back, and you’ll get rejected and I think for lots of the trans parents I’ve spoken to, the fear is being rejected by your children. You know, if you’re rejected by your parents that’s one thing, if you’re rejected by your siblings that’s another, but if your children reject you, that’s really tough. And I really felt that if, especially right at the beginning, if I’d pushed too hard in terms of, you know, going straight to full on kind of womanhood, in front of him… I mean I know trans people have told me that they went upstairs and they came back downstairs in their dress and make-up and a wig and you just think, it seems crazy to me, I know it’s important, it’s like the rush to be complete and the rush to get there, and you say it feels like you must get on with it as soon as possible but…
I seem to be taking forever, I started four years ago and I still consider myself in transition, and maybe I always will but I know most of that is because of my son, and that I wanted him to come with me, I didn’t want to reject him and so I think give and take, and just listen to them. I think everyone has to do it in their own way because you know one child’s different to another, my son is very bright and he gets things, but he is emotional, I mean it is tough for him and I know he doesn’t like it, I know he’s said to my ex, that he struggles with it, or he has struggled with it.
INT: Does your ex support you?
C: Yeah, yeah, she worries about the effect on him but she does support me. She’s the best, she’s fantastic. I know other trans people who, as parents, have struggled with when you’ve got that ex kind of pouring poison into the child’s ears about you as well as the fear and the stigma and all the things. And I think there is a stigma thing, and I think it’s difficult for them, like “What will their friends at school say?” but then friends have said that one of their child’s friends has a got a trans-parent and they go round their for tea and hang out and play games and it’s no big deal, but it’s still different, when it’s your parent.
And I think especially as it’s a son, the betrayal of masculinity to him is quite difficult, that worries me, you know. I have to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with being a man, you know, that it’s fine, you know, it’s just me, that I had a problem with being a man, there’s nothing wrong with being a man.
INT: Have you made friends with other trans-parents here in Brighton?
C: No, not particularly. I haven’t really mixed in the trans community particularly in Brighton or anywhere. I think when I first started my transition I got put off a bit. I used to know a few trans people, there used to be like a social thing in Brighton, which was quite interesting, but no, I mean I was talking to a few online really, I think for lots of trans people, like myself, a lot of the communication is through Twitter, you know.
INT: So, it doesn’t make much of a difference to you being in Brighton or not being Brighton? [You] talked about the fact that you felt like Brighton was a freer place, didn’t you, that experience of taking your time transitioning, now tell me about that.
C: When I first started my transition, it wasn’t really a transition it was just coming out really, I was going to trans nights and I think the first one I went to was in Southampton, and this trans, you know, she didn’t identify as trans, she identified as transvestite, and she was saying “Oh come down, there’s this thing, it’s really good fun”. We went to it and it was kind of a scout hut in Southampton and it was everything I feared about being trans. It put me off and I went to a few things like that and I just remember it being very cliquey and very kind of insular, and quite sad really, so afterwards, I just hung out in Brighton.
I think at first I went to gay clubs and bars in Kemptown and I did that quite a lot with a few friends, and that was good fun, but it was hiding from the world, and I think I didn’t want to hide from the world. And so, since then, I’ve really just hung out with the people I work with and friends outside of the trans scene, but I do feel these days that I miss that, I think it was a mistake, because I think I need more support than I have.
I mean transition, you know, it’s like you think you bounce along for ages, thinking this is great and I can do this and it’s like when I look at myself in the mirror and I think “Wow! This is working”. But then, you know, it’s still difficult, it surprises you, I think it’s easy to underestimate it and I actually kind of regret it and start trying to reach out. Because I think there’s a side to being trans, which is it’s not that people reject you or that people don’t approve of what you’re doing, it’s just you don’t fit in any more, and I’ve found that lots of friends who aren’t against me being trans, but I don’t get invited to dinner parties any more, I don’t feel like I’m quite included in their little bubble any more and you just suddenly think, “Actually… yeah, it didn’t quite work out,” and I think that’s quite a shame and I think that’s where like a trans community is really important. And maybe it’s just how I feel at the moment.
