INT: Perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself?
R: And I’m Rebecca Williams.
INT: And could I ask you to just outline a little bit about your relationship with the trans community and yourself, where you fit in?
R: Okay, I came out as trans in January 2012 to my partner and shortly afterwards found the local support group called the Clare Project and since coming out and living my life as the gender that I feel, I’ve also found that I’m very drawn to helping other transwomen especially come out and talk about their issues, because one of the things that I held inside for so long, as a secret, that I was very, very ashamed of and felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone and just to be able to talk to other women – and girls – who felt the same way that I did, I think it is… it’s not only helpful for me, but it’s helpful for them as well and I get a great deal of joy from it and support and, you know, I suppose to say trans community is I suppose a bit of a generalisation, but certainly other trans people, especially transwomen.
INT: So, you said you came out in 2012, how old were you then?
R: I was 36.
INT: You were 36 then, and your partner is male, female?
R: She’s female. We’ve been together for 17 years. We recently got engaged, and we are very, very happy. I think before coming out to her, it felt as if there was something missing from the relationship, it’s like we didn’t quite engage with each other and after coming out we’ve… you know, I’ve realised it just feels like a very genuine relationship now, whereas before it felt a little bit distant, that she didn’t respond to me properly as a person. Now that’s she seen who I am and I make sense to her, we’re very, very close now.
INT: And what are your living circumstances now?
R: I live in a house in Peacehaven, with my two children, and my partner. My children are 10 and 11 years old now and they go to the local schools. A little garden, there’s a cherry blossom tree in the garden and it’s quite a quiet suburban area. It’s about 5 miles from Brighton, so it’s quite quiet. It’s nice.
INT: Would you like to talk a little bit about how you came out to your children and how they took it?
R: Yeah, it’s interesting because they both sort of interpret it in different ways. It was a very sort of difficult time, because my partner obviously didn’t know what to do or how to do it, you know, it’s not something that either of us had ever come across before, and I was very much stuck in this position of needing to live full time as a woman, and you can’t do that without letting your children know. You can’t, you know, without actually formally sitting down with them and talking about it you can’t particularly transition. So it’s one of the early things that I think, you know, trans people have to do to their kids, certainly as a transwoman anyway, because at the moment we live in a society where, where men have very tight gender roles and if you are seen to be male and you go outside of that gender role and say you want to put a skirt on, or a dress or something, then it’s instantly picked up by society and, you know, you can be ridiculed for it.
INT: So how did you organise actually coming out to them?
R: I, yeah, I digressed a little bit there. But, I had a chat with Suzanne, my partner, and she was… she didn’t have any, you know, she didn’t have any idea how I needed to do it. So, I, needing to transition I just ended up doing it on my own, kind of thing, which felt a little bit uncomfortable, because it would have been nice to sort of do it together, but it was one of those things that I needed to do in order to start, you know, feeling a bit more comfortable.
INT: So, you sat down with the kids on your own?
R: Yeah. I, I was in… I put my daughter to bed, I put her to bed, my daughter, and we… the bedtime’s a really good time for talking with kids, because you’ve got their entire attention and I said to her, some people feel as if they’re a different gender than their body, they feel… like some girls feel like they’re boys and some boys feel like they’re girls and inside, I said, I feel like a woman, and I’m going to be changing my gender and my presentation because it’s more comfortable for me. And she gave me a big hug, she said, “Okay,” and that was it. And I kind of went through a kind of a, you know, clumsy “Have you got any questions”, that kind of thing, “No,” she said, “No,” no problem. She didn’t say no problem, but it was just like “No” and I said “Oh, you know, is there anything, you know, that you’re worried about or anything?” and she said “I just want to go to sleep”. So, that was it. But to her then, for the rest of, you know, from that moment that I said, you know, I was another woman in the house with her and she’s always treated me that way and, you know…
INT: So, you told them separately?
R: I told them separately, yeah, because they needed that time, I think, to deal with it in their own way, because then I could, you know, be there for their individual questions and they wouldn’t compete for attention and things.
Yeah, since then she’s been wonderfully supportive, and any little body change, because I’m obviously taking hormones and things, she’s been right behind me and I’ll never forget we were on the holiday the next summer, and she said, she said “Wabby” – because she calls me Wabby, and not mummy nor daddy, because I’m a woman and her daddy. She says “Wabby,” she says “Your legs have turned girly” and she got really excited for me and it’s just, yeah, it was just really fantastic. She’s just… she got it straight away.
