David Thomas transition story

‘I’m not going to turn into one of those angry, shouty transsexuals, am I?’

30 MARCH 2019

Don’t worry, I get it. If a middle-aged male friend suddenly told you, ‘I’m going to change sex,’ it might come as quite a surprise.

If he then sold his house and cashed in part of his pension to fund his transition from male to female, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether he’d lost his marbles.

A moment’s further thought could unleash a flurry of increasingly anxious questions. ‘Should I refer to him as “she” now? Will he, or she, or they, be offended if I say the wrong thing?’

The horror and panic intensify. ‘He’s not going to turn into one of those angry, shouty transsexuals, is he? Telling us we’re evil if we don’t accept that men can have babies and you don’t have to be female to get periods?’

Well, I am that man, and I quite understand if it all seems baffling. It felt so to me for decades. But I promise I’m really quite sane… just ask my psychiatrist.

So, to specifics: do I actually think that I am a woman? 

No, I don’t. I may become one in time, but not yet. For now, I define myself as gender fluid. I don’t mean that as some kind of swanky, hipster badge of fashionably androgynous cool. I mean fluid as in liquid.

My gender slips through my fingers. It eddies back and forth. It freezes. It cracks. Sometimes it evaporates completely. Very rarely is it still and clear.

Of course, many people have a sense of not fitting the roles assigned to them by the labels ‘male’ or ‘female’. I once lunched with an American friend and as we were talking, he flicked through Tinder, looking for the night’s action.

I told him I felt as though I was just pretending to be a man. My friend looked up and said, ‘Dude, we’re all doing that.’

He, though, does not have the slightest urge to be anything different. I do.

Needless to say, it all may go horribly wrong. A complete transition will require at least two major surgical procedures – facial and genital – at a time when antibiotics are increasingly powerless against post-operative infections. Even without such complications I could be left incontinent and insensate down below, and unconvincing up top.

I worry that even if the ops go perfectly, I appear normal and my designer va-jay-jay functions perfectly – the plumbing works, and so does the electricity – my transition will make me an embarrassment to my friends and loved ones. Yet I’m setting about it, because I absolutely know that I have to. At the very least, I’ve got to try.

Why, though, add to the pressure by writing about my situation? It would be so much easier to hide away in my apartment, like a caterpillar in a chrysalis and turn into a butterfly in peace. But I’m a writer. I can no more stop turning personal experience into words than a shark can give up swimming, killing and eating. I also feel a moral duty to write about this particular subject, because part of the process of coming out is the sudden realisation, ‘Oh, that’s me they’re talking about.’

When some media pundit who should know better spouts ignorant, prejudicial nonsense about the latest transgender issue to hit the headlines, it hurts me, personally. Whenever yet another militant trans campaigner starts putting everyone’s backs up, it’s me they’re claiming to represent.

That raises the question, what do I want? How do I think we should proceed? My answer lies in all the people I’ve come out to and how kind and accepting the overwhelming majority have been. They deserve consideration.

So yes, trans people absolutely should demand tolerance, but it makes no sense to then be wildly intolerant towards the slightest disagreement. The rightful struggle for recognition and respect for our identity should not require everyone else to redefine their entire concept of what it means to be male or female.

And while there are times when inappropriate words really can cut one to the core, it’s surely more constructive to explain why they do, rather than rushing to condemn the speaker, let alone report them to the police.

I was chatting to the owner of the yoga centre where I take classes. He wanted advice on how to speak to trans clients without causing offence. I told him, ‘Don’t worry. Your intentions matter much more than your words. You’re a kind man. Anyone with half a brain knows you mean well. If anyone takes offence, it’s their problem, not yours.’

On the other hand, if a person is filled with meanness and spite, all the ‘woke’ words in the world won’t help.

So, my hope now in this column is to redress the balance by recording the mental and physical process of changing sex in a way that provides information, entertainment and humanity.

Yes, that process is scary, expensive and often exceedingly painful, but it’s also an extraordinary opportunity, filled with hope for the future. Lots of people think, ‘I was never the person I hoped I would be.’ But how many of us have the chance to rectify that?

In that respect, transition is almost a privilege: a path to becoming a better, more contented human being. Or maybe not. There’s only one way to find out…

The original article is here.

What female hormones do to a male body

Each of them has, in its own different way, had a part to play in the quixotic endeavour on which I am now embarked.

And yes, I’m sure there will be many, many people looking at my photo and thinking, ‘He’s got no chance of making this work.’ I think that too. All the time. But we are where we are, so, back to those hobbies, starting with cookery. A successful sex change is like a good full English breakfast. The knack is making sure that all the ingredients arrive, perfectly fresh and piping hot at precisely the same time.

I’m used to juggling eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and fried bread. Now, I’m trying to get my various physical, psychological, vocal, sartorial and aesthetic transformations coordinated so that I can, at some point in the not too distant future, present myself to the world in a convincing and socially acceptable simulacrum of womanhood.

As I have discovered, this is tricky. Some things take for ever to come to the boil, while others are done in no time at all. My stubble, for example, is taking a lifetime to remove. Meanwhile, my bust is expanding faster than a soft white loaf at gas mark 6.

I had to take a break from hormones last year, only four months after starting them. If I’d kept on going I’d have been the bearded lady by Christmas. I had to stop before someone offered me a part in The Greatest Showman.

Of course, the notion that things take a lot longer than planned – and cost an awful lot more – is one with which I am entirely familiar from a lifetime spent blowing money on houses.

I told myself, ‘You’ve renovated six different homes. How hard can it be to renovate yourself?’ So I approached the process of making myself more fabulous the same way I’d start on a refurb. I surveyed and measured what I’d already got. And I also determined what parts of the structure could be changed and what had to be left as it was.

There’s nothing I can do about my skeleton, which is a bit of a problem. I’m 6ft tall with size 10 feet. To reassure myself, I drew up a list of women I knew who were roughly my height. I quickly came up with a dozen names, one of which belongs to a very beautiful brunette who is so spectacularly tall that when she wears heels she can look down and see my bald spot.

My skull, however, is a trickier issue. The average woman’s head is smaller than a man’s, but mine is massive, even by male standards. But short of heading into the Amazon rainforest, finding a tribe of headhunters and saying, ‘Go ahead lads, shrink away,’ there’s nothing that can be done.

On the other hand, some news is surprisingly good. I used to work on the BBC’s Film 82, presenting location reports. On one such set, the veteran movie producer Sam Spiegel, who made Lawrence of Arabia, eyed me up and down and said, ‘Great shoulders, kid. You should be in the movies.’

From then on, I assumed I had a fine, manly frame and bought extra-large shirts, suits and jackets. It was only when I finally measured myself in more detail that I realised all my male clothes were about three sizes too big.

It turns out I have narrow shoulders and a slim chest. To be specific, ladies, I take a 36in bra-band, usually on the middle, or even tightest, setting. As I rapidly discovered, sizing varies wildly between brands, but most of the time I can comfortably fit a size 14 jacket, shirt or top. So I count as a large or even ‘Omigod, get that elephant outta here!’ for fancy, designer labels. But in the real world I’m pretty average.

My hands are not enormous. My ankles and wrists are slender by male standards, no problem by female ones. I can live with that. Now we come to the bits that need changing.

I weigh about 12½ stone. That has to come down to 11½. I’m 33 inches round the waist on a fat day, 31.5 if I’m being good. I can do something about this. I want to get it down to 30. By giving up chocolate, red wine and ice cream for Lent, taking a bit more exercise and hula-hooping regularly (it’s the best tummy exercise ever), I’m just about on target for weight and waist alike.

As for hair, I’m basically Mr Tumnus: a thick beard, hairless chest and legs like a goat. The difference is that in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr Tumnus didn’t suffer from male-pattern baldness.

This, too, I can do something about, but that’s a matter for another day. For now, I will just leave you with the other reason why male transition is like a full English breakfast.

By the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of the sausage.

The original article is here.

If I’d transitioned in my teens, it could have ruined my life

At least five clinicians have resigned from the Tavistock Centre, the only specialist NHS clinic for transgender children and adolescents. They claim that the clinic’s young patients are being used as guinea-pigs in a great gender-bending experiment, whose outcome remains unknown.

