INT: So, here we go. What’s your name?
E: My name is Edward.
INT: And how old are you?
E: I am 35, almost 36.
INT: And how would you describe your gender identity?
E: I would describe it as different things on different days, I suppose, but I suppose male generally, or transgender would also be a word that I could use.
INT: Okay. And why are you taking part in this project?
E: I am taking part in this project, probably for two reasons, one is because, for my own personal reasons I like it when people asked me questions about my own trans history because it makes me think about it. So there’s a sort of personal, selfish, reason of forcing myself to do it. But I also think that visibility is one of the key ways to breakdown discrimination and the more projects that have trans people talking about their selves, talking about their lives, the more ways that there is information out there for the next generation of trans people and their families and their friends and their business colleagues, the better.
INT: Good. I’m going to come to those questions a little bit later, actually, because I think they’re going to be really good, but I will start off saying [PAUSE] sorry, I’m having a complete brain pause.
E: That’s okay. No, no, no, it’s all right, we don’t have to rush.
INT: No, indeed. What place do you think trans people have in the broader LGBT community?
E: The place that I think they should have is an equal footing, if we’re going to have an LGBT community, then I think the things that bring us together and that connect us, the vision I have in my mind is that we are all these four very different identities, with many sub-groups beneath them, but the things that we have that connect us are strong, and we could use those connections to fight for our rights and fight against discrimination and share understanding and raise awareness and all those kind of things and so it could be a really powerful bonding of four very separate groups of people.
Unfortunately, the reality is that trans people in the LGBT community are very, very varied, there are perhaps some LGBT organisations that have a strong trans voice involved in running them or involved in taking part. In many, many others, it seems the trans voice is one in a roomful of other people, if that. Sometimes not really there at all. Sometimes, there but not given the same weight as the other voices.
So, I think we’re still marginalised, but it has changed a lot in the ten years that I’ve been, the 10 years that I’ve been being trans… The ten years since I started transitioning I’ve seen a change quite dramatically, but we’re still definitely marginalised within.
INT: Is there a trans community?
E: I can really only speak for Brighton – and I suppose that’s the only really relevant thing because it’s more of a Brighton focused project. I think there is a growing trans community now in Brighton and it seems to be something that has been… I’ve been in Brighton for four years, and when I came to Brighton there wasn’t much of an out trans community, there seems to have been over the course of that time now with Trans Alliance forming and with Trans Pride, more of an out and visible trans community starting to form, and they’re really only the top of the iceberg of all the trans people in Brighton, but I think they are now perhaps a focal point for people to grow around and to draw towards.
INT: And which communities within the trans community do you identify with?
E: Which communities within the trans community?
INT: And broader, the LGBT community. Or non-LGBT for that matter.
E: What other… what, sort of what other identities do I have? Is that kind of the question?
INT: I don’t know [LAUGHTER] just what communities do you identify with?
E: What other communities do I identify with or am involved in?
E: Well, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. By one rationale I could identify as bi, don’t feel part of a bi community, don’t particularly identify as bi, don’t sort of feel the need to kind of call it anything, except my sexuality. So, don’t really feel sort of connected to any community there. I honestly don’t know.
INT: Oh, don’t worry.
E: None that are clearly that important to me, I think, I guess. There’s nothing else that I sort of feel that I’m fighting for or fighting against discrimination about.
INT: Okay. So you’re talking about fighting discrimination and fighting for the communities, what then does activism mean to you and is it better to be quiet or noisy?
E: I guess activism, what springs to mind for me, is challenging structures in society that are not giving you, or your community, the same freedoms as other people, or perhaps any freedoms at all, and that could be, that could be on any scale, absolutely, that could be, you know, fighting with your local corner shop to sell the type of cheese that you like, or it could be, it could be, you know, fighting the government to provide you with the same rights as other people. You know, it could be on any scale, so I guess that’s kind of what I see activism as, as trying to change something, trying to change a, you know, a big structure of some kind and I guess it is… in most of the cases I imagine it’s better to be noisier than quiet, particularly for the trans community, I think one of our problems is that we don’t, we don’t seem to have enough connections in high places to be able to bring down the organisation from within. We don’t have enough people I guess within organisations to be able to do that, it seems, that’s how it feels, certainly. So, I think when we do trans activism, it’s usually always from a grass roots level, because that’s sort of feels like most of the time, that’s all we have. If, you know, if we had loads of trans members of parliament or loads of trans people in the Brighton council, all loads of trans people in the healthcare service, locally or nationally, then we could decide that maybe big noisy demonstrations or causing lots of fuss and petitions was not the way to go and actually we would just get people to speak up more, when they’re in those meetings with those people. But we don’t it seems. So making a fuss, I guess is our best mode at the moment, about all we have.
INT: Has there been anything in Brighton that you’ve been making a fuss about?
E: Well, I was, I was a bit involved in the scrutiny, I suppose that was… the trans scrutiny in Brighton, I suppose that was something that I thought was… that was considered sort of activism I guess, kind of, it was a bit of both really, it was both a council procedure, but it was also born from activism. So it was a very successful story I suppose. But I was… I played such a small part in it that I don’t know, I don’t feel… but it’s still going on at the same time. I’ve played a small part in it so far, but I am still playing a part in it, so yeah… I can’t remember what your original question was. [LAUGHTER]
INT: I was just asking about activism and trans activism…
E: That I’ve seen?
INT: That you’ve been part of?
E: That I’ve been part of? Yeah. Well, I’d say the ongoing scrutiny stuff is definitely something. Being involved in FTMB and we’ve been going for three years now, and it still feels, in many ways, like quite a fledgling group that’s still kind of figuring out what it wants to do, it has loads of potential to go off in lots of different directions, but I think just being a group that is there for trans-masculine people on a regular basis, that they can just come to, and be amongst their peers, safely, without judgement is a huge thing for trans people. I think people massively underestimate what peer support is, for trans people.
