We are all different, and we all have a story.
I am publishing mine online so you, the reader, can get an idea of what it is like to have been born trans, in other words, with a brain that was not in sync with my body.
I was born in 1952 when food rationing was still in existence. I lived with my parents, together with my older sister, in an old, cold, four-roomed cottage, deep in the English countryside. We did not have a car, bathroom, or even an inside toilet, so bath time was on a Friday night by the living room fire in a long tin bath. Going to the loo meant a trip down the garden to a galvanised iron shed in which there was a toilet seat secured to a wooden frame with a metal bucket underneath, which my father would regularly empty into holes dug into the surrounding farmland. And, of course, there was the stench. My father was a land worker, my mother a part-time cleaner for the local gentry (posh people), and without question, we were poor.
One of my first memories, probably at the age of four or five, was asking my mother for a dancing skirt, and she kindly obliged with one of my sister’s old skirts. It was a typical fifties cotton flared skirt, primrose yellow with blue and white flowers. Being seven years younger than my sister, it was way too big, so my mum would secure it around my waist with a safety pin. It was far too long as well, but this added to the twirling sensation and fun that I had dancing to fifties songs on the wireless (radio). By the age of seven, my dad had built an extension to our home. We now had a bathroom, and I no longer had to share a bedroom with my parents.
My sister got promoted to the newly built bedroom, and finally, I got my own bedroom. This was very convenient for me because my sister's first bedroom had very loose and broken floorboards, meaning I had a hiding place for all the clothes I had started to steal from her. At night I would remove her clothes from under the floorboards, trying them on, fantasising that I was going to grow into a beautiful young woman.
I remember always staring at my sister's blue Girl Guides uniform. I was desperate to wear it, but I knew that I could not get away with wearing or stealing that.
At the age of ten, I remember being carried from the netball court by my school’s headmistress after being accidentally kneed in the stomach while jumping for the ball. I wanted to play in the netball team but could not, of course, because I was a 'boy'.
Looking back, I was fortunate that my parents understood my gender issues from day one. Most parents in those days would have certainly tried to beat it out of their kids or seek medical help, eventually possibly resulting in electric shock treatment, which was commonplace in my younger days.
I guess I was left alone at our home for the first time when I was about twelve years of age. I don’t recall where my parents and sister went, but I do recall where I went; I walked through the village, wearing, of course, my sister’s clothes.
At secondary school, many of my friends were girls, and my friend Ann suggested I became a hairstylist once leaving school, an idea that worked for me. With my parent’s agreement, I made an application to the local Technical College, and both my mum and dad came with me for the initial interview. In the waiting room was a very pretty tall girl accompanied by her mother. She, too, was waiting for an interview as a student hairdresser. I smiled, and she blushed profusely. We were engaged within two years and married two years later, I was twenty, and Linda was just nineteen.
After my hairdresser training, I went on to work for several big companies ending my time in the beauty industry, working for a global brand. For me, my hairdressing & make-up skills were, of course, particularly useful.
Linda (Lin), my wife, knew from early on that I was trans; we had loads of fun, often going out shopping as sisters as I could typically “pass” reasonably easily. We built a very successful retail business together, which very conveniently provided flats above the shops we rented, meaning I could dress femme pretty much whenever I wanted, and Lin later extended the flats use to become safe havens where men from across the area would come and secretly crossdress away from their families. Some wanted to be schoolgirls and brides, of course, but for most, it was a case of wearing a dress, having a coffee, or for the very brave, going out for a shopping experience.
Our marriage lasted 27 years before we parted, with Lin very suddenly deciding that she was fed up with one trans guy (I use the word 'guy' loosely), leaving myself and surprisingly our three kids for a new cross-dressing partner.
I was shattered.
Sadly, a few years after we split up, Lin developed a highly aggressive cancer, and I, together with my kids, were at her bedside the day she died. The ruby and diamond ring that Lin gave me for my fortieth birthday (pictured) remains to this day, my favourite piece of jewellery.
Immediately after Lin and I split up, my trans strengths came to the fore! I became mum and dad looking after my sons and daughter (aged just seven), pretty well given the circumstances.
Around one year later, I meet Jen, and we fell instantly in love. We were engaged within a few weeks, and Jen, with her two daughters, moved in with us, making us a family of seven. Jen and I married as soon as my divorce was completed, and we are still very much in love.
