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 (sic). Each week in the Telegraph magazine he will chronicle his progress along the way.

The original article is here.

‘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

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 forever 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.

Both my own experience and my doctor’s tests suggest that I am fitter than I was before I started sticking patches on my abdomen. There are 46 stairs up to my second-floor apartment and I can run up them two at 
 a time without getting out of breath. I just have to have one hand across my chest to stop myself jiggling as I do it.

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.’

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

‘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.

>Self-perception can matter just as much as actual physical status. I know two men who define themselves as transgender. Neither has transitioned full-time, but both have female alter egos. In those identities, they both have boyfriends and all four parties consider their relationships heterosexual, though all are physically male.

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.

I’ve also had around £5,500 of laser and other treatments on my beard and thick, unbroken monobrow. Consultations with doctors and psychiatrists account for around £1,200.

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.

Christella isn’t teaching me all this stuff because she has a self-hating,  sexist view of women. She absolutely doesn’t. She wants me to learn to convey anger without reverting to a male voice. But it’s a reminder to me of something else; that the change in my voice is a symbol of a change in my status.

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.

In fact, transition really isn’t that hard… until it is.

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.

>The first option felt like a betrayal of who I now am. The second would just invite more exposure and speculation than I could stand.

Truth be told, I could have found a workaround. So that wasn’t the only reason for my meltdown. Then I thought about my solo, which came from a song called This Is Me. If you’ve seen The Greatest Showman you may know it. In the film, sung by the bearded lady, it’s all about summoning the courage to stop hiding away in shame, to find one’s pride and go out into 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.

The original article is here.

‘Going to a funeral as a transgender person is tricky: What on earth am I going to wear?’

8 AUGUST 2019

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 he chronicles his progress. This week, a fashion crisis at the church.

Blank! Blank! Blankety-blank! If you recall the opening of Four Weddings and a Funeral, you won’t need me to fill in those blanks. Suffice it to say, I was channelling my inner Hugh Grant, driving down a dual carriageway, hopelessly late for a church service.

The occasion was a funeral – the mother of one of my oldest friends – rather than a wedding. Like Hugh, I was frantically looking for the right exit. I didn’t actually reverse back down the highway to take it, as he did. But I did make a pretty dramatic, last-second swerve from the fast lane to the slip road.

I swear I’d tried to be on time. I’d really tried. I’d familiarised myself with the route from Sussex to Somerset. I’d allowed for delays. I was all sorted.

There was just one problem. What on earth was I going to wear?

When I was a normal(ish) bloke, events like this were a doddle. Men’s clothes are mostly just uniforms. For funerals that means a more formal twist on the Blues Brothers/Reservoir Dogs look: black suit, shoes and tie, white shirt, usually best to forget the black shades.

In this case, however, the dress code was, ‘No black.’ It was an occasion to celebrate a life, as much as to mourn its passing. Again, as a man, that was perfectly achievable. I have an elegant, silvery grey Gieves & Hawkes suit. Add a pale-blue shirt and an elegantly colourful tie and… bingo! Job done.

The trouble is, I can’t wear those clothes any more. Partly, I just don’t want to. But also, they hang all wrong on me. For some reason, every suit I own is about four inches too wide at the shoulders and the trousers fall off without drastic belt-tightening. OK, I’ve lost a bit of weight, but not that much. And no amount of oestrogen shrinks one’s skeleton. I think I must have been deluded about my actual proportions.

So much for men’s clothes, what about women’s? Now, I went a bit crazy when I began the transition process, making up for 40 years of lost shopping. I would have had no trouble in finding a chic, appropriate dress or little skirt-suit. I’d have spent ages getting it right. But I’d have got there.

Trouble is, I’m still stuck in the no-man-or-woman’s land of transition. I can’t get away with wearing frocks yet. I needed a workable compromise.

Cue hours of emptying wardrobes and drawers, trying things on, throwing them off and scrabbling for something else. I did this on the night before the funeral, by the way. I was thinking ahead.

I came up with a compromise: white Calvin Klein men’s jeans; a vintage Scott Crolla men’s jacket in dark blue shot silk; a pale-pink silk vest and voile shirt from Me+Em; and dark-blue suede ankle boots. It may sound mad, but it looked great.

Come the big day, I was ready in plenty of time. I went downstairs, got in the car… then stopped. No, it wouldn’t do. The vest and shirt were lovely, but they were too showy, too femme, too, ‘Look at me, I’m a tranny!’

I got out of the car, dashed back to the house, up three flights of stairs to my flat, beginning to get sweaty a bit too early in the day, and raced into my bedroom.

After frantic clothes-hunting, I spotted a blue-and-white striped silk shirt from Pure. Excellent, matchy-matchy, gender-neutral option! Pure is discreetly middle-class and middle-aged. Who could object?

I put on the shirt, dashed back to the car, drove off. Three miles down the road I realised that I was no longer wearing my jacket. Cue a sudden U-turn, a frantic hurtle back home, another run up the stairs, more sweat, more swearing. Finally, I was underway. But now all my spare time had gone.

Somehow, I reached the church with seconds to spare. The setting was idyllic, the weather gorgeous. Only problem: the nearest parking space was 400 yards away. I ran up the lane and arrived, panting and now molten, to be greeted by my friend, who bore the wry grin of a man not surprised by the turn of events.

‘The church is packed,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to take a family seat at the front.’

I walked down the aisle, throwing embarrassed grins at all the punctual people whose inferior pews I was passing, and collapsed alongside the deceased lady’s brother, who’d been my very first boss, years ago. It was that kind of event.

Afterwards, as everyone milled around the aisle, I saw my friend’s ex-wife coming towards me looking wonderful. I pointed at her beautiful silk dress and gave her the thumbs-up. When we finally made contact, I said, ‘I’m sorry I was so late. Total wardrobe malfunction.’

She looked at me with an affectionate smile and said, ‘Yes, I’d been wondering what you were going to wear.’

The original article is here.

‘I hated being trans almost as much as I hated myself… Until now’

15 AUGUST 2019

A friend asked me an interesting question the other day: ‘Is there anything good about being trans?’

For most of my life, I would have said, ‘No.’ I regarded the nagging sense of wrongness, which defied all my attempts to will it away, as an unmitigated curse. It was the Achilles heel that undermined me from within. And the unintended consequences of my desperate attempts to deny and ‘cure’ it ended up costing me my marriage, my family and my home.

I hated being trans almost as much as I hated myself. But then two people showed me that there was another way. The first was Juno Roche. She is the author of Queer Sex, a guide to sex and relationships for trans people that has opened eyes and minds in the same way that The Joy of Sex did for straight folk, many years ago. She’s also a passionate, effective advocate for transgender rights, while remaining reasonable, coherent and thoroughly likeable.

Now, Juno and I are as different as can be. She comes from a working-class background in Peckham, south-east London, land of Del Boy and Rodney Trotter. And I’m an Old Etonian, raised in Moscow, Lisbon, Lima and Kew Gardens. She’s staunchly Labour and Remain, I’m Tory and Leave. She’s blonde and petite, I’m tall and dark. She loves dogs, I’m more of a cat person. As friends go, we’re definitely an odd couple. And yet…

I went to stay with Juno a few years ago at her small, idyllic village house in the hills of Andalusia and we yakked like fishwives non-stop for 72 hours. She was funny, full of life and absolutely at ease with being a transwoman. Much of her life had been tough. But now she seemed fulfilled in a way she had clearly not been before she transitioned. Juno made me think, ‘Maybe I could do this…’ Her view was more, ‘You must do this.’

Sitting at her kitchen table, she pointed up at a cupboard and said, ‘I’ve got a box filled with hormone patches in there, and if you don’t promise me you’re going to transition, I’m going to come into your room while you’re asleep and stick them all over your bum.’