My son, on the other hand, was different and when I told him, he bottled up completely and wouldn’t say very much and I knew something was terribly wrong and I had a sense that that would happen anyway, I’d already been, to try and talk to people about the coming out experience and, you know, therapists and what have you and none of them were actually prepared to give me any advice, which is what I needed, most of them were kind of more keyed up on approaching my psychology and things like that, which was not helpful, particularly. So, I said to him, you know, knowing that it went okay with [my daughter] I said to him, and he bottled up, and he went through a grieving process. He… I remember the next week he was very depressed, he used to take male items of my clothing and what have you. He took my wallet and he said “Can I have this?” He was so sweet, he said “Can I have this?” because I was obviously changing all my things and I said, “Yeah, of course you can,” you know, and he kept it and he hugged a pair of my socks all night, one night, and I held him in bed crying all night for his father. And later on, when I asked him, I said “At what point did I change for you? What was the point that I changed, that you felt as if you’d lost a parent?” and he said “The moment you told me.” So it’s interesting that the moment that I said to him, you know, basically “My name’s Rebecca, I’m a woman, on the inside”, and I’m not sure I used those exact words, but the moment I told him, that was the moment that his father died and that this woman walked into his life.
But he’s better now, he’s well-adjusted now, he’s got two mums, he’s quite happy with that, but yeah, it’s just interesting that both my children had very, very different responses, and his main worry was being bullied by other children at school.
INT: He was actually worried about that himself?
R: Yeah, yeah, he was worried about being bullied.
INT: And did that come about?
R: Yes, it did.
INT: Oh. How did that happen and how did you find out about it?
R: He… his behaviour changed, he got quieter, then he started a lot of very negative behaviours towards himself, he used to get very angry or he used to hurt himself, he used to bang his head. He would get frustrated at school, it started at home and then it filtered into school where he would bang his head in the toilets at school and then slowly afterwards he then became aggressive to the bullies who were bullying him and it only came about that we realised this is what happened and we’re fairly in tune with our children, certainly stopped [my daughter]’s bullying quite early on, my daughter’s bullying when she was… before I came out and everything, she just had a small issue at school about being rejected by the girls. And, so we… because of his behaviour that was, you know, and I blamed myself for it, obviously, because I’d come out and I felt that, you know, it was all my fault and what have I done to my family and all that stuff. We got him to see a play therapist and she said to us, in summary, after six sessions, she said that home is a safe place for him which was quite reassuring and that the issues that he was having was at school, and, you know, he was teased with, you know, names like… he got upset every time when they mentioned fathers and dads in school, he used to be called names, he used to be called “Mangina” people used to shout at him and “You’ve got two mums” or just called “Two mums”, or… there were lots of other things that they used to say to him and he, yeah, he just got very depressed because of it.
INT: How did that get resolved at school though?
R: It didn’t.
INT: Is that carrying on?
R: It carried on until he started running away from school and then he got excluded because he was shouting at teachers and things, because he’d obviously lose his temper with the bullies, and then the teachers would blame him for striking back. So he… the day that I took him out of school, actually, I was at my mum’s house and I’d got to the stage where I was really nervous, in case I got a call from the school, and I thought it’s one day, Rebecca, go and see your mum, you know, he’ll be fine for one day, and he wasn’t and the school phoned up, “You need to pick him up straight away, because he’s assaulted a teacher”, that’s what they said to me. And, so I was driving over and I was thinking and at this point [son] and I were talking, every day I’d try and talk with him about what’s happened in the school and how he’s felt, and I used to record, you know, what he’s been saying about the names that the children and take it to the head mistress, and said “Look, this is happening, can you do something about it” and, you know, “He’s being called these names and do you need help from the LGBT people, you know, I’m saying there are issues at school here,” and so, I’d been to the head mistress about two or three times beforehand, saying that there are issues here, and so I was driving back from my mum’s house, and I just thought, you know, I thought of [my son], I just saw him in school, being alone, being bullied by all these people, not being able to trust the teachers, because they’re blaming him because of his behaviour and I knew, I knew, you know, the teachers are accusing a small child of attacking them, when, you know, blaming the victim, blaming [son] for his behaviour because he’s being bullied at school, and all I felt was my little boy in the middle of all that, it was like I just… I…
INT: Let’s take a little break.
INT: Do you want to carry on talking about how you resolved the issue at school?
