INT: Okay, this is an interview with Ruth, on 23 October, good morning, Ruth.
R: Good morning!
INT: Eventually. [LAUGHS]
R: Eventually, yes.
INT: Now I’d like to hear your stories about, well, I know you’ve got strong views on ageism, within the community, do you find that there’s particular issues surrounding age and transgenderism in Brighton, specifically?
R: Brighton, fortunately, isn’t so bad. There are places elsewhere. You’ve got to remember that ageism is rife wherever you are, whatever you are, whoever you are, it doesn’t… it’s not just transgendered people. There is a difficulty though that transgendered people like to look attractive, more so than your average person who’s got to a point sometimes in life where they’re not too bothered. Most transgendered people are bothered and they’re bothered for some considerable time into their later life. So, you have to expect them to deal with problems of looking old, losing hair and all sorts of things like that, just like anyone else would, but to them it’s like a personal thing, a very much more personal thing. So, they have to struggle a little bit to try and look young, be young, and generally keep themselves, if you like, passing off as the gender they have chosen. I for one, and I’m not actually one of those people that carries on with a pretence of hoping that people will always recognise me only as the gender I’ve chosen. I feel that there are a lot of people halfway between, that could never get away with being sussed out if you like, and the life that they lead has got to be made better, because people have got to recognise that there are people who are living in a gender mixture, rather than either male or female decidedly. So, it’s better that people say, “Well, I wonder if that’s a man, or I wonder if that’s a woman” and not being too bothered about it anyway, because I’m not bothered and if I’m not bothered why should they bother. And, so I don’t… I don’t generally go around saying “Look here, I was a man,” this, that and the other or something. What I do is sometimes somebody is… say I get to know them well, or something, I say “Well, you know, you probably realise I’m transgendered” and they say “Yeah, we thought so” and that’s as far as it needs to go. But I am a public speaker at a lot of national meetings for older people things, and things like that and I never explain. I just get up and I talk, I’ve got interesting things to say, people are happy to listen to me and to accept me for whatever I happen to be to them and that is what I’m hoping the sort of example us older people can set, will bring to the future transgendered people that like when everybody regarded, 20 years ago, some people were black, some people were white, there was no question of the sort of in between thing, you know, if you had slightly darker features you were black and that was it. Now, it doesn’t matter a bit, there are people of all sorts of shapes or colour and we don’t care, and we don’t bother about it, all right there’s a few bigots around, but by and large society has accepted the fact that there are a whole lot of people of mixed race and that they are variants right the way through from white to black and it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Hopefully, we will bring about the same attitude of mind to the transgendered people in the next 10 or 20 years, so that people see somebody and it won’t matter to them whether they’re supposed to be a man or supposed to be a woman, or just something in between, because there are people stuck in between, and they’re the ones that are having a difficulty.
INT: Older and younger.
R: Yeah. And sometimes these are the people who’s mental health is suffering because they’re striving for something they can’t achieve for one reason or another, and that is the great difficulty that we have to overcome is the mental health issue with a lot of transgendered people, they have to make a very, very important decision in life to change sex, it’s a permanent thing, it’s final, and it’s only when you actually start to do it that you realise that this isn’t a game. [LAUGHS] This is something that’s going to go on for the rest of your life and you’ve got to more than just… I mean you want to live it, and you’ve got it all inside you, but it’s something that you have decided to do and it’s a challenge that you have to meet in some many tiny little ways that you never even thought of and as each of these challenges come up you have to take a certain mental health view, “I can do it, I’m up to it,” I can overcome some prejudice, I can overcome people who ring me up on the phone, here my voice and think that I’m a male. I have to deal with that regularly and we all do. But, on the other hand, by, I’m fortunate because I’m one of the people with the sort of personality that will overcome it face-to-face with most people, I’m quite happy about that. So, I’m all right, but some people aren’t, some people are very shy, very embarrassed…
INT: Do you think that affects the older community more?