When, just recently, I put the ‘Is there anything good…?’ question to Juno, she of course replied, ‘Yes,’ and then added, ‘People often don’t believe me when I say that if I had a choice, I’d always choose to be trans. But it’s the only identity that ever made sense to me. It feels aspirational. It allows me to cross borders towards a better, happier, more authentic version of me. I’m doing the best I can, to be the best I can. My trans identity enables me to do just that.’

The other person who gave me the confidence to see a positive side to being trans was the inimitable artist, cartoonist and author Steven Appleby. Steve and I first met almost 30 years ago, when I was editor of Punch magazine and commissioned work from him. Neither of us had any idea of the other’s trans identity. Back then, we might not have admitted it even to ourselves.

Unlike Juno and I, Steve sees no need to transition. He enjoys having both male and female aspects to his identity. But he has a female alter ego, Nancy, and presents as female almost all the time.

Nancy has a very cool, goth-chick look, carried off with tremendous style and self-assurance. Being with Steve in Nancy mode, I really understood that if you are at ease with yourself, then others will be at ease with you too.

Steve’s answer to That Question was, ‘I can’t remember when I started thinking that being trans was something special, and fun, rather than a cross to bear. But I do remember that it struck me as a magical, through-the-wardrobe kind of thing. It sounds pretentious, but you transform into something mythical, like a centaur, or a mermaid. But instead of being part-man/part-horse, or part-girl/part-fish, you’re part-boy/part-girl.’

I too relish the idea of being a changeling. We trans people know something that the rest of the world doesn’t: what it is like to be on both sides of the great gender divide.

Of course, I don’t know it all about being female. Maybe we never knew quite what it was to be male. But we do get glimpses that others cannot.

For me as a novelist, being able to identify so strongly with both male and female characters is a huge help. But Steve and I have both found that the act of fashioning a new identity can be such a fascinating, all-consuming, creative endeavour that it drains some of the energy we need for our work.

Even so, my answer to that original question is now a confident, ‘Yes.’

The original article is here.

David Thomas’s transitioning journey: ‘You can lead a horse to hormones but you can’t make it pink’

22 AUGUST 2019

I’m hardly shy about making intimate confessions, and here’s another: I adored Big Little Lies. I devoured both series of the Sky Atlantic drama in a gooey, sticky sugar-rush of pleasure, like eating a kilo of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in a single sitting, but with no actual calories, sugar, or overpowering nausea. Bliss!

For the benefit of anyone who missed it, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern play three absurdly pampered, middle-aged women from Monterey, California. They have sprawling, property-porn homes overlooking the Pacific, and drive SUVs the size of Zeppelins. Their husbands are handsome; their kids are cute and bright.

Luckily for us, their lives are a total disaster.

The three stars ham it up in a hormonal frenzy of unrestrained emotion. Each episode is like an hour-long hot flush. Then Meryl Streep strolls into season two and steals the entire show.

As I sat watching it all, delirious with pleasure, I couldn’t help asking myself, ‘Why aren’t I more like those women?’

Not in the sense of, ‘Why don’t I have a seaside mansion in Monterey?’ (though that is a fair question), but, ‘My bloodstream is now about 98 per cent oestrogen, so why aren’t I, too, an over-emoting, sobbing, barely restrained torrent of uncontrollable hysteria?’

There are two simple answers to that:

1. Because they aren’t actually real women, and…

2. Neither am I.

Fair points, but still, I’m puzzled. For 14 of the past 16 months, I’ve been dosing myself with oestrogen, using the same Estradot patches as many women on HRT. So my hormone levels are now essentially female.

The physical effects of those patches are far more evident than I ever expected. But the mental effects are far less. In fact, they’re pretty well non-existent. I’ve not suddenly plunged into a whole new world of empathy and emotion. I don’t cry any more than I used to. I am no less immune to the charms of small, yappy dogs.

Why on earth not?

It could be that a year-and-a-bit really isn’t a lot of time. Maybe the changes will come more gradually. And, anyway, I’m not yet living as a woman and being treated as a woman, so why would I react as a woman?

Also, I’ve been a man for a long time and I’m used to behaving in a certain, ‘male’ way. Old habits die hard. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You can lead a horse to hormones but you can’t make it pink… or something.

Or maybe the old-school feminists were right all along. Maybe what we think of as female behaviour has nothing to do with biology and really is just a matter of conditioning. Women cry more, emote more, empathise more, not because they’re made that way, but because they learn from their earliest babyhood that that is how girls and grown women are supposed to behave. I honestly have no clue as to what the answer might be. But I do have a final hypothesis: maybe I was secretly super-girly all along.

I’m not crying more, because I’m already incapable of getting through a film without blubbing. I don’t emote more because, seriously, how much more can any human emote and still be acceptable in polite society? And I’ve long been known to get seriously hysterical, and not in a ‘ha-ha’ way.

My girlfriends have been gently suggesting as much recently. Annie messaged me, ‘When we met up, I thought it was unusual that you wanted to know lots of detail about things that had happened to me, ex-hub and all that. I thought that was very female-brained.’

My neighbour Joanna came over for a drink, a few days before I had to pose for some photos. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said as she left. ‘I’m sure it will all go fine.’ ‘Don’t worry?’ I wailed. ‘I worry about everything!’ ‘Then you really are a woman,’ she replied.

Just recently, someone publicly insulted me on Facebook. I responded with a status that did not name them and was not blatantly rude, but was nonetheless a carefully calibrated verbal slap.

Maggie, a friend from way back, promptly commented, ‘I love it when you get your flounce on.’

Oh, right, so I am just like those Big Little Lies women, after all. While on the subject of television… After I finished the first draft of this column, I watched the first two episodes of Euphoria, the controversial show about promiscuous, drug-taking, mixed-up teens.

It’s as brilliant as it is horrifying, but what really struck me was the courage of Hunter Schafer, a young trans actress who plays a trans schoolgirl. She makes herself completely open, completely vulnerable and she really inspired me to do the same at that photo shoot I mentioned.

How open? Well, as we were finishing up, the photographer said to me, ‘You know, you really relaxed when you put on that dress.’ Though not, perhaps, when I see myself in that dress in print…

The original article is here.

‘Not long ago I was positive and proud of being trans… But I suddenly felt very alone and scared’

29 AUGUST 2019

Lying in bed this morning, I pondered the column I was planning to write, all about spending the past few weeks jumping through more hoops than a mangy old lion at a cruel and demanding circus, just to get a date for my facial surgery.

First there was the simple need to establish that I was fit enough for the procedure. I’m all in favour of that. I don’t want my surgeon or anaesthetist to get any nasty surprises while I’m unconscious on the operating table.

I was sent for tests to prove that my blood would clot satisfactorily. Happily, they were fine. Then I had an electro-cardiogram to make sure that my heart wouldn’t give out. But that came back as ‘abnormal’. Not so fine.

So, off I went off to a cardiologist. He looked at the ECG scan, took my pulse (steady) and my blood pressure (low). So far, so good, but then I told him that I had experienced occasional heart flutters and arrhythmia since my early 20s.

The cardiologist thought further investigation was required. He wanted to give me a quick ultrasound scan to make sure my ticker was in good structural condition, and told me to get my top off.

Having warned him that my chest was not quite the usual male shape and texture, I lay down on his examination table. The doc smeared gel all over my upper torso, ran a device around, and concluded that…

1. I have a heart (though I could name
 a few people who doubt it).

2. It’s in the right place, and …

3. It appears to be working.

So as far as he was concerned, I was good to go. Excellent! Two hoops had been successfully confronted, ducks were in rows – all good. Except for one little thing: I now had to prove I wasn’t just fit enough for surgery, I was sane enough, too.