And Trans Pride was a huge thing, as well, and again I was there, but I wasn’t organising it, but was there on the day, and was on stage and was running our little stall and it was lovely, it was a lovely thing to see such… outdoors on a sunny day, loads of trans people and their families and their friends, sitting around happily, with a cup of wine, wearing t-shirts, playing music, talking about politics and anything else. It felt really right, it felt like a huge step forward, like that should be going on a weekly basis. It was just, yeah, it was just lovely. It felt like what a Pride should be, you know, both a kind of celebration and a chance to go what the hell are we going to do about all these problems, let’s figure it out.
INT: What stall did you run, at Trans Pride?
E: I ran the stall for FTMB, and we had… it was just a general kind of “Hello, this is our group stall,” and we had loads of flyers and information, all kinds of different bits and pieces, then we also had home-made gingerbread people biscuits, made by one of our members, and little icing sugar things, so people could come along and decorate a gingerbread person and, you know, in any gender or identity that they wanted to. And we also had these sort… this pad of paper that had like frames already printed on it, so people could draw portraits of themselves or their friends and it would look like it was in a frame already and those two things were really just to draw people over to the stall and to get them to say hello and chat to us and to bring their kids over, and it was a way to make them feel really comfortable and be able to hang out there for a bit, without feeling awkward.
And then we had a display thing of kind of transmasculine history picture board, that I made of just sort of like key… maybe they weren’t key figures, they were just people in the media, people that had become a bit famous for one reason or another, transmasculine people in the last 150 years or so, to sort of show that we’ve always been around and that this wasn’t kind of a phenomenon that turned up in the 1970s or something like that, which I think is still perhaps how a lot of people still think that trans people are just sort of a fad, you know, the latest crazy thing that people do, unlike, you know, gay people who have been around since the dawn of time, and you know, Greek history and all this kind of thing, but transsexualism is just a kind of quirk of ‘PC-ness gone mad’ or something stupid like that. So that was what the board was for, and also again, so people would ask questions and then we could chat to them.
So it was good, and it rained, it was lovely. [LAUGHTER]
INT: No Pride is complete without rain. [LAUGHTER]
INT: Okay. So, moving away from the community just for the time being, we can come back to it later, so don’t fret. You talked about FTMB and the peer support available there. Thinking about your own sort of life, how have you sort of… how do you… do you find that you need support as a trans person?
E: I, oh, I definitely did at the beginning. I came… I sort of came to my realisation that I was trans like a bolt of lightening, very suddenly, and I had no prior warning, I had no kind of long period of reflection, or contact with trans community, to sort of see if I fitted in. It just dropped out of the sky one day for me and I just jumped in with both feet, and ran ahead. Kind of goes like, okay that’s clearly what I need to do and so I knew nothing, and I had no knowledge about anything, about medical aspects, social aspects, the history, the way that I could expect my friends and family to react, the discrimination that was out there. So, I immediately joined online communities, which at the time, was the Yahoo group, the FTM UK Yahoo group, which has sort of closed down now, but 10 years ago had about 1000 members and just check that every day, chatted to people, read everything else that people were going through and learnt very quickly a lot of stuff about surgery and hormones and complications and waiting lists, and how bad the clinics were and how messed up everything was in the health service and very quickly kind of cottoned onto the way people talk about it. And, then started going to… started seeing a counsellor, a free counsellor at the gender clinic in Scotland, where I was transitioning, and then started going to a support group there, which had been running for a really long time, like years and years and was a mixed support group and was just a lifeline really, I think, you know, like when I went along I would just go along and stand very quietly and listen to everybody and not really say anything, and then go home, but I don’t think… I couldn’t have guessed that just being in a room with trans people, and just being there would have such a huge impact on me, would be enough a lot of time, I didn’t need to talk, I didn’t want to talk things through, always, but just knowing that I had a place to go, while I figured things out and kind of got my head round what I was planning to do, was huge and so yeah, I did… that was like a monthly support group and I really relied on that and met some people and that face-to-face conversation, the first time you kind of… you get the courage to sort of say to somebody, “So, you’ve just started hormones, so what do you feel? What does it feel like?” and “Are you scared?” and “Are you feeling good about it?” And like, online stuff is great and it probably was huge for the trans community to be able to get online and start meeting up with each other, you know, around the UK, just I imagine that would have just been a huge, but face-to-face is different, it’s really powerful and makes you feel normal. Scary too, but does make you feel normal.
INT: So did the face-to-face contact help you make decisions about your transition?
E: I think it didn’t, because I think when it dropped out of the sky into my head, the decisions were already there, made for me, and the questions for me was the best way of going about it and who to see and which doctors to see and how long it takes and one of the things that scared me was that I’d deliberately not done loads of research into all the different hormones and all the different surgeries and all the different things that possibly were out there, because I knew what a sponge I was and if I read one thing, I would think that was the right thing for me, and then if I read something else, I’d think that was the right thing for me, and I didn’t want to take up too much, I wanted to come to my own conclusions, without taking up other people’s ideas. So, I didn’t do loads of research and one of the guys at the group said “You have to do loads of research, the doctors don’t take you seriously if you don’t” and then I was really thrown, because I just thought that really doesn’t… that’s not going to suit me. So, what do I do? Do I do the thing that’s right for me, or do I do the thing that’s going to give the doctors the signal that I’m serious about this?
So… I can’t remember again [LAUGHS] I can’t remember what your question was. I think I answered it.
INT: So, it sounds like you got your own… where did you get your information from then, this research?