R: Yeah, so, I picked him up from school, it took me an hour to travel home from my mum’s and I saw the Deputy Head mistress, and she was looking very stern at me, and was telling me how he’s attacked the teachers, and I just said to her “Where is my son? I want my son.” So, she led me through and I found him, and I gave him a big hug, I told him it wasn’t his fault, and that I’m sorry, and I took him out of the school and I didn’t come back. And…
INT: And is your daughter at the same school?
R: She was at the same school, but she wasn’t being bullied at all, so she was fine, you know, she didn’t have any issues, she was always very highly regarded by the teachers and, you know, always seen as a very good girl. And she still is. So, I took my son out, and wrote to the school and said to them how… I didn’t say to them, you know, how awful they’d been, but I’d put it in terms of I spoke for [my son], because I’d talked to him all the time and I knew what he was feeling and I wrote down how it felt for him as a boy in the school and gave it to the head mistress and said, you know, he’s not coming back, and take him off the school register and we found his school together and during that point, obviously me and Suzanne, because I had taken it upon myself, obviously I’d felt so strongly about it, and Suzanne was like, “Oh I hope you’re doing the right thing,” because we didn’t know we were doing the right thing or not, because [his] behaviour at home and at school was very, very difficult. So we didn’t know… I didn’t know whether I was doing the right thing. Anyway, three, four weeks later he’s in a new school, he’s settling in, and you just know, as a parent, you know, when he’s coming home and I pick him up from school and the other children are shouting after him “[his name]!” and, you know, and I could just sense in him a change, it was a fresh start, it really was for him and he’s not being bullied, he’s seeing kids after school, he’s so much happier now, and he’s a different boy and that’s, you know, and I, on a personal level, I feel, you know, that it’s not fair that he had to pay that price for me, you know. I don’t think, you know, it may well have happened anyway, the bullying may well have happened for whatever reason, they would have found something, it may well have been, and he certainly says that it started before I came out. But I do blame myself, of course I blame myself.
INT: Do you still blame yourself? Or is it and issue of how schools deal with bullying?
R: I think it’s more an issue of how schools deal with bullying, but I think, you know, yeah, I do blame myself, because he had, you know, he had something else to deal with. It was like a bereavement that he went through. It’s as if, you know, I didn’t make it clear to him who I really was, but I thought I could contain it, you know.
INT: And your relationship with him now?
R: Is lovely!
INT: So, you blame yourself and yet, as with Suzanne, you have now a complete relationship with him.
R: Oh yeah, yeah, completely and, you know, of course I’ve always sort of… I’ve always loved him as a mum, you know, and there’s… it’s really difficult because, you know, even though you sort of, you’ve got this male body, like the whole, you know, always wanted children and the whole thing of, you know, I was… I stayed at… I chose to work less and stay at home more for them and very much offer, I suppose, my children, you know, that huge emotional support that, you know, you just want to give as a mum to your kids, you know. I know people have difficulty with, with relating to someone who’s like in a male body but refers to herself as a mother but there’s no other word really for a female caregiver and to give your kids that unconditional love and support, and emotional warmth, that I can give them, you know, I think every couple’s different in that way, but, you know, we see ourselves as a same sex couple, so we both give different things, you know, for our strengths, and mine is nurturing, I suppose, you know, it’s…
INT: And now you’re able to give it completely.
R: Completely, yeah, because… and not be able to hold… not need to hold back and, you know, and not… I don’t know, just feel honest, I think.
INT: You mentioned work and I know that you are in a caring job too, could you speak a bit about how coming out at work happened and how it affected work.
R: Yeah, work is… work’s interesting, because I work as a children’s nurse and I wanted to transition before I qualified as a nurse, but unfortunately, because one of the Codes of Professional Conduct is justify public trust and confidence, I thought that if anyone found out, you know, that I’d be struck off as a nurse, because, you know, men don’t dress as women, men don’t act as women, do you know what I mean, so I was kind of horribly stuck in that kind of respect, until 2011, when I went on a management training course and they said that they had to help another transwoman transition on the job and then I knew that I could do it.
INT: And what did it feel like when you heard that?
R: It felt painful.
INT: Do you know why painful?
R: Because I held it in for so long. I mean hopeful as well, you know, I felt exposed as well, because as a child I felt everyone could see that I was different and could see that I was a girl and that it would magically, you know, resolve itself and yeah, a lot of different emotions, I think they all took their time to settle in. But yeah, hopeful, hopeful that I could transition and, you know, that was just like, it was just like “Oh my God!” but painful as well…
INT: “It’s possible”.