Now, I don’t have any issue, in principle, with this. Surgery, like marriage, is not to be entered into lightly. Neither is transition.

That makes transition-related surgery a particularly weighty matter. Just to complicate things, there have been patients who demand this surgery, then change their minds afterwards and want to sue.

Doctors, and their lawyers, therefore require an expert psych-report confirming that their patients really understand the implications of what they are doing, and are committed to the transition process. My brilliant, blue-eyed, motorbike-boot-wearing Catholic clergyman/therapist Bernd Leygraf was both willing and qualified to provide such an assessment.

But what with one thing and another, not least my propensity to go to Bernd’s office to talk about one thing and then spend the entire session yakking about something completely different, he couldn’t write his report until he was on holiday in France. He sent it to me as an email, but that wasn’t good enough. A hard copy was also required.

The poor man, by now struck with bronchitis, had to get out of his sick-bed to print out the letter on headed paper and then drag himself to the nearest village post office to post it. He too had jumped through hoops. Now I was ready to get that operation date sorted. Until…

I got out of bed this morning. I dragged myself off to the bathroom, pausing only to gaze at the battleship- grey sky and teeming, monsoon rain. I looked in the mirror. And I despaired.

My electrolysis lady has also been on holiday, so it’s more than a month since our last session. And in the past few weeks, black hairs – the ones I thought had been removed for good by the 30-odd laser sessions I have had over the past three years – have been sprouting all across my face.

This morning they looked particularly numerous. I felt as though my head was saying, ‘Forget it. You’ll never be anything other than what you are.’

My bedraggled, greasy, early-morning hair seemed to mock my attempts to cover up the male-pattern baldness that nature had intended for me. And my croaky morning voice laughed at the very idea of a new, brighter, higher, more feminine mode of speech.

I know, I know. It wasn’t long ago I was being all positive and proud of being trans. But perhaps we can all relate to the feeling of being upbeat and self-confident one minute, and utterly despairing the next.

I suddenly felt very alone and scared. The whole idea of messing with my face and body seemed impossible to handle. I’m sure the feeling will pass. It always does. But seriously, does it all have to be quite so hard?

The original article is here.

‘I’ve made big changes to how I look. Is it time to say enough is enough?’

5 SEPTEMBER 2019

In my unofficial role as a self-appointed Emeritus Professor of Transology, I came up with a concept a few years ago that I called The O’Brien Point. The OBP describes the point in a person’s transition at which they say, ‘Enough.’

This may come at the very end of the entire process, after every conceivable operation has been undertaken. Or it may come much earlier, when a person stops and says, ‘That’ll do me.’

Perhaps they are content where they are and don’t need to go any further. Or they may have intended to go further, but suddenly recoil, as if walking into an electrified fence, thinking, ‘Ouch! That’s a step too far.’

The point takes its name from Richard O’Brien, the creator of The Rocky Horror Show, who defines himself as transgender. In 2015, O’Brien told this newspaper that although he would rather have been born female, he had never wanted surgery because, ‘I would never be a woman, I could only be an idea of a woman.’

It was enough just to tell himself that, ‘I’m transgender. OK. Accept it for yourself and the rest of you accept it too. Get on with it.’

When I was taken to see The Rocky Horror Show, as a 15th birthday treat, I encountered the word ‘transsexual’ for the very first time and thought, ‘Maybe that’s what I am.’ Now here I am, 45 years later, wondering, ‘Have I reached my own O’Brien Point?’

I do feel I’m about to arrive at my electric-fence moment. It’s not just that I am exhausted and impoverished by the endless intrusive, painful procedures that transition entails. It’s not even that the finishing line seems as endlessly unreachable as the moment when we all finally say, ‘Phew! That’s Brexit done and dusted.’

As today’s new photo of me – and others to follow – demonstrate, there have been big changes. Trouble is, I still have a long way to go. My face needs work: jawline, browline, nose and lips to be precise. And I am scared by the prospect of a six-hour operation on my face and the discomfort that is bound to follow it. Ditto, the operation after that… you know, that one.

The biggest issue of all for me is anaesthesia. General anaesthetics for patients over 60 can cause post-operative delirium and post-operative cognitive dysfunction. These self-explanatory conditions not only have serious short-term effects on patients but may increase the risk of dementia. And dementia terrifies me.

My mother is an academically brilliant woman who by sheer talent and hard work transformed herself from a suburban housewife to the deputy speaker of the House of Lords. Today, she has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home, unable to form a coherent sentence, or care for herself in any way.

Mum is kept permanently semi-comatose. One realises why when the drugs wear off and the full horror of her existential torment – trapped in a nightmare from which there is no escape – becomes apparent.

I dread that fate even more than death itself. So is anything worth the risk, however minimal, of accelerating, or even provoking my slide into the seventh circle of a living hell?

Then again, what is the alternative? Well, I guess it has to do with the kind of self-acceptance that O’Brien seems to have achieved. I’ve been working on that and I think I’m getting better at it, although I don’t know if I could accept the failure (as I would surely see it) of not seeing transition through to the bitter end.

But also, it’s a matter of love. Yes, that old chestnut again. At the time of his interview, and to this day (for all I know), Richard O’Brien was in a fulfilling relationship with someone who both knew and accepted that he was transgender. That in itself justified his decision not to transition. But could I ever be so lucky?

The original article is here.

‘I don’t wear dresses because I’m looking for cheap thrills’

 

12 SEPTEMBER 2019

So, here I am, in a dress, in public, for all the world to see. I must be mad.

The truth is, I lost my nerve.  I begged my editor not to run this photo and she very kindly said,  “Of course, I understand. We’ll pull it. Take your time.”

But then I told myself to buck up and get a grip. Do your job. Work through your twisted emotions and turn them into coherent prose. And start at the beginning, with the day this, and many other pictures were taken. Because that day was fun.

I’d been very nervous. In public, I do everything possible to hide the way my body is changing. Though I’m dressed from head to toe in clothes intended for women, I still present, and am invariably read, as a man.

But I resolved to be more open for these photographs. If only to demonstrate that the transition I write about is real, I would wear clothes that would be much more revealing of my new figure than I would ever normally allow.

That was a scary, very vulnerable prospect. The only way to get through the day was to pack my fears away and really go for it.

I put the Stones on the studio sound system, cranked up the volume and switched to performer mode: feeling the beat, dancing, modelling, playing a much freer, more self-confident version of my true self.

As for the specific garments  I wore, well, I was a little better at picking them than the first time I posed for these pages. But for some reason, I still couldn’t quite put looks together that felt entirely natural.

I was thinking this just yesterday, actually. I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, wearing an olive-green silk vest, a pair of baggy, cropped, off-white linen trousers (it was our last Indian- Summer day) and  a couple of long necklaces, both in various shades of turquoise, blue and grey. The combination just worked, in  a completely relaxed, uncalculated way, and  I thought, “Why the hell didn’t you wear this for  the shoot?”

But actually, there was one exception. As I was leaving home, opening the front door of my flat, I thought, “Oh, for God’s sake, take it. You don’t have to wear it. But just in case…”

“It’ was the dress you now can see in the picture. It’s from Me+Em’s summer collection… and here I must pause for a second to apologise to Clare Hornby, the founder of the brand.

We’ve never met, though I feel we are oddly connected. I buy tons of her clothes. In fact, I buy so many that a couple of years ago, when Me+Em was raising funds via the Crowdcube website, I bought a bunch of shares as well.

My reasoning was that if they went up, the profits would cancel out the cash I’d splashed on the clothes and  I’d have got half my wardrobe for free.

As if all this were not enough,  Ms Hornby and I live in the same neck of the woods. We even shared the same cleaner for many years. So  I really should say sorry to her for sullying her lovely clothes with my unlovely appearance.