E: Largely, let’s see, loads of… being part of the Yahoo group gave me loads of information. I read Stephen Whittle’s White Book, and it scared the life out of me, you know, it said things like when you go to your first appointment with a psychiatrist you have to wear a suit, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously. And, you know, like it was… it was probably about 20 years out of date by the time I read it, I think he wrote it in the seventies, or maybe the eighties. So, I read that, I read… I started reading a few books, I read Jamison Green’s book, I read Just Add Hormones and a book by Ricky N Wilchins and yeah, it was a real muddle of information, a lot of bleak stories, a lot of political identities and the importance of kind of… and sort of deconstructing gender as kind of that what was what trans people had to do. I found that really overwhelming, I think Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy was really a relief, because here was a just a bunch of pictures of people, looking like guys who I knew must have, at some point looked like just a bunch of women, now look like a bunch of guys. So that was just like, “Oh it works! Oh that’s great!” They had picture of surgery, which also kind of just blew my mind, and they just had little sort of two or three paragraphs of information about their lives, kind of like “I was unhappy, I didn’t know why”, “I’m a motorbike mechanic”, “I’m a doctor”, “I’m a…” something else. “I’ve got a partner”, “I’ve got kids”, “I’m single”, “I’m bi”, “I’m gay”, “I’m straight” and it just made me think, God, these are just people, that’s fine, I’ll probably fit in, even if I don’t quite fit in with any of the people I’m reading about here, clearly it’s just a bunch of people and whatever I want to do will be okay. And, probably from that point on I just figured I’m not going to… I’m not going to let myself be swayed by the right trans thing to do, like if everybody at the group was very political, at times they were, and I really didn’t want to get involved at the time, with activism, because I just wanted to get my own stuff sorted, then actually that was fine. And if everybody else was very into sex, which lots of people were, they loved talking about how great their sex life was, and I was quite scared to death of sex still, then that was also fine.
I think that book… Loren Cameron’s book really did just make me think, I can do it how I like now. [LAUGHS] This is my thing, nobody else can tell. It was quite interesting, because trans stuff was still so new, both to me and to largely to the world, it felt like I could do anything I liked with it, there was no prescribed what trans-ness was, so I could invent it for myself.
INT: So, are there any aspects of your transition and/or your gender that you particularly enjoy?
E: I don’t think so. I think… I think this is not the same for everybody, I don’t get the feeling this is the same for everybody, but for me, being trans is a state of dissatisfaction that my gender identity is quite straight-forwardly male, I think, and being trans is just therefore having a gender identity that doesn’t match with my body and so therefore having to snip and chop and inject things in order to have a body that is bearable, still doesn’t feel like it’s my body, it’s just a body that is sort of more bearable than the one that I was born with, and so I’m, you know, incredibly grateful that transitioning exists, a); and b) is on the NHS, because there’s just no way that I could have done probably any of it, if it hadn’t been, and God knows where I’d be if I had to pay for any of this myself and not being able to.
So, I’m really glad to have a transition, but I wouldn’t have chosen it over having a gender identity that matched my body and I really, I get, you know, I really excited about looking more male, feeling more myself, coming into my own skin, that was a really lovely experience, but I would have rather have just had it in the first place, or just been happy being a woman. I don’t know, maybe it’s given my kind of insight across the genders, probably has a bit, but I don’t know if it was worth it. I’d rather just have been well-read, you know, talk to people, I can cross the genders in other ways.
INT: You mentioned that you transitioned using the NHS, tell me about your experiences with that.
E: Let’s see. I transitioned through the Sandiford Clinic in Glasgow and I’ve only been in Brighton four years, I’m now using Charing Cross, but for the bulk of the first stages of it I used Sandiford. It was oddly smooth, as a process, it works very differently from London. I figured out I was trans one night, I told my psychiatrist the next week – I was seeing a psychiatrist because I was generally just incredibly stressed and anxious and unhappy all the time – and she was like “Oh, that makes perfect sense, of course you are.” She said “Do you want me to tell your GP?” and I said, “Oh, yes please.” So she said, “Okay, I’ll tell your GP, go along in a week and tell your GP and she’ll have had the information by then.”
So, a week later I went to see my GP and said “Hello, has my psychiatrist been in touch with you?” and she said “Yes! I hear you want to change gender. You’ll be needing to go to the Sandiford then. Hang on a sec, I’ll make you an appointment,” and picked up the phone and was just, you know, as if I was just saying I’d like to have my, you know, iron levels checked or something.
So, in terms of waiting times, I can’t remember exactly how fast everything happened, but the way the Sandiford worked was that they had a drop-in session, monthly, and you could make an appointment and actually see one of the specialists if you wanted to, but most of the time, you just dropped in whenever you wanted to, on that monthly appointment, and sat in the waiting room for about an hour, or so, reading magazines and books until they had time to see you. That’s how it worked, it was totally, totally different from all the other clinics that I’ve ever known about. So, I would… so I had an initial appointment to go and see one of the psychologists, I guess, for the big assessment and he asked me loads and loads of questions, it was fine, until he said “Well, you’re a very pretty girl, which means you’re probably going to be a very pretty boy, so you have to be really careful around men, they will prey on you.” [LAUGHS] Which just… I just… I don’t know, I thought it was so inappropriate, and also just like that is not what you say to somebody on their initial assessment, even if you wanted to give them that advice, what the hell are you saying to on their initial assessment. So, he was just a crazy person. But, you know, he gave me, he gave me the diagnosis.
And everything clicked along at a fine old rate until about six months into my real life experience, my year of real life experience, when my psychiatrist, who ran, who sort of was the head of the clinic, so I’d never seen her before, but she became concerned, looking at my notes, that I’d had an eating disorder as a teenager, and so asked to see, and basically said, “Yeah, you need to start again, I’m concerned that this is actually just a manifestation of that eating disorder. So we’re going to start you over, start again from the beginning”. And I sat in that room with her for three hours just saying, “No, you’re wrong” and she would explain her thinking all over again and be like “Do this, and this, and this and this, and we’re very worried about you, and we’re just trying to think of your safety” and blah, blah, blah, “So, is that okay then?” And I’d say “No, that’s not acceptable.” We did that for hours until she said “Look, I’m just… I’m sorry, I’ve been talking to you too long, you’re just going to have to go” and I said “Fine”.