Children, it is alleged, are being given irreversible, life-changing drugs when they may not be transgender at all, but just gay, or simply confused. Trans-rights campaign groups stand accused of pressuring doctors to approve treatments that may be harming, rather than helping vulnerable young people.

All those claims are vigorously disputed by the Tavistock’s management and the trans activists. Meanwhile, my thoughts are with the children and parents at the centre of the dispute. After all, I am both transgender and a father myself.

I was a mixed-up, confused, unhappy Seventies teenager. Back then, no one had a clue what to do with kids like me. Today, my adolescent self would certainly qualify for treatment if he presented at the Tavistock, and he would leap at the opportunity. But would I, as an adult, think that was a good idea?

The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course.” I know from personal experience that if a child really is trans, it isn’t a phase and they won’t get over it. Nor is it a disorder that can be cured. But equally, I recognise that some kids may think they are trans, who actually aren’t. Telling the difference between the two can’t be easy.
Even if the diagnosis is correct, extreme caution is surely essential when contemplating treatment that can have lifelong, irreversible consequences. Yes, it would have been easier to look convincingly female if drugs had spared me the sudden, mid-teens growth spurt that saw me mutate from a short, smooth cheeked schoolboy into a tall, heavily bearded undergrad.

But equally, I could never have had my career, or my family if I had spent the past 40 years living as a transwoman. Transition in my teens or even twenties might not have been best solution. For some, it never is.

Imagine a huge suspension bridge, with great towers at either end holding up the roadway between them. Think of one tower as ‘male’ and the other as ‘female’. Trans people are in the middle of the bridge, walking from one side to the other. Some people go all the way across. But many find a point along the way, say, ‘This suits me nicely,’ and settle down without completing the journey.

I have one close transgender friend who has lived and worked for more than 30 years as a woman, but without ever having the final surgery. I have another who presents as a woman, but accepts the male side of his nature and has never gone near a female hormone. Both are entirely content with their choices.

Even I, now at last on the bridge to full transition, accept that something may happen to divert me. I could find that sweet spot where I have gone far enough, or receive medical advice that my age or health make surgery too risky. The point is, I am still free to make those choices. A youngster whose body has already been changed is not.

So it seems to me that doctors and parents alike should hesitate before taking decisions on children’s behalf that deny them freedom of action later on. Yes, absolutely, acknowledge their needs and identities. Support them, counsel them, respect them, protect them. But in the end, shouldn’t we let our children determine for themselves, as adults, who they are and how they want to lead their lives?

The original article is here. 

He or she: What do you call a person who is transitioning?

12 APRIL 2019

‘At interview Ms Thomas articulated herself well and there was no evidence of current psychopathology, whether affective, psychotic or cognitive… I was satisfied that she was well informed and able to consent to starting feminising hormones, and I believe she will have a good outcome from oestrogen.’

That’s my consultant psychiatrist, one of the world’s leading experts on gender identity, writing to my GP to give him the green light to start writing ‘scrips’ for HRT. I cite him partly to reassure you, dear reader, that I’m officially Not Completely Bonkers, and have been certified as an Actual Transsexual, but also to point out the personal pronoun used throughout: ‘she’.

A lot of professionals in the trans trade refer to clients by the gender to which they’re travelling, rather than the one they currently inhabit. Primarily it’s a courtesy, but I wonder if it’s also a test, a way of asking, ‘Are you sure?’

Certainly, few things made me think, ‘Wow, this is getting real,’ more than seeing myself referred to as ‘she’, ‘her’ and ‘Ms’ after a lifetime of ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘Mr’. It took a few slow, deep breaths before I concluded, ‘This is my new world… and, actually, I’m fine with it.’

Mind you, it confused the hell out of my GP’s admin staff. And they aren’t the only ones who are feeling uncertain about where to file me. Since I’ve come out, the question I’m asked most often is, ‘Should I call you he or she?’ No one wishes to offend or, God forbid, suddenly find me calling the cops and reporting them for hate speech. So I reply, ‘I’m he. And when I’m she, you won’t be able to miss it.’

Of course, gendering isn’t always that simple. The actor Kate Asia Dillon, who stars in the TV series Billions, identifies as non-binary, neither one conventional gender nor the other. Being neither, ‘he’ nor ‘she’, Dillon insists on being referred to as ‘they’.

Now, I sympathise with their need to find a way of saying, ‘This is who I am,’ particularly when the only other neuter option English offers is ‘it’. But the writer in me bristles at the use of plural pronouns to describe a singular person, who presumably still thinks of themselves as ‘I’, not ‘we’. And while I empathise with Dillon’s lifelong sense of not conforming to either masculine or feminine gender norms, I am personally nervous of twisting language or reality to fit my personal needs.

I don’t want to seem like Rachel Dolezal, the American civil rights campaigner who insisted she was black despite being ethnically white, or Emile Ratelband, the Dutchman, aged 69, who wanted his age officially changed because he identified as 49. I also remember Hilaire Belloc’s tale of Matilda, the terrible liar, who died because no one believed her when she screamed that her house was burning down. If I make a statement that appears false now, that will make it harder for me to make the same statement later, when it’s true.

As matters stand, if I demanded the use of ‘she’ and insisted, ‘I am a woman,’ you would be entitled to reply, ‘No you’re not.’ I could jump up and down and scream, ‘Help, help! I’m being abused!’ But that wouldn’t alter the fact that I’m still legally male, use a male name and look and sound sufficiently male that the world responds to me as a man.

I am not so pig-headed, nor delusional that I’d fly in the face of all that evidence. But I can reasonably say, ‘I am transgender,’ because I have the documentary evidence to support it.

And if I add, ‘I am in the process of gender transition,’ that is also verifiably true. People – in my experience a very small minority – might find the whole idea of someone being transgender offensive to their religious or ideological principles. But they can’t deny the fact of it. In due course, barring a sudden change of plans, there will come a time when I can truthfully say that I am living as a woman, with a woman’s name. At that point I will ask to be referred to as ‘she’, rather than ‘he’, and it will be a reasonable request, consistent with the way I look, sound and carry myself.

The final step will be a Gender Recognition Certificate, the government document that confirms the full, legal status of one’s acquired gender. At that point, the words ‘I am a woman’ become a statement of fact.

Of course, that won’t satisfy those who say that if you weren’t raised as a girl, and haven’t had periods and suffered sexism, you can’t ever join the club. As Germaine Greer so charmingly put it, ‘Just because you lop off your penis… it doesn’t make you a woman.’

Dr Greer, however, is no less prejudiced, or factually inaccurate than a shaven-headed BNP racist shouting that an immigrant who has legally acquired UK citizenship isn’t really British because they weren’t born in this country. In both cases, common decency and the law say they’re wrong. I explained all this, in highly condensed form, to a friend who had asked the ‘he or she’ question. ‘Great!’ he replied. ‘David it is until David it isn’t.’

Precisely.

The original article is here.

‘How can you tell if a young person is really trans?’

19 APRIL 2019

The Tavistock Centre, the only NHS gender identity clinic for children and adolescents, hit the news last week. Former staff have alleged that some young patients are being wrongly diagnosed as transgender, and given life-changing medication when they may simply be gay, or just confused. But how can you tell if a young person is really trans?

I’ve been thinking about my own teenage years, when I first began to realise there was something about me that was different from the other boys, something indefinable, but nevertheless overwhelming. Talking to other trans people of a similar age to me now, and discovering how many experiences we shared, I’ve concluded that we were thinking and feeling things that just did not occur to our more conventional peers.

My first hint of this was when I arrived at Eton in January 1972. In those days, boarders at all-male schools got their kicks from copies of Mayfair or Penthouse, to be ogled in their rooms or the communal toilets with accompanying hand gestures. Everyone was at it, except me. Try as I might, I just couldn’t see what was arousing about crude pictures of naked women.

That Easter I went on an educational trip to Greece, organised by my former prep school Classics master. By day we would traipse around Athens, Aegina, Olympia or Mycenae. And by night I would kiss, cuddle and whisper with the boy with whom, for that fortnight only, I shared my bed. The key point was not the fiddling around, but the feeling in my heart. This was my first love.