But the thing is, I really like this dress. It’s incredibly comfortable and easy to wear and I love that there’s just enough lace to make it pretty, but it’s also restrained and understated.

By the way, for the record, when  I wear dresses, it’s not because I’m getting cheap thrills, or prancing around shrieking, “I’m a lay-dee.” It’s for the same reasons anyone does.

Maybe the weather’s really hot and I want to be cool. Maybe it’s cold and I want to snuggle on the sofa in a cosy, woolly sack. Maybe a particular dress just suits my mood, and it fits, and  I like it.

Or maybe it’s because a photo session has gone really well and I think, “Tran-up and put that damn dress on.”

So I did, and I stuck a Uniqlo denim jacket on top, and a pair of white sneakers on my feet, and they felt like the most ‘me’ clothes I’d worn all day. I mentioned a few weeks ago that the photographer, Edd, said that I only really relaxed when I was in the dress. And I told him, “So would you, if you put it on. It’s incredibly relaxing.”

So that was how I felt when this photograph was taken. But looking at it, all I can see is a transgender Malvolio: a self-deluding old fool, with a white frock instead of yellow stockings and cross-garters.

And so I wonder … no matter what I do, or how many hours I spend on the operating table, will there ever come a time when I can look at my new self and not just see an old fool?

The original article is here.

‘I’ve spent £11K on hair transplants but it’s still not enough to look natural’

19 SEPTEMBER 2019

Chris Hinchliffe, director of Lucinda Ellery, female hair-loss specialist, examines a picture of me taken two years ago. He notes the sparse, greasy tufts scattered along my hairline and the bare, shiny scalp at my crown. Then he looks up at the luxuriant thatch that now sprouts there, like a glorious wheat field on what was a barren dust bowl.

‘You’ve got the best hair transplant I’ve ever seen,’ he says.

I bask contentedly in the compliment. The £11,000 I’ve spent on two procedures, the pain and discomfort – it was all worthwhile. And yet I detect a ‘but’ hanging in the air.  ‘But it was a waste of time?’

Hinchliffe shrugs. ‘Well, what I am going to suggest next, would be just as easy for us if you hadn’t.’

It’s quite a blow. I could devote many thousands of words to the gruelling business of hair transplantation. But for now, let me just say this.

Hair transplants essentially consist of the removal of a strip of hair-bearing skin, about an inch wide and eight across from the back of your scalp. This is divided up into thousands of ‘follicular units’, each containing two or three hairs, which are then redistributed across the empty patches on your head.

You’re awake, though heavily tranquillised, throughout. And as the hairy strip of skin is ripped from your skull, the thought that comes to mind is, ‘That’s just like Velcro.’ The sound, the feel – they’re exactly the same.

Essentially, then, you’re scalped. And I’ve had it done twice.

Yet here I am in an agreeable office in Chiswick, west London, coming to terms with the very real possibility that Chris Hinchliffe is right.

Because here’s the thing: if all I wanted was a man’s transplant, mine could indeed be counted a triumphant success. After 25 years of ever-increasing baldness, I look in the mirror and see my old, youthful, hirsute self.

But even the finest transplant can’t beat the maths. If you start out with 100,000 hairs, and you lose a third of them, then even if you redistribute them with the utmost skill, you’re still trying to cover the same amount of head with a much smaller number of hairs.

Thus the density of hair is always bound to be less than it once was. And, Hinchliffe says, ‘For true femininity you need a good thatch of hair, with nothing obvious in terms of thinning.’

And this is why I’ve come to Lucinda Ellery. Acting on the paradoxical principle that ‘the only way to get a natural look is with a prosthetic’, they specialise in ‘intralace’ hairpieces, comprised of real hair, attached to a fine mesh. The mesh is placed on your head. Your own hair is pulled through it and combined with the hairpiece to create the effect of a thick head of hair that looks entirely natural.

‘We’ve got a whole colour range,’ Hinchliffe says. ‘That’s an entire meeting in itself. For example, should we have some grey in there? We could have something specially made that would be 10 per cent grey for a totally accurate match with your hair.’

‘But,’ he flatters me, ‘you look young enough not to need any grey at all.’

According to Hinchliffe, a Lucinda Ellery hairpiece typically costs ‘a couple of thousand a year’. This includes regular appointments to adjust for loosening caused by the growth of one’s own hair. If it extends right to the hairline, as mine would, the intralace has to be re-taped every couple of days.

‘It sounds like a faff, but once you see how easy it is, it’s not a big deal,’ Hinchliffe assures me. ‘You just work it into your grooming routine. When you see the effect, it’s totally worth it.’

To prove the point, he sits me down in front of a mirror, picks up a hairpiece and says, ‘I want to show you how you look with a complete, softer hairline and, most importantly, denser hair.’

He sticks it on my forehead, in a rough approximation of the final effect. I certainly look more female. But I still need a ton of work on my face to match the hair.

There are two other catches to consider. I don’t currently have thousands of pounds a year to spare for hairpieces. And I always swore that I would try to be as natural as possible: no implants, no wigs.

But, Hinchliffe is right. To look as good as I would like to, I am going to need a little help. So there can’t be any half-measures. Either I go all-in, or I don’t go in at all.

The original article is here.

‘Female friendship saved me when I was at my lowest ebb”

26 SEPTEMBER 2019

Such a relief! I’ve just had a week in which the biggest news items in my life had absolutely nothing to do with my transition… or not directly, anyway. Indirectly, however, they were at least as relevant to my chances of a happy outcome as any beauty therapist’s laser or surgeon’s knife.

The first event had to do with my home. I live in the attic of a converted country house, up three flights of stairs. Everyone’s out of breath by the time they have staggered up here, and then anyone more than Munchkin tall is swiftly battered into concussion by all the low beams and angled ceilings.

But I love the 360-degree views across gorgeous countryside, from windows that face due north, south, east and west; the sense of security that I get from being up in my eyrie, away from the world; and the equal- but-opposite pleasure of belonging to a small, even intimate community.

There are five apartments in the house, three cottages attached to one wing, and a separate coach house: nine properties in all, containing 16 adults. Most days, I bump into one or two neighbours, and even if the chats are just a passing ‘How are you?’, they make a real difference to the quality of my life.

This week saw a major event in our little world: the arrival of new owners in one of the ground-floor apartments. They are, it turns out, the most charming, friendly couple. But all I knew about them was that one was an interior designer. So when we said our first ‘Hello’, I mentioned they were welcome to come up to my apartment and have a look around. A few hours later, I was tapping away at my laptop when I heard a knock at the door. It was my new neighbours. ‘Come in,’ I said, and then, realising the Withnail-esque chaos around me, ‘I’m sorry. It’s a bit of a tip.’

I showed them round. They were very polite. A short while later, I got a WhatsApp message from another flat-owner, containing a link to the decorator’s website and the words, ‘Take a look. It’s quite impressive.’

Quite impressive? It was absolutely mind-blowing. Our newcomer turns out to be an internationally famous King of all Decor, whose credits include stellar bars, restaurants and hotels in the world’s chicest locations. And there I was, showing him around my scruffy abode, proudly explaining why I’d chosen that particular shade of yellow or dark blue.

Oh, dear God, the embarrassment! But the K of all D was completely unbothered, and cheerfully gave me a quick tour of his new place, in return, with full details of the mind-boggling refurb he has in mind.

Within days we were planning the conversion of an overgrown patch at one end of our communal garden into an allotment for fruit and cutting flowers. So that’s next spring and summer sorted.

Still glowing with the pleasure of meeting such delightful new neighbours, I almost forgot that this Tuesday evening was the first rehearsal of my choir’s new year. I love the choir. Of course, singing is in itself a healing, life-enhancing experience, but choir nights mean much more to me than that. I joined five years ago, when I was at a very low ebb, and that weekly singsong, surrounded by strangers who became dear friends, practically saved my life.