INT: No, it’s the first time I’ve had contact with the trans community for a very, very long time, because I don’t like those cliquey little bar scenes that don’t seem like real life. But I like this project and have come out for this, because I think it’s valuable and I think you meet real people and you talk about real life issues.
C: Yeah, I think it’s exactly the same, like talking to you last week it was great, because it was just us going “Of course, yeah,” and the Twitter thing is great, but it’s just always remote, you know. There’s lots of younger trans people or people who are just starting out who are kind of feeling their way, and it’s good to be there and to be able to say, “It will be fine, it is difficult but you will get there, and if you want it you can do it,” kind of thing. But yeah, because there is a big transvestite scene in Brighton, there’s lots of bars and it’s that whole scene and I’ve not a problem with it at all, but it’s not particularly what I want to do, it’s not me, I don’t want to be camping it up, down at Legends.
INT: I find it difficult because I don’t necessarily want to be in alcohol-infused places to touch base with the trans community, I want to be in a normal sort of space, but then it’s not normal just being with trans people just because we’re trans.
C: I found the conversations were very circular as well, I don’t want to talk about being trans the whole time. I don’t want to be the only trans person in the room but you don’t want to be in a room where there’s no one else but trans people and it’s the only agenda and I think, especially for a lot of trans people at the beginning of their transition, they’re often quite shy, it’s quite hard, they’re not the people who kind of want to get out, not very outward going, because they’re insecure and it’s scary.
INT: What do you think the trans community can offer you?
C: A friend of mine [said], “Oh it’s in the bag now, you’re transition’s in the bag, you’ve done it. You know, you look great, it’s fine,” so kind of “Shut the fuck up about it, please.” I don’t know if she meant that, but that’s how it read, like “Shut the fuck up! You don’t need to talk about it any more, it’s done with, move on,” and she may have had a point, but it’s still huge for me, and there’s all those things I talked about, you know, the paranoia, the insecurity, all those little issues.
And when you tell people who aren’t trans, about those things, often they’re quite shocked, and “Oh my God! That never even occurred to me that you’d feel like that.” Well it depends on the person, I’m talking to a colleague about a bar that everyone was going to and I said “I don’t feel comfortable in that bar, because the people in there are a bit Neanderthal” and she said “Well, fuck them then” and I said “It doesn’t work like that”, because it’s me who’s unhappy, it’s not them, so it’s just a miserable night for me, it’s not a miserable night for them, so there’s no point in me going.
However much you think you can say “Fuck you!” and have that attitude, actually if you’re in an environment that feels hostile, it doesn’t work. You know, I go to all sorts of places now and I never care, and most people don’t even notice, so it’s not a big deal. At Christmas I was in a really laddy bar with some people I work with and they were fine, it’s no big deal, and that’s great and that’s amazing, because it means you can relax and just enjoy yourself and hang out with your friends, but at the beginning it’s really scary and I think that’s one of the things, when I was at the beginning it was the stress, the emotional, the social anxiety of just going into a pub, you know, I remember being exhausted almost all the time, just because that day-to-day interaction with the world was just exhausting because the anxiety of what people would think and whether people saw through you and whether that mattered, like the calculations, you know, that are going through my head, and it’s like the swan, whirring away underneath, stuff going on in your head and especially at the beginning of your transition it’s really hard work.
And I think trans people don’t tell other trans people, you know, because we always want to say “It’s going to be great, you’re gonna be great, it’s going to be amazing” because we want to be supportive, we don’t want to put people off because we’ve been put off by so many people for so long, that so we don’t tell each other, “you’re going to feel shit at times, you’re going to have nights when you go to the pub and you just want to walk straight out again because it’s full of people who don’t… and it could be in your head, but you know…” and it’s really tricky, and I think that having people around me that understand that is a thing I miss.
INT: So, why did you get involved with this project?
