INT: Please introduce yourself to me.
S: Okay. My name’s Sam and I live in Brighton, in Hanover, which is a quirky little bit of Brighton, on the side of the hill, where all the… all the carless green people live, supposedly. Muesli Mountain is it’s other name. It’s kind of renowned for being quite left wing and liberal. I think there’s quite a lot of queer people here too.
INT: There’s quite a lot of trans people.
S: I think there probably are quite a lot of trans people, yeah.
INT: Sam, you said to me that you had some key issues you’d like to talk about.
S: Sure. Yeah, the things I thought would be good to cover that might be sort of unique, are transitioning with children, or having kids as a trans person. Being a Christian and being a doctor, all of which are sort of silos of my life, which I try to maintain some integration in, but it’s not always possible.
So, yeah, kids. I think I… actually the kids and Christianity kind of tie together really, because over the last couple of years, as I’ve transitioned, I’ve realised that one of the reasons that I didn’t do this a long time ago, is because of the sort of weight and pressure of being brought up in a right-wing, conservative, Catholic family, but also the fact that I really wanted kids and even from a young age, I knew that I wanted to have children and my world view was so narrow that the only conceivable way to have children would be if I grew up, got married and had them in the very sort of conventional, normal way. So that’s what I did. But in the process I kind of brutalised myself and I don’t think I… well, it’s not fair to say I haven’t done my kids any favours because if I hadn’t made the decision I made, they wouldn’t even exist. So I guess, yeah, looking at it with the retrospect-o-scope, I’m glad I had them, but their life is made much more complicated by the fact that I’m a trans person and that’s quite tough. Whereas if… had I transitioned prior to having children, and raised a family in a different way, then, you know, at least my kids wouldn’t have this sort of monumental change to deal with, in their lives and… so I feel quite burdened by that. I feel quite guilty a lot of the time, and I think it’s, in some ways, having children is a good thing, because it slowed me down a bit and made me, you know, quite introspective every step of the way. It’s not just myself I take into account when I’m making a decision, or taking the next step on a path, I have to like, you know, consider the world being of three dependent people, three little people at the same time, and my transition has probably happened much more slowly because of that, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
So, yeah, and I mean there are lots of… there are plenty of trans people with kids out there, but the majority of them tend to be transwomen who’ve been married when they were living as male and had children and their circumstances are often very different, they’ve usually separated from their children at the time of transition or beforehand, and their relationships with their kids suffer, probably far more than mine has. Fortunately in this country, fortunately for me anyway, children tend to stay with their mother at the same of separation and there was no question about whether my children would stay with me or not. Although there have been some implications from some members of my family that my kids would be better off without me, which is really painful and, yeah, wrong…
S: [LAUGHS] Not true, not true, categorically not true, but painful none the less. So, yeah, a good example of that is one of my sisters, when I was discussing feeling suicidal, which I think is a common theme amongst trans people and I said… there’s a stock phrase that I’ve used a few times when trying to describe, you know, my decisions or maybe trying to justify myself, which I shouldn’t have to do, but often find myself having to do. I think I said something along the lines of my kids are better off with a transitioned parent than a dead one. At which point my sister looked at me, and said “I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s true”. She said, “I think if you proceed to have surgical treatment for this then you will do your children untold psychological damage, which maybe far worse than that of suicide.” So, yeah, that was pretty confronting and painful to hear, but, you know, in some ways, although I find that stuff very hard it’s not a bad thing, because it is such a massive decision isn’t it, and as I said earlier, it’s more poignant when there are dependent people on board and their lives and sort of mental health and well being are affected by this. It’s not a bad thing for me to stop and take stock and really think about that, even though it was painful.
Well, is there any truth in that, that my children are better off without me than with me transitioning? Obviously, I came to the conclusion that my kids are far better off with a parent who’s alive and able to care for them, than one who isn’t, but it did make me think about the psychological impact of surgery for example, and that’s quite a significant thing. I… all my children were breast-fed for example, and so we as a family have got to go through a little bit of sort of mourning and grieving and loss about that because there is a part of me that is really attached to them through the modality of breast-feeding, I don’t like having breasts and I never have, but I do love the fact that you can grow a baby on the end of one, that’s amazing. They actually get bigger, just because of how you feed them. So that’s quite cool.
INT: It’s very cool. [LAUGHTER]
S: So, that’s some of the negative stuff, but there’s been a lot of positive stuff, having kids has made, in a way, has… it’s taught me a lot about sort of humanity and people’s capacity to adapt. You know, children are immensely sort of adaptable, their brains are still very plastic compared to adult brains. And my children were other people’s biggest concern when I first started out on this journey, and yet they’re probably, they’re probably the people in my life who have accepted this most easily and sort of integrated my transition into their life.
