INT: Okay, so, Gloria, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to be involved with this interview for Brighton Trans*formed. Can you just tell me a bit about yourself, in terms of your age and gender, that kind of thing.
G: Yeah, I’m a trans-female, I’ve 51 years old, soon to be 52. I live locally and I’ve lived down on the south coast for over 20 years.
INT: Right, okay. And what kind of interested you in the Brighton Trans*formed project?
G: I first found out about the project from a friend of mine, who’s a member of the local theatre group that I’m a member off and I think she met the organiser, Kathy, at an event three or four weeks ago, and she dropped me a message on Facebook, to say you might be interested.
INT: Sure, okay. And what intrigued you about the project particularly?
G: I think it’s just really important to document people’s life stories, whether they’re trans or not, because everybody’s got a story about their life, and I think it’s really important for future generations to know what our life stories have been.
INT: Sure. And, so let’s ask a little about your kind of involvement in Brighton, or the kind of local area. What brought you to Brighton?
G: Work [LAUGHS] to be honest. I originally moved down to the south coast, down to the Portsmouth area in 1989, for work and then moved over to the Brighton area in 1992 and I’ve pretty much been here ever since.
INT: Okay, and what kind of line of work are you in?
G: I’m a consultant, Environmental Health consultant. I provide consultancy services to private clients, principally food safety, but sometimes health and safety or communicable diseases, based on kind of almost 30 years of experience having worked in local government and the private sector.
INT: Right, okay. And what about if you can sort of take me back to your early life, your kind of childhood and early background, can you tell me a bit about that?
G: Yeah. I grew up near Manchester, with two sisters, in a really quite nice area, I suppose, you know, I mean we weren’t poor, we weren’t wealthy, but we weren’t poor. I was born in 1962, so, I kind of grew up with all the sixties stuff happening, all the changes in society and the kind of increase in wealth of the country. I went to school there and later I studied at college and at university, in Salford, and then after I left university I moved away from the area to work. I moved up to the east coast and then moved down to the south coast for work.
INT: And how would you sort of characterise your kind of early family life?
G: Odd, to be honest. I kind of felt jealous that my sisters got to wear dresses, they were treated in a different way than I was, the expectations that were placed upon me as a child growing up were far greater, I think than on my sisters, although my parents were ambitious for all of us, the level of ambition and the level of drive that was put behind me was completely different and I didn’t want that, I mean I wanted… I just wanted to be exactly like my sisters and I kind of knew from being probably about 4 or 5 years, my earliest memories, of wondering why I had to wear different clothes, why I wasn’t allowed to play with certain toys, why I wasn’t allowed to behave in certain ways.
And as I grew older, obviously the differences became greater and greater. My father, in particular… well, both my parents grew up as Methodists, it’s a big thing, in Lancashire and the local town had several Methodist chapels, my grandmother was a Methodist. And we grew up in a fairly strict household, not overly strict but there were a lot of rules and as my father got older he made a lot of rules for himself and he’s expectations of others were far higher than I think most people could ever hope to meet and he was, I think quite often a disappointed man and so he pushed really hard, particularly for me, to be very, very successful, and to be very ultra-masculine and it was just never going to happen, I mean it caused dreadful problems for me as a kind of late childhood, early teens and as I went into puberty, it was a nightmare, because I just didn’t want to be a man.
INT: And how do you think your other siblings kind of experienced this kind of pressure that you’ve talked about and perhaps what the implications of that were for you?
G: I think the pressure on them was slightly less, because they were… because they were female. I think… although my parents were ambitious for all of us there was less pressure on them. There’s a two year gap between myself and the oldest of my two sisters and then there’s a five year gap between myself and my youngest sister. It’s always the same with the first child, all the battles are fought to gain concessions, to stay up late, to go out to the disco, to… you know, and I think I fought all the battles and they got all the spoils.
INT: Yes, yes.
G: So I, I kind of felt, I felt really jealous. I’m fairly sure that my sisters never really realised that there was anything different, because I think by the time I was about 10, I realised I wasn’t going to get anywhere and I had to modify my behaviour and, over time, I did, I modified my behaviour and I became what everybody would consider, I suppose, to be a regular teenage boy and a regular young adult male.
INT: And what was the impact of that modifying your behaviour upon you?
G: Upon me? It was dreadful, it caused awful confusion, it caused a lot of heartache. I felt not wanted in some respects, for the person I was, because the person I was had to be hidden and I mean during puberty there were all the changes happening to my body and it was devastating. I didn’t want… I ended up going to grammar school, but it was a single-sex grammar school, so it was a boys grammar school and I struggled there, I got bullied and I was forced to play male sports, to take up male studies, and I just had a really bad time of it, it caused dreadful problems, I didn’t enjoy puberty at all, one bit, I always wanted to be at the girls grammar school. And then later on, when I went to sixth form college, the system at the sixth form college was so much less restrictive, you were allowed to be more open about yourself and I struggled with it, I… because I had to hide away, I struggled with it and I ended up being exceedingly rebellious and very non-conformist, non-cooperative and I failed my A-Levels, very badly first time around and I had to go back for another year and redo them, because… just simply because I couldn’t cope with the environment and the pressure that was on me to be masculine.
