INT: Right, this is an interview for Brighton Transformed with…
INT: Thank you, E-J. Can you tell us how old you are, please?
E-J: Do I have to? [LAUGHS]
E-J: Yeah, I’m 42, getting older every day.
INT: And how do you identify your gender?
E-J: I identify as trans-male, yeah.
INT: Okay, and why are you taking part in this project?
E-J: Because I believe that the only way to tackle discrimination, the only way that trans people can fight the media spectacularisation of our bodies and our experience, is for us to talk out and have our voices heard and I think the only people that know our stories and understand them properly and are able to speak about them, are ourselves. And I think this project addresses that, gives voice to trans people in Brighton.
INT: Good stuff. This might be a bit difficult to start with, but what’s the best thing about being trans?
E-J: Wearing boys clothes. [LAUGHS] Really cool men’s glasses. [LAUGHS] You should know. The best thing about being trans? I don’t know, I find being trans hard, that’s the bottom line. The best thing about being trans is meeting other people who are going on the same journey and who have been on the same journey or are embarking on the same journey and watching them thrive, watching them grow, watching them get to where they want to be, watching their partners and their friends support them, watching the community come together around them. But that being said, that’s the people that we do see and they’re the people that are successful. I’m much more deeply concerned about the people who don’t make it, and the people who aren’t brave enough to do it, because circumstances are against them. I think so many people are invisible, I know so many women who might come out once a year and spend the rest of their lives just as blokes, going to work as blokes, you know, it’s so sad that they can’t do what’s right for themselves. So, when you do see it it’s a joy.
INT: Okay, so tell us about your story so far. Where were you… where were you born, where did you grow up?
E-J: I grew up in a little isolated, Australian country town that was so deeply homophobic it was still illegal to be gay, when I was a teenager there, my teenage years. It was so deeply homophobic that the kids at the art college, there happened to be an art college there, obscurely, gay kids used to hang themselves on the same branch of the tree of the same tree, year after year after year this used to happen, the place was horrific. Once I left home I moved to bigger cities and tried to cope with identifying as androgynous, I was too scared to transition. I eventually had a very, very, very serious nervous breakdown, it crushed me and I had no choice but to go ahead with my transition for my own mental health and physical health. So I actually did that in Tokyo [LAUGHS]. I packed my bags and went on the adventure of a lifetime, and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. I removed myself from the trans-phobia, from the homophobia, from my family expectations, from my existing group of friends, I completely started again in a foreign country and a foreign city where I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t speak the language. And I ended up getting testosterone on the black market, but it was administered to me by a doctor, by a professional. When I say black market, it probably wasn’t, it just… I didn’t have to go through what we go through on the assessment process today to access it. I’d already done that in Australia, I’d gone through the process of coming out to the counsellors and being assessed and getting access to testosterone there, but within about a week, two weeks of that finishing I was in Tokyo. So, I had to work out how to get my testosterone when I was there, but I transitioned in a space, bearing in mind that Japanese men are smaller than white men, Tokyo itself is an exceptionally cool city, it’s so creative and the kids have so much creative freedom that, for me, transitioning there was ace! I looked like a bloke, I didn’t have to be hairy, I could wear crazy clothes and go through my whole journey, it was the best thing I could have done for myself and it’s, it also meant that I was independent, you know, I was independent… I didn’t know one single other trans person when I transitioned, but I was entirely independent of anyone else’s expectations or my own history, you know, I was working on a blank slate. So it meant that I got to define my own notion of trans-genderism for myself. I got to be the man who I wanted to be and that has given me freedom to sit outside of masculine stereotypes, to dress and conduct myself how I like and still feel like I am a man, I don’t have to fit into any cliché of gender, and I aspire to no gendered clichés and I think I’ve been able to carry that into a western society with that confidence and that like, “yeah, whatever, I am who I am, I just happen to be a trans bloke”. Yeah, it was pretty fun. [LAUGHS]
INT: How did you get to Tokyo?
E-J: I quite my job and I withdrew all my savings and I got on a plane. Yeah, simple. [LAUGHS] I… it was rough at first, I must admit, it was rough at first, it was sort of… the journey happened in a couple of sections. I couldn’t… I had a job, quite a high-flying job as a creative director of an educational company over there, a production manager. But I was female on my passport and I had to show them my passport to get paid. So there was a period of being closeted, etc., etc. So, I ended finishing that job and earning that money and then falling off the employment bandwagon because I couldn’t see how I could be employed while my passport was female and I looked male and my voice was breaking and I was starting to grow facial hair. So, that was really tough, I was completely isolated from integrating with society on a professional level and I was very used to being a professional. So that was a kick in the system, and it’s taken that whole process, took 10 years out of my professional development, my journey. You know I’ve only now gone back and I’m finishing my Masters this year, you know, five years on, but I’m 10 years later than so many other people, whereas I had a very high-flying career in Australia before I decided to transition and I was an award-winning writer, I was head of the national radio stations, I was doing much stuff at such a young age and really, really achieving high end, and I just had to walk away and let it all go. And then there was no way for me to catch up on my professional career again.