R: It… well, we have another problem with the older community. The older community have been brought up with a much stricter moral code and a moral attitude by their parents, you’ve got to remember that I was born in the 1930s, 1933, and it was the sort of attitudes, the moral attitudes, the way that people thought in those days was that anybody who sort of dressed up as a woman, or anything like that, or vice-a-versa, was somewhere wrong in the head, and ought to go into a lunatic asylum and be kept there until they were cured. I mean even people who were gay had the same problem, it was something that was just an aberration not spoken about, it was something terrible, the police had to deal with and put you in an asylum.
That since of course has changed completely now, but the people who were brought up with that in their minds are now the older people living in care homes, living in sheltered accommodation, with the odd person who is a…
INT: The older people’s moral code.
R: … the people who are now living in sheltered housing have… many of them have a very distinct bias against gays, against transgendered people, all that sort of thing because they were brought up that way in the thirties and forties. So, when you get somebody who is either gay, transgender or something like this, living in a sheltered housing scheme where they all sort of know one another’s business, you get some friction, more often than not I think. Of course many people the people there are very tolerant and friendly and everything like that, but I actually have somebody I look after in a sheltered housing scheme, in the sense that I go and see her twice a week…
INT: Here in Brighton or…
R: No, it’s in Seaford.
INT: In Seaford, yeah.
R: Actually, very near where I picked you up at the bus stop, at Chyngton, and she lives… she’s very disabled, she can walk, but only just, she can’t get up and down the stairs easily, it takes her about 10 minutes to get up and down the stairs, there isn’t a lift, and she’s upstairs. I do her shopping for her, usually once a week, Deena next door goes and does her cleaning for her, and we empty her rubbish once or twice a week, and she’s not at all well and she’s 75 and we do all this because it’s necessary. But, there are people in the sheltered housing scheme, where she lives, who have taken exception to me because I’m transgendered. Now, she handles it okay, I handle it okay, and most of the other residents handle it in the sense that they don’t agree that this person, or two people, should be, you know, upset about me going in and out of there, because I go in decently dressed, always decent, I’m polite to people, most people know me there and greet me, very happily. But there’s two people who have made a nuisance of it, and that is typical of the attitudes that these people have grown up with. I don’t actually blame them, because going back to my own childhood, these things were very strict, where certainly in towns and in the country particularly, everyone went to church on a Sunday. If you’re in a village and didn’t go to church on a Sunday, someone would come and ask why and probably come along and expect you to be ill, it was that sort of society, everyone went to church, everybody listened to what the vicar had to say, and what the squire was saying, and if they denounced gay people or transgendered people, that’s what you took on board. And, it was a little bit freer in the cities but it, generally speaking, that was what society was like.
And so, I’ve… I’ve got a certain understanding, if you like of how these people think. They know themselves that they shouldn’t be biased, but somehow they can’t help it and also older people get very opinionated. [LAUGHTER]
INT: I thought that was a cliché. [LAUGHS]
R: But, so, there is… there are certain problems, and we are, on the older people’s side, we’re tackling the problem of HIV-positive people who are in that position now when they will, some of them, have to go into care homes, some of them will have to go into sheltered housing, some are living in small flats in cities like London, in very isolated situations, sometimes the most isolated people are in the cities rather than in the country.
INT: Do you find that isolation is the biggest issue affecting…
R: It’s, it’s… where it does affect somebody, if they’re transgendered and very conscious about it, yes, it’s a big issue. If they’re HIV-positive they’ve got a specific problem that society hasn’t fully accepted that HIV-positive people are, if you like, medically safe and hygienically safe to live alongside and they tend to get an isolation which is particular and peculiar to them. Added to which they have symptoms, I mean all right, they’re HIV-positive and they live what we could call a fairly normal life, but they have symptoms of tiredness and weakness and things like that which they have to… they overcome on a daily basis and they have to take drugs and medicines and things like that for all that. So, they have the problem of health, on their own, that is to maintain their health and they also have the problem of social isolation if anyone knows that they’re HIV-positive.
INT: Yeah, with the trans population that you work with and the older trans population, do you find that they’ve got specific health issues?