So, the one standing behind me, for example is like a little Hitler with other people, you know, she corrects their pronouns and…
SH Yeah, she, she’s pretty merciless about it.
S: Yeah. And they all… and most of the kids are really used to saying things like “mum” and “he” in the same sentence without any difficulty, whereas other people really struggle with that. And we’d have conversations from time to time about losing the words “mum”, “mummy”, and “mother” but I don’t want to impress that upon them. Sometimes I get very dysphoric about it, other times I can cope with it, but we… when we discuss it, it’s usually… we usually come to the conclusion that they can call me whatever they feel comfortable with and they do, so they call me varying… they call me a various choice of names, including Sam, Sam-jam, Mum, SJ, all kinds of things, all of which feel quite comfortable. But they do do some hilarious things, for example if anybody rings up asking for me in my old name, they’ll usually say something quite facetious, like “No, she’s dead” or “She doesn’t live here any more” or “Don’t know who you’re talking about”.
Yeah, so, yeah, they’re pretty useful people to have around. If I’m not feeling strong enough to put people right, they will, they’ll certainly do it for me.
INT: Sam, did your profession interact with how you took on your transitioning…
S: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was a disaster! I think one of the reasons I didn’t transition earlier is because of being… because I’m a doctor and I think the medical profession… the only other profession that I’ve encountered that I think are as conservative, sort of with such a narrow world view and frankly prejudice is the legal profession, funnily enough and it… I got to thinking that maybe sort of the more educated you are, tend to be public school background, sort of from upper middle class sort of echelon of society, you do have a much narrower world view and again I think Christianity comes into play, being sort of, you know, from a right-wing conservative family myself, I can see that. Yeah, just the idea that “these people, they’re out there and their sort of on the fringe and they’re nothing to do with me”, that’s how doctors think. I know how a white, male, middle class, heterosexual, privileged doctor thinks, because that’s actually who I am and that’s my context and my background so I understand how they think and why they think the way they do. It was absolutely petrified of people’s reaction in the workplace. So it took me… I basically got to the point where I was already to leap under a train and it was suicidal idealisation that drove me to eventually get on and do the formal transition at work. I was terrified of how people would react and I was right. I was right to be terrified of it because there was a bad reaction and people did persecute me and I’ve spent the best part of the last 18 months, you know, fighting that. So, it’s been really hard.
I think the medical model of gender dysphoria is still a mental health one, sadly, and doctors, unless they know better, have a kind of almost a knee-jerk reaction, you know, we’re mad, we’re a little bit mad, and we’re not really… we’re not one of them. And prejudice is really covert these days, you don’t see it, you know, it’s not… it’s like an invisible snaky type thing that you can’t quite get a handle on, but when people just start to exclude you or treat you differently and it took me a while to figure that it was actually happening, but it was. I find that really regrettable, but I also think that it spurred me to want, you know, to do something to make changes. I do know other doctors that have transitioned and most of them tend to keep their heads below the parapet and not really try too hard to make a great deal of difference. But, in, you know, the small amount of trans-activism that I am involved in that’s one of my biggest soapboxes, educating my colleagues.
My GP was probably the worst. I think lots of people, or trans people have had that experience and, you know, as a medical colleague I’ve got a real handle on what goes on on the inside and what’s going through someone’s head and I found that really shocking actually.
Yeah, so it’s a shame isn’t it? It’s a shame.
INT: And is your Christianity visible in the workplace and did that place into it at all?
S: No. I have [LAUGHS] I think it’s… I find it harder to be out as a Christian than as a trans person. Oddly enough I find it really difficult to be out as a Christian in LGBT circles and I find it very difficult to be, you know, openly, well, I don’t really have much choice, it’s kind of written on my forehead, but I do find it difficult in Christian circles to talk about my trans status. But in the workplace, my Christianity, no, that wouldn’t have been… I wouldn’t have been particularly open about it, not particularly fervent, I’m not one of those kind of evangelical, crazy Christians, I just have a very strong faith which has always sort of held me and kept me going and actually probably has been… is the reason I’m still alive.