So, went home and got drunk and then wrote a letter the next day that said, basically, this is my history, this is my trans history, kind of thing, that it’s now very evident to me, now, six months in, I look back over my teenage life and my childhood and it was blatantly obvious, I had loads of big flashing signals that I was going to be trans, or was trans and was going to transition, and sent it to them and I got a letter back within, that whole thing happened within a month and they said “Yeah, sorry, you’re right, you can carry on.” [LAUGHS]
So, that was that. Just stupid. So I started hormones, you know, within, within the first year, after my first appointment. I got like about three months taken off my real life test, for good behaviour. [LAUGHTER] And then had surgery within a year of that. I saw a private gender specialist to get referred for surgery, because I could get an appointment within a month to the private specialist, but it took eight months to get an appointment for referral at the clinic, because you couldn’t just drop in and get a surgery referral you need to actually make an appointment for surgery referrals. So I paid £80 and saw the private gender specialist and got 8 months shaved off my waiting time, so I got my surgery 8 months earlier that I would have had to have done for the cost of £80, which seemed worthwhile. So yeah. And that was top surgery.
And then, from that point, I just sort of dropped off the trans spectrum. I didn’t go to the support groups, I didn’t see my trans friends, I didn’t get involved in any LGBT things, I just wanted to sort of forget about it, I guess. Didn’t put any thought into it whatsoever. Kept it just sort of a secret even from myself. It wasn’t stealth, loads of my friends knew, but we just didn’t talk about it.
INT: Wow! Thank you.
E: That was a lot of waffling. [LAUGHS]
INT: No, it’s great, I was going to ask you what your experiences of mental health services, but is there anything more you want to… because you already talked about some quite specific examples, but is there anything that’s relevant to…
E: What, mental health stuff or…
INT: Yeah, to trans stuff.
E: Well, I can say categorically that my mental health was terrible before I transitioned, absolutely terrible. I’d been in a psychiatric hospital three times within the last… within five years before I started transitioning. I’d dropped out of university, I’d gained masses amounts of weight, I barely left my house, my life had pretty much ground to a halt and I didn’t know why, and I’d seen lots of mental health services. I’d seen… been sent to all kinds of different doctors and psychologists and support groups and loads of stuff, and I’d been on different medications and just… it all just felt like just kind of drops in an ocean really, I just felt like there was this massive pain that I was experiencing, that I couldn’t find and couldn’t bandage and couldn’t solve and I just felt like I was screaming all the time and I didn’t know why and I just wanted everything to stop. Didn’t want to kill myself, was never really seriously suicidal, until after I started transitioning, but I just wanted the pain of everything to go away, I just wanted to be somewhere really, really quiet, out of my body, and yeah, because I couldn’t… I think because I couldn’t articulate what was going on for me and because I could only talk about anxiety and unhappiness and stress and vague things like that, the health services couldn’t really help me all that much. It wasn’t until I started transitioning that I could start to… or it wasn’t until I realised that I was trans that I could refocus everything in my life and see it through a trans lens and then it made more sense and then I had something that I could deal with, because I could see then that there were certain things that were never going to change, I was never going to… well, maybe I thought I would at one point, but probably I was never going to have the body that I felt I should have, I was never going to be born a little boy and grow up. I was never going to have the experiences as a child and as a teenager that I expected to go through and I couldn’t erase the experiences that I had gone through. So, mental health services could only do so much, with, you know, with that. So, that changed kind of how I dealt with them, or how much they could help me.
But it wasn’t until after I started transitioning and then knowing what the rest of my life was going to be like, and I can remember being on a train, probably going to Glasgow, or coming home from Glasgow to the clinic, and feeling just a bit overwhelmed by this was going to be the rest of my life, I was going to be on hormones, I was going to have to have surgery, it was always going to be a… I was always going to be a bit of a patchwork doll, you know, of bits and pieces to make my body feel bearable, and I thought, God, you know, I could give this three years and if it just is awful I’ll just kill myself, and it was a practical, like it wasn’t like I was depressed, it was like I have that out, because I was feeling so overwhelmed by what was expected of me, and what I was kind of saying to myself was like, “This is your only choice, it’s either transition…” no, there is no other choice. I don’t really have another choice, you know, it’s wasn’t like there was another thing that I was waiting there to do, it was like either transition or be indoors for the rest of your life and never speak to anybody. There didn’t seem to be any other choice. So, I thought if it’s awful, if transitioning is awful, I’ll just kill myself, it will be fine. And that was a relief knowing that I could just, I could just end it, I didn’t have to spend my life as some kind of horrible monster, which is what I sort of felt like I might be. Mental health services in Brighton are much better! [LAUGHS]
INT: In what way?
E: Well, no that’s unfair, it’s not that necessarily the mental health services in Brighton are better, it’s that I was better to engage, I was better able to engage with them. But I do think that MindOut, were a life-changing event in my life. I found MindOut about a year or two into living in Brighton and I came across them just as they were about to start running their first trans mental health support group, and it was perfect, because it had been exactly what I needed, probably for years, a place where I could go and chat about mental health stuff without worrying about outing myself as trans and a place that I could chat about trans stuff, in a mental health context and I could talk about mental health stuff in a trans context, you know, it just, it was just perfect, I didn’t have to worry about those two… because I’d been in support groups and felt self-conscious about being trans, I’d been in trans contexts and felt it was too hard to talk about mental health, because there’s just an emphasis on being positive and, you know, talking about the importance of being trans and what a good experience it is, and sometimes it’s just “God, is there anybody else who thinks this sucks?” because everybody else seems to go, “Oh it’s just, you know, it’s such a beautiful experience, and just I understand the world so differently now”, and I don’t get it at all, I don’t get that at all.