R: No more than anyone else, you’ve got to expect… the statistics are, for older people, that at the age of 65 25% – it’s actually 23%, I think – 23% of the population, when they reach 65 have at least one long-term medical condition to deal with. It may not be a severe one but it’s a percentage which makes you wake up a little bit, thinking “Okay, if they’ve got a long-term medical condition at 65, what are they going to be like at 80?” So, the problems of that medical… any medical condition, like diabetes and this, that and the other, is indiscriminate whether you’re transgendered or not, [LAUGHS]
INT: Yes, absolutely. What about if… I think attitudes are changing and we’ve got more access to surgery…
R: That’s right, yes.
INT: … more access to our hormonal treatments, that perhaps when someone was younger, an older person now, may not have access to.
R: Oh no, yeah.
INT: Are you finding that people are transitioning as attitudes are changing and are they going…
R: Oh yes…
INT: … onto the medical route later in life?
R: Yes, absolutely. I do meet people… I have never moved around much in the transgender and transsexual people, but even long before I transitioned myself I was a person that, because I had a good social life of my own, amongst my friends who fully accepted me, I didn’t need to gather together with other people of much the same as myself to sort of have a mutual support, I didn’t need that, I had the support of a good social crowd of my own. So, that meant that I haven’t had a lot of dealings with just people who come up to me and say “Oh, this is my problem”. As somebody dealing with older people, yes, I come across transgendered people who come to me and say “Oh, I’d like to talk to you about things, my particular things,” but there’s not that many of course, you only come across so many.
However, as I see it, there are more people now who reach the age of retirement and are just about on the edge of going transgender and they’re ready to do it, because that gives them the opportunity, they’re no longer working, they have the freedom of time and independent income, all these various things, and like me they’ve taken their responsibilities and shouldered them off to somebody else. [LAUGHTER] And once you no longer have a responsibility to other people, except your family and things like that, you can begin to think of yourself for probably the first time in the sense that if you want to change your life that’s the time to do it and with me, of course, I’ve done it very late in life…
INT: Oh, I didn’t know.
R: Oh yes, I did it very, very much later in life and so I’ve found of course that it’s been an absolute rebirth for me, you know, it’s been absolutely brilliant and it’s started my life all over again, but I had severe arthritis and I had to have new hips and a new knee before I could contemplate embarking on this properly. I mean I was living at home, on and off, round here, as a female but going to my meetings and things like that with walking sticks and, you know, all the difficulties like that, as a male. And when I’d sort of got rid of the problems of arthritis then I could just suddenly change it all and it was okay.
So, long term…
INT: Well done! [LAUGHS]
R: Yeah, long-term health conditions have a bearing on whether you feel you’re up to the of what you have to do. Now, there are some people who go through the transgender route because there’s no other way they can go, they’re just forced by what’s happening around them and these are very often younger people. There is a difficulty, which I perceive is that there is a certain number of people who are, of course, that way minded in the first place, who feel that they have so many problems with their male life – I’m talking about males to females now – they have so many problems in their male life that by transgendering they will cure all. And my belief is that you’ve got to have a successful and balanced life in the one gender before you’ve got the ability to carry through the business of changing agenda to the other one. The other one won’t solve your problems. Solve your problems then change. And, I have a feeling, from when I’ve spoken to the psychiatrists at the gender clinic, that they’re of much the same opinion, although they haven’t said it outright to me, they’ve nodded their heads in total agreement. [LAUGHS]
INT: Do you think that perhaps that that… is it your belief that that maybe the people trying to solve their personal problems through transitioning…
R: Yeah, through transitioning.
INT: … has a lot to do with some of the mental health issues in our communities, in our trans communities?
R: I would say that that’s possibly true, because to make a transition, very often you have employment problems. Employment problems give rise to financial, money, living problems, and that exacerbates anything you’ve had all ready, so if you, in fact, have solved the problems of your employment, of your funding, of everything like that, and you can see a way ahead, through this transition period, and still keep your job, or whatever it is, and your friendships and the approval of people, then of course your life is balanced before you start.
INT: So, do you have faith in the process say, for example, Charing Cross Road tells us that we need to wait two years…
R: Oh you mean Charing… not Charing Cross Road, Charing Cross Hospital?