I went back to school for the summer term, vaguely aware of words like ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ and wondering if they applied to me. Then, in early July, I saw David Bowie perform Starman on Top of the Pops, and I fell head over heels for a second time. Bowie was a dazzling vision of previously unimaginable possibilities. He was otherworldly, a messenger from a planet where the normal rules of male behaviour and appearance had been upended. I stared at his make-up and exotic, effeminate clothes and dreamt of a life like that. Occasionally, I even received little hints of its possibilities.

Before my voice broke, I was a choirboy. When Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard was chosen for the school play in 1973, I was cast in the female chorus. I vividly remember being given my costume, the sudden, unexpected thrill of becoming a girl and the mortification of getting a dress that was twice my size. So vain!

All these little drops of emotion began to coalesce when I turned 15 in 1974. For my birthday treat, my father took me to see the original stage production of The Rocky Horror Show, with Tim Curry as Dr Frank N Furter. That sweet transvestite from Transylvania blew my teenage mind. But the moment that shook me to the core came when Curry sang about Fay Wray, the King Kong heroine clad in her sliver of silk, and crooned: ‘I wanted to be dressed just the same.’

I sat there in the auditorium, practically in tears because I wanted to dress like Fay Wray, and to be just the same as her, too. But what did that make me? And how was it that in August 1974, I not only bought my first-ever copy of Vogue, which was surely super-queer, but also kissed, in fact passionately snogged, a girl for the first time?

Back at school after the summer holidays I wrote heartfelt letters to my new girlfriend while gazing at the Vogue models fighting Bowie for space on my bedroom walls, longing for their bodies, their faces, their clothes. And yet I really was mad about my girl, and the virtually unbroken stream of her successors over the following decade.

By now my physical transformation from boy to man was underway. I loved becoming taller, faster and stronger. But the corresponding developments between my legs were more troubling than exciting. I just wished a fairy godmother would make them go away and give me what the girls had. This thought, above all, strikes me as the one that marks out the transgender adolescent. No regular boy, newly in possession of his manhood, would ever dream of getting rid of it. So much was happening at once. That same term I auditioned to play Viola in Twelfth Night. Beside myself with joy when told that I had got the part, I was then devastated to the core when I promptly lost it.

The master in charge said he’d found another boy who was a more convincing twin to his chosen Sebastian.

Even then, though, I couldn’t join all the dots to complete the full picture. Until, that same autumn, on a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do, I wandered into the school library to read the newspapers. One contained the serialisation of a book called Conundrum, the story of how a tough, adventurous reporter called James Morris had become a woman called Jan. Not long afterwards I bought the book. And finally, I began to understand.

The original article is here. 

What it really feels like to take your first dose of hormones when you’re trans

26 APRIL 2019

Sometimes you just get lucky. One day last February, my ancient laptop went on the blink. I couldn’t get it working again till past suppertime, so I had to break my golden work-life balance rule: no emails after 8pm. I was still online at 10.15pm when a round-robin email popped up from a consultant psychiatrist’s practice: ‘We’ve had a cancellation. The appointment is this Friday. Do you want it?’

I immediately replied, ‘YES PLEASE!’

A friend once got me a Centre Court ticket to see the Wimbledon Men’s Final. That was an amazing stroke of luck. But this was even better, the trans equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. If I hadn’t nabbed the appointment that very second, someone else would have taken it.

No British GP will prescribe the hormones required for gender reassignment without written clearance from a gender identity specialist, or, in the case of NHS patients, a Gender Identity Clinic, or GIC. This is an essential precaution. Nobody should undertake anything as drastic and potentially irreversible as hormone treatment without proper confirmation that it is the right course of action. But it can take two years to get a first GIC appointment on the NHS. Even going private, I faced a four-month wait. And then the magic email arrived.

Two days later, I saw the consultant, having previously sent him two lengthy reports on me, compiled by a doctor and a therapist, both experts in gender dysphoria. After an interview lasting over an hour he gave me the thumbs-up. I left his practice walking on air. My life was about to change for ever… but not just yet. Several more weeks passed. Correspondence went back and forth.  I had blood tests to check existing hormones. Ironically, my testosterone level was well above average.

Finally, one day in April, almost exactly a year ago, I stood in line at my local Boots, clutching a prescription for Estradot: clear plastic patches that deliver 100 micrograms of oestrogen every 24 hours and are replaced twice a week. I was nervous and painfully self- conscious, a middle-aged man wanting female HRT, but the pharmacist handed the Estradot to me as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

When I got home, I placed Patch No 1 on my lower abdomen. For any trans person, the first dose of hormones is a huge moment. You’ve spent so long wondering what it will be like. You’ve jumped through so many medical hoops. Then you wait for something to happen.

The first sign came on the second day: a warm, relaxing, rather blissful sort of inner glow. I’ve never taken ecstasy but I imagine it makes you feel like this: fuzzy, benevolent, wanting to go out and hug people. It was as if my mind and body were relaxing and sighing, ‘At last!’

When I applied Patch No 2, exactly the same thing happened, only more intensely. I’d been in London and was just arriving home on the train when the hormonal buzz hit me. Stoned on oestrogen, I wandered into the multi-storey car park next to the station, flopped into my car, drove away and promptly pranged a concrete kerb. The shock of hearing crunching bodywork was only exceeded when I got the bill for the damage: over £1,400, plus VAT.

That aside, nothing much seemed to be happening. After a month or so, my nipples were getting a bit bigger, but I couldn’t detect any emotional or personality changes. I began to worry that the patches weren’t working.

Then, Harry and Meghan got married. I followed the whole thing, from the arrival of the first guests to the departure of the happy couple. And I wept.

Now, I have form when it comes to blubbing. I once had a crying jag that embarrassed the entire Upper Class cabin of a transatlantic flight, just watching The Secret Garden. Those poor Virgin cabin crew must have bitterly regretted ever giving me an upgrade. But that was nothing compared to the rivers of tears, the mountains of soggy tissues – and I mean an entire box – provoked by a ginger princeling getting hitched to a minor actress. And if that wasn’t hormonal, what the heck is?

So, here we are a year later and things have calmed down, thank goodness. Friends tell me that I am much more relaxed and generally easier to be around, particularly in the past few months. But that might be due as much to the huge relief of finally being true to myself as to any chemical changes. Plus, my body is still producing testosterone, so the female hormones are having to fight their way past the male ones.

This, though, may soon change. I am about to get another set of blood tests to establish just how stubborn that pesky testosterone is being. If the level is still high, then I will be given drugs to block it, so that the oestrogen can have a clear run at my system. At that point, my hormones will be girly to the max.

World, you have been warned. And come to that, so have I.

The original article is here. 

Why this procedure is the most frightening part of transitioning to become a woman

3 MAY 2019

Oh my God, I’m moulting! The top of my head looks like a dirty old shag-pile carpet, worn bare by overuse. I should calm down. This is normal, a symptom entirely to be expected after a hair transplant, and I’ve just had my second procedure so I know there’s no need to panic.

I never thought I’d go bald. My grandfather died with a full head of hair. My father still has his at 85. Through my 20s I had thick, dark, floppy locks, worn like a less-bouffant Hugh Grant. And then, just a week after my 34th birthday, my cousin Pauline, who was as sharp as she was stylish, walked past as I was sitting drinking coffee at her kitchen table, paused, and said, ‘You’re getting a bald spot.’

I thought she was joking. I simply didn’t believe her. It took a couple of years before I realised that the comedian was Mother Nature and the joke was on me. I really was going bald.

By the tail end of my 30s, the damage was obvious – and I hated it. But these were also my years of denial, so I buried the real reason I hated this unwelcome sign of masculinity and told myself that my feelings were no different to any other balding guy.

A magazine commissioned me to go in search of a cure. I spoke to trichologists, wig-makers, hair-weavers and even purveyors of brown spray-paint to make my bare scalp less obvious. I had a long interview with a hair transplant surgeon, Michael May, at his private practice, The Wimpole Clinic. And I learnt about substances that were believed to slow, or even reverse the balding process, such as minoxidil, the active ingredient in Regaine, which is applied to the scalp, and finasteride, marketed as Propecia, taken daily as a pill.