INT: How did that sort of rebelliousness kind of manifest itself?
G: Oh well, I joined the students union, I used to skip lectures, I would take any opportunity and every opportunity to express the female side of me, so I joined the drama society, and any chance to dress and behave in a female way, I did, I took it. Yeah, I think, pretty much that.
INT: And you’ve mentioned about your father, was your… your mother… did you grow up with your mum…
G: Yeah, yeah, my mother, you know, she’s still alive. So, yeah, but my mother and father come from that generation where even now you see it, that the wife will always not challenge the husband, because they come from that generation where the husband is the provider, and the leader of the household and the head of the household. So, whatever my father said, or wanted, or ruled on, she may not have agreed with it, and I think it’s pretty clear, to me at least, that she didn’t always agree with it, but she went along with it.
I grew up in a somewhat matriarchal family, to some extent, despite the fact that my father was so much in charge of the household, because my father’s mother, my grandmother, lived not very far from where we lived and she looked after us a lot of the time whilst my parents went to work, and she had a big influence on all of our lives, as children, mine and my sisters’. But she was also used as a big stick, you know, “If you don’t do this, we’ll tell your grandma. If you do that, we’ll tell your grandma”.
INT: So, a very powerful figure in your life?
G: Yeah, my grandmother was. She passed away when I was 17, but she was, for most of my formative years a very powerful person in the family.
INT: And you talked about a kind of background of the Methodism within your family, is Methodism something that’s still important to you today?
G: No. To be honest with you, I’m very lucky, I’ve had a very good education and I’ve travelled all over the world working and I’ve met and worked and lived with people in different cultures, and encountered lots of people from different religious backgrounds, so I have a very wide view of religion, or belief systems.
As kids we went to Sunday School, we went to chapel for Easter, we went to Palm Sunday, we were regular chapel goers. As a teenager, once I’d kind of hit 16, and I was at sixth form college, that stopped instantly. That was part of my rebellion, it was part of my rebellion, it was part of my… it was my choice, it was part of my rebellion, mainly because up until around about that time, we were pretty much forced to go, even though we didn’t want to. I mean I remember as a… I was probably about 12 years old, and we were dropped off outside the chapel, to go to the Sunday School, and I waited till my father drove away in the car, and then I just slowly walked home. I didn’t go.
So, it’s not a major part of my… it’s part of my life because it’s part of what formed me, as a person, but I’m not particularly ultra-religious, as a consequence of that.
INT: Right, okay. And so, let’s maybe talk about the university years, because you mentioned that you went to university. What was life like for you then?
G: Well, before I went to university I was at sixth form college, I ended up doing three years there because I had to resit my A-Levels. At some point during that there were issues about what to choose as a career, you know, my parents both worked in the civil service, so you know, that kind of employment was pushed as being very good because it was a “job for life” in those days and a pension, and in the end I ended up becoming a student environmental health officer, and I got a placement at a local authority, not far from where I lived and they sent me to university at Salford to do the Environmental Health course there, which is a… it’s a professional qualification course and again it was just kind of… it was just more… the first I think was more of what had gone on at college, but then you kind of realise, actually, you can’t keep doing that, you know, bit of maturity kicks in I suppose and so you knuckle down and study and the course that I was on was a proper full time course, I mean a lot of university courses, it’s only a few lectures here and a few lectures there, but because it was a professional course, covering quite a wide range of subjects, it was basically 9 till 5 every day of the week. So it was quite a tough course to do, and it lasted for four years; a year of which was spent working in the local authority where I had my student post.
Very luckily in those days, I got paid, for when I worked and they paid my course fees and what have you, so life at university was interesting, it was hard work, I met lots of people there from lots of different backgrounds, people on the course that I was on, people on other courses that kind of coincided with the course that I was on at some time, some of the lectures were the same and I enjoyed my time at university. I’m not a brilliant academic, so, you know, I came out with a reasonable Honours degree and went to work.
But it was at university I… it was an opportunity to move out of the family home, even though it was only about 10 miles away, I took that at the age of almost 19 as an opportunity to get out from under my father’s influence and so, and I went to live in digs, for a while, which is what happened in those days, there weren’t many halls of residence, so I went to live in digs, and I lived in digs with two or three other students and a landlady and her family. And it whilst I was at university that first realised that my issues with my gender were not peculiar to me.
INT: What led you to that realisation?
G: I saw a television programme, and I think it was 1981 or 1982, but there was a documentary about a male-to-female transsexual, and I can’t… I think it was on the BBC but I can’t remember whether it was a Panorama or whatever, but I saw that and the moment I saw that programme, I knew exactly what my issues were.