Above all, I go for my weekly fix of the trio known as the Tenor Babes. Nik, Maggie and Corina sit alongside me in the front row of the tenor section. Together we sing loudly but tunefully, and misbehave innocently but incessantly. Corina was still away on holiday this past Tuesday, but Nik, Maggie and I met up in a flurry of hugs, kisses and cries of delight.

For a few years I was an Honorary Babe; I am currently a Probationary Babe. In due course, I hope to be inducted into full Tenor Babedom.

This is about much more than singing. Our WhatsApp group is not only a constant source of news about each other’s lives, but an online refuge where any of us can go in times of trouble, anxiety or loss, and know that the others will always be there to give comfort and support.

The presence in my life of dear friends like these gives me faith that my journey is worthwhile and my destination a happy one. In fact, the discovery of female friendship, and how very different it is to be accepted as one of the girls, rather than merely a man who makes friends with women, just may be the very best thing about transition.

The original article is here.

I may be transitioning to become a woman, but I am still my father’s son

03 OCTOBER 2019

I was at a party filled with people I hadn’t seen in years, or even decades, when an old university friend of mine came up and said, ‘There’s something I’d really like to talk to you about.’

Well, I had a pretty good idea what the general subject of that conversation was going to be. I mean, if she’d been dying to ask, ‘What do you think of the new-bourgeois look for autumn ’19?’ I’d have been delighted to tell her, ‘Darling, if I had a single spare penny to spend, I’d be all over it like a rash.’ But, frankly, the odds were against it.

My guess was that a young person’s possible trans-ness was going to be debated, perhaps even one of my friend’s own children. So I turned to her and said, ‘Sure, how can I help?’

It turned out that my friend’s kids were quite content with the genders they’d been born with. Phew! But she had recently met a woman whose daughter, now in her 20s, was a female-to-male transsexual. This daughter was in the process of transition and had undergone a double mastectomy, to remove all traces of her breasts.

The young woman’s mother was supportive of her being trans but had been very distressed by the thought of her beautiful girl mutilating her youthful, healthy body. My friend sympathised very deeply with the mother’s anguish and she wondered what I thought.

I replied by saying that I could completely see why any parent would find it hard to understand why their child, whose body they deeply loved, wanted to carry out what might seem like an act of self-desecration.

I added that I was very cautious indeed about encouraging children and teens who have been diagnosed as transgender to do anything to their bodies until they are old enough to make their own, adult decisions. After all, they may decide not to transition, in which case they need the bodies they were born with to be as healthy and well-developed as possible.

But in this case, the ‘child’ was in her 20s. By any standards they were an adult, entitled to make their own, grown-up choices. If they wanted to transition, then a mastectomy was an inevitable part of that process.

I reflected that, from their point of view, it would not feel like mutilation or desecration at all, but a positive step towards the bringing together of their physical and mental identities. For them, they would be becoming their true self.

Intellectually, my friend took my point. Emotionally, however, she quite understandably felt a stronger bond to a mother’s pain than a young transperson’s liberation.

Truth be told, I don’t really blame her. One of the things that stopped me for decades from embracing the truth of my own gender identity was precisely the fact that it seemed not only unwise but also somehow immoral to mess with the body I’d been born with.

How could I be so ungrateful? I was tall, healthy, reasonably athletic. I’d have to be an idiot to give that up.

True, there were things about my appearance that bugged me: my jagged teeth, my fleshy jowls and the depressing disappearance of hair from the top of my head. But none of those flaws was worth the attention of a plastic surgeon.

And yet, as I talked to my friend, I did so having just booked – and put down the deposit on – a six-hour operation to completely reshape my face.

It means that on one day in late November, I will have a lower face-lift and brow lift. In order to hold my repositioned flesh in place, plastic ‘carpet grips’ about 10cm long will be positioned beneath the skin of my cheeks and forehead. The grips will take several weeks to dissolve and, when they are gone, my face will have healed itself into place.

The fleshy tip of my nose will also be reduced and refined. Finally, my upper lip will be lifted, by removing a tiny strip of flesh just below the end of my nose and then pulling everything up tight.

 

The original article is here.

My transgender diary: ‘To fit in as a woman I need to lose weight’

03 OCTOBER 2019

I was a late developer. On my 15th birthday I was barely 5ft 3in, a chubby, bespectacled swot who had barely grown at all since the age of 12. The other boys looked down on me in every possible sense.

By my 17th birthday, I was 6ft tall, a lanky string bean who could run fast, attract girls and look his classmates in the eye. It was a miracle. In two short years, I’d gone from nerdy Peter Parker to swinging Spider-Man.

Among my newly discovered superpowers was the ability to eat. Obviously, I had consumed food before. What changed, however, was the sheer amount that I could suddenly wolf down.

A typical day would begin with a hearty cooked breakfast before moving on to a couple of large, jam-filled doughnuts and a mega-mug of milky coffee, with at least two sugars, for elevenses.

Lunch was followed by the day’s sporting activities, after which mid-afternoon refuelling was required: something like, say, an entire tin of Buitoni ravioli. Three hours later, I’d consume a large dinner.

As I headed towards A-levels, eating five meals a day, I weighed less than 10 stone. When I got to university, my capacity for calories increased, if anything. Cambridge was freezing for almost all the academic year, we went everywhere by bike, and for two of my three years there I was rowing in a college eight.

We’d often train first thing in the morning. Get out of bed at dawn, run more than a mile down to the boathouse, do three or four miles of hard rowing on the Cam, then run back.

I can picture myself after a training session, sprinting across the marketplace, left on to King’s Parade and back in through the college gates. Twenty years old, barely out of breath, completely oblivious to the extraordinary gift of being that young, that fit, that blessed with all the possibilities life had to offer.

I was probably just planning my breakfast. Three Weetabix, followed by the full English, and four slices of toast, slathered in butter and marmalade, would just about see me through to lunch. Aside from coffee and a snack between lectures, that is.

By now, I had put on a little muscle. I was heading towards 11 stone, but you could have weighed the fat in ounces. The same could be said for the other seven lads in the boat. Any fit, active, testosterone-powered young man is essentially a furnace for burning calories. It’s a gift that infuriates their female contemporaries. But it doesn’t last.

I spent 10 years as a fiendishly ambitious yuppie, editing magazines, with expense accounts to match. I still went to the gym. But I went to The Groucho Club more often. Then I moved to the country and was a work-at-home dad for another 15 years, having three meals a day and wine every night.

My weight ballooned past 13 stone, my waist headed towards 38 inches. At the age of 50, I took myself in hand and made an effort to exercise again. The poundage came down a bit, the waist shrank back to a respectable 34 inches. For a man of my age, I was in pretty decent shape. But we live in a world of cruel double standards. It’s not the same for women.

I’ve drastically downsized my living quarters over the past five years. Now I need to downsize my body. This is partly vanity, but it’s mostly self-preservation.

I don’t want to stick out, to be plainly, visibly transgender. Granted, I could try not writing a column, with photos, in a national newspaper. But that hasn’t yet got me spotted on the street. Looking like a geezer in a frock, however, will.

The female body curves in, as well as out, so the solid, straight, masculine thickness in my torso has to go. If I can get my weight a few pounds below 12 stone and my waist down to 30 inches, that will make a real difference – and my clothes a lot more comfortable, too.

I’m not doing anything drastic. My three-point plan is:

Cut down on junk calories, viz: chocolate, ice cream and red wine.
Reduce portion sizes.
Increase exercise. Less sitting on my butt, more hill walks and hula-hooping.
Still, it seems much harder to lose weight these days. I’ve lost my calorific superpowers. I’m not just older, I’m no longer hormonally male.