I took finasteride on and off for the next 15 years and it put a bit of a brake on my hair loss. Though I went thinner on top, the hair on the sides and back of my head was as thick as ever. I cut it short and grew a beard. By my 50s, my appearance wasn’t an issue… as long as I was only trying to look like a guy. But in terms of transition, baldness was one of my biggest obstacles.

Everything I do to my appearance is motivated by the desire to go undetected. I specifically don’t want to turn heads. And my lack of hair was an even greater giveaway than my height. The gender therapist counselling me on both my identity and possible transition, suggested a solution: shave your head and just get some really good wigs. But my other obsession is the quest for authenticity. I want to be as true to myself as possible. If I were walking around with someone else’s female hair on my head and a bald male scalp underneath, I’d feel fake – the precise opposite of the desired effect.

So, in the late autumn of 2015, I went back to see Michael May and asked him, ‘Can transplants give me a head of hair that’s thick enough to pass as a woman?’

Mr May examined my scalp and replied, ‘You have considerable hair loss, so normally I would say, “No.” But your head is very large and where you do have hair it’s very thick. There’s plenty of donor material to work with. So yes, I think we could achieve a satisfactory result.’

He suggested one major transplant operation, to be followed by one, or possibly two lesser ones. I was quoted a price of £5,500 for the first procedure. The others would each be around half that price, call it 11 grand in total. That was within my New Hair budget of £10,000-15,000, based on costs I’d seen online and in the press. Still, I needed to know that the money would be well spent.

The team at The Wimpole Clinic put me in touch with two other trans patients. We talked and emailed at length, they gave detailed accounts 
 of their procedures and seemed delighted with the results they had achieved. There was now no reason not to proceed. I put down a deposit of £500. A first transplant was booked 
for February 2016. If it had gone 
ahead, I would now be more than three years down the road and my hair would look very different. But that was not what happened.

As the day drew near, I became increasingly anxious. Twelve years ago, my father almost died, having picked up an infection from a routine check on his heart pacemaker. I was petrified that the same might happen to me. I also feared leaving the surgery looking as puffed and swollen as the Elephant Man. I had terrible visions of a head covered in random tufts of hair, like a discarded old doll. Then I panicked and cancelled the appointment.

What a gutless, pathetic, blithering idiot! I threw away £500 and set myself back more than two whole years. It wasn’t until May 2018 that I finally went up to London to spend the night at a hotel just off Marylebone High Street. My transplant was booked for 8 am the next day. And this time, I wasn’t chickening out…

The original article is here. 

‘Hair removal is utter agony but the grief is worth it’: Why you have to be tough to be trans

10 MAY 2019

You have to be tough to be trans. Take my upcoming appointment with a charming young lady called Jo. I drive to her place of business. She leads me upstairs and lies me down. Then she inflicts more physical pain on me than I have ever felt in my life. As I grit my teeth and suppress the urge to howl, she sweetly murmurs, ‘Oh, bless.’

Jo is not some leather-clad dominatrix. No whips are involved, though they might hurt less. She operates a laser machine at a local cosmetic clinic, administering most of the 30-odd sessions in which I have attempted to remove my beard by much the same sort of process as Goldfinger attempted to remove James Bond’s 0, 0 and 7.

Jo blasts her laser at the hairs on my face or body, with a shot that sounds like a nail gun. The hairs have to be dark, so that the energy from the beam can pass down them and zap the follicle below the skin. When hairs are blonde, or white, the beam just bounces back off them. The thicker the hairs are, the higher the laser machine has to be turned up; the more hairs there are in the area hit by any one beam, the more that pain is multiplied. The agony is further magnified if the skin on which the hairs sit is sensitive or close to the bone. The thickest hairs on a human body are those in a man’s beard.

When I began this process, more than three years ago, I had a lot of very dark, closely packed hairs on my face. If the laser beam hit several at a time, the pain was roughly equivalent to a wasp stinging me once every second. But when it hit the hairs on and around my lips, particularly just below the nose, any previous pain was a mere flea bite compared to the agony.

None of this was Jo’s fault. It was just the inevitable result of focusing huge amounts of power at the human body, and I learnt a few tricks to mitigate the suffering. I slathered my face with anaesthetic cream, which helped somewhat. I drove home wearing a thick anorak and ski gloves with the air con set to max. That lessened the post-treatment swelling, as did dunking my head in ice-cold water at regular intervals over the next couple of days.

Some people can get rid of a beard in as few as a dozen sessions, but mine just refused to disappear. Even now, the odd dark straggler still pokes its unwanted head above the surface of my face. My attention, however, has shifted about three feet south.

My legs sport a thick, black pelt that would put a grizzly bear to shame. Shaving them was like painting the Forth Bridge: no sooner had I finished than I had to start again. Waxing was out. Even my rapidly improving pain tolerance wasn’t up to that level of persecution. And yes, ladies, I know: ‘Welcome to our world.’

The only solution was to strip down to my undies, lie down on Jo’s bed and have my limbs lasered. Jo got out a wax pencil and drew up a grid on my skin that made my legs look a bit like one of those diagrams of the cuts of meat you see in butcher’s shops. Then she began on the lower extremity of my left leg and… OOOOWWW!!

The first session was so intense, I had to stop twice and dash to the loo before the agony made me wet myself. Remember that wasp? Imagine a whole swarm settling on your legs and taking it in turns to sting you. When it was over, I asked Jo if she had a counter to tell how many times she had fired her laser. ‘Yes,’ she said. The sting score was 3,219.

Six weeks later, I went back for a second round. The pain was a fraction less, so Jo worked uninterrupted. She upped her score to 3,759.

Now, though, I have discovered a new joy: the leg laser leaves very little sign of swelling or redness. But for some reason I get terrible itching around my ankles, shins and calves for days afterwards, immune to scratching and curable only by immersion in a freezing bath. Such fun on a cold night, when one has been woken by infuriating discomfort at 3am.

But, oh, the grief is utterly worth it. After six sessions, I’m going to end up with silky smooth legs to die for, and while I may need the occasional re-zap to maintain standards, there will be no shaving, no waxing… ever.

That’s just as well, because I’m busy elsewhere. You see, almost half my beard had turned white by the time I started removing it, and lasers don’t work on white. Only electrolysis will do. Which is why Jo isn’t the only sweet torturer in my life…

The original article is here. 

‘Any transwoman who wins a race prevents a natural-born woman from doing so’

16 MAY 2019

This may come as some surprise, but I am now entitled to compete in the Olympic Games… as a woman. Granted, I’m about three times too old and entirely too talentless. But in theory I could pitch up on the start line at Tokyo 2020 beside the other ladies and there would be no legal means to stop me taking part.

Yes, gender bewilderment and furious argument are as prevalent in sport as everywhere else. The controversy starts with a simple truth: testosterone makes men bigger, stronger and faster than women. But what if female athletes are in some way like men, or were even born male? Should they be allowed to take part against ‘normal’ females? Whose human rights count for more – the minority or the majority?

This is tricky stuff. Just ask Caster Semenya, the South African athlete who is the multiple Olympic and world champion at the 800m. She has a condition called hyperandrogenism that gives her much higher levels of testosterone than most women. Her muscle and bone development is thus more characteristic of a man. Her rivals think this is unfair. The athletics authorities agree.

In a decision recently upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), competitors in the women’s 400m, 800m and 1,500m races whose bodies produce too much testosterone must take drugs to reduce it. Those just happen to be Semenya’s events. She feels targeted and I don’t blame her. Surely all great sporting champions have an ‘unfair’ advantage of some sort. That’s why they keep winning.

It’s not very feminist to force a strong woman to make herself weaker. And if performance-enhancing drugs are bad, why are performance-reducing ones any better? In horse-racing, they’d call that nobbling.

But wait. I have spent the past year reducing my testosterone. I know precisely what effect that has had, and I have good news for Semenya.