R: Yes, actually I didn’t think that was right to start with. I feel now that they are right, it’s looking back with hindsight. There are some who make this change, this mental change slower, others who are pretty well there all ready. I didn’t go to them until I’d been living as a female for nearly two years anyway, in fact I’d been living as a female here for two years, it was just that, because I’m on a lot of government committees I held back on the sort of more important committees and still donned a suit and went as a male…
INT: Yeah. Did you struggle with that?
R: Yes, it was, it was a wrench to do it, but then I believe passionately in the work I do, so [LAUGHS] You see, this is the other thing, with me, and I would believe with anyone, being transgendered is… or going through the transgender process is important to me and everything like that, but it doesn’t have to be the sole important thing in my life.
INT: I couldn’t agree more.
R: I’ve got my thing, which is older people and whatever it… and the fact that I’m transgendered doesn’t affect anything I do for the older people stuff and that, in itself is, if you like, a power that makes me go on and the transgender thing is almost incidental to that. But, of course to me personally, it’s important, but I don’t think that it should be the be all and end all of my life, it shouldn’t be a purpose in life it should be just what you are doing while you have a purpose in life.
INT: Yes, no, I sometimes struggle with hearing myself talk about it too often and I just want… I’m sick of that, you know, I’ve had enough, it doesn’t even matter to me, you know, like on that level, yeah.
R: Yeah, I mean it matters to you personally…
INT: It matters to me that we have equal rights and that we…
R: Yeah, of course, yes, yes.
INT: … you know, that we help our community go through dealing with mental health as a result, mental health problems, it’s a result of discrimination, that kind of thing.
R: Of course, yes. I believe that and of course I belong to a lot of committees and things, I just went on Monday to the police committee that they’ve set up something to guide them through the way that they deal with people in custody and things like that, which is quite important and I’m sitting there with half a dozen others, giving them advice and making sure that they’re doing the right thing and they’re asking us because they really are open to doing it right. And that sort of thing is, from my point of view, double-edged because I’m doing it from the transgender community’s point of view and from those who are older people who are caught up in the transgender thing as well. I mean if an older person is arrested by the police, and they happen to be transgendered, then I’ve got to… I’m the only person there that can speak as one of them that could understand it and there was a case just recently of somebody who’s 73 years old, I think, was put into prison for a serious fraud and…
INT: I saw it in the papers…
R: … was transgendered. Yes, it was in the papers. And, although I never followed that case very closely, or anything like that. I have actually sat in on cases where transgendered people have been in court, for one reason or another, and just as an observer, to make sure that what is being done is within the law and within what we would call proper justice and it has changed now, but about six years go I went to an appalling case, where the police insisted on somebody who had been living for something like 8 or 10 years as a woman and very attractive too, young, was in court with a charge of assault against her, because she had been spat at by some people who knew she was transgendered, in a public place and beaten up by them, and she had retaliated and pushed one to the ground and then was accused by this person for assaulting them and the police took and an assault charge against her and in court referred to her as “him” with the male pronoun, the police did and the prosecution did and it was disgusting.
INT: I didn’t even understand this recent case why they even mentioned the transgender…
R: It had nothing to do with it.
INT: … it had nothing to do with the fraud…
R: It had nothing to do with the fraud whatever.
INT: … it’s a crime story, it’s not a transgender story.
R: Exactly! And I mean all right many of these are about somebody being harassed or somebody being abused or something like that, but in that case it was nothing to do with that at all and it just… that’s the newspapers, though, you have to deal with the press in a particular way and expect them to exaggerate things, I’ve had a dose of that myself.
INT: Have you?
R: Oh yes!
INT: What happened?
R: Oh, I don’t know. I did an article for a small magazine which is a sort of women’s magazine that people sort of pick up and read before they go off to bingo on a Thursday morning, you know. [LAUGHTER]
INT: Yeah, good fun.