So, I think that’s a really… that journey of transition and employment is so tough, it’s so tough and I don’t think you can underestimate that, unless you happen to work in the health sector, or within the LGBT community, if that’s where your skill sets lie, then you might be okay because you might be in a safe space. But outside of that you’re stuffed, basically, you know, and you can put in all the discrimination laws you like, it’s not only the environment you’re working in, it’s the personal journey I suppose that you have to go on as well. So if you’re not in a supportive environment and you have to be brave all the time, then you’re never going to reach your career potential in the same time-line as people who don’t face these issues. I don’t think anyway, not in my case anyway. That’s okay, I’m getting older. [LAUGHS]
INT: When was it that this was all happening for you in Australia?
E-J: I knew I was trans forever, but I mean like I say it was illegal to be gay when I was growing up. So, the word “Trans” just didn’t exist and there was no social support for it, there was no “T” in LGBT, nothing like this. I actually started up the first gay and lesbian group at our university in history, you know, so I was still working within the gay and lesbian and bi parameters, but we were expanding into queer, queer was starting, so this is sort of, you know, the early nineties. So queer was really coming into its own and that was giving us some more freedom. Australia is more isolated, obviously, because it’s not on the sort of European loop or the American loop of trans awareness, even though it is really, in some ways, very, very forward thinking in some parts of the country, but that sort of… that early nineties was still, you know, just lesbian and gay, so I had to work within those parameters of that, identifying as queer, not as lesbian, and identifying as an androgynous queer and saying that I was trans, but not having the words for it. So, my partner knew, my friends knew, everyone knew, but I really thought there was no hope in hell of me being able to transition, I saw no physical way of it happening, without losing absolutely everything. So, it took until I crashed and burned. There was nothing I could do about it, I wasn’t going to be alive if I didn’t transition when I did. I’d put it off for too long anyway. And living with that fear and trepidation and self-loathing is so devastatingly exhausting. It turns you inside out, it’s so unhealthy, anyone that’s transphobic and has a problem with it it’s just like oh my God, you’re going to get a much better citizen in broader society out of me if you let me transition happily. [LAUGHS] It’s just illogical to repress and suppress… yeah, I would have broken… well, I did break. Now look at me! King of the world. [LAUGHS]
INT: So, tell us about you now? How are things different?
E-J: I don’t hesitate to be truthful about myself, I’m out as a transman, I get involved in the community when I think there’s skills that I have to offer. I like my trans mates, because they make me feel normal and that might seem really simplistic and silly and who cares to aspire to normality but I do. I like being able to just get on with my life, with having a partner, having a job, doing my study, getting a First at uni, and volunteering for the museum, you know, that’s it, that’s all I want to do. I want a nice career in the museum sector and I want to do my PhD and just be academic, historical, creative, you know, like I don’t want trans to be a part of that, but I don’t deny that I’m trans and so the example I try and set – maybe it’s to myself as much as to anyone else – is that I’m an out functioning transman in the broader… that contributes to broader society to learning, understanding ourselves through historical investigations for example, or creatively through curatorial work, but I am a functioning person in part of broader society. Who is trans? My experience, my trans experiences have informed who I am and there’s no escaping that, and I don’t know whether trans defines me or not, but I don’t like to think about it that often, I like to just get on with my job. I don’t need it to be the centre of my life. I’m lucky I’m a trans bloke, you know, I’ll say that straight out, I am so lucky that I pass, I’m such a small guy, my life is hard enough as it is, I’ve been beaten up four times in Brighton, and it’s been gay bashings, because I pass, and they think I’m gay. So it’s hard enough, you know, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t pass and how that would change how easily I could integrate and function within society. I think I would be so intimidated and so scared and so embarrassed all the time that I think I would have a lot more problems than I do now. I honestly do. The one grace that I have is that I pass, so people don’t start and point. It would crush me and I think so many girls and so brave and so many people who choose to live in the middle of the gender spectrum, because it’s right for them, I think it takes extraordinary courage and I think I just have so much respect for them, so much respect. But, you know, you can’t do anything about it, you’ve just got to get on with life, don’t you? Yeah.
INT: So, what brought you to Brighton?
