Having only put my head above the trans parapet in recent months, I guess it is a crime in my community not to have heard of Juliet Jacques. But guilty I am on that count, and indeed her name only cropped up when a friend told me she had done an interview with Arron Bastani of Novara Media and the discussion was well worth watching. She then sent me a link to the YouTube recording, which I then watched.
Juliet was very eloquent, and I was very impressed.
As it happens, the same close friend had recently given me a book as a gift, and then I twigged that the same Juliet Jacques indeed wrote "Trans A Memoir". So the moment I had finished the book I was reading, Juliet’s became the next book to pick up.
And the sad part was I struggled with the first half of the book.
The first chapter was great explaining her surgery in pretty graphic detail. While I fully appreciated her fears and apprehension; the surgery she had was not the same as mine, so I could not relate to all her physical post-surgery pain. There are many ways to skin a cat, of course!
What surprised me was she did not have to suffer electrolysis in the genital area probably because her surgeon uses the ‘skin scrape’ method. I know this practice works for some trans patients, but if it goes wrong, the prospect of infections and pain for life is something, I would be a bit concerned about.
Juliet was also lucky in regards to facial hair removal. Dark hair like hers will laser off successfully, but not lighter hair like mine and electrolysis in the lip is not for the faint-hearted.
It is from chapter 2 that the book goes wrong for me. This chapter reverts to Juliet’s younger days, and I got a tad lost, especially with the 101 different bands she seemed to follow.
And this is not Juliet’s fault but down to the fact that I did not go to uni to experience “the scene” and have never really been into her preferred music tastes. It is also of course down to our age gap…I am probably older than her parents. In my day “The Beatles” and of course the amazing, phenomenal, brilliant “Queen” are my music God’s.
Juliet’s love of football, both playing and supporting Norwich City also surprised me a little. I don’t recall she said this in the book - but I am wondering if football was her blanket to try and avoid her femininity. In my experience, men questioning often do more masculine things to prove their manhood.
Here a point of order: I am not suggesting women's footballers are in any way masculine. It just there are in the UK more men's teams than women's. Also on a personal note I would add, Englands women's football team are in my opinion much more fun to watch than the men's team, but I digress.
I have also wondered looking back if my cricket playing or to be exact fielding at silly point without a helmet was my attempt to prove to myself that I “was a man”.
Juliet’s book comes alive for me in the second half once settling in Brighton. She describes her hand to mouth experiences brilliantly, and her mundane work at Legal & General (L&G) was soul-destroying. But again, there was a surprise. I thought Brighton was the LGBT+ capital without issues of harassment or attacks. Indeed, I spent some time there a couple of years ago, and while I was very concerned about all the homelessness, I must admit I never experienced any problems. Perhaps I was not there long enough to know.
After working at L & G Juliet then skips to irregular work mainly in NHS admin, and like many trans, people suffer depression and a low sense of worth. Writing her suicide note struck cords with me and looking back I am sure Juliet is just so pleased she made the decision not to go through with it because - where there is life – there is hope.
Indeed, given the success Juliet Jacques has had coming from the bottom to the top, she proves this point only so well and is a huge inspiration to trans folk currently feeling their life is worthless.
I share Juliet’s view on the Real-Life Experience test and the fact that she decided not to come out to her grandparents somewhat validates my actions of not telling my mum also in her 90’s.
The heart-warming bit though is her parent’s reaction to her transition and that while her mum was a bit reticent at first, her dad gave support almost from day one. Here I reflected on Madison-Amy Webb's experience of total rejection and shed a tear for her. The tears rolled; however, when Juliet’s mum took Juliet to the lingerie shop and asked the assistant to measure “her daughter” for some new bra’s.
This short section was perhaps the highlight of the book for me. Nothing in transition can beat the feeling of acceptance by your parents I suspect, but so many trans people lose their mum and dad and this self-destruct disaster is just so sad for all concerned.
Juliet sums up the experience with these telling words “Now I could see that she understood my transition as a process in which far more had been gained than lost”
This is the second book in a row that I have read that the writer gives reference to Julia Serano. I am now thinking after reading her book “Whipping Girl” that perhaps Julia is the major world authority of all thing trans & gender.
Because our trans journeys have been so very different Juliet using the NHS route, myself fortunate to be able to go private, there is little I can relate to, except perhaps the day of surgery. I can also refer to the eventual fulfilment of that operation, albeit that because of my age and circumstances; I went for the more comfortable option.
So, to sum up, Trans A Memoir.
Juliet Jacques, although I did not know it due to my sheltered trans life… is a legend.
Trans A Memoir will work far better for younger music minded trans person than it did for me. But I was young once and hopefully still “think young”. So it most certainly is a book well worth reading, and I wish Juliet continued success as she branches out to cover her other loves such as art and culture.