My testosterone was measured in February 2018, before I started HRT. My score then was 31.2 nanomoles per litre of blood (nmol/L), surprisingly above average for a man. I started using oestrogen patches last April, stopped for a while in the autumn, and have been on them ever since. I don’t take any other hormone-related drugs.

A few weeks ago, I had a thorough health check. My testosterone level is now 2.29 nmol/L. That’s a 93 percent reduction, leaving me with less than half the maximum 5 nmol/L allowed for female athletes. My oestrogen is also within normal female boundaries. In the eyes of CAS, I’m female.

Although I’ve added fat on my breasts, hips and thighs, my internal fat has reduced. So my overall body-fat ratio has barely risen and, at 18 per cent, is still quite low for a woman. Meanwhile my skeletal and muscle mass, the bit that makes me strong, remains much higher than the female average.

I’m healthier now because I’ve moved to the country and take regular, brisk walks. My sample of one suggests, then, that hard training could counteract the effects of lower testosterone and that the advantages of masculinity persist, despite feminising hormone treatment.

Semenya might keep winning, even after medication. But what about sport’s other gender controversy: the right of transwomen to take part in female events? The authorities may have been harsh on genetic females who happen to be different, but they’re actually more accommodating to transgender competitors.

Current Olympic rules state that male-to-female transsexuals can compete as women, without undergoing gender transition, provided they have defined themselves as female for four years and maintain testosterone below not 5, but 10 nmol/L for one year. That is within the normal male range, and four times what I now have.

An athlete desperate for gold medals could thus pose as trans, lower his testosterone but retain his male advantages, then unfairly take on competitors who had the disadvantage of being regular, everyday females. Now, I doubt many macho sportsmen would trash their testosterone just to beat the girls. And the number of transwomen who competed at Rio 2016 was zero. Still, there’s a principle here.

I believe very strongly in trans rights, including the freedom to compete in sporting events. But any transwoman who wins a race prevents a natural-born woman from doing so. The very least that her competitors should demand is that she is as completely, permanently female as she can possibly be before she steps on the track.

The original article is here.

‘Before I started transitioning, I spent years hating myself’

23 MAY 2019

I spent the ’80s frantically chasing the yuppie dream. By the age of 24 I’d interviewed Bowie, hung out at rehearsals with the Stones, had dinner with Tina Turner seated to one side of me and Annie Lennox on the other, and been named Young Journalist of the Year. At 25, I was given the first of three magazine editorships.

I entered my 30s with every blessing a young man could desire. ‘You may find yourself in a beautiful house,  with a beautiful wife,’ sang the Talking Heads in Once in a Lifetime. I did, and with two beautiful little children too. Yet I felt like an utter failure and constantly berated myself for not achieving more, rising higher, writing better.

In 1993, searching for the good life, we swapped our house in Fulham for a rambling old cottage in the Home Counties, overlooked by ancient cedars in the Saxon churchyard next door. It was all so photogenic that Yasmin Le Bon posed for a fashion shoot lying across our kitchen island. Our rare-breed chickens starred in a Sunday magazine spread.

I loved our family, our home and our life. It was me I couldn’t stand. I was ashamed of the other, hidden self beneath my self-confident, masculine veneer. Over the next two decades, that shame warped my personality and my behaviour as all the forces I was trying to repress built up within me like a huge, festering pustule beneath my skin.

Looking back, I realise I was alone a tremendous amount: shut away all week in my office; a solitary gardener at the weekend. Whether I cut myself off from everyone, or they from me, I’m not sure. I became increasingly erratic at social events. I’d like to think that I’m reasonably amusing company. But I kept wrecking parties with furious arguments over other people’s dinner tables.

I’d rage at any evidence of inconsistency or fakeness, when it was my own fraudulence I was really savaging. Sometimes I’d have panic attacks that had me fleeing from social events within minutes of arriving, unable to play the role that was expected of me.

All that has changed since I finally accepted my transgender identity. Being true to myself and honest with the world has liberated me from the burdens of falsity and shame. I am far happier, calmer, more positive. Just occasionally, however, the old ghosts reappear.

A couple of months ago, my electrical contractor Andy had to come over to sort out a problem with my boiler. As we arranged the appointment, he asked if he could also check how the lighting he’d designed for my dressing room had worked out. He’d not seen it since the room had been decorated.

Now, my dressing room has a very special place in my heart. My sister Clare calls it my Pinterest room, because it’s like a Pinterest page made flesh: an embodiment of my dreams and aspirations; a collage of possibilities. It’s painted in a rich, warm cinnamon colour called Middle Buff, with a white ceiling and old oak beams. There’s a long, low wardrobe along one wall, tucked under the eaves. The other three sides of the room have open shelves, drawers and a dressing table. And, yes, Andy’s lighting is lovely.

My female friends sigh and wish they had a room just like it. Male mates stick their heads in, go, ‘Yeah, nice,’ then head off somewhere else because this is clearly a woman’s domain. The signed pen-and-ink drawings on the walls are by René Gruau, Christian Dior’s favourite fashion illustrator. The main mirror is framed in snow-white seashells. The shoes arranged by colour on the open shelves are evidently female: not drag- queeny, not kinky boots, just nice, albeit larger-than-average heels,  sandals, sneakers, boots and ballet flats.

There are handbags along another shelf, bottles of scent on the dressing table, a jewellery stand draped in beads and trinkets. My favourite bags aside,  I actually don’t wear or use most of this stuff. My style is much more androgynous. But one day it won’t be. This, then, was the room that Andy the electrician wanted to enter. Now, he’s a very relaxed, creative guy – a million miles from an obvious transphobe.

But, somehow – and this was absolutely my problem, not his – I couldn’t bring myself to let Andy see my dressing room the way it normally is. It was just too intimate; too much of a revelation.  I couldn’t face him clocking the shoes and the bags and imagining me prancing around pretending, ‘I’m a lay-dee!’

So, I hid heels away and replaced them with male clodhoppers. I put the scent bottles into a drawer, and the jewellery tree into a cupboard, all because I was ashamed of myself and what I was becoming. But that very shame was the most shameful betrayal of all. And to what end? All I did was make my once-proud, feminine room look like a sad, sexless compromise.

A few weeks ago, I plucked up the courage to tell Andy I was transgender. He was totally cool about it, didn’t bat an eyelid. There had been no reason to feel ashamed. Then again, had there ever?

The original article is here.

‘Transwomen in female-only toilets: however frightened women are of us, we are much more scared’

6 JUNE 2019

You know how parents tell children who are scared by spiders, ‘It’s much more frightened of you than you are of it’? Well, the same thing applies to transwomen in female-only toilets. However frightened women may be by our presence, we are way, way more petrified by having to be there.

In fact, on my list of Things That Scare Me Most About Transition, ‘Using the ladies’ comes second only to, ‘Something going horribly wrong with an operation’. I’m scared of being spotted and embarrassed in what seems like a space where I won’t be welcome. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.  One of the many women currently assisting me in my transformation – let’s call her Jane – has a client who looks and sounds completely female. But when she used a ladies’ for the first time, she could only do it if Jane came with her for moral support.

‘Then you’d better come with me too,’ I said, when Jane told me the story. ‘Because I’ll be just the same.’

Female-only spaces, and lavatories in particular, are probably the most hotly debated of all trans-related controversies. And no wonder, when transwomen are invariably depicted in this context as masculine, unshaven and still in possession of a penis. Yet if you go back a few years, hardly anyone talked about the dangers, real or imagined, posed by transsexuals needing a pee.

Then, in 2016, Republican politicians in North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or ‘bathroom bill’. This stated that people could only use school and public toilets that corresponded to the gender stated on their birth certificate. The act was explicitly transphobic, pure prejudice presented to voters as a means of safeguarding the girls and women of North Carolina from the threat of male-to-female transsexuals.

But there was no such threat. Multiple American human-rights groups asserted that there had never been any recorded assaults by any transsexuals against any women in any toilets in the entire United States.

Even now, when I google ‘women’, ‘transgender’, ‘assault’, ‘female’ and ‘toilet’, I only get two hits. One is a hate crime committed in December 2018, in which a transwoman was the victim: attacked by two women in the ladies’ room of a bar in, yes, North Carolina.