R: It is possible… yeah, “It’s possible! You know, I can do this”. I didn’t… you know, I didn’t really consider like, you know, how much I could feminise or what, you know, what kind of a woman I’d made or anything like that, because I’d kept it so suppressed, but just like it was, it was just that moment was I can do this, that was it, that was the moment it was like “Oh my God, I can do this! I don’t have to hold it in.”
INT: So what did you do about it then, once that happened?
R: I couldn’t contain it, I couldn’t contain it at all, you know, you obviously go through a period of self questioning and like, you know, “is this really me”, do you know what I mean and all of this, and self-acceptance as well, you know, because all of that time, I’d held it in as something that I’d get struck off for, that I was mentally unwell, that, you know, if it ever came to light, then something awful would happen and when I’d heard that somebody had done it, it was, it was, yeah, I could do it. So, there was a whole load of grief that came out and it still comes out today, that I’d had to live like that for so long and I think I cried for a week when I’d accepted myself as a transwoman, when I’d, you know, you do that big hard long stare in the mirror and you’re like, you know, “I’ve got to do this, you know, and a I can do this” and all of those feelings that, you know, of keeping it back, that suppression that you had to feel for… well, that I had to feel for my whole life, came out in a week and…
INT: So, did you say anything to anyone at work then?
R: No! Oh gosh no! No. It’s interesting that when they were talking afterwards, they were in this management meeting where I learnt that another transwoman had transitioned on the job, I even thought then, during that meeting, that they had me sussed because they were talking about Facebook, and she said “Don’t get too drunk and flash your knickers in the air” and she was looking at me, when she said that, and I was like “She knows!” and this is like the story of my life is just like “everybody knows”, I felt naked to the world, but at the same time, nobody knew, because, you know, later, when I came out it was like “Oh, that’s a bit of a surprise,” and on a personal level I used to… I came out as presenting as a gay male to cover up all my effeminacy and that, even though I’ve got a girlfriend [LAUGHS] I used that as a kind of cover, or a bi-male as a cover, to be more socially acceptable, because I’d, you know, as a trans girl, I’d learnt to sort of hide all my mannerisms because I got teased, the way I spoke was different, my brother used to tease me because I spoke differently and something didn’t quite make sense to people about me, and then, you know, saying that you’re gay, you can get away with, you know, almost anything.
INT: You can still be bullied for it, though?
R: I didn’t get bullied for it, I didn’t. I mean during school, they used to call me Fudge Packer, which is a kind of…
INT: And that’s not bullying?
R: You know, it didn’t feel like it, because it was done in a jokey way and, you know, I had the gay boys coming on to me and things like that, and, you know, it didn’t feel like it. It’s only bullying if it feels like it’s bullying, I suppose. And also, I didn’t know what they were talking about. [LAUGHS] I had no idea what it kind of actually meant and it was, you know, it’s not a nice thing at all, but I’d no idea what that meant. So, you know, all those kind of terms, like “Uphill Gardener” and things like that, I’m just like, I don’t get it. [LAUGHS]
INT: So how did you actually come out at work, what happened then?
R: Oh right, sorry. So, I’d gone to his management meeting in November and, you know, it took about a month of all that kind of stuff to happen inside and for me to kind of like really accept who I was and come out to my partner, obviously, and my children and so, I read the work policy and the policy document, sent it to my manager, said that I’m transgender and that I don’t have to go full time yet, but I should think during the next three months, I’m going to have to change my gender presentation, because it’s so intense, you know, because I’d used denial all the time that I couldn’t do this, that it’s impossible, that I’m made that as soon as that denial dropped, as soon as that, you know, I accepted myself, and said to myself that I could do it, there was nothing to hold me back and I found it very distressing to be called by my old name and my old gender pronouns being used, because it felt like a prison, it felt like an enormous prison sentence and it was very, very uncomfortable and distressing for me. So, so I gave my boss a warning and said, you know, assuming that she’d sort of look into it and make, you know, inroads into talking to maybe HR or some other people, because it’s quite a big thing and as far as I know, I don’t think she did anything at all, until I said to her, I’m going to have to come out, because I can’t stand being called my old name or pronouns, and at work, I’d also changed my appearance over the last… over the sort of… because I came out to my partner in January 2012, and changed my name and everything in June. So I changed my name by Deed Poll, I changed my nursing professional registration name and I changed all my bank account and everything like that, as much as I was able to and all my official documentation and things like that, which was wonderful just to get rid of that male name was fantastic. And so I said to my boss, I said “I can’t hold on any longer, can we, you know… I need to change over,” and she said “Okay,” and she pulled out a letter from the document that was made for the hospital about trans people and in there was an example letter of how to send a letter to the organisation about being trans, and so we just changed a few things and I said “I can’t, you know, I don’t know what to write, I just… I have to just do it,” and she said “All right, I’ll do it for you,” which was kind of her. So she just changed a few bits and sent this email out to everyone, so she said. And that was it, and then the next day I went into work as Rebecca, and…
INT: And how did that feel and what was the reaction?