INT: Can you remember what that felt like?
G: It felt… it felt like a great relief, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, because for a long time, as a teenager, and into my late teens, I felt like there was something wrong with me, like I was ill or I was having, you know, like I had mental health problems. And when I saw that programme I kind of realised, it twigged for me.
INT: Were you able to talk with anyone else about, you know, your feelings before you’d seen that programme?
G: No. I was not able to discuss my situation with anybody. We weren’t encouraged in our family to be particularly open about sexuality or gender or anything like that and unfortunately, at university, you know, we are talking about over 30 years ago, life’s very different now, but in those days, in those days very few people knew about anything like that, you know, gender dysphoria was not a very well known issue, not in those days. Access to information was very limited, you had the library and documentaries on the telly.
INT: Was there any information in your local library? Did you…
G: There was nothing, you know, because I… I guess that that kind of material might have been… I mean it was certainly around, I mean there are research papers and books written by people, even then. But my guess is is that at least the local public library would probably not have those books and they wouldn’t be on the book list either, because they might be deemed to have been subversive or inappropriate. I mean we are talking about a time when it was still fairly uncommon to be anything other than the gender you were born with and the sexuality that most people considered to go with that gender and anybody else considered to be abhorrent, particularly up north, as well, because attitudes towards gender and sexuality are very… they haven’t moved on as quickly up north as they have down south.
INT: You perceive there’s quite a difference?
G: I still think there’s a difference and particularly… Manchester’s great, Leeds, you know, Sheffield, Liverpool, in the centre areas, but you go out of those areas into, you know, the supporting times and, you know, it becomes very parochial and people still have very, very old fashioned views.
INT: So, you’d seen this programme, can you tell me about what impacts that had on your life at the time, if any?
G: It made me realise that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, that I… it wasn’t abnormal for me to feel that way. But it also made me realise that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything about it, because there were no facilities or services provided for me to be able to deal with it, with any help from anybody. So, I… and I realised of course that, you know, things were not going to change in society and that I just had to carry on hiding, being somebody I wasn’t.
INT: And what was the impact of that kind of hiding and…
G: It forced me to really… to keep it all locked down, to keep the box locked. I worked, I worked constantly, it forced me into being a workaholic, because it meant that my… I wasn’t concentrating on anything but work; it meant I didn’t have to deal with issues in my private life, because I was working all the time. But even then it would, it would bubble to the surface every so often, and I would do what I can to deal with it. It caused anxiety problems at one stage. I suffered from anxiety issues for quite a protracted period of time, whilst I was working and I had treatment for that, you know, I had, well treatment, betablockers [LAUGHS]
INT: So you were given medication?
G: I was given medication but to deal with the anxiety, but not to deal with it, you know, I mean people weren’t dealing with gender dysphoria then, it was unknown, really, to be truthful. I had a lot of counselling and help with the anxiety problems, because they started to manifest themselves in my final year at uni and obviously having problems like that while you’re studying for your finals is not helpful. So I did have counselling and I attended relaxation classes and stuff to help me deal with the anxiety issues.
So, yeah, I mean I have suffered from anxiety issues for a long time, on and off, not constantly, but I became a workaholic and I threw myself into my work. Not a bad thing because it did mean that I was reasonably successful at what I did, and I moved up the ladder very quickly in local government. And then, when I left local government in the nineties, it meant that when I started my consultancy business, it meant that I was in demand.
INT: And could I just sort of take you back a bit about you mentioned about your personal life. Can you say a bit about what was going on in that area, at the time?
G: Oh yeah. I mean I was still trying to conform, so I had several girlfriends, I lived with somebody for a while. In the early nineties I lived with somebody for kind of 6, 7, 8, 9 years, nearly 9 years. So I did my best to conform, but the pressures from my gender dysphoria would always, at some point, take me back to being on my own and so that I could… so that I could be me in private, so that I could dress the way I wanted to, behave the way I wanted to, in private.
INT: So… when you’re in a relationship, the gender issues would sort of come up, you know, can you sort of say a bit more about that.
G: Yeah, I think I struggle with not only my gender issues but also my sexuality and I think for most of my life between my twenties and my late thirties, the gender issues would always pop up whenever I was in a relationship. And it would always cause me problems at which point the pressures from that would start to affect the relationship as well. So, most of my relationships weren’t really that successful. I think principally because they were always the woman I wanted to be and I really struggled with making a success of relationships because of that, because I would always put them on a pedestal, I would, you know, they had the body I wanted, they had the life wanted, they… you know, everything about them and in the end it would kill the relationship, it would cause so much stress and pressure in the relationship, that they wouldn’t really survive.