INT: How did you find Mind Out?
E: Really good. Really, really good. I went to their trans support group for several months and then just carried on going to their general group and there was a group of about nine of us, and even in the general group I was out as trans, I just wanted to do that straight away because that’s just… it would have been too hard to not be out, as trans in a support group where you have to talk about mental health stuff. And, that weekly, somebody asking you, “How are you doing this week? How’s it been?” just made a huge difference. I don’t know why, I really don’t know why, that worked and all the counsellors and psychologists that I’ve seen have been less of an impact. Maybe one or two have had huge impacts, but nothing really changed things for my mental health, for it to take a big leap of improvement, the way that Mind Out did, and maybe it’s because where I was in my life, as well, that I was really ready now to take a big leap forward and just be more stable, like it wasn’t something that I could consciously decide to do, “I’m going to get better this time”. But it just did, it did just work.
I think they’re great, I think they’re a really good organisation. I mean like I volunteer with them now, I’m a trustee with them, so obviously I’m biased, but yeah, I think they’re awesome.
INT: How did you locate them as a service in the first place?
E: I came across them on Google and I’m not sure why, it took me two years to find them, because as soon as I came to Brighton I started looking up mental health support services, because I knew I’d need them, but yeah, I didn’t find them for two years and it was just through Googling stuff. Maybe that time I Googled LGBT or trans as well as mental health support Brighton and that’s how I found them. I don’t know.
INT: So, what brought you to Brighton?
E: Very simply, I need… or I wanted, probably needed, further surgery as part of my transition and where I lived at the time, in Edinburgh, it wasn’t funded on the NHS. So I had to go somewhere else in the UK where it was funded, and that was pretty much everywhere else in the UK, it was very odd that Edinburgh just didn’t fund it, they technically should have done but they just didn’t have the money, and I was just ready for a big old change anyway, and thought, well, that’s it, if I’m going to move, let’s just really move. So I moved from Edinburgh to Brighton.
And I’d been aware in my head for some time now, as I’d been dealing with the fact that I wanted this surgery that I wasn’t really dealing with trans-ness in my life, that I was… I never thought about it, I never wrote about how uncomfortable I was, at times, in my diary, I didn’t talk with any other trans people online or in person, I didn’t move in any circles that were queer or LGBT or whatever. It was entirely out of my life and I think that had been because it was painful and I didn’t want to think about it and I identified as, you know, just a guy, and I didn’t want to be a trans guy, it felt weird to me at times. And so I separated myself from it and I thought I really need face it and I need to have it in my life and I need to be okay with it as best I can, and I thought well, Brighton is known for being very LGBT friendly, very big LGBT community, it’d probably be a really good place to go to meet a lot of other trans people and chat with them and make friends with them and start to get my head around the idea that’s it not going away for me, I’m going to always be trans, even with all the surgeries and the hormones in the world. So yeah.
INT: And have you found that in Brighton?
E: Yes, I have now, and not to say that it wouldn’t have been anywhere else as well, but I came to Brighton really looking for it, so I found it, but it’s odd that when I first… when I first moved here, which was 2010, just the start of it, it was January 2010, there was the Clare Project and that was it. MindOut was alive then but they hadn’t done any trans-specific stuff. Switchboard, I don’t know what their kind of trans inclusion was at that time. But there was the Claie Project as a peer support group and I went along to it and there were no trans guys there, that day that I went, and I felt very out of place. So I didn’t go back.
But then, shortly after that, FTMB started, FTM Brighton started. Well, it was a year later, it would have been a year later, but I guess it felt kind of shortly after that because I’d been… it was maybe only a few months I went to the Clare Project. So, then I thought… because I’d just got to the point of thinking “There’s no transmen’s, or transmasculine’s group just for us and I’ve always found that it’s sort of, even when I went to mixed group at Sandiford, the room would divide fairly quickly into the women would all be at one end and the guys would all be down at the other end all chatting away. So I thought, I bet there’d be a good need for maybe a transmen’s group in Brighton, maybe I should just start one. And then FTMB started and I got an email from, or a Facebook message or, God knows how I heard about it, but I somehow did hear about it and so I’ve been involved in that ever since, first as just a punter, and then got involved in the committee, again with the intention of going, I need to put myself forward, I need to be actively forcing myself into this community to deal with it, to deal with my own stuff.
And yeah, and so since then I have made friends in the trans community and found… I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff myself as a result of that just from the exposure and also just come to terms with more stuff and yeah.
INT: And how’s your relationship with your family been?
E: I think a lot of stuff is unspoken, which is a problem. They’ve always been incredibly supportive, outwardly, I’ve no idea sometimes what they’ve thought inside their own heads. My family, I don’t have a particularly close family, and there’s not a lot of us but we see each other from time to time, so really my family’s my mum and my sister and maybe a couple of aunts and my cousins, maybe occasionally, a handful of cousins, barely see them. So, yeah, everyone has been always fine with it and there’s been a number of occasions where everyone’s been very like “Yes, absolutely, we support you, that, you know, we don’t really understand it but we support you” and then, you know, five years later it’s turned out that they had the wrong idea about something, the whole time. They never asked me about it, they never… they never really wanted to talk about what gender, what trans-gender meant, what transsexualism is, why I was doing it, how it affected me as a child.
My mum just wanted to blame herself, my dad I’ve no idea, we have mainly an email relationship, and most of the time he’s not in contact and, he’s not a bad guy, he just went off and did his own thing, when he got divorced from my mum and sort of forgot about his first family. And, I don’t know, I honestly don’t know what he thinks about it. I think he just found it all curious. I’ve no idea. I have to poke them sometimes, bring the subject up myself, and ask them “What do you think about it?” otherwise it wouldn’t get talked about, which I guess comes from awkwardness, just from a kind of “I don’t want to embarrass you, I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” or “I don’t want to upset you”, or… but it just has lead to a kind of silence over the years.