R: The reaction was generally very good. I don’t… I think most people were… I think most people were trying their best, but it was like having cancer or a terminal illness or something where people don’t really know what to say and, you know, you’re… as a person, as myself, I didn’t change at all, you know, I obviously was modulating my voice and was, you know, letting go of a few mannerisms and things like that, and coming across, you know, as generally a bit more feminine, I’d dyed my hair, I’d wear a little bit of… well, I’d wear quite a lot of make up because I still had a bit of stubble, I was having laser treatment in the run up to it, and had started hormone treatment and so I was just starting to change anyway, but it was like walking in and I’d dropped a few hints to colleagues along the… nobody got it of course, you have to be very direct and yeah, it was like having a terminal illness, and it was okay within the nursing team, but like doctors and things and people who move around in the hospital it was quite difficult, patients was absolutely fine, none of them had that much of problem with me, but some of the other staff would stare at me and things like that, which was quite uncomfortable. I mean I’m very lucky as a transwoman, you know, in my mid-thirties to transition and look fairly reasonable, I just count my blessings for that, but for that six months transitionary phase, it was very difficult with people staring at me and things like that and as far as I gather my boss had explained to everybody that I was trans and that, you know, that I should be referred to in these gender pronouns and what have you. But they got it wrong, every single day that I walked into work for six months I was called by my old name, or my old gender pronoun and that had a very deleterious effect on my mental health, unfortunately.
INT: So how did you stop that, or did it just tail off naturally?
R: Well, it tailed off naturally because when you take HRT and your body and your face feminises and I have no facial hair it starts to become ridiculous to call someone who looks like a woman a man and it tails off by itself, you know. People obviously tried very hard, but, you know, every single day for me, there was somebody else that called me a “he” or… and you know, when you’re presenting as female to patients and families and things and then someone calls you “Bob”, or something, you know, and you’re presenting as a woman, it’s… personally it’s excruciatingly painful because it puts you back to that position where you couldn’t come out and it’s also highly embarrassing because, you know, you’re relating to this person as a woman, as yourself, and then someone’s calling you a man and…
INT: And did you ever feel that people were doing it to make a point and to be doing it deliberately?
R: Occasionally, yes, occasionally and I mean I felt that way, whether they did or not, I don’t know, but it made feel like… but overwhelmingly it was very distressing because it pushed me back to that time where I couldn’t come out and it was, it’s a very, very painful thing to hold in for so long.
INT: And it’s a very familiar story, which you’ll know about because of your – how do I put it? – outreach work for other people.
R: Yes, and that’s partly why, because, you know, I know that pain and I know how much it hurts.
INT: could you talk a little bit about that, what you do, because it does feel as if you’re channelling that pain into a positive contribution to other people’s lives.
R: I think it is, yeah. I mean you know, people call me things… I don’t really label myself things, but people call me things and they call me a trans-feminist and they say that, you know, that I’m an advocate or, you know, but basically I just… what I noticed that seem to be missing from the trans communities and, you know, we are living in an electric age, with Facebook and groups, trans groups are accessible via Facebook and things and but what I couldn’t find was all the trans groups that I saw were very much talking about the news and people regurgitating news stories about people being mean to trans people and there was very little actual trans support going on and also everything that was coming out was negative, so people were saturated with negative news, so I formed my own group, called Transiness, and made it a positive space and said, “Look if you want to post things, post them, but make them all positive, you know, about your achievements as a trans person, about any positive trans news, just so that you can feel nice about yourself.” And, yeah, and it’s taken off, you know, I’ve got loads of people who… and it’s lovely to hear people’s stories about how they’re transitioning and their little successes and things like that and from that, of course, I talk online on various groups, to groups of trans people from across the world, so could be from England or America and of all types of ages, and one I discovered was, and certainly going to the Clare Project as well, is that trans people have a massive capacity to be able to heal each other, just through talking with each other, because what we all seem to share is that we’d held that shred of secrecy for so long and we’ve been trained like that to talk with other trans people, trans-men as well, but mainly transwomen, it’s cathartic and it’s so helpful and, you know, I think I gain a lot from it and I think, I hope that they gain a lot from just chatting as well.