E-J: What brought me to Brighton? I’d been living in Tokyo for five years, I moved from Tokyo to Madrid and lived there for three years. My mate came over and visited me from Brighton, who I knew from Tokyo and said “You have to come and visit me in Brighton” and I didn’t leave. [LAUGHS] That was over 10 years ago now. So, I’ve been a transman walking the pavements of Brighton, promenading, as we say here, don’t we, for over 10 years now. I adore London and I’m a big city guy, I like the anonymity and the business, but Brighton is as – how should I put it? – Brighton is a socially aware space, it’s a place that has activists, it’s got some beach, you can walk everywhere, so there’s some health factors that contribute to my decision to be here and there’s a very friendly, albeit small, community here, who I think get along by and large very well, because we’re all very different people. So, it’s just a really, it’s a fun and easier place to live than London, but then I can still go to London every week to see national galleries, you know, so yeah, I like Brighton.
INT: I’m really intrigued because you mentioned earlier about your passport, how was the process of dealing with documentation coming from Australia and going via Tokyo and then to Madrid and…
E-J: My Australian passport’s still female, I never bothered to get it changed. My… I have two passports, I’m dual nationality, so I’m British/Australian. So, my British passport’s changed. But do you know what, that… I think I was just one of the lucky ones, I walked into the office and the guy let me sign a form and then they printed me out a new passport. I don’t know how it happened so easily and then I just went up the road and got a solicitor to witness my signature, which cost me £15.00 and it was done. But I think that may have had a lot to do with the fact that I was sporting a whopping moustache and my voice was broken and there was nothing about that looked like my 10 year old passport from 10 years ago and it’s probably better for the authorities that they know who I am [LAUGHS] to tell you the truth. I was lucky. It sounds like a bit of a rigmarole nowadays, yeah.
INT: We’ll touch on your transition because you’ve mentioned it a few times already, so you kind of started off in Australia, with the psychiatric sort of counselling side of things, how has that progressed through and if you’ve been doing it in different countries how have you been able to finance that? Has it been having access to public health care or privately?
E-J: Yeah, in Australia it was public, so it was all covered, we had a trans centre, the trans centre was in Melbourne, it was a drop-in centre, I was at a point of crisis, they picked me up off the group, I was seen immediately and I was in counselling every day for weeks and weeks and weeks. I had to have sessions every single day, so it was proper crisis support. I then went through and got my hormones administered from there. Back then the hormones that they were administering was like a pellet that was embedded under your skin and it was a slow release testosterone that came out over six months and my body kept rejecting them. So I thought I was safe and sound but I arrived… I went to Tokyo via Vietnam and my whole stomach and where the incision had been made and all of that got infected, it’s like a capsule pellet thing, came out, I was without testosterone, I had an infection, I’ve still got the scars from that. It just… it didn’t work at all and then I was left without testosterone after I’d just started as well, going “Oh my God! What’s going to happen now?” So that was really traumatic. But by the time I got to Tokyo I hooked with the expat dyke community that was in Tokyo. They hooked me up and some of my best friends were still part of this little bar that was a for foreign dykes and their Japanese partners in the middle of Tokyo and was up all these flights of stairs, in the back of this building and you open the door and then there’s this smoky, Japanese bar full of American lesbians and Japanese, it was great, it was absolutely amazing and I met heaps of people through that and everyone was a professional, you know, they were all professors and, cos that’s why they’re in Tokyo if they’re foreigners, right, so a really clever set of individuals and they hooked me up with the trans group that was running in a very, very secret location in Tokyo, it was a good hour on the train out from the centre of town, it was through almost an industrial business area. Inside this building, that must have been like on the 30th floor, in the back of an office, this little box room, and all of a sudden there’s 10 trans Japanese guys. You know, it was like, “Oh my God! Wow! Where do you get your testosterone and can I have some?” [LAUGHS] and then, which is how I got the doctor and unfortunately I couldn’t speak Japanese, so I’m in this foreign place, very, very basic Japanese, but didn’t feel comfortable having my dyke mates – female – in the room invading these boys’ space. So I used to sit there and have absolutely no idea what was going on, basically, for an hour, but just be really glad to see everyone and they used to be really glad to see me [LAUGHS] and I’d drink Japanese tea and go home. It was fab! But then I got to know some of them better and there were instances outside of that support network, that meant that people could translate and we all got to know our stories back at the dyke bar.
And then, in Madrid, it was public health system as well, and I went to support groups and my Spanish in much better than my Japanese, so I went to support groups in Madrid and that was extraordinary, really, really extraordinary, because they’ve, they’ve got… there’s a very… I was in Madrid and there’s a very big scene there for girls to be sex workers, to pay, finance their surgery and once they’ve financed their surgery they get out of the game. But there’s huge sort of… these car park beat areas that the girls work. So hearing their stories and seeing where they worked and going out with them was just extraordinary, it was so fascinating and bearing in mind that I’d just come from… I mean these girls were loud and they knew what they were on about and they weren’t going to take shit from anyone. They were equally as traumatised as the rest of us, but they just had so much personal power amongst themselves as this set of individuals, who were just going to try and cope, so that they could get what they needed and move on.