INT: And you mentioned about kind of dressing…
G: Yeah, I did, I mean I dressed in private and occasionally in public, but, you know, it had to be like a good excuse, a reasonable opportunity, like a fancy dress party. I mean when I was a student at sixth form college, we used to do rag week, and there was a parade around the town, with bucket shaking and money and what have you and I always dressed as a tart, because it was my opportunity to be female and feminine and I used to parade around the town, I used to do the rag week, drama shows and stuff like that, but I would always take female roles. So it was kind of excuses like that to dress in public, but I would dress in private anyway, whenever I could.
INT: And you sort of mentioned about, you know, as well as the gender identity issues, also sort of some struggles around your sexuality?
G: Yeah, I, I think I guess it was linked to my gender dysphoria. For a long time I thought that I might have been gay, because, you know, even kind of realising in my late teens, early twenties, that gender dysphoria existed and that I wasn’t on my own, there were other people in the world like me, there wasn’t much information around, and there was nowhere to go to to discuss it, and I kind of linked my gender dysphoria, my desire to be female with being gay, I suppose. You know, I mean it seems stupid nowadays, in the 21st Century, to think that, but we are talking about, you know, over 30 years ago and things were very different in those days, you know, so I did struggle with my sexuality. I mean I did experiment, I did have relationships with men, as well, but it really wasn’t for me, it wasn’t what I wanted. So, in the end my last relationship came to an end in the late nineties, and I didn’t engage in another relationship, because I was too busy resolving my gender dysphoria.
INT: And how did that come to pass, that you began to resolve those issues?
G: Well, I think as a result of that relationship ending, and at the time I was spending a lot of time working overseas, I still lived in the area but I did spend a lot of time bouncing backwards and forwards, and that came to an end in 2001, I kind of stopped the travelling, and mainly because I was 40 [LAUGHS] you know, nearly 40, and I hadn’t got any friends, I hadn’t got a life other than work and I spent all my time working and travelling. So, I just decided I needed to stop that, because at 40, with very few friends – well no friends really – I needed to get my life back on an even keel, and as I did that, my gender dysphoria got worse, but I had the time to think about it more, to think about me, to decide what I wanted for the rest of my life and so in 2005 I just decided I was going to transition.
INT: And how did you kind of come to know about what was possible?
G: Oh, by then, I mean the internet was easily accessible, not as fast as it is now, but it was easily accessible and so I spent a lot of time in the early 2000s just researching it, finding out whether, you know, whether it was still being dealt with, you know, and, to my surprise, there was lots of information available, lots of information and I looked at all of it and thought I’ve got to do it, I have to… I can’t spent, at 40 years old, at 41 years old, I can’t spend the next half of my life being as unhappy as I have spent the first of my life, it’s stupid! So, I had to do something about it. And I did, I transitioned in May 2005, I changed my name, I transitioned without any help from anybody. At the time I was buying hormones and blockers online and that went on for years… but I transitioned, I lost my job, because of that, at the time. I was successful in getting another job within a couple of months, and it was literally a couple of months after I had transitioned, and very early on in a transition you don’t pass, there’s no… there’s absolutely no way that you pass, but the people I worked with when I got a job, really good, really understanding and just took me as I was then. There was no pressure on them… on me from them to conform in certain ways to a female role. It… my life evolved over a period of time with that, with support from those kind of people and I had a lot of support from my best friend, and neighbour. I told my parents and my family, towards the end of that year.
INT: And how did they respond?
G: They responded by cutting me off from the family, basically. I live down here, most of my family still live up north, you know, all kind of centred around Manchester, both my sisters still live there. My parents still live there, at the time I used to go up every time there was a Bank Holiday, every time there was, you know, an excuse to take four or five days off work, I would go up and visit. That stopped because I wasn’t welcome and it was made very plain to me that I wasn’t welcome.
INT: And is that still the case?
G: That is still the case now.
INT: And what impact has that had…
G: That… I felt, and I still feel like I’ve lost my family, that they… that in some way they’re gone and it took, I think because of that, it took me longer to settle into my life as a woman, because some of my support network wasn’t supporting me, they’d rejected me and it felt very hurtful, devastating. I mean I would sit at home, crying, just crying because I couldn’t speak to them.
INT: And how do you sort of deal with that loss and that pain?
G: Time, and the realisation that it isn’t going to change, so you just better get on with your life and make a good life for yourself in the best way that you know how.
INT: Okay. And you mentioned about when you transitioned, you lost your first job, can you say a bit more about that?
G: Yeah, I kind of guessed that they were embarrassed, they didn’t know how to deal with it. I think the Head of the Department… I don’t know whether he was homophobic or transphobic, I don’t really know whether that’s the case, I can’t say, but I did lose my job over it.
INT: Were you asked to leave or did you just feel so uncomfortable or what were the sort of circumstances?