My mum wants… we went… I once went to a support group for families and trans people, and I took my mum along because it was in her town and I though, well, maybe that’ll be a nice thing to kind of generate some conversation. And she said, when we came out of it… she was fine, she was chatting away to everybody there, and when she came out of it, and she said “It’s funny to think, you know, that, you know, you’ve been doing this for three years now,” I said “I’ve been doing this for ten years now. Ten years, mum, not three.” And she was like “Oh yeah.” I was like “Has any of this made any impact on you whatsoever? Do you think it’s only been three years, like did you just lose the other seven years? Just not really pay attention what I was going through?” So, yeah, I don’t know.
So, on the one hand it’s great that they’ve been supportive, but on the other hand I don’t know what they’ve been… what they think they’ve been supporting.
INT: And what about other relationships in your life? Has transition affected any…
E: It has, yeah, no definitely it has. Before I transitioned I was not really interested in going out with people, romantic relationships, sexual relationships, I found the whole thing far too daunting and scary and I thought that was just because I was young and naïve and, you know, I was just somebody who was a bit nervous about getting involved in sex and all that kind of stuff and as the years went on I realised I couldn’t really put it down to that any more, I was like you really need to get over this now, and it was, interestingly, it was through trying to figure out why, if I wasn’t prudish, and I wasn’t really, you know, I wasn’t like “Oh I don’t believe in sex before marriage” and I wasn’t… didn’t really think that do I hate my body that much that I don’t want to have sex with somebody, and I didn’t really feel like it was that simple, then what the hell is going on? And it was through deciding to really start addressing those questions of like what is putting me off the idea of sex that led me to realise…
So yeah, so it was through trying to understand my own lack of sexual behaviour, which I didn’t understand why, why I was at the age of 23, still feeling like sex was just something that was terrifying and awful and how could anybody imagine ever doing that and I felt like I still had a kind of 8 year old, child’s kind of attitude to sex, and it was what adults did, and it was all a bit gross and weird and I didn’t really… I was like this is particularly something going on here, in my head, that is problematic and I had had one boyfriend, so it wasn’t like I was still so naïve that I kind of couldn’t even dare. I’d had a boyfriend, we were definitely attracted to each other, we’d messed around a bit, but I just went… I just can’t do it, it just like a fire went off in my head.
And so, yeah, at 23 I was like I need to figure out what’s going on here and it was through, in my diary, writing about my thoughts and just sort like unpicking it really, that I started to realise that there was a gender issue going on. I didn’t quite… what I clocked first of all, was that I’d always imagined, whenever I imagined myself in a relationship, or having sex with somebody, I’d imagine myself as a guy, even as a child, I’d imagined myself as an adult man, and I was like “That’s a bit weird, I’m sure other women don’t do that”. I imagined they don’t, they don’t seem to talk about it if they do. So, then, then I started looking into wearing more men’s clothing and then I came across the FTM UK website.
So, it was through trying to figure out what the hell was going on with me sexually and why I had a problem with sex, some kind of problem with it, that I found my trans-ness, that I found that I was trans, basically.
So, it definitely messed up my first relationship, then after I started to transition I thought… I thought everything would be fine. I wasn’t… I was planning… well, I was planning to have lower surgery at some point, but it was back in 2001, it wasn’t… it was still looking kind of shaky as a surgery, it’s still looking like… it gave quite bad results, so I thought, “Oh I’m not in a rush to have that surgery, it’ll be fine”. But then my next big serious relationship was basically ruined by the difficulties that I had with sex. So, yeah.
INT: And what about the future? Do you think it’s going to continue to be an issue?
E: I hope not, no. No, I hope not. Well, I do plan to have surgery and I think that will, that’ll solve that problem. I think my body just does not… is just not the thing that is in my head and that that mismatch is so profound that it just, yeah, it’s like something screaming in my head and it just needs to be fixed. I can’t imagine anyway of getting round it other than surgery. And everything I’ve tried hasn’t worked, so [LAUGHS]
INT: Has the transition affected your sexuality at all?
E: Hard to say, because it was clearly buried before I transitioned. I think, I think back to kind of like being a teenager and sort of, you know, your first sort of starting to be aware of your attraction and sort of sexual feelings and I’m fairly… I mean I was fairly sure as a teenager that I was definitely attracted to women, and I think maybe some of my attraction to boys was envy of wanting to be them, but I think it was maybe a bit of a muddle of envy and also attraction. So I think that I’m probably attracted to all genders. It seems all the people that I’ve been most attracted to have been all so different I don’t think I could really pin myself down. So that’s why I try to avoid kind of like giving it a “I’m a pan-sexual”, “I’m a bisexual”, “I’m an omni-sexual” because I think I don’t know, yet. I think when I’m 98 and on my death bed I can look back and then probably I’ll have a clear idea, but even then it’s, you know, only based on the people that I met during my life. If I’ve met different people, I might have looked at it differently.
I know I have a sexuality, I think that’s probably the most conclusive I can be on the subject. I definitely have one, that’s it. What it’s limited to I don’t know, yet. [LAUGHS]
INT: Speaking of being 98, you’ve mentioned that your transition’s been about 10 years now…
E: Yes, 10 years this year.
INT: So, you know, a decade of being out, trans, transitioning, I mean how do you feel about that in terms of sort of… what’s your thoughts on that? I mean 10 years is a long time in someone’s life…
E: It’s a big old time.
INT: … do you feel… tell me how that makes you feel?