So, that was extraordinary and coming off the back of Tokyo, where we were meeting in little hidden rooms, on the outskirts of Tokyo, in very dark spaces, and everyone was extremely scared and it was just so different, so different. But those girls in Madrid, back then, didn’t have any more power, legally, you know, they weren’t respected by the state, they didn’t have access, proper access to medicines and surgery and you know, their surgery wasn’t included which is why they were sex working to pay for it. And in fact the doctor that I was seeing, under the public health system there, my friend used to come with me and translate for the complicated medical stuff, was point-blank transphobic, told me I was an abomination, told me that I wasn’t allowed to have my testosterone, so we had to go through all sorts of stuff to be able to get different doctors and so forth, but she was just blatant. Madrid’s a very… well, I don’t know if it still is, it’s been sort of 10 years since I’ve been there, but at that time it was still a place where so many teenagers and young people in their twenties were living with their parents, these young teenagers and people in their twenties were trying to get a grip on Madrid becoming a modern society, their parents lived under Franco. So there’s this huge sort of clash of generational cultures where one’s a very scared, conservative, older culture, and these youth really want to buck out of that system and become a new face of Madrid. So, you had heaps of homophobia on one end and absolutely no trans-phobia at the other. So, it was a matter of finding the right doctor, but it was an extraordinary experience, meeting with those trans groups there, absolutely extraordinary.
And then I came here, and obviously accessed the public health system, straight away, without any problems whatsoever. Long live Britain and the NHS!
INT: You said there’s been no problems whatsoever, how has you journey been? Has it been good, with the NHS and Britain?
E-J: With the NHS everything’s been fantastic! Everything’s been fantastic. I haven’t had one problem, ever. My doctor’s surgery here, in Brighton, when I first came, I can’t remember who told me, but they told me it was the surgery that for years and years and years and years trans people have been going to and so I went down there and registered and was accepted straight away, on the basis that I was trans and that it was a safe space and I’ve had that surgery, since I’ve been here, that’s been my doctor. That doctor retired, but a new doctor came in and has carried on with all that work. The surgery… when I had my chest surgery, for example, the staff were extraordinary, I was given a private space to recover in, everyone had the right pronoun, there was… the only embarrassment I felt was my embarrassment, the staff weren’t judging me, it was my embarrassment and my own body issues. I just… I cannot speak highly enough, I mean I’m even sitting up in the breast centre, surrounded by women, you know, and then “Mr E-J”. Oh no! Come on. I took my girlfriend, because I thought, you know, at least it’d look like it was her, you know, and I was being supportive. No, they called out “Mr E-J” of course they did.
But yeah, everyone’s been absolutely extraordinary, I’ve had mental health support when I’ve needed it, I’ve had support from the police when I’ve been beaten up. It’s been great for me. I think it needs to be said, though, that I am confident about who I am, I won’t be intimidated in a professional space, I won’t be patronised, I do know my rights, I am brave enough to speak out if someone even dared, and so I think that, that may influence somewhat how professionals approach me as well, you know, I’ll be polite, courteous, but I sure as hell know what’s going on. So, I would like to think that no one would even try it on really. Long live the NHS. Long live the NHS is all I can say, it’s an absolute essential, safety net for trans people who can fall into using unregulated hormones, because they will do it, they won’t have a choice. It’s a safety net, financially, because so many trans people have trouble holding down work. It’s a safety net physically, because transition does need monitoring and so does your health, even after you’ve transitioned, because you continue to take hormones and no one really knows what’s going on with the long-term effects of that. The NHS… trans people need it, it’s essential to the safety of our experience, it’s essential. So there you go. I’ve said my bit on the NHS.
INT: Is there anything that you wish you had known before your started your transition?