R: And, it was… I had full editorial control and it came out as a nice article, it was okay, and that was that and that was in February of a year or so ago, and nothing more went on, and then the reporter who did it sold the article on, who’d done the interview with me, found that The Sun was interested in the article and rang me up and said “Well, The Sun’s interested in you, would you like to… would it be okay?” And I said “Well, let them pay a bit for me, you know,” so they paid a bit. Anyway, that was all right, but of course the next day I was headlines in The Sun as the oldest transgender person in the country or something like that, the oldest person going through the transgender process in the country and then the day after I was on Daybreak television and I was on BBC in the evening programme nationally and all sorts of places. And of course the next thing that happens is that, without anyone having disclosed my address, there are people knocking at my door from all the women’s magazines that, you know, the salacious ones that really… and they were doing a bidding war and it started with £1000 and it went to £2000, then £3000 and in the end I had an offer, I think of £5000 for an article. I turned every one of them down, because the more they pay the more they want, and they would want the whole of my family and all… you know…
INT: How did your family cope with you being on TV?
R: Not very well. [LAUGHS]
INT: No, of course.
R: They didn’t like to be sort of dragged into The Sun and the TV and things like that. They were all right and, you know, it’s… I have a daughter in Spain, who hit the roof and said “You’re letting…” you know, “You haven’t consulted the rest of us before you did all this” and I was guilty as charged, you know, they were right and I was wrong. So, I should have consulted them earlier and done all that sort of thing, but any how…
INT: Did she mean about the article or about your transition?
R: Oh, no, no, no, it’s about the article…
INT: Yeah. They’ve got no problem with your transition?
R: … about the fact that the family was… that my grandchildren would go to school and they’d say “Oh, your granddad’s in the…” you know. [LAUGHS] All that sort of thing. So, any how it’s all passed off and the family’s fine about it now, is okay. But I’m more cautious when mentioning them.
INT: Yeah, of course. How did they cope with your transition being that you transitioned later?
R: A little bit… I mean they knew that I had these tendencies, but they were a little bit surprised that I had taken such a bold step. But then, we’re a very close family, and tolerant of one another and these things work out and blow over and everything like that. So, I mean I go, at least once a week, and babysit for my eldest daughter and my grandchildren and things like that, you know, so there’s no problems with this. I got a lot of support from the family and I hope to be supportive back to them for their needs.
So, that, I mean I’ve sought… the family… the family side is personal to me, I don’t bring them into what I would publicly say, and that really is enough to say about them, that everything’s okay, because this, this is me rather than a family who are, if you like, exposed because of me. I don’t want them to be exposed because of me, I just want them to carry on with their lives in a normal way. They’ve accepted me the way I am and that’s the end of it really.
INT: Perfect. I mean how do you engage… you were saying that you don’t specifically hang out with transgendered people…
R: I don’t.
INT: No, no, so when you think about the issues that affect them, it’s just per chance that you run into trans people with your work?
R: Yes, excepting that of course I get involved with… I’ve been involved with Brighton Council on producing this thing that they produced last year about transgendered people having a positive policy. I was one of the witnesses that they consulted, there were about five or six of us that they consulted at length to get, you know, get the thing right and that really, that’s rather amusing, that started with a little thing that was set up before it, and they gave us a questionnaire and we sort of had to answer questions on the questionnaire and it was a Survey Monkey type thing and it was just hopeless because all it did, it asked questions about “Do we believe that abuse is wrong” and that sort of thing, you know. If you put a wrong answer you were obviously, you know, some bad citizen or something. And, at the end of it, as much by my instigation as anybody’s, we sent a message back to the council, “Next time we’ll ask the questions, you give us the answers”. To their credit the council woke up. They came back with a positive policy that they had pieced together, they consulted us at length about it, they put it together, they made a really good job of it. It can act now, because they’re probably the first city to do this sort of thing, it can probably act now as a prototype for any city in the country, in Europe, whatever, to adopt a properly thought out transgender policy which is not just tolerance, but something which is positive, accepts that this is part of their society, makes provision for it and also, in Brighton’s case, quite happy to attract older people who have retired and are transgendered, or going through transgender process, to come and live in Brighton because it’s more tolerant and more positive about these things. And that is the sign that they’re looking beyond just saying “We’ve got them here, we’ve got to look after them”, it’s saying “Let them come! Let them be here, because we’re the place to be” and I like that and that… I’ve met people, other transgendered people through that, I’ve met them through various sort of meetings I have like the meeting we had the other day with the police, and I get on well with them, of course, obviously. Because most of those I meet are people who are doing something beyond themselves for the community, they’re actually outward looking, hoping that they can do something to help, they’re not sitting there moaning about the problems, they’re actually saying “This is what we can do, let’s do it”. So I’m actually feeling quite buoyant about the community that we have in Brighton and I know that there are places where things aren’t quite so bright, I met somebody at the police meeting for the first time, who’s come from Crawley, and they’re opinion of the police and the council and that sort of thing, in Crawley is, you know, it’s not up to the Brighton standard and you probably expect that, anyway, because they haven’t got a recognisable transgender community there.