E: It’s… I think because there’s a large section in the middle of that 10 years where I was not giving any thought to being trans, really and was in the middle of a very difficult relationship and so that was the thing that really sort of took up most of my time and because the relationship was difficult partly because of me being trans, or the effect of me being trans, it didn’t make me have a very positive feelings about being trans. It doesn’t feel like 10 years, I guess. It doesn’t feel like “Wow! 10 years of…” because I haven’t got 10 years of activism, I haven’t got 10 years of, I don’t know, being out even, because in the middle of it I was sort of out, but I didn’t come out to people very often. The people who knew had known me already, we didn’t talk about it, some people found out because some people gossiped, but I wasn’t really, I wouldn’t really have classed myself as out, because, yeah because I didn’t talk about it, I certainly didn’t talk about it unless I absolutely had to and that was usually with doctors.
So, it feels like… the thing that sort of strikes me is when I hear about young trans people and I think about what it was like in my high school, nobody, as far as I know, I went to a small high school, nobody was out as gay, apart from one guy in the sixth form, certainly nobody was out as trans, certainly I don’t think the school had any kind of policy about bathroom designation for trans students and then, when I was starting to explore stuff and going on the websites and the forums, at 23, I was definitely at the younger end of the age range. There were some people that were 18, 19, 20, but the majority of people were more like 30 and 40 and starting off and now people are starting, figuring out their identity and figuring out that they’re trans much younger and yeah, that changes, that change has only happened in 10 years, that feels like quite quick almost. It’s great, it’s really, really good, I’m glad people are coming out in their high school and also that it seems to be a really positive thing that like the other students seem to be really happy about it and standing up for their trans friends and like, you know, and campaigning for them to be able to be kings and queens at the prom and this kind of thing and it just seems wonderful, I wish I’d been able to do that when I was 15, 16. I’d love to have been kind of the prom, not that we had a prom, but like it would have just been wonderful.
INT: What do you think… why do you think it was that things were the way they were, when you were at school?
E: Why were they the way they were? I mean like I know it’s been the sort of thing that often people bandy about, that the trans communities campaign is about 30 years behind the gay rights campaign, sort of trans rights campaign’s is about 30 years behind the gay rights campaign and that the state of things, I suppose about 10 years ago, the state of things for trans people was maybe like the state of things for gay people in the 1960s. I don’t know why that is. There is a snowball effect, I think definitely as more people come out, as more television programmes do documentaries, have trans characters, as there are more topics on television, in the media, in a good way, then that leads to more people going to the gender clinics, more people coming out to their doctors and then that leads to more organisations having to “Well, hang on a sec, we’ve got all these trans people now, we don’t have a policy to how we deal with that. Okay, we’re going to have to have a policy” and then that gets people talking about it and so on and so forth. So, it snowballs slowly, it has felt, for me, like there’s been a lot of stuff happening within the last five years, a lot of outrage now about the way the media treats trans people, no longer kind of just going, “Oh yeah, yeah, that’s just what we have to put up with, that tabloid attitude”, but people standing up and going “What the hell are you talking about, you can’t say that. That’s ridiculous!” But then I’ve only been involved in being involved… I’ve only been involved in kind of like looking into this sort of stuff for about the last four years. So I don’t know if it’s maybe that it has really picked up, or if it’s just that I’ve started to pay more attention to it, maybe it’s been going on for decades and it hasn’t really changed that much.
But, certainly the attitudes in schools, I mean definitely that’s changed and people are coming out younger, more people are coming out younger. I don’t know why. Is it all to do with Hayley Cropper? It doesn’t seem likely.
INT: Sorry, who’s Hayley Cropper?
E: She was a transwoman in Coronation Street, but she’s been that character for like 20 years. Whenever people, whenever people… whenever I complain, or other people complain about lack of trans representation in the media, people always go “But what about Hayley Cropper?!” [LAUGHS] like it’s one lone cisgendered actress trying to hold together the trans representation in the media all on her own and then she dies. But you know, there is now slowly, every time something dramatic happens, like Orange is the New Black, having a trans woman playing a trans character. Although she wasn’t the first trans-woman to play a trans character in an ongoing TV show. What’s her face, who was in Dirty Sexy Money, had a recurring role, I think as a trans character. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
INT: It’s all about exposure.
E: Yeah, yeah.
INT: Okay, well, that brings us really neatly onto my summing up questions, because we’ve been speaking for about an hour now, but it’s all about arts and creativity, and have you engaged in any sort of artistic pursuits or creative pursuits as a way of sort of dealing with being trans, or has being trans influenced any sort of creative pursuits you’ve been doing?
E: I have done a bit, and it’s something that I would definitely like to do more. The bits that I’ve done are I wrote a comedy drama pilot script for the BBC Trans Comedy award, last year and got long-listed by not short-listed. But was still very pleased that that was there and that I did it and that the script I wrote, I’m hoping to turn into something else, you know, to develop it and keep working on it and I was one of the photographers involved in the Queer in Brighton project, which was something again, that I kind of, I did a bit in, but felt like I wanted to develop. Now the project has finished I kind of wanted to keep on going and do more about photography and representation, because, like I said at the beginning, I think that when I was feeling torn about being out as trans and that was when I was involved with the Terence Higgins Trust and we were producing the sexual health booklet aimed at trans people and we were trying to find people to be photographed to be in the booklet because obviously… and we wanted real trans people, not models, not just a bunch of people, we wanted actual trans people to be photographed, to be in the booklet and we weren’t finding many people and so the four of us who were working on the booklet, said “Shall we’ll just do it ourselves? We just be photographed” and it was a moment where I had to decide, okay, well if you do that that’s being out in a quite different way, from just telling a few of your friends, you know, you’re on a booklet that’s national and then international. And I decided, look the really the best thing I can do as a trans person, to combat the stigma and the discrimination and the misinformation, and the snarky attitudes everywhere, is to be an out trans person in many different ways, like that’s probably one of the best things that I could probably do and it’s quite easy, relatively easy, if you want to do it it’s relatively easy you just do it. So I decided that was probably the best thing for me to do, and then from there I just thought, the more things that I do in my life that are raising awareness of trans stuff, whether that’s… like all my kind of vague ambitions about being a writer, I hadn’t really given much thought to writing trans stories and I think that was again was representative of the face that I didn’t always think of myself as a trans person, I thought of myself as just me, as kind of an Ed, and I didn’t really know how to grapple with my trans-ness and so I thought “You need to do it,” you need to write more about being trans and you will figure it out as you do it and you will produce something that’ll be useful for other people as a result.