So, it’s important to me that we recognise that people… that trans people can be Christian and there’s no… there are no barriers, apart from our own barriers of shame and other people’s treatment of us, I guess, you know, which is pretty horrendous, a lot of the time. But I can trace my spiritual journey if you like, as an adult. It kind of mirrors my transition, you know, so in other words, the closer I am to God or the divine or the universe or whatever you want to call, you know, a higher power – people use all kinds of names, there’s something out there bigger than us, I believe – the closer I am to that the more I’m able to make this journey, like to authenticity and it kind of makes sense to me because if you look at early church Christian teaching about the desert hermits, the early church fathers who wrote about the nature of God, they would say that knowledge of God or the divine is equal to knowledge, sort of deep interior knowledge of the self. So it kind of makes sense to me then that the closer I feel to God or the divine, the closer I am to being true to myself. So I’ve never felt, unlike a lot of people who are trans, Christian, or gay and Christian, I’ve never felt that who I am is fundamentally wrong, and I’ve never felt that it precludes me from participating in, you know, Christian church, or any other religious practice. But I know a lot of people do feel that, I know they feel as though they’re two things, that are sort of completely incompatible and that has got an awful lot to do with the fact that Christianity, in particular, is deeply, deeply homophobic and, by definition, transphobic. I mean they wouldn’t even make the separation, that’s what’s really fascinating. And it’s like walking into some antiquated environment where they’ve never even heard of some of the language that we use and trying to explain to people, you know, who I am and what that means when all they can think is God created man and woman and you can’t have mixtures of the two, or anything in between, or extreme opposites, you know, it’s really hardcore. You’re trying to unpick someone’s earliest sort of value set if you like, and that’s quite hard.
So that process had to happen inside me first, obviously, which was pretty hard, that’s probably when I was at my lowest in terms of, yeah, coming out, you know, when I felt most suicidal was when I was trying to sort of shed that, you know, you have to kind of pare everything you believe down to the ground and start all over again, which was pretty hard work. But it’s worth doing…
INT: Yes, I was about to say, but you kept your Christianity.
S: Yeah, I did, I did because… but I didn’t need to try, as I said earlier, just that sense of the more I make this journey and the more I transition… the further I go down the path of transitioning, the closer I feel to God, so it kind of makes sense then that I would maintain some kind of religious practice in, sadly, the church that I grew up in, which is the Catholic church, which is about the worst one really. But that is where I’ve had my earliest and deepest spiritual experiences, so I still do. I still go there and meet God, or have spiritual experiences, so I wouldn’t give that up, because it’s important to me to have that aspect to my life if you like. Without a spiritual… without a spiritual dimension, I just think life wouldn’t be quite as rich, or deep, or meaningful. So, yeah, I do… but it’s kind of, you know, it’s an ongoing battle, because people’s faces are enough, you know, to make you want to turn around or walk straight out again, some days.
But then, again the kids are really amazing because they have quite a strong faith and they do what we call bi-location, they go to several different churches, they just pick and choose where it feels good and [LAUGHTER] and where they’re going to enjoy themselves and where the nicest looking boys are and stuff like that. And they… you know, so they kind of go ahead of me and sometimes, you know, I’ll get a letter that I need to sign and one of them will say “Oh, I told them you were my dad, is that okay?” Stuff like that, you know, so they’re doing half the work for me these kids.
If everyone who was trans or LGBT left their church, if everyone left then how would Christians ever learn or change, how will the churches ever change? Yeah. Later on this year, after I have my gender recognition certificate, I plan to write to the Pope, because they’re… the biggest challenge for me would be to be recognised as a man in the Catholic church and to be allowed to marry as a man in the Catholic church. I think it’s quite a big ask. There is a precedent, there’s one case in 2009 of a trans-woman who married her partner in a Catholic church and it’s… but they did it… the priest did it against the Vatican’s wishes. That’s pretty brave.
INT: It’s cool. [LAUGHS]
S: Yeah, it is cool. I think I am a bit of a maverick as a person, regardless of, you know, that’s not why I’m transitioning but it’s a good job that I have that characteristic because it does… it keeps my head above water, being prepared to break the mould and, you know, just be a little bit brave and go places where other people haven’t been. Because we all stand on the shoulders of giants, don’t we, and, you know, if we… if we’re prepared to do this stuff then someone else won’t have to in another 20 or 30 years’ time and I really like that. Maybe having kids makes that more real as well, you know, I wouldn’t want any of my children to go what I’ve been through, in terms of persecution and yeah, or anyone else’s kids that I know and I know some kids who are Christian who are clearly gay, or trans, trans and I just thought they’re not going to have the same struggles that I’ve had or the same rejection, yeah. So why not do what, you know. My only motive when I do stuff that seems to be kind of a bit wild or revolutionary, my only motive is myself, I’m not selfless enough to have a grand, altruistic motive [LAUGHS] but actually one of my psychotherapists made that point some years ago. He said “Whatever changes you make, whatever you do, if you do it for yourself then you’ll be driven and it’ll happen. If you try and do it… if you’re motive is, you know, that kind of selfless, I’m going to change the world, you’ll break yourself in the process and you’ll kids will suffer” and at the time I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to see myself as something a bit bigger and braver and than that, but actually I really get it. So, for example I’m in the midst of an employment tribunal in the workplace, you know, I’ve got good relationships with my boss and the people that have acted in prejudicial ways towards me, in fact I think they’re quite supportive of me going to tribunal, they’re quite respecting because they’re beginning to see that there is an issue. But the reason I’m doing it is because I want the recognition, I want it to be seen… I want it written in black and white, that there’s… that I’ve been discriminated against, on account of my gender… on account of my trans status. I just want to see that for my own self-worth and self respect. If, in the process I manage to make a bit of case law and change history in one tiny way, that’s great, but that… I can’t afford for that to be my motive.