My body’s getting orders to lay down fat from all the oestrogen in my veins.

I look at a biscuit and it ends up on my hips. Now I know how those furious girls felt, all those years ago.

The original article is here.

‘The unexpected effects of hormone replacement therapy, HRT’

17 OCTOBER 2019

So there I was, running up the last flight of stairs to my attic apartment, taking them two at a time, as I do. I got to the top and thought to myself, ‘That shouldn’t have been so hard.’

It wasn’t that I was huffing and puffing for breath, so much as the dull ache in my legs. They just weren’t up to the job in quite the way they had been a few months ago. So I thought, ‘Maybe I’m just tired.’ After all, I’d had a few nights of not sleeping very well, and that can take the spring out of anyone’s step.

But even so, the actual physical effort of pushing myself up the stairs was greater than it should have been. Hmm…

A few days later, I was out in the garden. The house that I live in has half an acre or so of land that is cut off from the rest of the garden.

It was, in consequence, neglected for decades and became completely overgrown by brambles, nettles, ivy and ground elder.

Over the past few years, various apartment owners have hacked back this jungle to create an allotment area that produces an amazing bounty of fruit and veg. Even today, though, there is still plenty of wilderness left for newcomers who want to grow their own grub.

Now, there’s nothing I like more than a good, hard day in the garden. Show me brambles to attack and deadwood to clear and I’m happy. Or I was, anyway. But I’ve been working away in that wilderness over the past couple of weekends and I just can’t hack it the way I used to. I get tired far more quickly. Tasks I once carried out without a second thought are now completely beyond me.

Of course, age might have something to do with it. But only last year I was helping out in another part of the garden, cutting dead branches and even small trees with saws powered by nothing more than my muscles, and I managed fine.

Within the past few months, however, I’ve become noticeably less strong. I’ve lost muscle mass from my shoulders, arms and legs. And the real reason, of course, is the little plastic Estradot patch that sends 100 micrograms of oestrogen into my bloodstream every 24 hours.

That must be one of the most baffling things about male-to-female transition to anyone who is not transgender, and I can absolutely see why. People like me are deliberately, knowingly weakening themselves.

And it’s not just about bone and muscle. I’m training my voice to sound higher, lighter; and thus it comes across as less authoritative. I’m spending far more money than I can really afford to give myself a body and appearance that will make me far more physically vulnerable than I am now.

You might not think so to look at my picture on this page, but in real life I still dress and look like a reasonably normal man. So I’m treated like a man. And I feel safe in the way that a man does in virtually all of his everyday life.

I still have all my male privilege, in other words.

The original article is here.

From gender-neutral bathrooms to women’s prisons, it’s time trans people carried ID cards

23 OCTOBER 2019

Coming out is hard. You’re terrified people will think you’re a freak. Your friends, even your family will desert you. But then you grit your teeth and you say it: “I voted Leave…”

After that, “And, by the way, I’m transgender” is an absolute doddle.

It’s true, by the way. I’ve lost friends because I’m an unrepentant Leaver, but none by being trans. That, though, may be changing.

The atmosphere around the transgender debate is becoming as toxic, antagonistic and mutually destructive as that surrounding Brexit. People who were once broadminded and tolerant are becoming angry and illiberal.

The reason for this terrible backward step can be summed up in a two words: self-certification.

This is the notion that a man can become a woman, or a woman a man, simply by saying so. The moment I declare “I am a woman”, the rest of society, including all official bodies, is obliged to believe me and act accordingly.

Not to do so counts as “misgendering” and is a hate-crime worthy of condemnation and even criminal prosecution. Furthermore, conventional, ‘cis’ men and women must not only change their view of transpeople. They must change their view of themselves.

Women, in particular, are being told that childbirth and menstruation, the most quintessentially, definitively female experiences are no longer reserved for women. In fact, it is offensive to say so. They are also expected to welcome anyone who says they are female into female-only environments.

These demands are not being made by all transgender people. Many of us – I would guess the majority – are appalled by the aggression and unreasonableness of people who claim to speak in our name. And we are horrified by the totally counter-productive, but entirely predictable outcomes of their stridency.

Suddenly, extreme feminist academics and writers, who are as tolerant towards transpeople as the Labour Party is towards Jews are being hailed as valiant defenders of free speech and commonsense.

Normal women who are, in my experience, overwhelmingly sympathetic towards the experience of transpeople on a human, real-life basis, suddenly, and entirely reasonably feel threatened by a phenomenon that seems to be posing yet another threat to their hard-won rights. Meanwhile, the actual needs of real-life trans men, women and children are entirely ignored and misunderstood.

For example, I do not claim to be female now. But I am engaged in a process of transition that will lead me to a point where that claim can, legally, reasonably be made.

To get there, I will soon have to start ‘living in role’: presenting, acting and living as a woman on a 24/7 basis. That means changing my name, physical appearance and clothes and, yes, using female changing rooms and WCs.

Unless I do that for a year, I cannot hope to have gender-confirmation surgery (a sex-change, in other, old-fashioned words). So, I cannot get rid of the penis that is such a constant thread in all anguished articles about the threat posed to women by transpeople unless I go into all the places that the anti-trans campaigners want to prohibit me entering.

Mind you, I’m lucky to be doing this at all. The NHS estimates that one percent of the population has some degree of ‘gender incongruity’, which is to say a mismatch between natal sex and perceived gender. But I doubt it spends one millionth of its budget on our health needs.

Most trans people aren’t getting the counselling, medication and surgery they need. And we are still at much greater risk of abuse, harassment, discrimination and violent assault than our ‘cis-gendered’ peers.

We are your parents, siblings, children, friends, workmates, fellow-citizens. We are sane, sensible and no reputable medical body, from the World Health Organisation on down, still thinks that our condition is evidence of mental disorder.

More to the point, we cannot obtain a single hormone patch, or undertake any gender-related surgery without written clearance from specialist psychiatric and medical professionals. So we really aren’t making this up.

And many of us are as concerned as you are about the police allowing rapists to define themselves as women; or people who have just given birth to a baby claiming to be the father; or sportspeople who have grown up as men, with all the inbuilt advantages of male size and strength, taking medals away from female competitors.

But still we want to be able to assert our own identities. I’m actually reaching the point where I wonder whether those of us who are transitioning properly should carry cards, stating so, just to protect us and reassure others. After all, if drivers, pensioners, students and disabled citizens have cards that establish their bona fides, why couldn’t trans people voluntarily do the same?

In the meantime, can I just make this request: if we moderate transpeople are reasonable in asserting our rights, can society be equally reasonable in granting them?

And also, please can we Leave?

The original article is here.

‘I let my father call me the wrong gender. Is that letting the side down?’

24 OCTOBER 2019

He’s pretty cool, my dad. He’s 86 now and he lives just a few miles from me, so I often pop round to see him. We’ll have lunch together and I’ll help him with mowing the lawn or doing odd jobs around the house.

I came out to him about five years ago. We’d both been through a pretty rough time. My marriage had collapsed and, just as the beautiful country cottage where I’d raised my family for the past 20 years was being sold and the lawyers called in, my mother had a sudden, catastrophic descent into such an acute case of Alzheimer’s that she has been institutionalised ever since.

Dad has had health problems of his own. He’d have had every excuse for being less than sympathetic to the discovery that his only son, an apparently ordinary man in his 50s, had been living in the wrong body all his life. Instead, right from the start, he was nothing but kind. ‘My poor boy,’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry. I had no idea…’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I did spend my teens covered in make-up. You used to say I was epicene.’ (I remember looking up the definition: ‘having characteristics of both sexes’.)

‘Yes, but that was the fashion then. And you always had lots of girlfriends.’