INT: It sounds like that… I mean that’s the other side of transitioning, we’re used to hearing the stories of pain and suffering and indignity that inevitably people go through, but not so much about the joys and the relief and the release of being yourself, which you seem to be engaging with.
R: Oh, because it’s lovely, because it’s, you know, it is lovely, just to be able to, I don’t know, live your life as you, from little things to, you know, like opening my wardrobe and looking in and it’s just a relief, it’s just like, “Oh, thank God” you know, beautiful things to wear, beautiful dresses, make up, you know, perfume, it’s a whole fantastic world.
INT: Things you always wanted to wear.
R: Yes, yeah. And relating to people in a genuine way, and talking to people and being able to talk and express yourself, it’s just phenomenal, and your body, you know, just all those little things that change on your body and, you know, knowing that things will change and that you feel more comfortable and huge things like, you know, all my life I’d look at photographs and felt that something was wrong, I looked awkward, I looked… now I look at my photographs, all right you look at your photograph and you think, oh, you know, but at least it’s me, but at least, you know, you’re seeing a woman there and, you know, the ones, the ones that you’re more uncomfortable with “Oh, I look a bit blokey there,” but the ones that you feel comfortable with, it’s like “Oh my God!” You know, it’s fantastic, you know, and to look in the mirror, I did it this morning, [LAUGHS] I got out of bed, I looked in the mirror and it’s just relief, it’s just, you know, you look in the mirror and it’s just “Oh, thank God!” you know, there’s not much that changed on my body particularly, you know, my hair’s longer, and, you know, my skin’s changed a little bit and my face has padded out a bit, but I’m just more comfortable.
INT: Yes, you said about HRT, and how soon was it before you got onto that and how did you, did you get to be prescribed HRT?
R: Well, I went… the thing about coming out after I came out to myself, after I accepted myself as a transwoman, and allowing myself to feel these emotions and feel all that pent up stuff that, you know, you know, felt that I couldn’t express because otherwise, you know, I’d go mad or something, or, you know, that I was… after I’d, you know, got passed that stage what actually overtook me was an intense feeling of physical dysphoria, which is an intense discomfort with your body. I was okay living like in that male body, with denial. As soon as that denial had gone, there was nothing to stop… between me and my pain there was nothing, and it was very, very raw indeed, to the extent where I would cry every night, I would put false breasts on – I know this sounds ridiculous…
INT: Not at all.
R: … but I’d put false breasts on so that I would wake up in the morning, and not feel distressed to the point where I couldn’t cope. I used to wake up crying, just because I… I just couldn’t stand being in this form for one minute longer and the current protocol for care, in health care, is that you, you know, you have to wait to see a psychiatrist, which for me took four months, and then the psychiatrist then refers you to Charing Cross, which for me took 15 months, and then you’d have two psychiatrist appointments, which for me took six months, so it would have taken 2+ years to get prescribed HRT and I was at a stage where I was literally screaming inside, and so I, after waiting three months, I couldn’t wait any longer and I did my research on the internet and looked up Trans Care in America and found a few protocols and looked at the drugs that they took, being a nurse obviously it kind of helps and gives you a bit more confidence in doing my research and I started myself on low dose of oestrogen from the internet and a testosterone blocker. The funniest story was than I was absolutely desperate, so in order to stop my desperation I went online, found a pharmacy place, in India, and made my order, 56 tablets, 1 milligram tablets of estradiol valerate, so I did my order, and I was excited, you know, obviously, and I thought I’d just start of the oestrogen itself, just for a little while and then T-blockers after three months, and the package came through, I paid for extra fast delivery because I was just beside myself. So it came through and of course they sent the wrong thing, they sent through – oh what’s that drug called? It’s to maintain erections. [LAUGHS] They sent me completely the wrong drug and…
R: Viagra, that’s it, yeah. So I’m sitting there with this tablet of Viagra, you know, these tablets of Viagra and I’m shaking, I’m like “Are they doing this just to make my life hell?” So I did get back in contact with them and they sent the right thing eventually, but it longer than… and I’ve still got them, these Viagra things, why would I want to do that to myself?
