David Thomas transition story
Author David Thomas still lives as a man, but has begun the male-to-female gender transition that will eventually result in becoming a woman. Each week in the Telegraph magazine he will chronicle his progress along the way.
Four of my absolutely favourite activities are shopping, singing, cooking and interior decorating. I know… I know… whoever would have guessed that I wasn’t a completely normal guy?
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.
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.
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.’
‘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.’
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.
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…
‘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…
‘Any transwoman who wins a race prevents a natural-born woman from doing so’
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.
‘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?
26.05.19 If there are further updates to this story, I hope to get them in a few weeks time but I can’t promise anything.