Both those statements were quite true. And having those girlfriends persuaded me, and more than one psychoanalyst, that I must be a red-blooded male, even if I always feared that there was something quite seriously awry.

These days, Dad is still wonderfully accepting, but every so often, I catch a glimpse of how hard it is for a father to discover, very late in life, that their son is not the man they thought he was. Dad always calls me ‘old boy’. A few weeks ago, he stopped himself, having just used the phrase, and added, ‘I suppose I won’t be able to call you that any more.’

The sadness in his voice was heartbreaking. ‘Of course you will, Dad,’ I reassured him. ‘I’ll always be your son.’

I suppose some transpeople would say I was letting the side down by allowing my father to misgender me. But there is all the difference in the world between genuine transphobia and an elderly parent doing their best to come to terms with a fundamental change in one of their children. There needs to be give and take on both sides.

I’m the oldest of three children, with two sisters, Clare and Harriet. For various reasons we have had quite a fractured relationship. But Mum’s illness, Dad’s ageing and my personal situation have served to bring us closer than ever before. That’s been a huge source of comfort to me at a time when other parts of my life have been falling apart.

Harriet summed up her feelings about having a transgender brother with characteristic honesty. ‘I feel supportive, in the sense that you’re striving to live a life that’s true to yourself, and I always think that’s a good idea. But when push comes to shove and you walk through the door with a new face and a new body, there’s going to have to be a readjustment.’

‘It’s quite a readjustment for me, too,’ I said.

‘Exactly. We all just have to get our heads around it.’

She added that she knew two other people who’d transitioned. One of them was her lodger, Rory, who went from female to male. ‘When I first met him, he was definitely still a girl. Now, two years later, he’s definitely a boy. But to me, he’s the same Rory, because he’s the same person as a girl or a boy.’

That, of course, is the whole point. A person in transition is trying to become themselves. And that isn’t always easy.

Right now, I am contemplating a six-hour operation, in which I will have incisions made across the top of my forehead, around my ears, inside my nose and across the top of my upper lip. For months, my face will be held together by small plastic ‘carpet-grippers’ beneath my skin. And it could be a year before all the post-operative swelling dies down and full sensation returns to my face and scalp.

The bill for this procedure would pay for my mortgage, property management fees, heating and all other domestic bills for a year. Last Sunday, just as I completed the Ikea bookcase I was making for him, Dad said he wanted a quiet word before I left.

He sat me down over a cup of tea and told me he was worried about the cost of my transition. He wanted to help out. I replied that I couldn’t possibly accept any money from him, not least because he needs to keep every penny he can get in reserve for his own potential care needs.

But I was touched that he had offered. It meant the world to know I had his love and support. And he will always have mine.

The original article is here.

‘I’m transitioning to become a woman, but I still like to channel my inner bloke’

31 OCTOBER 2019

Three days ago, I went into town and was administered electric shocks for an hour, to remove the white hairs under my chin. Oh great.

The following day, I had an appointment with Mr Hinchliffe, the hairpiece man in Chiswick. Then I took the Tube to Soho and was interviewed for an official report on the coverage of trans issues in the media. After that, I spoke to my agent about a couple of book ideas related to… can you guess what?

Yesterday I prayed that my car, which is in desperate need of a service and has warning lights flashing all over its dashboard, would somehow take me 20 miles to the Sk:n Clinic, and had laser beams blasted at my buttocks. The second that was over, I said another quick prayer, and zoomed back for another hour’s electrolysis on my chinny chin chin. So then I was uncomfortable from my backside to my beard.

And that’s enough trans stuff, thank you very much. Because I’m not entirely defined by my dodgy relationship with my own gender. I actually have a life, and other things I care about. Such as Strictly Come Dancing. I watch it every Saturday, and quite often tune in to It Takes Two during the week. I absolutely know my rumba from my cha-cha-cha, am in thrall to every sequin and spray tan, and am quite frequently to be found blubbing helplessly at the most crassly sentimental moments.

Before getting in touch with my girliest side, however, I’ll be channelling my inner bloke by trekking up to the London Stadium to watch West Ham play Newcastle. I have had a doomed half-century love affair with the Hammers, which has at times involved me having as many as three season tickets, to enable me to take friends, my father or my son to games. And it’s all been a tragic misunderstanding.

I spent my early boyhood in Richmond, Surrey, in the south-west corner of London. Richmond is close to a place called Ham, on the way to which we used to pass some football pitches.

In 1964, when I was five, West Ham won the FA Cup, followed by the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later. I knew that Richmond was in the west and Ham was round the corner. There were football pitches there. I joined the dots and decided West Ham must be my local team.

Then, in 1966, England won the World Cup. All four goals in the final were scored by West Ham players, and my hero, the England and West Ham captain Bobby Moore, collected the trophy from the Queen. That sealed the deal. I was a Hammer.

Years later, I discovered that West Ham actually played at Upton Park in east London, 31 stops away on the District Line, but it was too late. A chap can change his sex, but never his football team, even though they’ve barely won a thing since that first infatuation.

My other sporting passion is American football, for which I support another hometown team, correctly located this time. In 1978, my father was posted to the British embassy in Washington, where our family lived for three years and I discovered the Washington Redskins. They, like West Ham, wear shirts the colour of wine: claret and blue for the Hammers, burgundy and gold for the ’Skins. They too flatter to deceive, with a string of Super Bowl wins in the early years of my allegiance, and nothing but disappointment ever since.

And yet, my loyalty is undimmed. So tomorrow, I will watch the Redskins lose to the Buffalo Bills, and then I will go to bed and listen to the post-mortem on the Redskins Talk podcast: a safe space for lost American-footballing souls to which I am addicted.

As if all this were not enough excitement for one weekend, I’m also hosting a lunch party on Sunday, attended by an actual rock star, although he’s a very sweet, unassuming chap, as founder members of world-famous bands go.

Quite how I’m going to fit the cooking and flat-tidying in with everything else, I’m not sure. Suffice it to say that if I’m not already 75 per cent prepared by the time you read these words, I’m in serious trouble. Then, this Tuesday, I’ll go up to London for a final pre-op chat with Mr Inglefield, my plastic surgeon. And I’ll be back in Transland again…

The original article is here.

‘After two hair transplants, I still need to buy a wig’

7 NOVEMBER 2019

I am the proud owner of a miraculous hair transplant. Two procedures in the past 18 months have covered a shiny bald crown with flowing locks that any late-middle-aged man could be proud of.

Which would be perfect if only I could keep living as a man. But I can’t and so I’m stuck with the problem (among many others) that my hair is insufficient for female purposes.

I need to bridge the gap between what I have and what I want. In the spirit of due diligence, I returned to my transplant surgeon, Michael May of the Wimpole Clinic, to see whether a third operation would do the trick.

Mr May thought he could help. He proposed taking 1,600 more hairs, one at a time, from the back of my scalp, just above my neck. They would then be repositioned to fill in the remaining gaps on my crown. He also suggested that by tattooing the skin behind my hairline, thereby making it much darker and non-reflective, I could create the effect of thicker hair.

This approach would offer a one-time-only, permanent solution. And all my hair would be my own, which is something I would love to be able to achieve.

But as Mr May admitted, there are drawbacks, too. The harvesting of my hair would not require any significant surgery. But a sizeable area would have to be shaved and would then have to grow back from scratch.

And there’s still the basic mathematical problem that the overall number of hairs would not increase. May would simply be spreading the same number over a greater area, thereby creating a lower overall density. I pondered these pros and cons and went back to a man I’ve written about before. Chris Hinchliffe is a director of the Lucinda Ellery studios, whose speciality is restoring female hair loss. Ms Ellery is, in fact, Chris’s mum and actually appeared halfway through our meeting, full of bubbly, blonde enthusiasm and best wishes.