E-J: I wish I’d known some trans people. Yeah, I think networking and for those of us that are brave enough to come out and say we do exist out there as role models, and everyone always says, you know, as role models for younger people who haven’t transitioned, there are so many people who haven’t transitioned, there are so many, we can be role models to them as well, the ageing trans population that has not accessed medical treatment, is probably bigger than the ageing trans population who have. So, it’s a matter of us getting our faces out and going “This is a place you can drop in, this is a place where you can meet people. This is a place where you can talk about how your partners are coping, how your parents are coping, how your kids are coping, how you’re coping; I wish I’d had that. What I did have was a safety net of lesbian and gay friends, who were intuitive and supportive and, and yeah, you know, and are campaigners for trans rights today, but without that support of people who have been through what you’re going through… and I’m not saying that all trans people’s experiences are the same, no way, we’re all individuals and, you know, we all have different histories and herstories and itstories, but I think that support and talking and friendship and camaraderie is so heart-warming and when you’re scared and lonely and fearing rejection from everyone around you, especially the people that are closest to you, when you feel like you’re going to cause other people to feel shame, or be embarrassed it’s so devastating, and having other trans people around you go, “You don’t mean to, that’s broader society’s problem, not yours, you’re not hurting anybody by being transgendered” and, you know, let’s get it right, trans people do not hurt other people by being transgendered. This is not something that oppresses other people, this is entirely our own experience, entirely. So who on earth people think they are to object to it is absolutely beyond me. It’s as antiquated as racism, sexism, homophobia any sort of hate violence. It’s so out of touch with reality. But it’s very hard to be immune from it when you haven’t built up your own confidence. So, it’s absolutely essential to have partners and friends and support around and I think that’s what’s nice about how our trans communities are growing in their profiles, in their reach, in their messages, in the diversity of messages that we give it and I think it would have made my life a whole lot easier if it had been there when I was transitioning, and it just wasn’t and I was just lucky to have got through, because I never did and I really, really, really nearly didn’t and it still scares me when I think about like how far I’ve come and what it was like back then. It was just horrendous. It’s so scary.
So I just, yeah, support, we’ve got to make sure that people network and for those of us that are brave enough to be out, that we do speak out, because that’s how we’re going to break down all the stereotypes and that’s how other trans people are going to find themselves.
INT: Thinking about Brighton, what other communities do you move in?
E-J: I move… I study at the University of Brighton, so my academic friends and my academic journey is very, very big for me and I’ve had all the support in the world there, actually, I had to have time off for surgery, from my degree, that was completely approved by the university. I’m out to my lecturers, they know that it informs my work, they tell me… one of my lecturers told me about the Brighton Transformed project, actually now that I come to think about it and QueenSpark Books. So, being a student, and being a mature age student’s been a very big part of my life here in Brighton. The museum, I work at the museum as well, and it’s just an extraordinary place with an incredible collection and extremely informed staff and the place itself is going through so many difficulties because of the cuts in funding that volunteers, like myself, are really, really important and we’re treated with a great amount of respect, but we’re given an awful lot of training and an awful lot of access to handling objects and being a real working part of the museum. So, that’s really important to me as well. And I conduct a lot of investigations into local history, because I’m particularly interested in the history of Brighton, not only as a queer space, but as… I’m a dress historian, so it’s always been a fashionable destination outside of London and it has an extraordinary history and we all fit into that, you know, and I think the fact that the trans community’s growing here and being so vibrant and proactive and positive, I don’t find it an angry community, our trans community, I don’t find it trodden and bitter, I find it quite gay, [LAUGHS] and I mean gay as in fun, you know, gay as in an old fashioned… the trans community in Brighton is full of hope and there’s people standing up, who are proud of who they are, and where they’ve come from, and there’s people coming out of the woodwork responding to that of all ages, nationalities, shapes, sizes, it’s… I think it’s a positive community, it’s all about where we can go, no so much about how hurt we’ve been, because I think we all take on board that it’s going to be up to us to build our community events, to have parties, to have art exhibitions, to have meetings, to do theatre, to meet and laugh and walk, I walked along the beach the other day, along the cliff faces from Brighton to Rottingdean, with a group of friends that I met at the Claire Project, and we just had a healthy outdoor time in the sunshine, by the beach in Brighton and we stopped for a cup of tea and a cake. It was just great, we didn’t even talk about being trans. [LAUGHS]
That to me is the trans community here. [LAUGHS] Cups of tea, and cake. No, we do lots of serious work, we do lots and lots and lots of serious advocacy happens in Brighton, but I think it’s… I really do believe it’s got that positive energy to it. Yeah, because we’ve got some great people involved in the community.
INT: Great. Moving on a bit, you’ve mentioned your girlfriend quite a few times…
E-J: Have I? [LAUGHS]
INT: There’s lot of questions about that, really. Has the transition affected your sexuality at all?