So, there’s a lot of other places which might sort of say, “Well, do we need to go as far as Brighton, because, you know, we’ve not got so many here,” but there are, they’re cropping up all over the place and surprise, surprise, any city or decent size town, if they really looked around, they would find a nice little community of sober, proper citizens living their lives, doing their thing, without being a nuisance or anything like that, but who have social needs that they haven’t properly catered for and they’re still sending them forms that says “Are you male or are you female” and that sort of thing, when the form has no relevance to male or female and that is the sort of thing that Brighton and Hove, I’m glad to say, have eliminated completely, it’s one of the first things they did, they said “Why should we be asking people if they’re male or female, if it doesn’t matter in the slightest”. Typical, you see, a lot of doctors surgeries, if you go in, and they have an appointments screen, a touch screen, as you go in, so you don’t have to go to the reception, and you can put your details in, and if you have an appointment, you know, it’s then logged in and they know on their computer that you’re in the building waiting for you appointment. First thing they ask you, “Are you male or are you female?” So, what do I say, because my doctor’s in charge of the fact that I changed from male to female and when I put female in, it says it can’t find me, when I put male in it says it can’t find me.
INT: Yeah, Murphy’s Law. [LAUGHTER]
R: So, basically, it’s immaterial, if you have an appointment at the doctors, does it matter whether you’re male or female? All your booking in is the fact that you have arrived for your appointment. And it’s those sort of things which we… they’re subtle things, but they are irritatingly abusive by their passivity against us. They have an assumption that we’re still outsiders from normal society and we want to break that assumption down, we want to make that assumption that we can be anything we need to be in society, and our gender is not that important.
INT: I know you advocate that the way to make change is by being pro-active. So I think you can probably measure this as one of those cases.
INT: Yes, that you have achieved the change that you were after.
R: Yes. My proper view is that not enough of us put our heads above the parapet, so to speak. The majority of transgendered people I meet are sensible, reasonably intelligent and well educated, they conduct themselves with a certain amount of pride and, you know, they don’t look like they’re down and outs, they don’t go drinking in bars and get drunk, they don’t take drugs and get found on a street corner, at least the ones I’ve come across don’t. We should be out there showing ourselves to society and setting the example, so that society accepts and say “Oh, that’s a nice person,” and says “Well, these transgendered people, they’re not weirdos, they’re nice, genuine citizens, amongst us” and that will do more to bring about, by example, the changes in attitude, social attitude of the general population than anything else, and that’s why I’m quite happy to get up on a national platform and make speeches, not about transgenderism, but about something else, because people there will say “I think that’s a transgendered person, oh well, that’s all right.” [LAUGHS] That’s the key to our future, we can’t go on pushing the legislation, legislation only works as far the people want to let it work. A good example of that is you drive around Brighton and Hove most of the people are doing more than 20 miles an hour.
INT: [LAUGHS] That’s true.
R: Because they’ve imposed something that people are not yet ready to accept and exactly the same we can do this with transgendered people can say “You mustn’t abuse us, you mustn’t do this, you mustn’t do that, it’s against the law” so what if it’s against the law, what are we doing to help? [LAUGHS] Where is our example to change people’s attitudes so that they’re happy to obey the law and I mean there.