C: Melita asked me to do the flyer, and when I got talking to Melita about it and Kath, it was just, oh, this is fantastic, I think this is a really great idea, I think oral history is really important and I think a voice for the trans community is long overdue, I think we’re the forgotten minority, you know, and we don’t have a voice and, you know, we’re slowly grabbing one back, but we have to take it back ourselves and so the moment I heard about it I was just like, “Well, you know, of course, of course I have to”. I think hugely important.
INT: And do you think it’s important to the trans community or to the outside community?
C: I think it’s important to the trans community, but I think it’s also important to record this, to us, to say that this day, in this point in Brighton, we were here and we are the voice of this community. And I am sure there will continue to be a community but I think as a record of who we are and what’s going on, I think it’s really important for the future.
I mean I don’t know beyond the trans community and that kind of is a historical record, how people outside the trans community in Brighton will know about it or get involved or read it, who knows, but even if a little bit happens, even if a small group of people will read it or look at it, and if some young trans people come across it, because most trans people I know all agree that, you know… I was like a sponge, I used to hunt down anything about trans when I was young, I’d read it, I’d find a way to get it, I’d look it up, find it in the library, whether it was good or bad I just had to find it, I had to read it so yeah, I think that’s really positive, and lots of trans people say we need to show the world that the story of us is all sorts of stories, you know, there are trans people who have amazing jobs, amazing businesses, and are incredibly successful journalists and writers and artists and all these things and that you can be trans and have all those things.
I’ve met a few trans men at events, and I always got the impression there is the whole community and social world of the kind of transvestite kind of clubs and bars and world and there’s bars in London, there’s lots of famous places, and that’s quite interesting and I think that [in] a lot of the trans community, there’s friction between us and that world, so I think a lot of trans people like myself, we start there and then kind of move away.
That was really interesting when I met a trans person at a gay bar in Brighton, and we started talking and she was the first person I met who was a trans who I bonded with, it was fantastic and that was really important.
I remember talking to people online in the trans community who are very hostile to the gay community, and going “Oh we know they don’t like us,” and blah, blah, blah, and I actually have to say that I’m sort of opposite, I always found the gay community really supportive, lovely people. This gay woman I work with, she was amazing and we just got drunk one night and we were comparing notes on coming out and who was the person you chose to tell, because that’s the thing, you choose someone and tell her, we were comparing notes on identifying with the wrong person in a movie for your gender, because she was always identified with James Bond and I was saying how I always wanted to be the Bond girl, but everyone thought I like James Bond movies because I wanted to be James Bond, because I was into James Bond, but it was actually because I like the Bond girls and not because I fancied them, but because I wanted to be one and things like that, and fantasising about being Princess Leia, especially some of her outfits in the last film. I think for lots of gay people there’s a link there, there is a huge connection and I think you know they get it. But there is conflict between the two communities and it’s a shame, I think for the political gay community they find the trans thing a bit icky, and it’s a bit kind of, it’ll scare the straights away.
One of the things that really struck me about the kind of reaction to trans-women, particularly, I know lots of men who have lesbian friends, because it’s all right, because they’re one of the lads, [or] you hear people talk about someone who’s gay and it’d be like “Oh, but you wouldn’t know they were gay”… they’re not camp, they’re not effeminate, they’re not feminine, because you wouldn’t know they were gay, they’re just like anyone else, kind of thing. And I think, I remember feeling like, you know, being trans is like this really extreme version of kind of being so feminine or making such a big deal about being feminine, it was like the reaction to someone being trans is more about rejection of manhood, it was almost like that you’ve rejected masculinity, that you’ve abandoned it, but also it’s a kind of misogyny, it’s like being told, “I wouldn’t mind if you were gay, because I don’t mind what you do with other people’s genitals, and your bottom”, but it’s femininity that’s the problem, which is really interesting, that really surprised me, because it’s just not about sexuality, it is about femininity, that was the biggest problem and I think for some in the gay community they have as much problem with very feminine gay men as they do with the trans community, because, as I said to you, it’s “don’t scare the straights”. I mean because I fancy men, so obviously like when I go to gay clubs, I fancy the gay men, but yeah, I’m not what they want any more.