E-J: I don’t know, I think it’s very easy to look back and go, “Well, yeah,” and be retrospective, but in actual fact I can’t separate what my sexual journey has been from my life. I don’t know that the fact that I’ve been on a journey with my sexuality has been solely to do with my transgenderism and I’m hesitant. I do know that when I was really passing, I wanted to explore sex with men… see I’ve always been interested in men, but I’ve always been bi, but I think I wanted to explore it possibly more because I wanted a deeper understanding of male physicality and intimacy brought that. I wanted to touch and hold and see men’s bodies, because I didn’t have… I’ve never been taught myself, by my father how to be a man. There was so much intimate knowledge missing, so I definitely think that has been there and then, as well, because I don’t have a fully functioning male body, I think I wanted to transfer a bit of the experience over as well, you know, in so far as I wanted to see fully functioning sexual male bodies and imagine myself in that space. But my bisexuality I don’t think really has a lot to do with that, I think the way I explored the journey of physicality can be traced to transgenderism, but I’m in a very happy long-term relationship, with my girlfriend, who’s the most supportive person of me in the world, yeah, and I’m just so very lucky to have such an open-minded person in my life, because she’s… she’s had a female partner when she was very young, but she’s never been with a trans person before and she’s always… well, she’s been in a very, very, very long-term relationship with a bio-male, for a long time. So, I had a lot of hang ups, when I got with her, about whether or not we were going to have a sexually fulfilled partnership, because she’d been with guys for years and years and years, but she maintains that it’s of absolute no consequence to her physicality, it’s about what’s on the inside. Oh, she’s so sweet. [LAUGHS] But that’s what she maintains and we’ve built a lovely relationship. It really helps. Having a good girlfriend really helps. [LAUGHS]
INT: And, thinking about family, because you mentioned your father, are you in contact with your family?
E-J: Yeah. Mum is coping, and I’m out to all my family. I maintain a very good relationship with them, but I’m very conscious that I don’t live in Australia, and the truth of the matter is, when I go home I shave off my moustache, because I have such little contact with them that I don’t want to spend the two weeks that I’m there with them staring at me inadvertently.
Dad still slips up on pronouns all the time, he doesn’t think I’m a man, he doesn’t and I have a younger brother, who’s my best mate, and he doesn’t have a problem with my transgenderism, but he and dad have a sacred bond that is father and son and that is not the same bond that I have with dad, I was his daughter. And so, when it comes to real issues of masculinity, I’m ostracised from that intimacy that they share.
My brother doesn’t have a problem with my trans status at all, but he doesn’t understand why I had to transition. Because when I was a young, radical, queer dyke, if you like, I was a raging feminist, you know, had loads of dyke mates and my brother was brought up by me lecturing him, you know, “Women can do anything. Women are strong. Women are empowered,” I instilled that feminist ethic that he still holds today in him, so he didn’t understand why I needed a male body to do what I needed to do. And I still don’t have a lot of the language surrounding having to explain that, I don’t have the answers for that, I don’t know, why I have such a deep-seated problem with my own physicality that I literally had to change gender, because I don’t believe in gender binaries, I don’t believe that men are better at some things than women are and women are better at some things… I do not believe that, I fundamentally reject all of that and believe in gender spectrum and gender equality. So why on earth did I need to be a man? I don’t know. I don’t know. And my brother doesn’t know either and he doesn’t understand it. But I just have to say to him, “Look how much happier I am” and every time we have this conversation that’s where he stops and he’s like “Absolutely, there is no denying, since you have transitioned,” and this absolute truth, since I have transitioned I am happier, calmer, more focused, do not suffer from depression like I was riddled with my entire life, before transitioning. I have a self-assurance about me that was not there previously, I’m not nearly as angry, even though I’ve probably got 30 more things to be angry about by being trans, but I don’t… it doesn’t manifest in anger, it manifests in action.
Yeah, so I will never be father’s son, and he slips up quite often, because he just can’t wrap his head around it. But they’re trying, you know, and I had… well, all my life to get used to it, so I can give them so leeway I think. They’re not overtly trans-phobic, that’s all I ask of them. I don’t ask them to understand, I barely do.
INT: And do you have plans to have your own family in the future?
E-J: We do, we do. My girlfriend and I definitely, we’ve… we’re in the process of securing a sperm donor at the moment, actually. So we’re… I’ve decided that I don’t… we’d be very happy to adopt but my partner wants to go through the physicality of having a baby and then we’ll adopt after that. But I don’t want to know the donor, I’ve decided that that would threaten my masculinity, and my role as father, it would make me feel uneasy. So we’re going to go for an anonymous donor and then, when our child’s old enough, obviously they have the legal right to find out what they want and so forth, but I’m secure that by the time 18 years happen, that I will have had the role of father for that length of time and will be very happy for them to find out what they need to find out for themselves, for their own journey.
I’m really excited about it, I’m scared, like all good blokes [LAUGHS] but no, I’m really excited, I think, I think, it’s the right way to go about it for me, is to not know who the donor is and then just approach it from there.
E-J: What haven’t I told you?