INT: It’s still pretty great.
S: It is great.
INT: It’s great.
S: Yeah. Yeah, that’s kind of crept up on me, yeah. So, kids, religion and medicine.
INT: I think you have an incredibly gorgeous home, two incredibly polite and obviously well educated kids…
S: That’s my third one, coming in now.
INT: … that you sound brave. That you must show some extraordinary level of strength and capacity to be able to do what you do.
S: Yeah, I don’t know, like you…
INT: I do.
S: … just do your life, don’t you. Like your life is what sort of arrives on your doorstep and you just do it, don’t you? I occasionally I have a glimpse, I’m like “Oh yeah” and I seem to have quite a lot on my plate but sometimes I just go under. I can be found sort of quivering in a corner, going “How the fuck did I end up here?” But yeah, I think you just… most of us just do our lives, like what arrives in front of you is what you deal with. People who know me well would suggest that I seek stuff, like I look for it, or invite it, like hardship or the battles, but I’m not aware of that, but then that would be boxing with my shadow self, and none of us are aware of what our shadow sides are, so maybe that is exactly what I do. Maybe that’s what keeps me going, I don’t know. But I do, I have to say, I do relish the battle, I do relish that and I’m aware that it gives you a boost in self esteem, when you stand up for yourself against somebody, and that happens in every aspect of life, whether you’re a trans person fighting for recognition in society or whether you’re a parent who’s 12 year old is being a little shit, and you know, you need to stand up to them or whether you’re, yeah, a million other things, a million other places and times of life we need to just stand up for ourselves don’t we, and you feel good if you do it, you do, you feel good.
INT: I’m addicted to it.
S: What, to standing up for yourself? [LAUGHS] Do you think maybe if you’re quite small you do it even more?
INT: Take it easy, tiger!
S: I’m small, you’re even smaller than me.
INT: That’s why I’m standing up for myself.
S: Yeah right. Yeah, funny isn’t it? But it has to be done and I didn’t do it for a long time, and it took transitioning to get me to do it as well, I didn’t stand up for myself before that, at all. In fact I was, yeah, I was in a really unfortunate relationship for a long time for a long time, getting the crap beaten out of me. So I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. And I think that’s a mark of not coming out actually. Of hiding in the closet, because you’re self-worth is so low, your self-esteem is so crap you’re prepared to sort of tolerate almost anything and that’s another aspect of religion which is ugly. I stayed in a marriage for much longer than I should have because you don’t get divorced in the Catholic church, you just suck it up. But it took a couple of priests to say “It’s all right, you know, if you’re having the crap beaten out of you, it’s really okay to leave the marriage”. It took quite a lot of, yeah. I guess I was the first time I stood up for myself and that was quite recent really. So, haven’t always been like this.
INT: It’s been an extraordinary journey.
S: Yeah, and it’s not over, but I definitely feel as though I’m on the downhill run, like things are getting easier. Actually I had a funny dream quite recently about my life and or specifically about transitioning, but it was like one of those kind of existential moments of recognition and I was in the Grand Canyon, which I have visited a couple of times in my life, it’s a beautiful place and I’m really transfixed by it, actually, because it’s the opposite of a mountain. If you climb a mountain, you get all the hard work out the way at the beginning and then you’ve just got to descent, which is easy. Whereas the Grand Canyon it’s like you can trot down, it’s easy to get down, and then you’ve got all the… you get a rest at the bottom, overnight if you want, there’s a ranch down there, and a beautiful river, it’s very hot, and then you’ve got to climb out again and it’s a nightmare. But somehow you wouldn’t be doing that journey at all if you didn’t you were equipped to get the hell out. Whereas if you’re going up a mountain, you can always just come down after. The Grand Canyon’s really different, it’s the opposite of a mountain and the exhilaration is in the second half of the journey.