So, yes, so I started them and then I found out from a friend, another pharmacy company online that was more reputable and started on HRT and T-blockers then, so I was still on a low dose and added T-blockers and then upped my oestrogen after three months. So it was all self-prescribed and, you know, basically kind of illegal but I could function, I felt immediately psychologically better…
INT: I was going to ask you about that, when you said ”immediately”, is that the relief you talk about of starting taking and then what about the actual chemical effect of the…
R: The immediate psychological relief was basically stopping my testosterone, because I felt that I was masculinising every day, and I still do, one of my major fears is that I will masculinise again, or I’ll suddenly, you know, go back to where I was, because it’s intolerable for me and so to take these things, to know that my testosterone was dropping and to know that I would start to feminise, that my body would start to change and, you know, I’m well informed, I know that I’m not going to suddenly turn into some little princess or something, it’s just not going to happen, but that my masculinisation would stop, because as you get older you tend to masculinise over time and get even more masculine I feel and I’d reached that point in my mid-thirties where that process was starting and it was intolerable for me. So and it was getting very, very difficult, so to stop that was the main thing.
And the other thing that I notice, and I know this probably sounds a bit weird but I took my little oestrogen tablet, I remember this, and went to have a bath, and I was laying in the bath and I just felt my muscles just twitch a little bit all over, it was almost like it popping under my skin and I was like, I don’t know what that was about, you know, just feeling a little bit twitchy. But, you know, it was, yeah, it was weird. And then, I suppose afterwards just, you know, you have that whole euphoria, you just feel… I was dressing full time as a… well, part time as a woman, and I wasn’t out at work, so this is about three months into my transition, so I’d started laser hair removal and obviously working on my voice and what have you, so the difference I felt was that when, when I was, you know, out and about, I just felt more confident as a woman, I felt less confident with the testosterone, but as soon as I had that little bit of oestrogen and everything on board as well, I felt that I could relate to my gender and the world from a much better place, you know, and to be more emotionally aware, was just a fantastic feeling, a real high, you know. Yeah, so it’s the combination of both and of course on a very, very physical level not having to… not having to deal with male physiology and male physiological drives was an enormous benefit. As a transwoman, that thing, you know, that thing’s demands on you is incredibly confusing and incredibly damaging and incredibly hurtful to grow up with that, and I can’t quite describe how awful it makes you feel, but having that stop and not being, you know, driven by it is an incredible relief as well.
INT: And you talked about the system, are you in the system that goes through the GIC and so on?
R: I’m… yes, I’m still in that system…
INT: And how did they react to you self-medicating?
R: They were fine, yeah. They just said “What medicines are you taking?” and I said what medicines I was taking and that was it.
INT: Well, that’s very interesting to know, because quite a few people think that they are going to be debarred from the system…
R: Yes, and I was talking to a girl last night and she was absolutely terrified, you know, the trouble is as a trans person, as a transgirl, when you come out you are in a place of immense psychological distress, because you know you have your male hormones that you’re coping with, you’re coping with being open and honest with people about how you feel, which makes you very, very vulnerable and at the same time, you know, you’re expected to confirm to these standards and if you show any weakness at all, you worry that you’re not going to be let through. You know what you need, you know you need fully transition, you know what you need, but it’s as if you’re so worried that anything will stand in the way of your transition that sometimes you fail to look after yourself. So, I was talking to a girl recently who was so worried that if she took oestrogen that they would frown upon her and they would set her back, and she didn’t want that, she just wants to be done and carry on with the rest of her life, thank you very much, which and I feel, I felt the same way, but for me that wasn’t an option because I had a family to maintain, I have my life to do and if it took longer, then fine, but actually, at that point when I decided to self-medicate I was doing so because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to work, I wouldn’t be able to go out of my front door and my mental health would suffer. It’s hard enough as it is, as a transwoman trying to transition at work, being called a man all the time, and you know, putting up with your own psychological pain, which is intense psychological pain for having to hold it in for so long, that for me self-medicating was a logical option and meant that I was actually looking after myself, and I think, you know, for me I could justify that to the psychiatrist and say, “Look, you know, this is me looking after myself, I’m a coper, I can cope positively with…”
INT: So your relationship with the GIC, what at Charing Cross…
R: The Charing Cross, yeah.
INT: How is that now?