Jen is a wonderful woman who had completely lost faith in the 'normal man'. Her previous marriage, like mine, ended in an unhappy divorce, which is always sad. At the time of our meeting, I suspect Jen subconsciously felt she would be 'safer' with a partner from the soft side of the male spectrum. While Jen was looking for a man and coming out to her early in our relationship was initially a shock to her, I think she quickly realised that love conquers all and that a kind, considerate and caring person (which I am told, I am) was the type of partner that worked for her,
Our style of marriage may seem unconventional, but you marry a person, not a gender, and to have a partner who can fix cars, cut hair, and do all the sewing is pretty useful. We do everything together, from going for long walks (we cover about twenty miles a week) to sharing dresses. We love going to the theatre and eating lovely meals at great restaurants, the Coach at Marlow being our favourite. We are big foodies at home too. We eat very clean... lots of fruit and vegetables, very little meat, and I strictly ration myself in regards to alcohol and chocolate, which like most women, I adore! I drink loads of water too... my complexion is very important to me.
And shopping, well, we have crowned ourselves world champions sniffing out bargains (mainly dresses, shoes and tops) at one hundred yards, and when we seek each other’s opinion on an item, we know we are getting an honest review.
I often feel sorry for a woman on a shopping spree with a cis man. Sat outside the changing rooms, they invariably resemble a row of newly convicted prisoners about to suffer a root canal filling!
Over the years, I have learned nature can be very unkind. Our first grandson died very suddenly; he was just 26 days old, and our third grandson is autistic. Life has been cruel to Jen as well. Eight years ago, she suffered ovarian cancer, and five years ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which she has miraculously survived. I was with her every step of the way.
In 2010 Jen and I agreed I should go onto hormones. Because of a very concerning prostate issue, I was already on testosterone blockers, and I wanted peace with my true gender. I was by then 58 and became very much aware that life was slipping me by and that while almost everyone knew me as male, in reality, both Jen and I knew my female side dominated me. I was not quite in the depths of despair, but Jen knew I had been very patient in sorting out my gender dysphoria issues and had always looked after our family first.
Coming out to my excellent female GP (EW, thank you) was not easy, but she instantly confirmed she would prescribe me oestrogen subject “to passing the necessary psychiatric tests”.
From that point, I began to learn why so many trans people (up to 30%) commit suicide and understand why NHS help is almost non-existent.
Estimates suggest that in the UK, trans suicides could be as high as 1500 people per year, many of them very young. It is such a waste of life.
While I was exceedingly lucky in being able to handle my dysphoria for most of my life, most trans people simply cannot. In my case, I was able to tell myself I was 'special' and that being able to be a man or a woman was a gift. But eventually, even this mindset is broken.
Being trans becomes all-consuming - an ever-pressing, natural obsession with becoming your true self eventually explodes to the surface.
I can only beg parents that if their young (school-aged) son or daughter declares they have gender issues, to take it seriously, be kind and accept what they are saying maybe valid, but equally may not. Young girls, in particular, have a history of not liking their body and saying they want to be a man but later change their mind. In my experience, the crunch ages are often at around seven and then just before or after puberty. Please do not consider puberty blockers without taking expert advice. Click HERE to see my view on them. Equally, some folk find their correct gender later in life through cross-dressing; it does not matter what route a trans person takes... so long as they are happy.
No one knows for sure, of course, exactly how many trans people live in the UK, but most estimates suggest that about 1% of the population are trans, meaning about 650,00 people, roughly the population size of Manchester.
Using the NHS route, trans people with Gender Dysphoria are referred to a Gender Identity Clinic. There are very few in the country, and the wait even for the initial appointment often runs into some years. I gave up waiting after one year and paid to go private. Luckily, I had the money, but most trans people do not, and if I add up the cost of my transition over the last ten years, it is close to £35k.
Both Jen and I went to see the psychiatrist, and within a couple of weeks, I was on a low dose of HRT oestrogen patches. Slowly but surely, the strength of the oestrogen dose got higher and higher, leading to me, after about two years, being in the female hormone range with my new impressive feminine figure!
When I came out to my GP, I had also started having lots of laser treatment to remove body hair and weekly (very expensive) electrolysis treatments to remove facial & sensitive area hair. At times, in particular, around the sensitive areas, this was incredibly painful, and most people can not bear the pain for more than a few minutes at a time. There are two general types of surgery trans women often endure "bottom" and "top". In my case, I was aiming for the bottom. I am happy with my boobs and, in any case, would never consider having implants because of the associated risks.