G: I was on a contract, so and they’d been renewing the contract for years, I mean I’d worked there for four or five years, four years I think and they’d been renewing the contract, and they didn’t. And the excuse that was given was that it was too expensive to employ me, but then they got somebody else in to do the same job, afterwards. So it was fairly clear to me that it was about the gender issues, it wasn’t about my… it wasn’t about the cost of employing me, you know. I mean I’ve always had this argument, you pay peanuts you get monkeys, end of story. So, if you want somebody proper to do the job, then you pay the money. But even so, I wasn’t any more expensive than anybody else.
INT: How did it leave you feeling, this situation about the job that you…
G: I really liked that job. I really enjoyed it, it was a really good job. In some respects it was a dream job, for somebody in my profession and so I was very upset about losing it and again it was like a rejection, it was like, “Oh, yeah, well…” you know, it’s a rejection of me. I mean nobody likes to kind of not get jobs when they go to interviews, nobody likes to be told, “Well, you’re not the right person for the job,” but for four years I’d been the right person for the job and then, all of a sudden I wasn’t the right person for the job? Just because I’m changing gender, doesn’t… you know, just because I’m changing my gender role, doesn’t mean that the knowledge I’ve got has gone, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my job as well. I just think it was an embarrassment factor in there and they decided that they couldn’t deal with that.
INT: But you said things were different when you got to your new job?
G: Yeah, I was offered a job a couple of months later, I spent a couple of months unemployed, but I was offered a job a couple of months later and it was great, I didn’t have any problem at all.
INT: And was it clear from the outset that you were, you know, in transition, that you…
G: Oh yes.
INT: … were in your new gender role?
G: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. There were no, you know, I mean people would stare, and you know, I think there was one guy who had worked at the place that I had worked at, before that job, and he’d left a couple of years earlier and when he met me he was absolutely stunned [LAUGHS] but I coped with it well, and they coped with it well to be honest with you and for the kind of nine months that I worked there, it wasn’t just my journey, it was their journey as well.
INT: Mmm, that’s interesting, can you say a bit more about it being their journey too.
G: Well, yeah, because I don’t think they’d ever experienced working with somebody who was in the process of transitioning gender roles. It was a parochial local authority, so, you know, it wasn’t a city based local authority where they might have come across issues like that before. And so I think as much as they educated me in the world of working as a woman, I educated them in the world of working with transitioning people.
INT: Can we talk about the medical side of things as well, because you talked about initially you were getting hormones and blockers from the internet, can you say how you went about doing that?
G: Oh yeah, I did an internet search. [LAUGHS] I tried different… tried different suppliers, and over a period of time settled on one particular supplier who was actually… I mean there is a risk, there’s always a risk with doing that, that what you’re getting is not what it says it is, so you’re wasting your money, or that it might do you some harm. I did do research on what prescriptions or what levels of the hormones needed to be and so I kind of settled on a particular supplier and used some of my kind of knowledge about public health to work out whether what I was being supplied with were genuine pharmacy products and they were.
INT: And was that… was it difficult to obtain?
G: No, it was very easy, to be honest with you, very easy to obtain.
INT: And, at this time, did you know any other trans-gendered people?
G: Not really. I joined a local theatre group, principally because even though I’d transitioned I was still working a lot, but then again, you know, I mean I had a mortgage to support and, you know, I had to feed myself, pay all the bills, and everything, so you know I had to work, but my best friend who lived next door to me, her mother was really big in local theatre and she persuaded me, bit by bit, to do stuff at the local theatre, just by getting me to do a bit here and a bit there, “Oh come on, because we need somebody to do this” or what have you. And over a period of time I became a member of two or three of the local theatre companies there and that kind of got me a social life, if you will. So, although I was working very hard, still, I actually did have a social life and I wasn’t on my own any more and my circle of friends started to widen, and my interests started to widen. And there were people who didn’t accept me in the way I was, but my life as a woman evolved over a period of time.
INT: And what was it like, that early experience of transition?
G: Well, I suppose the best way I can describe it is it felt right, I felt happy, I felt peaceful. My anxieties disappeared, and in the almost ten years since then, nine years, I haven’t suffered from anxiety at all. I just felt normal and it felt the way it should have been all my life. Okay, people stared, and some people spoke as well, in the early years, but that’s okay, I mean, you know, you kind of get over it and you move on, you know, and you kind of realise that actually it’s not your fault they’re doing that, it’s their fault that they’re doing that, they don’t know any better.
INT: When you say “people spoke” what…
G: Oh yeah…
INT: … can you remember some examples?
G: Yeah, people would… the supermarket queue for the till is the kind of classic… or the kind of queuing up to pay for something in a shop. I mean after three or four years I kind of looked very feminine so just to look at me and just to walk past me in the street you wouldn’t have known. But in those days my voice was still very, very deep, and so when I spoke it kind of gave it away a bit, and so you’d get people nudging each other and… or you’d get people saying “That’s a man!” you know…
INT: And what did that feel like?