R: I don’t really have a relationship with them other than I carry… I carry with me the same absolute fear because I still need to be… to have surgical correction to feel comfortable with myself and my body, and that’s what I’m going there for, is I’ve got hormonal correction and I need surgical correction and I’m still at that stage where I’m absolutely terrified that they will tell round and say no, for whatever reason, it’s… and it may well be partly, you know, completely unfounded and illogical but, you know, that’s my main worry.
INT: And you mentioned surgery yourself, corrective surgery, have you been given a date for it at all?
INT: Or a time-scale?
R: It maybe next year, I mean I asked… I pinned the last psychiatrist down and said “I really need this, you know, would it be next year? I need a rough time-scale so that I can cope with this.” And he said “Yes”. I don’t know whether… I said, yeah, would I have my surgery by next year, and he said yes, I don’t know whether that’s… I still don’t know whether that’s absolutely true, because I’ve heard that there’s a nine month waiting list and I’m due to see my third psychiatrist in February, so, you know, it maybe that I’m waiting until I’m 40 to have corrective surgery. So that will be 2015.
INT: And how does that feel?
R: Hard! Really tough, really, really tough, because you know, I’m living my life as a woman and it’s just, what you wear is restricted because you’ve got a lump in the middle, and having a wee is awful, because you’ve got to put up with it and, you know, I have an intimate sexual relationship with my partner, and I want her to relate to me as a woman, not, do you know what I mean, on an intimate level and that’s hard, and I know that, you know, it’s not like I’m going to get, you know, a proper, 100% functioning, perfect-looking vagina, you know, I’m… what I’m getting is a vaginoplasty, is a… it’s almost like a prosthesis in the fact that, you know, it’s not self-lubricating, you have to look after it, it takes a lot of care, so yeah, but for me there’s two issues, there’s a) there’s the fact it will look better and I’ll be happier with it, and that the other thing is that I just need to get rid of those testosterone producing things that made me wrong in the first place. My big fear is that I’m going to go backwards, and that I’ll never, you know, I’ll suddenly turn into a guy and wake up and it’ll all be a dream and that will be terrifying for me. So, God, I talk too much about vaginas at the moment. [LAUGHS]
INT: Not at all, not at all, because it’s part of the hope you have of the future, and you’re somebody with, with a lot of home and a lot of expectation and already living part of that expectation of a fulfilling life as a woman.
R: Yeah, yeah. It is exciting, and I mean talking about it is, you know, talking about the end of all that process is exciting, it’s fantastic.
INT: And how do you feel about Brighton as a whole? I mean you mentioned the Clare Project, which I’ve mentioned before, and how pivotal that is for so many people, but how about Brighton generally, in terms of you developing yourself as a woman?
R: I think it’s a fantastic place to be honest with you, there’s so many things to do, so many groups, it’s… you know, I mean I identify as being a queer woman, which means that I don’t ascribe to any particular label in terms of sexual identity or gender identity in its purest, essentialist form, so I can find a lot of kinship with other people who have varying gender identities and sexual identities and it’s just nice, you know, I can surround myself by women who think very similarly to me, there’s lots of groups that I can go to, you know, go to local feminist groups and things, things that I feel quite strongly about and be a part of the community, which is really good and of course the other thing is that nobody cares what you wear in Brighton, nobody particularly cares, you know, you could wear anything you like, so self-expression is lovely, you know, you can really express yourself in Brighton and that’s really nice as well, to have that choice.
INT: And, I mean that’s a sort of a kind of a very positive note to wind up on, but is there anything else that you feel that you would like to say about this whole process of transitioning?
R: The only thing is, is that really I hope things will get better because I, you know, I had to hide myself away for years and my biggest hope is that children will be able to transition, will be able to block their puberty, before having to go through the level of pain that I had to go through and I will continue to suffer because my body does not look, for this gender, it does not look as if, you know, this was the body that I always had and that’s really my key thing, is not only to campaign for women who transition later in life, but also for the girls that are coming through today that, you know, are struggling with their gender identities and not being heard and not being recognised and the importance of, you know, blocking testosterone early, because I’ve met transgirls, teenage girls who’ve had their testosterone blocked and what have you and I know that they live much better, much more fulfilling lives than I could possibly imagine to some degree and just to look at them and know that they’re not going to suffer that at the same level of distress or be treated so differently to every other woman, is something that’s really, really important to me.
INT: And something that you’re contributing towards enabling, I think.
R: I hope so, I hope so.
INT: That’s a very positive point at which to end I think.
INT: Thank you very much, Becky.
R: You’re welcome.
INT: It was a very nice interview.