Anyway, I had this like… yeah, so in this dream I was at the bottom, I’d had the easy run down. I was at the bottom taking some rest, and getting some cool water and then I had the hardest part of the journey ahead and yet somehow I knew I was equipped for it and that it would be more exhilarating than the decent. Isn’t that coo?
INT: So, at least you’re listening to yourself.
S: Yeah, yeah, it was… yeah, I was kind of… I was blown away by it, it’s like wow, that’s an amazing kind of, yeah, image for my life right now. And then I was like “Shit! Have I really done the easiest task? Is it really going to get harder?” I think maybe…
INT: It’s absolutely not.
S: Well, I think maybe in a way I was a looking at like the physicality of like… like in terms of transitioning, the hardest part I think is socially transitioning, and living your life like in a male role before you’ve had any treatment. Like I’m only just recently started taking hormones and surgery will happen in the next year or two. So physically it’s going to get harder, but actually in here, in here, emotionally, mentally it’s not going to be nearly as hard. I can see that.
INT: As someone who works within the medical system, how do you feel about the two year wait that’s imposed on trans people before they’re allowed to have their…
S: Interesting, I’ve been reflecting on this lately, because I had a choice obviously, as a doctor, I could afford to go privately, and I did see a private physician at the beginning but I decided that I would go with the NHS system, partly because actually breaks, breaks in the journey have been good for me, like those moment where you take a breath and you can’t do something because you’re just on a waiting list, and those are moments when you maybe plateau psychologically and you need to actually breakthrough some other psychological barrier or some, you know, letting go of some shame, or some crap from the past or some family stuff you need to deal with. So the slowness of that journey, I’d really appreciated it, ironically, and sadly I’m going to plump on the side of my medical colleagues and say that it’s really okay and I do say that to people who are really desperate, like if you… I meet so many trans people who are desperate to make physical changes and, you know, the transition is 95% is all the mental and emotional stuff, like letting go of the fact that you’ve been raised amongst women, in my example, but you don’t really understand them and realising that you haven’t got all that nurture to equip you for a life amongst men, so actually you’re always going to end up somewhere in between, but that’s okay, and you know, all this stuff is, and if you’re just leading an ordinary life, all this stuff’s going on beneath the surface and I’ve been lucky enough to have good therapy and, you know, work my way through a lot of it, but I have to say if I didn’t… hadn’t done that, in a work, I think I’d be in a much worse state and I think sometimes that’s why people are in a bad way when they’re transitioning because they haven’t had the time or the capacity or the resources to do that psychological work. And so the only thing I would say about the medical system is there just is not enough psychotherapeutic help, that’s what I think.
It would be nice if the waiting lists were a bit shorter and if there was more access, all of those things would be nice, but you see that across the NHS, it’s true of any kind of medical provision in this country. I think the thing that’s sadly lacking is the psychotherapeutic help. And I think it’s very difficult for a lot of people to live in role without any medical treatment, but I think it’s probably crucial to do it. So, yeah, there’s the conservative in me coming out, sadly.
INT: I know that it’s not even the waiting list, but it’s the two years… now we should watch your time
S: A few minutes. Yeah, the two years, you mean two years in role before you can have… yeah. I don’t know, I mean effectively the waiting times mean that that’s how long it takes anyway, so it’s…
INT: But that’s not why it’s there.
S: No. That’s not. It’s… no, it’s not. But it’s not, it’s not that rigid either. I mean I know that I’ve been… I’ve been told that after a year or hormones I can have surgery and that’s, yeah, I don’t know if that’s because I’m special or different, or if that’s what everyone’s told. I really don’t know. But I will challenge the system if I find that I’m being treated differently to other people, that would really make me mad. That would really make me mad! What I do know is that the gender clinics are doing an amazing job, and the guys that work there are stuck between a rock and a hard place, they’re almost as much maligned by the rest of the medical fraternity because they help trans people and the rest of the medical fraternity think we’re all mad and shouldn’t have our treatment on the NHS. So, you know, they suffer trans-phobia as well, so their worthy of our respect and the battles they’re fighting, you know. As far as we’re concerned they’re not doing enough, but as far as the rest of the medical fraternity and half the NHS believes, they’re doing way too much to help a bunch of mad people. So more power to the gender clinics. I’d like to get our own one in Brighton, if I could achieve that before I die I’ll have done a good thing.
INT: Thank you for your time.
S: No, that’s all good.