G: It felt hurtful, it felt… yeah, it felt nasty, I mean most of the time it wasn’t done in a nasty way, it was kind of done in a very innocent, lack of knowledge way more than anything. You know, I mean I have to say I have been lucky I have not really suffered from trans-phobia to any great extent, and I think I’ve been lucky, I mean I know other trans people that are not that lucky, you know, other people’s lives are… have been blighted by hate and, you know, just kind of real venom towards them. But my life hasn’t, you know, I have been lucky in that respect. But I have suffered it a bit from time to time, for a long time I did work with gypsies and travellers, you know, and they’re the first to play the race card, the, you know, the minority card, but in my experience all races and all minorities are, you know, there’s racism and transphobia and homophobia in all of them, and when you look at it, it’s probably about the same percentage in all of them and so I have… you know, I had problems with some of the traveller men, they were very anti, but I had a job to do, and, you know, I’m a northerner, I am thick skinned and I’m 5ft 9 as well. [LAUGHS] So, you know, you overcome it don’t you, you just think well, okay, if I’d been born a woman I would still get that sort of thing, I’d still get misogynistic comments, I’d still get people behaving that way towards me so I kind of thought, it isn’t really any different, just the words they’re saying are different but the meaning behind it is not any different.
INT: So you sort of compared it to other kind of forms of…
INT: … discrimination? Yeah, okay. So, at this point, when you decided to transition, were you in Brighton then, or were you still living up north?
G: No, no, well, I moved down to the south coast in 1989 and I moved to the Brighton area in 1993, I think…
INT: What brought you to Brighton?
G: Work, you know, I got a job in a local authority in the area, after a while I gave that up and went into private sector work. But I was still living here, and I’ve lived in the same house for 18 years.
INT: So, what was the experience like of kind of coming to Brighton, compared to where you’d lived before?
G: Well, I lived in Portsmouth before that [LAUGHS] so it’s an unusual place to live is Portsmouth, because at the time – it’s not the same now I don’t think – but at the time it was a huge naval base and so it was an unusual place to live because of its maritime history and all of that, and it’s a big city as well. But comparing Brighton to where I lived before that, up north, whether it was where I lived on the east coast, when I got my first job, or whether it was at university, or at home, it’s very different. I mean I grew up around Manchester and Manchester now is a very cosmopolitan city, there’s a big gay community, there’s a big trans community in Manchester itself; you go out of Manchester and it’s still quite parochial and so there’s a big different between where I was born and where I grew up to Brighton, because Brighton’s very cosmopolitan. It’s not without its problems, I mean, you know, there are people here who are homophobic, who are trans-phobic, but in general the city and the area cater for trans people and, you know, gay people because there the ones with the money. They’re the ones paying the council tax, they’re the ones shopping, spending money, eating out, going to all the entertainment venues, you know, they’re a big part of the economy of the area.
INT: So, I just want to sort of jump back a little bit just in terms of… so you’ve mentioned about, you know, you were getting hormones and blockers from the internet, were there any other kind of physical aspects of your transition that you took forward? Any other kind of changes that you…
G: Oh yeah, I mean, you know, I grew my hair. I did, for quite a while, have laser hair removal treatment on my face, quite early on, but there came a point where I couldn’t afford to keep that going, because I was paying for it. You know, my body shape changed, you know, physically my body shape changed, emotionally and mentally as a result of the hormones. My emotional responses changed, I became very creative, I became much more empathetic, much more understanding and tolerant. You know, my physical shape changed, I lost a lot of muscle mass, I dropped a size and a half in shoes, because of that. [LAUGHS] You know, yeah I mean there’s, you know, I mean there’s all the kind physical stuff that goes on with taking hormones, my breasts started to grow, you know, my sexual function disappeared. But it was fine, I mean because I was getting what I wanted out of it, it…
INT: Which was what?
G: Which was just to become the woman I should have been all my life.
INT: And have you ever used any of the NHS services?
G: Yeah, I do, I mean I did, I mean after a while I kind of thought, “Oh yeah, okay, well,” [LAUGHS] you know, you can’t just keep buying stuff off the internet, quite apart from the cost of it, you know, at some point you have to be monitoring your health and maintaining your health. So after a few years, I did go on to… I went to see my doctor and got referred for a clinical assessment and I’m a patient at the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic at the moment…
INT: How have you found that experience, being a patient at Charing Cross?
G: Frustrating, to say the least. My difficulty is obviously I transitioned on my without any assistance other than the support of a few friends, and I’ve managed to get myself kind of to the point where I’ve been living as a woman, the woman I am today, for almost ten years now, nine years and I’ve managed to do seven years of that without them. And they can’t… they’re system’s not set up to cope with that. They’re system’s set up to cope with people who are right at the beginning of their transition and they can’t get their heads round it.