I do know that it’s difficult for instance, for some transgendered people to get onto a beach and sit in a swimsuit and go swimming with other people around them. For me it’s okay, I’m okay, it’s… there are places and times and situations where it’s difficult, but on the other hand those that can, should, they should make the effort to do it and that is very, very important to the future of the generation that come after me, very much so, and I’ve only spoken mainly about male to female transgendered people because there’s so many in Brighton, particularly as female to male, and they are, if anything, in a slightly more difficult position, because although most of them are partnered, they have greater difficulties of acceptance within the female community, females sometimes turn on them and don’t like what they’re doing, and will say so, amongst themselves, females will say this and that is a problem they have, and my view… one of the reasons I went to the police thing the other day, was that I feel that should somebody who’s going through the transgender process from female to male, be taken into custody in a police station, that could give rise to certain embarrassments, certain problems, much more so than males to females.
So, that, I think, you know, we have to keep a watch out for all, you know, it’s not just for those who are like ourselves and particularly those who are unfortunate and stuck halfway, they are the people I feel most for, because they’ll never get the full… they’ll never make the full change and they will have a real problem for the rest of the their lives and those are the people who might to go to suicidal tenancies and things like that and we’ve got a figure of 36 people in every 1000 who are transgendered or transvestite – serious transvestite – transgendered or transgendered inclination, are serious suicide attempts, against something…
INT: 36 in 1000 did you say?
R: That’s the figure I’ve heard. 36 in 1000 against the national average for people, which I think is 4 per 1000. It’s a huge difference and that obviously has it’s roots in mental difficultly, I won’t say mental health, say mental conflict, but that has to be addressed by the mental health people anyway, in, you know, clinically, but that the overall picture should be addressed by all of us. If we can make those people feel more comfortable in life then they are going to feel that life is more worth living. If somebody has got to that state where they’re contemplating suicide, then we, generally have probably failed them, but clinically they need the help that a specialist can give them. So, there’s a responsibility on all of us for this. I haven’t heard of much in the way of suicide attempts or people feeling like being suicidal in the older age group, maybe they feel they’ve successfully lived their lives that long that…
INT: That’s interesting.
R: … it’s worth continuing. [LAUGHS]
INT: Yeah, that’s interesting.
R: Yeah. Well, there is a tendency for suicides to be in the age group from 19-25, that’s the most vulnerable time of life and that’s understandable, because people can’t come to grips with their mental state. Once they’re out of the care of their parents, so to speak, and having to look after their own responsibilities in life, some of them can’t get to grips with their own mental condition and so that happens at that particular time, and there’s conflicts of religion and all sorts of things like that. So, I can understand there being problems there, but I’ve not come across people who are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, who are transgendered or have transgender tendencies, thinking about suicide because of it. I mean there are people who lose a partner in life, and then go for suicide, but I have no cases to mind.
INT: I always wonder if things like the suicidal tendencies are due to external pressures put on transgendered people…
INT: … discrimination, difficulties finding employment, family pressures and so forth, rather than their mental health problems that personally derive from them.
R: Well, I think you’re quite right, I think there is a certain amount of external pressure, and you can well believe that if a family will disown a child, at the age of 19, because they can’t do anything else but go through transgender process, that I think can have an enormous effect on a young mind. But on the other hand, discrimination isn’t quite so bad as it was, even 10 years ago, it’s… we’ve got to the point where a person going through the transgender process with the support of the systems that were set up through psychiatry and NHS and everything like that, shouldn’t suffer too much abuse. Admittedly getting a job is a difficultly, and keeping a job at that young age, because it’s not easy to get a, or keep a job at that age anyway, and the fact that you’re transgender just makes it worse and it’s understandable, still, that some employers wouldn’t put a transgendered person on their reception desk, and things like that. There’s no reason why they should or shouldn’t, but I think in time this won’t matter, because some transgender people are very personable, very presentable and would make ideal reception people.
INT: It strikes me that you feel positive, it strikes me that you feel like change is happening.