The other is an assault on a 10-year-old girl in the female toilet of Morrisons in Kircaldy, Scotland, for which an 18- year-old transwoman, Katie Dolatowski, was convicted earlier this year.

That’s a deplorable crime. But while being transgender put Dolatowski in a place where she could harm that girl, it was not the reason for her behaviour. Child-abusers of any gender or proclivity will sadly find a means and location, whichever toilets they use.

Meanwhile, back in Carolina… the bathroom bill provoked an uproar in America, and was repealed in 2017. Yet the transphobia it created has spread around the world. The root of that fear is the belief that no amount of transition can eradicate the fact of being born male. We transwomen are fated to carry our masculinity branded upon us like a mark of Cain, wherever we go, for ever.

The irony is that the transwoman in the ladies’ has to be there in order to remove the very penis that is causing all the trouble. She can’t get her operation unless she spends a year ‘living in role’: two years if she wants a Gender Recognition Certificate. She must change her name and present as female 24/7. And that means using women’s toilets.

Believe me, the great majority of pre-op transsexuals really don’t like their male members and don’t want to flash them to anyone, let alone use them as weapons. We desperately want to go unnoticed. We dread being outed.

What’s worse is that our chances of going unnoticed are largely linked to our wealth. I’m paying to replace lost hair, feminise my body and face, buy nice clothes and train my voice. I expect my total transition bill to top £100,000. I can afford that, just, by downsizing my house and raiding my pension.

Most people don’t have those means. So, if you can see that transwoman’s stubble, or her wig is glaringly obvious, it’s not because she’s not genuinely trans. It’s because she’s poor.

And where else is she, or am I, supposed to go? A transwoman is surely going to be in far more danger walking into a male toilet than any women are likely to be if that same transwoman goes into the ladies’.

For now, still presenting male, I can use men’s facilities. But every time I get off the train at London Victoria and take my late-middle-aged bladder off to the gents’, I think about the day, not too far off now, when I will have to go into the ladies’ instead.

I don’t want to be afraid, any more than I want women to fear me. All I want is to do my business and leave, just like anyone else.

The original article is here.

‘Who will I want to have sex with as a transgender woman?’

13 JUNE 2019

There’s a classic Morecambe and Wise sketch in which Eric Morecambe attempts to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto, conducted by André Previn. ‘You’re playing all the wrong notes!’ Previn complains.

‘I’m playing all the right notes,’ Morecambe replies. ‘But not necessarily in the right order.’

It took me a very long time before I finally admitted to myself what I had always, deep down, suspected. I was having the right kind of sex. But not necessarily in the right body.

This confession was finally squeezed out of me a few years ago by my psychotherapist, Bernd Leygraf, a very cool, insightful, idiosyncratic German, who is an international authority on sex and gender issues, one half of a loving couple and an ordained Catholic clergyman.

Bernd led me through a kind of catechism, in language considerably blunter than I will now employ, as follows: ‘Do you want to have sex, as a man, with women?’

‘I really wish I wanted to… but no, I don’t think so.’

‘No, I’ve never wanted that.’

‘Do you want to have sex, as a woman, with men?’

‘Yes… I think I do.’

Bernd sighed. ‘You could have told me that years ago. It would have saved a great deal of time.’

Yes, it would have done. But we can sometimes be the last people to accept the truth about ourselves. The real question is: what do you do once you’ve finally wised up? For trans people, the twin variables of gender and sexuality can be combined in an extraordinary number of permutations. Here are a few, all based on personal acquaintance.

Someone who was gay as a man transitioned and became heterosexual as a woman, because in either gender they are attracted to men. On the other hand, I know someone who was lesbian as a woman, then transitioned and is gay as a man, because in either gender they are homosexual.

Someone who was heterosexual and married as a man, transitioned and stayed with their original wife. Though both partners are now women, they do not think of themselves as lesbian, simply two people who have always loved one another, irrespective of gender.

Me, I’m a simple soul. I just want someone to love. My problem is that I am fundamentally unlovable. I don’t mean to suggest that I am a vile individual whom no sensible person would ever want to go near. At least I hope not. It’s just that I’ve fallen foul of a very twisted existential conundrum, which is, for me, the single most problematic aspect of being transgender.

All other things being equal, my chances of finding a life partner would be better if I didn’t transition, but remained a reasonably all-right-looking, just-about-solvent 6ft male, great sense of humour etc, looking for a woman.

My life experience confirms that it is not impossible for me to attract women. There’s just one tiny catch. Women will put up with all sorts of nonsense from their partners. But the one non-negotiable thing a heterosexual female not unreasonably demands from her man is that he is, in fact, a man. And I can’t keep that show on the road any longer.

So what happens if I transition? My model of sex is the traditional, heterosexual, male/female combo. I love the way men’s and women’s bodies fit together. If I acquire a female body, I presume I’ll want a man’s next to it.

Of course, all my experience of relationships has been from the male point of view. I have never had to deal with men as partners. Maybe I couldn’t do that. But let’s assume I could. Now I would have the relationship I wanted. But…

The one thing a heterosexual man demands from a woman is that she is, in fact, a real woman. And even if I thought I was one, he could well disagree. I don’t see too many regular, red-blooded blokes lining up to beg the favours of a sexagenarian transsexual.

So I can either be a person who can get a partner, but can’t handle the relationship. Or I can be a person who might handle the relationship, but most likely can’t get a partner. It’s a Catch-22. A Catch 20-trans, in fact.

I can only pray that someone out there is willing to love me as a person, irrespective of the route I take to become the woman standing before them. And if that fails I’ll just pray that my long legs, perky new boobs and a working knowledge of both the offside and leg-before-wicket rules can do the trick instead.

The original article is here.

David Thomas: ‘I’ll be amazed if I get from male to female for under £100,000’

20 JUNE 2019

This coming Monday is a very big day. I’ll be having my first appointment with Mr Christopher Inglefield, a consultant plastic surgeon and boss of the London Transgender Clinic, to discuss my facial feminisation surgery. Or, as we transpeople (aptly, perhaps) abbreviate it: FFS.

Fixing my face is arguably the single most important part of my physical transition. This isn’t just vanity. If Inglefield can work his magic and make just the right tweaks, they will go a huge way towards helping me pass in public as a woman, which is absolutely vital for my confidence and mental well-being. But for now, let’s concentrate on one practical, but unavoidable aspect of any private treatment: money.

I don’t know what Inglefield will charge for the procedures, but I consulted a European surgeon several years ago, and his estimate was €30,000. So I’m steeling myself for something over £20,000. If, at a later date, I go to Inglefield for gender reassignment surgery too, it’ll probably cost at least as much again. Allowing for inflation, call it £45,000 on surgery.

I can’t lightly spend that kind of cash. I’ve pulled every financial stunt I can think of to liberate chunks of capital, but even so, the cost of transition is really stretching my resources. You may ask, why not do everything on the NHS? Well, I get my hormones that way and, since I’m 60, they cost me nothing. As for the rest, I have three reasons for going private.

The first is speed. The NHS has been taken totally unawares by the recent surge in demand for transgender services. Waiting lists for doctors’ appointments, let alone surgery, can be counted in years, not months. At my age, I can’t wait that long.

Secondly, I have no choice. The NHS provides gender reassignment, but it is not in the business of giving self-conscious transwomen the facial features and silky-soft skin of their dreams. Nor should it be.

The third reason is moral. Given the huge demand on NHS resources and my relative affluence, I think it would be wrong of me to use services that are desperately needed by the less well-off. Whatever my reasons, however, the result is the same: a constant stream of money leaving my account.

In any four-week period, for example, I may have electrolysis on my beard, laser hair removal on my legs and backside, and a voice-training session. The cost works out as follows…

I get my facial electrolysis from Isabel Cardina, an expert practitioner who sees me for a pair of two-hour sessions, per visit. Before each session I go to a nearby dentist, who numbs my face to make the pain tolerable. The electro-lysis costs £75 an hour: times four is £300. The dental work comes to £80. My train ticket to London, Tube fares, food and drink amount to about £50.

The grand total for a single day’s electrolysis is therefore £430. And I am going to need around 12 to 15 such sessions, if I’m lucky.