INT: So, what was some of the problems that you experienced?
G: Well, one of the problems is that quite simply they wanted me to… they want to view me and they want to treat me as if I was a new patient, but I’m not a new patient. I’ve been living as a woman for nine years, so yet they want me to follow the stages and steps that a new or recently transitioned person would be at and it’s way too far gone for me.
INT: So what sorts of things… how does that… when you say that, you know, to behave as though as you’re a new patient…
G: Well, I’ve been living as a woman since 2005, yet they want me to prove, prove by getting references effectively, from people, that I have been living as a woman and I, you know, I’m a woman, for crying out loud, and I have been for nine years, I don’t need to prove it.
INT: What does it feel like to be asked to prove it?
G: It makes me angry, because… and very frustrated because, you know, at the stage I am in life I don’t need to prove anything. Nobody I know now treats me anything other than as being a woman, yet they want me to prove and so I get quite frustrated with that. And I get frustrated with the stupid questions they ask at interviews, you know, it’s kind of… you get physical prodding and poking, but you also get mental prodding and poking and I kind of just get frustrated with the fact, because they’re asking me questions that they should have been asking me nine years ago, but it’s too late, you know. I just get very frustrated with it.
I sold my house last year and I moved into rented and I’m using the equity from the property to pay for the remainder of my transition, which is mainly the physical aspects. So in June last year, I had a breast enlargement operation, in July this year, I’m having my gender reassignment surgery and I’m paying for it, privately and all the assessments that lead up to that I have paid for privately, because I waited ten months for my first appointment at the gender identity clinic, in London, in London, not in Brighton, or Sussex, in London. And then I waited another six months for my second one, to be told, unless you can prove that you’ve been living as a woman for more than 12 months, your next appointment will not be a consultation for referral for surgery, it will just be another clinical assessment. Thanks very much, NHS! You’ve not really done much for me, to be honest with you and I get frustrated as well, there are a lot of trans people, in Sussex, in particular in the Brighton, a lot, yet there are no services directly accessible here, you have to go to London. Why?
INT: What is the impact for you, Gloria, of having to travel to London, what does that mean to you?
G: Well, it’s frustrating, I mean I have to give up… I lose a day, you know, for a one hour appointment, I lose a whole day, you know. It’s a minimum of an hour and a half to go to the Gender Identity Clinic, that’s just actual time on the train, an hour to London, a half an hour on a tube, a 10 minute-15 minute walk at the other end. Then the wait for the appointment, then the appointment, and then same travelling time coming back, you know, and I kind of leave home at 8:30, and get back home at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, for a one hour appointment, at a cost of about £40-£50, in terms of travelling expenses.
INT: Has it been worth it for you, coming forward to the NHS system?
G: In some respects it has, my GP is very understanding and he’s very supportive. There’s a shared care agreement between her and my private gender specialist, and they’re managing my hormones, they’re managing my health monitoring and the like, which makes me feel happier about my health being maintained and, you know, being on hormones long term is not good for my health, you know, I mean there are health risks associated with that, but it’s a necessity and so they monitor that and I’m happy for that. It also means that once, you know, and once I’ve had my gender reassignment surgery my doctor will continue to monitor me, continue to work with my private gender specialist to maintain my health long term.
INT: So, Gloria, you were saying about your experience of accessing the gender identity clinic, can we just kind of talk about what your experience of that has been like.
G: Yeah, it’s been very frustrating. I mean I didn’t start to access the services at the gender identity clinic until about three years ago. When I got my first referral I waited nine, ten months of an appointment at the gender identity clinic and every time I rang them, the receptionist would say “Oh, we’re having problems at the moment, we haven’t got enough clinicians, we are trying to resolve it, but you’ll still have to wait for your appointment.” And it took ten months for my first appointment to come through from referral from the community mental health team, which is very frustrating and I went along to the first appointment and they want to treat me like I’m a newly transitioning person, but I’m not, I transitioned on my own in 2005, with the support of some friends, and I’ve been living my life as a woman for nine years. And so I find it really frustrating that they want me to be… they want to treat me like a newly transitioned person, you know, they want to deal with me in that way, in accordance with their own… with their protocols, which are all set up to deal with newly transitioning people, but they don’t seem able to deal with me adequately because I’m not a newly transitioning person, I’m well settled in my gender, I’m well settled in my life, and they don’t seem able to cope with that.
INT: You were explaining a bit about your decision about your gender reassignment surgery, can you just explain how you came to the decision you made about seeking private treatment.
G: Yeah, I sold my house and I moved into rented and I’m using the equity from the sale of the property to fund private treatment, mainly because I kind of… before I… just in my 49th year, before I hit 50 I thought, well, I have to… I have to deal with it, I have to… I have to complete the physical transformation. If I want to have any chance of a life with a partner, with a loving partner, and to have a happy rest of my life then I came to the conclusion I needed to do that. Just transitioning roles wasn’t enough. So, I sold my house, moved into rented and I’m using the equity to pay for a private gender specialist. I had a breast enlargement operation last year, I’m having my gender reassignment surgery in July this year and I’m very happy about that.