So, that’s kind of my plan really, it’s very much in its infancy, but my plan is to write for TV and write books and write stories and enter competitions and do stuff that’s about being trans, so that there’s stuff out there. Definitely for TV because it’s such a power, broad, medium I think it does a lot of good for all its bad. And I think at the moment on the media the way trans people are represented is very zoo-like, still very much phase one in the documentary, you know, you just point the camera at a bunch trans people and let them run around and that on it’s on is exciting enough, you know, “Just look at them, they’re trans” and I think we need to move way, way forward now. I mean you don’t get that with gay people any more, you don’t just get “We’re just going to follow a couple of gay men, while they eat toast and drink tea, you know, and that’s staggering to us”. You don’t get that with, I don’t know, “Here’s a couple of Indian women in Britain. Look at them, look at them drinking tea”. That’s what we have, you know, that’s trans representative on the TV at the moment, it’s still very much “Just look at them, look at them just walking around talking about it, they’re alive.” And, yeah, we need to move way ahead.
So that would be, my… because that’s my interest is writing and photography and arty things, that would be the way that I would like to do fun creative stuff that people… just have trans characters in it, so people have to think about it; or not think about it, and it just seeps in and normalises. Yeah, I guess normalising is the thing that I’m really aiming for here and that’s why I think TV and film, books are important because people just take those in with their chips, you know, they’re not really thinking about it. And so if trans people are just there all the time on TV, eating chips as well, then hopefully it’ll be quite a powerful thing over time, it takes a long time, but it could be powerful, and that’s quite removed from art galleries and small film festivals and things like that, which don’t reach the masses. I’m very keen on reaching the masses. Not that there isn’t a good role for all those art festivals and stuff, but no, that’s what I want to do, reach the masses.
INT: Just very briefly, as you brought it up, can you tell us more about the THT booklets.
E: Oh yes, yes, the THT booklets. So, and that sort of loops back into some of the other things we were saying, because back in 2010, I guess, there was a trans guy in Brighton who was talking to one of the guys that works at THT and they were talking about a project that was about safer sex in the community, it was a Brighton based project called “Informed Passions” – and the trans guy said “Well, where is the transmale aspect of this safer sex between men who have sex with men, in this project?” And the THT guy said “We don’t have any trans knowledge really, at all,” and so from that they said well we should do, THT should be producing a sexual health awareness booklet of some kind, that is aimed at trans people and addresses the very particular issues that trans people will have around safer sex. They have many different body types, they take hormones, which change the chemistry of their body, they have surgery which changes the shapes and workings of their body, you know, there’s very serious practical sexual health aspects, as well as kind of mental health aspects that feed into your sexual behaviour that just weren’t being addressed at all.
So, late… about half way through the first year of that project to create that booklet, I got involved and from the birth of that project, from talking about doing that project was FTMB born as well. So two things came out of that was firstly the booklet was made and is still going and became very successful very quickly, please from all around the world were seeing the booklet on the THT website, and saying “Please send us some, we don’t have anything about sexual health for trans people”. And there was two actually made, I was only involved in the sort of transmen’s sexual health booklet side of it, but there was a sister project to create a transwomen’s sexual health booklet and both of them became really popular very quickly and, as a side effect of that project FTMB was born and was housed at THT office in Brighton for the first couple of years of its life because they saw that clearly there was a lack of connection in the transmasculine community of Brighton, that’s lots of people weren’t going to the Clare Project, good as it was, you know, it’s an excellent group, but guys just weren’t going to it. So, they weren’t connecting, they weren’t meeting face-to-face, they weren’t talking about stuff that was of issue to them and they certainly weren’t talking about sexual health, so yeah.
And that booklet it’s still going, it’s still getting reprinted, and is all round the UK and all sent to Canada and Australia and Japan have been various places that have asked for it. And then we developed a trans sexual health training package, from sort of the information in the booklets, which is sort of trans awareness for sexual health workers, but sort of dealing with both the trans awareness general aspects and particularly sexual health in the trans community aspects and have started delivering that to GUM clinics and registered it the other day with Sexual Health and HIV registrars at the Sussex Hospital and went down well.
So its legacy continues, hopefully, hopefully as a result of that project, not only will the booklets carry on being reprinted and hopefully we’ll be involved in giving trans awareness training to doctors. I mean what is shocking really, is I went to see the registrars, they are registrars, so they have done all their medical school stuff and then they’ve been junior doctors, and then they’ve been another type of doctor and now they’ve started to specialise. So they’ve training as doctors for a really long time, they have had no trans training at all, not one day of it, not one hour of it. They have had no information about trans people at all. So when I was talking about surgery, they didn’t know anything. When I was talking about hormones, they didn’t really know anything. When I was talking about the basic pathway of going to your GP and going to the clinic and – they knew of the clinic, they didn’t know how long it took, they didn’t know what you did to get there, they didn’t know anything.
So, I mean it’s not really just about giving sexual health training, it’s about just letting doctors know anything about trans people.
INT: Brilliant! I’ve got no more questions, but do you have… is there anything that we’ve not covered that you’d really like to talk about?
E: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so.
E: No. I think I talked enough, certainly. [LAUGHTER]
INT: Brilliant! Well, thank you very much, Ed.
E: Thank you.