R: It is. I’ve seen it move from the days that if I was seen outside, dressed as a woman, there were policemen patrolling the streets in those days, you know, you would walk down the street and you would see them, in Brighton, you’d see a policeman a couple of times in every street in the town, and if one of them realised that I was a man dressed as a woman, I would have been put in the nick overnight, brought before a magistrate in the morning, charged with offending public decency, and then probably sent off for medical treatment, which may have been electric shock treatment, had I, you know, had I not had a family or something to rescue me from it, you know, electric shock treatment, which they called aversion therapy [LAUGHS]
INT: Yeah. I’m adverse to it, believe me. [LAUGHS]
R: I know. I’ve gone from that age, when it was an unspoken sin to now, where we have a freedom that was unimaginable in those days and it’s so heartening to see that society has become tolerant of something that’s been there for centuries, at last become tolerant of it and accepts it and the Yogjakarta principles, I mean were done in 2001 or something like that, and they are gradually seeping through into all the various things that we do, it was a marvellous conference that set up the principles that transgendered people should expect from society anywhere in the world and that was, if you like, the first stone that caused the ripples and those ripples have come out and been picked up by society in places like Brighton and everything like that, and will as they go further, be picked and go… and in America there are cities that have come through to positive transgender policies and things like that and they’re doing brilliantly.
INT: I find most offensive, I guess one of the biggest things is the representation of transgendered people in the media…
R: Oh yes.
INT: … you know, it’s quite terrible.
R: It is, yes.
INT: And then I think that the other community group that you can say suffers from that largely as well, is the ageing population as well…
R: Oh of course, yeah.
INT: … so poorly… so do you see both of those two issues mirror each other in those communities?
R: Well, I can see that there are certain newspapers, I mean when I’ve appeared in newspapers, I’ve always insisted on having a lot of editorial control, I mean last year I did a two page article on the women’s page of the Daily Mail and quite happy to do so and they cooperated beautifully. But the media can pick on anyone that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and make a ridiculous situation about it and it’s very, very difficult to stop them doing that because what they’re after is readership and sensation and it’s only by somebody with the right force of character to keep them in check when they get hold of you, that will hold them back. If they get some unfortunate person in an unfortunate situation they’ll have them absolutely flayed alive and hung up to dry for everyone to see and that is, I’m afraid it happens not just with older people and transgendered people but for them it’s a good reason for doing it, that’s the trouble. Maybe in a few years time it won’t matter, I mean I’ve come across people who want desperately to do some sort of documentary about me and about me being transgendered, and I’ve said “That’s not the issue. You’ve seen them on television 3 or 4 times a year, again and again and again, it’s not news any more”. [LAUGHS] And they’ve gone away thinking and they’ve come back and said “So, what do you really want to do?” and it’s just because they haven’t sat down and thought, this is hackneyed, it’s gone it’s full circle, it’s gone too far and so now nobody’s bothered. It’s not a point of ridicule any more, because people say “So what?” It’s not like somebody giving birth to con-joined twins or something like that, is it? [LAUGHS]
INT: It’s probably less rare. [LAUGHS]
R: Exactly. Yeah, but you know what I mean, but one can understand the newspapers saying “This is news, this is of interest to people”, something like that, and maybe somebody who gives birth to quads, you know, it’s a nine-day wonder, but this sort of thing is so common place now that it isn’t news any more.
INT: Yeah, so maybe just to finish up then, Ruth, what do you think we’ve got left to do?
R: We’ve got public opinion to change and that basically only be done by example. It can only be done by us being out there in front of people, not in any way pretending to be something we’re not. Just… I live as a woman, I get treated as a woman, I’m happy as a woman, and my friends, you know, treat me… in every way respect me as a woman, but I’m still out there, and people still see me, and some people say, “Well, that’s not a woman” I don’t want them to have a bad opinion of somebody they think is not a woman. I want them to have a good opinion, I don’t mind that they think I’m not a woman, I mind that they think bad of me and that’s the important differentiation. I don’t want to have to pass in every single case and every single person, it’s not possible, you can’t fool all the people all of the time, but you can make a good impression on all of the people all of the time and that’s the important part of it and if we all do that, then society comes round and says “These people are nice people,” and it could be just the same with somebody, if you suddenly had an influx of Norwegians come to this country, if they’re all nice people, we’d accept them.
INT: That’s an interesting… I like your positivity, Ruth. Thank you for your time, thank you.
R: Oh, well I’m very pleased to talk to you.
INT: Thank you very much.