INT: And you decided to do that as a private patient rather than as an NHS patient?
G: Yes, because they don’t seem able to deal with me at the stage I am, they want me to be… they want me to be the person I was in 2005, and then they want me to go through all the stages, you know, they want me to prove that I’m living full time as a female. I have been doing that since 2005, after nine years I don’t feel I should have to prove that to anybody.
INT: What does it feel like to be asked to prove your gender?
G: It’s frustrating, it makes me angry, because the whole point of dealing with gender dysphoria is so that you don’t have to prove you’re one gender or another. You know, I mean nowadays in the workplace, gender’s irrelevant, because the law says so, and because mostly nowadays society says so, yet the NHS says I’ve still got to prove my gender to them to get the right treatment and still they want me to wait six months and then have an appointment and then wait another six months, and have another appointment, then wait another six months and have another appointment, I’ve been living as a woman for nine years, I don’t to wait any longer, it’s needs to be done. They aren’t going to do it, so I’m going to do it.
INT: And how are you feeling about the prospect of having that surgery?
G: I’m nervous, excited, it’s going to make, again, another kind of step change in my life, but one that’s very important to me and one that will help me continue to move forward with my life feeling very happy about me as a person, me as an individual, me as a woman.
INT: Sure. And can we sort of kind of talk a little bit about kind of trans people kind of in community really. Do you kind of feel that there is such a thing as a trans community? Does that mean something to you?
G: I think there is to an extent. I don’t think it’s kind of a very kind of formal community, because trans people are parts of all different sorts of communities as well, where they’re part of the social fabric, particularly in the Brighton area, they’re just part of the everyday social fabric. So I don’t think it’s… it’s not a very clearly defined community, in that respect, you know, it’s not like saying well, for example, the traveller community or, which is quite a well defined group of people, I don’t think trans people are as clearly a defined group, for a number of reasons, because they are just part of the normal fabric of life, we all know them, whether we know it or not. We all work with them, whether we know it or not. We all trade with them, whether we know it or not. We all meet them socially…
INT: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so…
G: So, in terms of trans community, there is a trans community because there are trans groups, but I don’t think it’s as clearly a defined group, principally because… well, actually for several reasons, one because trans people are in every walk of life and we meet them all over the place, whether we know it or not. But also because there’s a huge range of what people class themselves as being, in terms of trans. I mean there are people who are a little bit trans, and there are people who are extremely trans, and there’s a whole range of people in between all of that. You know, my gender dysphoria is extreme, but I do know people who’s gender dysphoria is minimal and some very basic changes to their life has allowed them to continue living quite happily, whereas me I’ve got to change everything mentally, physically, my whole gender role, my position in society, I’ve had to change it all. And that’s why I don’t think the trans community is… it’s a big community, but I don’t think it’s a well defined group.
INT: Do you think… have you been involved in any of the kind of support groups or activist groups?
G: Not really, to be honest with you. You know, I know some trans people… I know trans people because you meet them all over the place, you know. I’m quite involved in local theatre and amateur theatre, community theatre as it is now, and you meet a number of people in that, that are trans, but I’ve never really… I’ve been too busy with work and life for one thing, and my own transition which takes a lot of effort and a lot of energy and a lot of time, so I’ve never really kind of got involved specifically with trans groups, but I haven’t felt the need to either and I think that’s probably because of the type of person I am. You know, I’m a… I’m a confident person, I’m a person who I don’t always feel that I need to rely on other people to help me do things, I’m, you know… and I’m quite a go forward and quite an energetic person, and I think I’m a very well adjusted person and I’m very lucky to be that way, because of the working life that I’ve had I think, because I’ve worked all over the world, I’ve seen different communities, different religions, different way of life, and I think that’s helped me to be quite a well adjusted person and therefore I haven’t needed to rely on other people in the same position as me, for support, very often.
INT: Okay. So just thinking about sort of wrapping up the interview now, thinking about this project, if you were thinking about historians in the future looking back at this project, what would you want them to kind of take away from it? What would you think would be the key things you’d want them to understand about the lives and experiences of trans people?
G: That the lives and experiences of trans people in some respects are no different from anybody else’s. We have to eat, we have to work, we have to live, we like entertainment, we like reading, we like the TV, everything that ordinary… anybody else in society would want to be involved with, but I would want them to think that this time in the world, the early 20th.. 21st Century was a major point in trans history, that people are widely accepted as being human beings, and not pigeon-holed because of their gender, or their chosen gender, that actually it’s about people, it’s about humanity and that this time in history is a major point for realising that.
INT: Okay, that’s brilliant, thank you very much.
G: You’re welcome.