When having full Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), surgeons invariably insist on all hair being removed by way of electrolysis as it is the only guaranteed method of permanent hair removal. Effective pain relief is rarely an option...it is torture, and tears flow. Even by going for the more comfortable surgery option (castration), it is preferable to have as little hair as possible so to help avoid infection, which, in this delicate area, is incredibly painful and takes a very long time to heal. I would mention though surgeons don't normally require hair removal as a condition for what trans women call an "orchie".
After nearly five years of painful electrolysis (totalling around 350 hours) plus 46 very successful female voice conversion therapy sessions, I was ready for the final stage of my transition; surgery.
But of course, nothing is easy when you are trans, and the standard protocol is that surgeons undertaking bottom surgery require a report from a psychiatrist as well as a report from a gender dysphoria expert to confirm eligibility. Only once they are in place can a trans person obtain bottom surgery.
This time it did not go well. The male psychiatrist, who took fifteen torturous months (because of his alleged workload) to come to a final decision, decided he was not totally happy that I had not come out to everyone and that I was not living completely as a full-time woman. He was referring to the 'Real Life Experience' test, part of the controversial protocol psychiatrists use to confirm surgery eligibility. My application for surgery was rejected.
My rationale for not coming out to everyone was valid. The fact was I wanted to be thoughtful and considerate to others. Just how do you tell your mum, at the age of 94, with all sorts of health issues, including dementia, to the point that she barely recognises me at all that I was in transition?
Thresholds for trans surgery in the UK are amongst the highest in the western world, and it is wrong.
I do not agree with the Real Life Experience test because it has little flexibility to take into account personal circumstances. Some trans people need time to drift into their new gender, and this test does not work for them. Additionally, it takes away the human right to choose! If trans people wanting SRS have to seek psychiatric reports before having surgery, why doesn't the same apply to people wishing to undertake permanent cosmetic surgery such as a facelift?
After the rejection of my surgery application, I was devastated, and for a brief spell, I was suicidal. I planed it down to the finest detail. It was quick and easy.
Fortunately, it suddenly hit me how selfish I was being. I was always telling my kids we are given the gift of life to make life better, and here was I opting out of life. I was such a hypocrite!
And what about my amazing wife, she had gone through hell with her two cancers, and I was her rock as she is mine. To even consider suicide would be devastating for her and just plain wrong.
Looking back, society’s gatekeeper (the psychiatrist and 'the system') almost tipped me over the edge, and if you think I am bitter about this, you are right. I am bitter.
But surgery was the only real option for me, and I tried again.
I eventually found a doctor who had a specialist interest in gender issues (see resources). After lengthy interviews, I was referred to a new (female), psychologist who immediately understood my circumstances and agreed that I was eligible for surgery.
On the 2nd of July 2019, and after nine and a half years of waiting, I got the surgery that was right for me.
On waking up in recovery after my surgery, I heard the most beautiful words from a nurse. She said, “You have fantastic skin and an amazing figure; now you can be the woman you want to be”. I could barely talk, but I asked her what her name was, and she replied, "Heather".
A few weeks later, I sent her a thank you card, and it read: I do not remember your face or even the colour of your hair, but I will never ever forget those wonderful words you spoke to me on the 2nd of July 2019. Thank you.
I can genuinely say my surgery day was the best day of my life. Initially, there was no pain …just relief.
Settling into my new anatomy, along with my new name, which I had changed by deed poll, my personal questions started to erupt in my brain.
Why was I trans? Why did I have to fight so hard to become the person I wanted to be? Why are there women’s groups now trying to exclude trans women from 'women’s places' and prevent trans people like me from getting a new Gender Identity Certificate?
After research, I am reasonably sure I found the correct answers.
The template for human life, the fetus, is female and to create a male requires the mother to release (at around seven weeks gestation) testosterone to make both a male brain and male genitals.
Nature sometimes gets it wrong, and if the testosterone levels secreted in the fetus are imbalanced, the baby will likely become gay or trans.
Some experts also suggest that if a mum is very stressed at around seven weeks, the chances of testosterone imbalanced are increased. Given my families living conditions, I am sure my mum must have been very stressed.
In short, LGBTQ people are likely the result of birth defects triggered by hormones and probably influenced by the mother’s stress levels as a secondary factor. Some people do not agree that nature makes mistakes, in which case why do some women miscarry, and some people be born with some mental or physical disability?