INT: Well, there’s loads of questions and we’re kind of 45 minutes in, so we’re going to have to wrap up in about 15.
INT: But I’m really keen to actually ask you about class, class issues and how do you identify yourself in terms of class?
E-J: I don’t know. Isn’t this the modern conundrum? I don’t know, I come from a middle class background, but I have been nothing short of working class since I transitioned, financially. I’ve been lower, I’ve been working class poor for a long time, for a long time and it was all to do with the fact that I had to give up my professional career in order to transition and that I cannot go back to that same career because I’m a different person now. So, I wouldn’t be accepted in those professional circles that everyone knew me in before.
I think that there’s a difference between class and financial circumstances. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given an exceptional education and it’s all I aspire for to give my kids, but that will have to be outside of the private system because I won’t have the money, so I’ll have to that myself, and invest that time into my children’s education myself, because it’s the only way they’re going to achieve it.
Education is the one thing that will keep our class systems divided in this country forever more, unless it is addressed. It is education, education, education that allows you to achieve your maximum potential. I have no doubt whatsoever about that. If trans people… if trans kids are ostracised at school, if they drop out, it’s going to be a tragic state of affairs for them. Furthermore, it’s so very difficult to develop a professional career, when you’re transitioning in public, because you go through a physical transformation and unless workplace… and it’s all about getting the broader message out, it’s all about trying to make that journey as less disruptive as possible, because it costed me my career, I’m starting again now, because of it, it absolutely cost me my career and so financially I’ve just gone backwards. And I find it very, very, very hard to live with, it’s something that I’m so conscious of, that I don’t own a house, that I don’t have a pension, that I don’t have savings, it keeps me awake at night. You know, ask my girlfriend, it, honestly, it scares the living daylights out of me, because that’s not who I thought I was going to be and it’s not who I was, I was already a really high achiever. So I feel embarrassed and disappointed and scared.
So I think that for people to not have to go through that journey and for there not to be that class divide, we need, we need education, both within the workplace and within the schooling systems. But further more, I think what could happen is that we end up, if these things aren’t addressed, we’re going to end up with a class system within the trans-gender community and it’s going to be written onto our bodies, physically, because what’s going to happen is that rich people will be able to afford better surgeons. Those people who get the better surgery will be able to parade it, physically in clubs, at the beach, on the street. Those people who are at the bottom rung of the surgery process, will not have the same results, and, like I say, it’s the class of the trans person is going to be written on their body. If the NHS is dismantled, and if trans people aren’t given free access to their surgery, if that doesn’t continue, it’s going to be devastating to the trans community and issues like class is going to be one of the things that identify that’s just going to be horrific, who will be able to afford their surgery and who won’t. What sort of surgeon? Will we get backyard, pop-up shops, wielding knives? Who knows. It’s the same with hormones and obviously I’m only talking about the surgical side of things, I haven’t talked about the mental health, access to mental health services. If they were entirely privatised, again it would have a devastating effect on the trans community, and the only people who would be healthy and safe and strong would be the people who can afford it. And that’s against fundamental human rights. It’s unethical. It’s unethical. It can’t be allowed to happen, as it is, I know people that circumnavigate the process of accessing hormones and accessing surgery, because they can afford to buy into the private sector and I’d almost like to say that I think that’s unethical as well, because it does nothing other than divide communities, but perhaps people don’t know and perhaps I’m overstating the mark.
I think long-term, what we need to be worried about is accessing free health care for trans people because they’re going to drop off the radar otherwise. Who can afford surgery? Not me.
INT: Just going back to the education thing, because you said that you started off education in Australia and had to drop out of that with your transition. You’ve mentioned that you’ve come back to university now you’re in Brighton, how did you get back into that?
E-J: You mean… like I physically just applied…
INT: Well, yeah. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, but I mean…
E-J: What made me do it? How did I come to it?
INT: How did you afford it?
E-J: How did I afford it?
INT: All of those things.