Meanwhile, Christella Antoni, the doyenne of voice feminisation, charges £115 an hour, if you book six at a time. I have two-hour sessions with her. Plus £50 costs, as before, makes £280.

Finally, back to sweet Jo, who does my hair removal at the Sk:n Clinic in Portsmouth. Sk:n offers more discounts than a cut-price sofa store, so I’m paying £1,000 for eight sessions on my legs, and £566 for my bottom. Both treatments together add up to £200 a session. Add the electro, laser and voice together and it comes to £910 a month. I’ll need more of some treatments than others, so call it £10,000, all told.

I’ve already spent £11,200 on two hair transplants, plus about £600 in hotel stays and transport. The transplants have transformed my once-bald scalp, but even so a full head of hair will require more operations, or possibly hair weaves. If total expenditure reaches £15,000, it will be a shock, but not a total surprise.

The grand total comes to £76,700. But rebuilding one’s body is like rebuilding a house: no matter how good your planning, it takes much longer and costs far more than you budgeted for. And that’s without the massive cost of an entire wardrobe, from scratch, including shoes, bags, trinkets and spectacles.

I try never to pay full price and I’ll happily go to Uniqlo or M&S. But even so, I do like quality, and that costs money. I’m too ashamed to say exactly how much. Suffice it to say that I’ll be amazed if I get from male to female for under £100,000, and even more amazed if I’ve not resorted to drastic action to scrape together the cash.

Because that’s the thing about transition. The procedures hurt like crazy. But the bills hurt even more.

The original article is here.

‘Talking like a woman isn’t just losing my deep voice – I need to learn how to ask more questions too’

27 JUNE 2019

A woman goes on a first date. The next day, she tells her friends, ‘Typical man! He just sat there talking about himself. He didn’t ask me a single question.’

I’ve often had girlfriends – both lovers and friends – ask me, ‘Why don’t you ask any questions? Aren’t you interested in me at all?’

I always used to reply, ‘Well, I thought that if there was something you wanted to tell me, you’d just tell me.’ I’d  then add something about all the women in my family being such talkers that you never needed to ask a question, they’d always be sure to let you know.

That’s actually true, but it was never once accepted as a reasonable excuse.

And then I started to transition. I went to my voice-training sessions at roughly once-a-month intervals to learn to sound like a woman. And finally, in session eight, I understood. My voice coach Christella Antoni pointed out that men and women not only speak differently in terms of the sound of their voices, they use language differently too. And one of the biggest disparities, and greatest causes of misunderstanding, lies in the simple business of asking questions.

Women’s conversations, particularly with other women, are filled with questions. Some of them are conscious, intended to elicit information. But others are so automatic, they’re hardly even aware of them. Men are the complete opposite. They ask far fewer questions, particularly personal ones. If they have something to say, they say it, even if someone else (eg a woman) is already talking. When they’ve made their point, they stop. Job done.

Imagine the scenario. Two men walk outside on summer’s day. ‘Nice day,’ one says. ‘Yeah,’ his mate replies. Neither sees any need to say another word. That is the language I have spoken for the past six decades.

Now two women appear. One says, ‘Isn’t it a gorgeous day?’ Her friend replies, ‘I love feeling the sun on my face, don’t you?’ Each inquiry is an invitation, encouraging a reply and establishing intimacy. Their conversation is underway. This is the new language I now have to learn.

So I have printed lists of these little ‘tag questions’, as Christella calls them, for me to practice:

‘It’s great, isn’t it?’

‘She can’t, can she?’

‘I like them, don’t you?’

And my personal favourite, ‘Do you have it in navy?’

I’m working on getting questions into my regular conversation, too, turning statements into enquiries. But as I do, a problem arises. And it’s causing me much more grief than the technical challenge of making my voice higher, lighter, bouncier and more feminine.

This whole new way of speaking strikes me as saying something quite shocking about the female condition, and thus about the new life that I am about to enter. Yes, all these questions  help women be much more closely connected to one another than men are, with all the benefits, and occasional pitfalls, that brings. But one day as I was going down my list – ‘Is that right?’ ‘He’ll show up, won’t he?’ – I realised that men make statements because it simply never occurs to them that their opinion is not worthwhile. They’re entitled to say what the hell they please.

If women turn their statements into questions (they don’t do this all the time,  but often enough), doesn’t this suggest a need for affirmation? I’m learning what it feels like to have a viewpoint that you think doesn’t mean anything until someone else has approved it; like a train conductor checking a ticket before a passenger is allowed to travel.

And there’s something else. In my voice-coaching sessions, I’m taught to use pitch and intonation to put emotion into my voice. Some of these emotions are specifically feminine, and I don’t think in a good way. I’m being taught to put a slight whine in my voice, or an edge of supressed irritation, or passive-agressive suffering.  It’s no coincidence that, in reverse, many women deepen their voices, particularly if they want to convey seriousness or authority. Margaret Thatcher was a classic case, and female newsreaders often do it, too.

The way I talk now – which is masculine, educated, plainly middle-class – is the voice of male privilege. It expects to be heard and taken seriously. But the voice of women is a voice that is used to not being heard or taken seriously and is struggling to achieve both of those basic rights.

So I have to accept that I am learning to speak like a less privileged person, because I am going to become a less privileged person. And coming to terms with that is, by a very long way, the toughest part about talking like a woman.

The original article is here.

‘Facial feminisation surgery is my only option. What will a female me look like?’

11 JULY 2019

‘Hmm… the chin projection is perfect,’ murmurs Mr Christopher Inglefield, consultant plastic surgeon, as he gently prods my jawline.

It’s not a compliment I’ve heard before. But then, it’s not often that one sees a doctor with the specific intention of reshaping one’s entire face. That, though, is what I have to do if I am to have any hope of a successful transition.

I wish it weren’t so. The thought of my face being cut into, remodelled and stitched back together is terrifying. I have an overactive imagination and letting it rip on all the things that can go wrong with a lengthy, potentially disfiguring operation is a nightmare.

Besides which, I’ve been looking in the mirror at the face nature gave me for the past six decades. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do fine for me. Or it would, if my mind and body matched one another. Like it or not, facial feminisation surgery is the only option if I am going to look on the outside how I feel on the inside.

Inglefield sums up that fine-but-not-fine dichotomy later, when I ask him how technically challenging the whole process will be. ‘The most challenging thing is the tip of the nose, and the thickness of the tissue I’ll be working on to create a more refined, more feminine look. The rest is pretty straightforward.’

‘Do you really need to operate on my nose, then?’

‘Yes, it dominates your face too much.’ Inglefield pauses and then adds, ‘If you were going to be David for the next 25 years, I’d say, “Forget it.” But trying to get it refined as much as possible is going to be worthwhile.’

Intellectually, I get it. But emotionally it’s much harder. For all of us, our face is who we are. It connects us to our parents, our siblings and our children: all those visual clues that say, ‘We are of one blood.’ I am scared of losing that sense of personal identity and familial connection. But what will a female me look like?

In the weeks before the consultation I use an iPhone picture app that can change the sex of a person’s face. For most people, it’s just a bit of fun. But for me, it is a way of getting some idea of what I might look like after my operation. The results aren’t too bad: still my basic face, and certainly no supermodel, but a perfectly nice-looking woman.

The first thing that strikes me, though, is, ‘I look just like Harriet!’ She’s one of my two younger sisters and that resemblance is very reassuring. I’ll still belong.

So off I go to the London Transgender Clinic, where Inglefield practises. I tell him I’m after the minimum amount of work needed to make me passable as a woman, while still being me. I then list the features that after years of research and vanity I have targeted for treatment.

The flesh around my lower cheeks and jawline is too heavy, but my upper cheeks are too hollow. My top lip needs lifting, because women’s top lips are set higher than men’s: closer to their nose and revealing their top teeth as they talk. My browline is too glowering and the groove between my eyebrows is too deep. And yes, I agree, the tip of my nose is way too bulbous.