One further interesting fact about hormones that I have been taking now for around nine years is how it has changed my brain. I can now multitask with great ease, in fact, much better than Jen, a cis female. During my research about why I was trans, I found there is considerable MRI evidence to show that a map of a trans brain often matches the gender claimed by the trans person and if not a direct match, it does map between the cis male and female brain. I also found that long term oestrogen medication makes a significant difference in the ability to multitask, for which I am proof.
My second question is pretty easy to explain too. There was a time trans people were considered as mentally ill hence the reason why psychiatrists were/are involved in my and other trans people’s cases.
But things have moved on in the last few years, and both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS now agree that trans folk are not mentally ill at all. I could have told them that fifty years ago!...but I digress. Being able to see issues from both a male and female perspective is a pretty big bonus! Indeed, in many cultures in the world, trans people are considered extraordinary special people and do not suffer the social difficulties in the same way as trans people do in western society.
Where things often go wrong for trans folk are the delays in the NHS systems, which cause stress, depression, self-harm, and as mentioned, suicide. Sadly, the delays are caused by dogma & protocol. In my opinion, the psychiatrists (who invariably only work for the NHS part-time) still want to keep their very lucrative private gender dysphoria businesses. Add to that the very significant increase in demand with more and more young people (especially young girls/FTM) identifying as trans; it is elementary to ascertain why there are such long delays for much-needed help.
On the positive side, trans people are more accepted by society these days, especially by the wonderful younger generation, and naturally more trans people feel relaxed about “coming out”. Thankfully, the old-fashioned idea that gender is binary is slowly but surely disappearing, and the fight that I suffered should (hopefully) become something of the past in the not too distant future.
Sadly though, a new barrier has arisen for trans women rights, created by (of all people) certain misguided women’s groups.
Often called “TERF’s” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) by some trans people and their allies, it is an acronym that some see as a slur or insult, while others see it as a badge of honour.
They aim to hinder the progress of the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and, in particular, stop a trans woman from being able to “self-identify”. Self-id is contentious, and whilst I support the principal, I do understand why some people are unhappy about it.
This proposed legislation reforming the GRA is vital to the trans community, but in society, the simple fact is not everyone is trans-friendly. Indeed, a trans woman recently achieved political asylum in New Zealand on the basis that the UK is transphobic.
The current GRA is severely out of date and maintains the position that trans people are “mentally ill”, contradicting both WHO and NHS health guidelines which state trans people are of sound mind. The current GRA is also full of unfair conditions and caveats, and many trans people refuse to apply for Gender Identity Certificate via the GRA purely because the system is so flawed.
In the current state, I also refuse.
It is very ironic that as I am gendered female by the NHS, I would likely go to a female ward in a hospital, but if I were sent to prison, I would probably be thrown in with the men, in part because I do not have a Gender Identity Certificate.
Can you imagine my fate?
A trans person gets attacked in prison on average once every thirty-three days. The UK media (who are transphobic) fail to tell society that.
Sadly, it is a fact that trans people are still about thirty years behind gay people in achieving full acceptance within society. And while our parliament consists of about 7% of openly gay MP’s along with a rainbow of ethnicities, there has never been an openly trans MP. In theory, if 1% of the population are trans, there should be six trans MPs. I would suggest that currently, society and parliament are much the poorer without us.
Thank you, dear reader, for reading my story; I hope I have enlightened your knowledge about trans women.
So to my final lines.
I would be a liar if I said I do not have regrets.
I regret missing out on childhood and not being a girl, not having a childbearing body... and not being a mum.
I feel I have been cheated of the life I should have had, but equally, I know possibly one-third of the trans people born in 1952 have died by their own hand, and I am one of the lucky ones who has survived.
On the outside, I am happy with how I look, and that makes me feel good. My images used on this website were taken in November 2019, and no, they have not been 'airbrushed'; I just used bareMinerals and Maybelline make-up for my photoshoot just as any other woman would have done.
All the pain (both physical and mental), plus all the effort, has most certainly been worthwhile.
I am very grateful for all the support I have had from my health professionals, family, friends, neighbours & work colleagues...to them; I can only say a huge "thank you".
Ultimately, I have the best wife in the world, and I have a lot to smile about - I am very happy.
And I will remind you of what I wrote at the start of my story 'we are all different.
I am Steph, a trans woman and a 69-year-old feminist trans activist!
You can find me on Twitter @PlaceSteph