E-J: I was at a point in my life where I had been doing manual labour in the hospitality industry, I was going out of my brain. It was killing me, it’s not what I should be doing as… it’s not what I felt. The hospitality industry is so rife for overworking and under-paying for using illegal workers which is how I got into it in the first place, when I couldn’t show my passport. It was the one sector that I could go and get a job. I could graft in a kitchen and be paid £5.00 an hour and no one would ever know, and the boss wasn’t going to tell, because it suited him fine and then I got trapped in it and I got good at it, and that was probably the biggest problem and I couldn’t see my way out of it and I knew that my only way out of it was education and I wondered whether I was too old, I must have started when I was, what, 36 or something, no, no… well, whatever. But I was scared about being in a room full of 18 year olds, who had their whole lives ahead of them, and feeling like I’d been robbed because of the transgenderism. But I did it and it was the best thing I ever did. I was… I had to pay for my fees up front, but I still got a grant loan, again free education, it never would have happened if I didn’t get that loan. Free education, I actually was accepted into the RCA and the V&A on their Masters course and I was absolutely devastated, I had to turn it down, I couldn’t afford it, the fees were £20,000, I couldn’t afford it, and I’m not too big a man to say that I cried for two weeks. It’s everything I’d worked for, I got a first class… I graduated First Class Honours, with my under-grad, went through a really serious interview process to get into the Royal College of Art and the V&A, absolutely chuffed, my absolute dream, and couldn’t afford it, which is okay, because I’ve actually found a specialist that I’m studying under, it’s fine. But access to education is the key to trans people having successful future lives, to equipping themselves with the knowledge and the power to go forward into something meaningful for themselves, where they can have a stable career, if that’s what they choose to have. It’s fundamental to the progression of trans people’s lives and the more the fees go up, and the more inaccessible it gets, the more we’re further cementing this class system that I’m so fearful of.
And, for me, the fact that I just go and walk down the road, cut out all the transport costs, it came down to things like that, you know, physically like, well, I can afford to get there because I can walk, because it’s Brighton. You know, if I’d been having to pay for the tube in London, I wouldn’t have been able to, that’s how skint I was when I was trying to do it. Proper skint student, just 20 years too old. But it’s changed my life, and because I’m so committed I’ve taken every opportunity that’s been given me there, I’ve won grants, I’ve won scholarships, I’ve done all of this because again I would say because of my trans experience. I know how fundamental I have to get it right this time, I don’t have a choice, it’s make or break. I’m getting too old, you know, it needs to happen now. But that’s the enthusiasm and the passion I brought to my study at the university, and it was borne over the impression I experienced, having been trans and how it interrupted my life.
We’ve got some young trans kids at uni, now, actually, it’s all getting very exciting, it’s nice to see them confident enough to dress how they want and wear make-up if they want and to be in a university environment where it’s not questioned and they are supported, it’s really positive. I really love them, I’m really proud of them. [LAUGHS] I’m so proud of them, I adore them. They’re doing great. Hopefully, they’ll end up having a normal life and wagging school, like a real student. [LAUGHS]
No, I think it’s great, there’s some trans visibility on campus, it’s good.
INT: I’ve got two last questions, but I think actually you’ve kind of already answered this first one, but what has been trans taught you?
E-J: I don’t know, what has it taught me? It’s taught me not to judge a book by its cover, I can tell you that. I’m so unjudgemental. That’s not true at all actually. That’s not true. No, look, what’s being trans taught me. I don’t know. I don’t know. I know that I would have liked to have done it differently, I know that I would have like to have been able to maintain my career, maintain my close family networks, you know, on a much more day-to-day basis, not feel like it’s easier for live overseas, you know. This is my home now, so I guess it’s taught me the value of community support. I’ve not been too scared to show some vulnerability in your own community and reach out and go I’m probably not as brave as I look and have someone put their around your shoulder. And I think it’s taught me, as well, that the only person that can solve my problems is me. So, if that means I have to be proactive, and that means I have to do things in the community to change things, then that’s what it does mean. Yeah. Power of community support. Power of education, yeah.
INT: Okay, and just to finish up and maybe this is like the hardest question of all. Have you ever found yourself in a funny situation because of your trans status?
E-J: Oh loads! Loads! Good lord! Yeah, where do you want to start, the urinals, or… [LAUGHS] Funny situations. I found myself in uncomfortable situations, I’ve found myself in situations where I haven’t known whether it’s going to be safe for my trans status to come out. I’m talking about working in big kitchens with lots of big blokes who are very tired and working in very hot, dangerous environments for hours and hours and hours on end who are bullies anyway, dangling me over the fryer and locking me in the cold room and putting hot spatulas on the back of my neck that had been dipped into the fryers, you know, and that was just because I was small. When it did come out that I was trans I had to leave that job.
I think the funniest situations I’ve been in, being trans have been with other trans people, when we’re being honest about what really goes on and when we’ve slipped up or haven’t known what we’re doing or, and we’re just being honest about the fact that it’s a journey, it’s a very safe space when that happens, but yeah, it’s pretty funny too. I’m not sure that I have a lot to say on that, but I think it’s those moments, when you’re honest about the fact that you mightn’t have known what it meant to dress to the left or the right, you know, and one of the girls tells you. [LAUGHS] Bless. That was a long time ago, that was a long time ago. [LAUGHS] Thanks.
INT: Brilliant! Is there anything that you haven’t talked about already that you really wanted to?
INT: Brilliant! Thank you so much E-J.