Inglefield examines me, taking detailed measurements of my face. The survey complete, his list of necessary procedures tallies almost exactly with mine. I’d like to believe that’s because my bright mind and sharp eye have combined to produce a devastatingly acute analysis. But the cynical journalist in me suggests that his business depends on charming his patients. With his snowy hair, comforting manner and lilting Trinidadian accent, Inglefield is very charming indeed.

‘It’s not about changing you. It’s about you looking in the mirror and thinking, “I see me, but a softer me.” It’s getting that balance,’ he reassures me.

He then adds, ‘There are things we have to consider that are about maleness, and things that are about being 60. And they’re very different.’

He describes the face and brow lifts as essentially just ‘freshening’ my appearance. ‘The lips will be what feminise your face the most.’

I’m surprised that the simplest procedure will be the most impactful, but Mr Inglefield points out, ‘What do people look at when they see a face? The eyes and mouth. It’s that triangle.’

I get out my iPad and show him the app’s image of me as a woman. ‘Could I actually look at all like this?’

Mr Inglefield looks at the screen, makes the image larger and examines it more closely. ‘Yes, that’s mostly achievable. The nose is the only issue. It won’t be as refined as the one in the picture.’

Ah, my damn nose again, still getting in the way. But I reassure myself with the fact that, overall, the news is really good. Next we get down to the details of what exactly will be done, and only then do I truly grasp the full extent of the gruesome six-hour procedure, how much discomfort I will be in, and how great the cost will be…

The original article is here.

David Thomas: why I’m having a crisis of faith about transitioning

25 JULY 2019

A sweet lady came up to me at the end of choir practice a few weeks ago and said, ‘I’m so happy for you. You  look so…’ – she searched for the right adjective – ‘vibrant!’

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I feel pretty vibrant, too.’

I meant it. I felt great. And that lady’s kindness was typical of the camaraderie and support I’ve found in the five years I’ve been singing in the choir. There are about 60 of us all told, mostly female, mostly 50-plus, but with a smattering of men and 20-somethings.

Every Tuesday evening, I take my place in the front row of the tenor section, next to three of my favourite women in the world: Nik, Corina and Maggie. Otherwise known as The Tenor Babes.

When I came out to the choir, earlier this year, the response was without exception positive. That feeling of acceptance, in that and so many other contexts, has been my overwhelming experience of transition. It’s the major reason that the journey I’m on has mostly not been the traumatic, anxious, stressful process one might reasonably expect.

On the Saturday after that Tuesday practice we had our annual concert. I should have been looking forward to it. I had a big solo. I’ve loved singing all my life; I was a choirboy at school, and as a journalist have met an incredible variety of classical and rock musicians, and even had late-night singsongs with a few of them, too. So I don’t usually get anything approaching stage fright.

But on Saturday morning, my guts were as clenched as a white-knuckled fist. My pulse was racing. I was suddenly having a full-blown panic attack. I sent out an SOS on our WhatsApp group.  Everyone rallied round as  I knew they would. But it made no difference. I just couldn’t do it.

I messaged Emma, our choir mistress, and said sorry, but I couldn’t be there. Luckily, there was another tenor who was desperate to sing my solo, so I hadn’t left the choir in the lurch. But I had let myself down terribly. And as the tension eased and the adrenalin and cortisol gradually ebbed away, I asked myself, what the hell was that about?

Part of it, I concluded, was a sudden attack of acute self-consciousness. The combination of oestrogen and hair removal is having a pretty radical effect on my figure. I’ve worked out ways of keeping my newfound curves hidden: loose shirts, jackets, androgynous jeans. But our concert uniform is white shirts with black trousers or skirts and I faced a dilemma: either dig out my baggiest old male clothes, or put on female ones, tailored to my new curves, and show myself to the world.

That message meant a huge amount to me, which was why I’d wanted to sing it. But maybe it meant too much, was too close to the bone. The shameful irony was that I just didn’t have the guts to live up to the song, put myself on display and say, ‘This is who I am,’ in front of an audience. Not yet.

But there was something more. The concert took place just a few days before I was to meet my surgeon, Mr Inglefield, to discuss my facial feminisation surgery. And that panic attack was actually a precursor to a much longer, deeper period of anxiety and uncertainty, from which I am only starting to emerge.

As long as I’m still presenting as male, being transgender remains more of an abstract principle than a daily reality. But things are about to change,  permanently and irrevocably.

I am approaching the point when my face will look as female as most of my body. When my new voice won’t just be something I practise but the actual way  I talk. When, after 60 years of being David, I will acquire my new name.

As I confront these realities, I’m having a crisis of faith. My resolution is being tested. Am I doing the right thing? Will it all go horribly wrong? Wouldn’t it be easier just to stop?

I know this is only natural. I know, too, that I am on the right path. But still, this is where it gets hard.

The original article is here.

‘I like my new boobs. They’re neat and round and don’t sag’

2 AUGUST 2019

I was worried about my breasts. The one on the left was growing faster than the one on the right.

It didn’t come as a complete surprise. My left leg is more than an inch longer than the right, and my left buttock, having to bear most of my weight, is considerably chunkier than its more modest neighbour. But still, I wanted to know: is this normal?

I googled away and up popped a site that gave me lots of reassuring information and added, ‘Even if your development is normal, it can be hard if you seem to be either the first or the last one among your classmates or friends to develop breasts.’

Ah, yes, fair enough. The people who ask questions like this are more likely to be girls aged 11 to 13, than men old enough to be their grandfather. There’s something weird, not to say toe-curlingly ‘eeeewww’, about a man of 60 who looks down and sees the breasts of an adolescent girl sprouting on his chest.

That’s one reason I’ve not written much about my boobs until now. Another would be that, from a female reader’s point of view, being told about what it feels like to grow breasts by a male-to-female transsexual might easily seem like the ultimate, distilled, platonic essence of mansplaining. You really don’t need me to tell you.

And yet the fact remains that my breasts are incredibly important to me. They’re the most obvious manifestation of the process I’m undertaking, and the clearest signpost to my ultimate destination.

My first emotion, however, when they began to sprout in May and June last year was one of surprise. I didn’t think that anyone my age could possibly grow anything new. And even by male standards I’d always been flat-chested. As a 21-year-old oarsman, I was as fit and strong as I would ever be, yet I barely had an ounce of pectoral muscle. As a 45-year-old dad, I was at my all-time flabbiest, but there was never a trace of man boob.

I had assumed I’d have to resort to silicone in the search for a bust. And yet, here it was, by far the most effortless, cheap and painless aspect of transition. But then in July 2018, for reasons too numerous and convoluted to mention right now, I pressed pause on my transition. I stopped taking the hormones and my breasts disappeared, as if they’d never been there at all.

I really missed them. In fact, that was one of the things that made me go back on to oestrogen in November. Suddenly I was afraid that they’d never come back. I’d had my chance. I wouldn’t get another. But I was wrong.

As I write these words, I am somewhere between a 36A and B. If I reach that B, I’ll be delighted. If I can’t, it’s not the end of the world. I absolutely don’t see the need for surgical enhancement.

I’m insecure, overcritical and self-hating about pretty much every aspect of my transitioning self. But my breasts and my long legs (the one big positive to being a six-footer) are the bits I don’t have to worry about.

In fact – and I apologise if it’s toe-curling time again – I think my boobs are, well… pretty. They’re neat and round and because they’re so new and small, they don’t sag. I love how they feel, too, and the way I keep being reminded of their presence. I can’t see a flight of stairs, or an escalator on the Tube, without wanting to run up it two steps at a time. I like to come down fast, too. But it’s a very different experience when you suddenly have to clamp a hand across your chest to stop the jiggling.

I also keep bumping into them. It took me a while, for example, to get used to having a shower with two protuberances on my body that bumped against the insides of my arms as I reached across to wash one side or another of my body. Not to mention the sudden little sensory shock that I received when that happened.

And here is the other amazing, and unexpected, blessing about my breasts. I seem to have developed an entirely new network of nerves.

What men will find hard, even impossible to believe, though, is that I love my breasts in a way I’ve never loved my penis. And I’d miss not having them more. Which, all things considered, is probably just as well.

 

04.08.19 Next month I  hope to be able to post further updates to David’s story but I can’t promise anything.