Meanwhile, Chris and I debated the pros and cons of simply getting a wig, or going for one of the ‘intralace’ fittings in which his company specialises. These are strips of mesh, with real, human ‘Indian Temple’ hair attached. The intralace, which is three or four inches wide and seven or eight long, would be placed atop my head, and my own hair would be pulled through the mesh to merge, indistinguishably, with the hair I was buying.

‘You have to ask yourself, “Do I want part-time hair, or full-time hair?”’ Chris said. ‘Ours is a 24/7 solution. You can brush it, wash it, sleep in it and scratch your head. But it’s susceptible to wear and tear in a way that a wig is not. You take a wig off before you go to bed at night. Basically it’s a hair hat.’ Ugh! I definitely don’t want a hair hat.

I want as real as I can get, with as much of my own hair as possible. But that’s expensive. A basic Lucinda Ellery hairpiece costs around £2,000, and it has to be adjusted and restyled every two months at a further cost of up to £150 a pop.

‘Welcome to the club,’ said a girlfriend of mine. ‘I spend that much at my hairdresser.’ Good point, and there’s no question that an intralace would provide the best aesthetic effect. So I’m going for it, and if I have to sell a kidney to pay the bill, too bad.

That decision made, Chris and I got down to the serious business of colour. I love a good colour chart, or a nice set of swatches, so to be handed a dozen, variously coloured mini-ponytails of hair and asked to decide what blend I wanted was my idea of heaven.

In the end, we settled on a dark base, my natural colour, but overlaid with paler browns and honey highlights to create a softer, warmer dark-blonde effect. Frankly, I’d be sporting it already if I weren’t about to have a slew of facial procedures for which my surgeon needs access to my forehead and scalp.

But as soon as everything’s healed up, I’m getting my shoulder-length do and yummy golden highlights. In the meantime, should I need advice, Hinchliffe has put me on to one of his staff, Miriam Afford. ‘She knows everything there is to know. She’s the Yoda of the intralace.’

In which case, ‘Choose the blonde side I must. Wait for my new hair, I cannot.’

The original article is here.

‘Finding women’s winter boots in my size is almost impossible’

14 NOVEMBER 2019

For the past five years I have been on a personal mission to save the British retail sector from total collapse. Entire high streets and online fashion sites only remain in business thanks to my crazed determination to make up for a lifetime of missed shopping opportunities. In fact, the only thing I’ve spent more on than retail therapy is, er… therapy.

Tragically, however, The Micawber Principle has started to take effect, as in, ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’ Or in my case, a very large overdraft.

I have therefore had to discipline myself and stop buying absolutely anything I could ever possibly want, in favour of things I actually, definitely need. Such as, for example, a pair of sensible, lace-up leather boots, with soles sturdy enough to keep my feet warm and dry when pavements are cold and wet.

In years gone by, this problem was easily solved. I went to the local cobblers and asked them to put a new set of soles on my nice, dark-brown suede boots, which I bought about 15 years ago. And I am now so old that I think of that as being quite recently.

Failing that, I could walk into any major high-street shoe shop, say, ‘I’d like a new pair of boots please, size 11,’ and the assistant would say, ‘Certainly, sir, come this way,’ before providing me with a wide selection of suitable styles.

Now, though, two things have changed. First, I have discovered that I am actually a size 10 and have spent the past 40 years wearing shoes that were exceedingly comfortable because they were at least a size too big and cushioned by thick, fluffy socks. Secondly, I am now looking for women’s winter boots and suddenly, size matters… and for completely the opposite reason than before. Big is definitely not better.

Before going any further, let it be said that whopping plates of meat are no impediment to beauty. Elle Macpherson, Tyra Banks and Uma Thurman all have big feet. And even that lovely, elfin, deliciously feminine screen goddess Audrey Hepburn was only a half-size smaller than me. But you try telling most shoe manufacturers that.

Anyway, micro-rant over… I get most of my footwear from Long Tall Sally, which is getting better and better at seeing what’s fashionable and immediately reproducing it in giraffe sizes. But it doesn’t seem to have precisely what I want this winter.

So, I trawled the internet and finally came upon one brand offering a wide range of sturdy, weatherproof boots in sizes that go beyond even my requirements. And the name of that brand? Dr Martens.

Now, I was never a Doc Martens geezer, and I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a DMs gal, either. They’re all urban, alternative and rough-edged, and I am, to be honest, more of a conventional, Home Counties soul, at heart. Also, when I looked at their sizes, they had boots that were 9½ and 10½, but no basic 10 in the middle. I mail-ordered them in black: both sizes, just to be on the safe side. The 10½s were incredibly comfy, but so big they looked like clown shoes. The 9½s were visibly smaller, both in length and width, and fitted perfectly, except that my big toes were touching the front of the boots.

Obviously, I wanted the smaller size. But would they be unwearable? I went online, and found entire threads debating the proposition that Doc Martens had to be bought small, because the leather softened and stretched, and a few weeks of pain and bleeding were all just part of the whole experience.

Even so, they did seem a little chunky, so I consulted my sister Clare, who’s very arty, eco-conscious and boot-wearing. Naturally, she drooled over my lovely pristine DMs. ‘They look really small!’ she exclaimed, before I had even raised the issue.

Then I asked my Swiss friend, Ursula, who was staying with me. ‘Be honest, do these make my feet look enormous?’ She cooed, ‘No, darling, they’re really cute and sexy.’

By then I was 99 per cent convinced, and the clincher came when I saw a picture of a model in a magazine wearing a Toast dress and lace-up boots; I adore Toast, and her feet looked at least as long as mine.

So that did it. I have my Doc Martens. And if you don’t like them, well, these boots are just gonna walk all over you.

The original article is here.

After my six-hour operation I’ll be closer to becoming a woman. But it terrifies me

21 NOVEMBER 2019

The slicing and dicing of my face has gone from being months, to weeks, to days away and I am, quite frankly, in a total state. Then again, anyone who was blowing a massive chunk of their savings (more than 10 grand, but less than 20) on a six-hour operation to make a major alteration to their facial appearance would probably feel the same.

If everything goes to plan, the results could yet be spectacular. If not… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Except, of course, that I do think about it. All the time. I can’t stop thinking about it. And I have an overactive imagination, which has come in very handy as a writer, but is not so helpful for a prospective surgical patient.

In a bid to calm my nerves, I went to see my surgeon, Mr Christopher Inglefield. I have done my due diligence. If you want facial feminisation surgery in the UK, Inglefield is your man. A doctor who trained alongside him raved to me about his surgical skills. He operates at a brand-new, state-of-the-art hospital in Hatfield, Herts. I’ve stacked the odds as much in my favour as I can. And yet…

I am, for a start, terrified of being given a full anaesthetic. Mr Inglefield gave me a highly factual counterargument, complete with reassuring statistics, but I won’t reproduce it now, for fear of tempting fate. That’s how scared I am.

Then there is the not so small matter of the four procedures he will be carrying out. Just to recap briefly, these begin with a lower and mid-level facelift, to smooth away my masculine, middle-aged jowls and give me more youthful, plumper, feminine cheeks.

Incidentally, I have often described this process to my female friends, complete with a little skin-pulling demonstration. The response is always the same. The friend immediately puts her fingers to her own jawline, pushes it up and cries, “Oh God, I want that too!” If the conversation takes place at a social event, two or three middle-aged women may start pushing and squealing at the same time. It’s quite a sight. But anyway…

Next, I’m having a brow-lift, which will also smooth out the deep groove between my eyebrows. The tip of my nose will be made smaller. And, by shortening the distance between my nose and upper lip, that lip will be lifted and made fuller.

That, by the way, is both the simplest and the most feminising procedure of all. But I actually like the shape of my upper lip as it is now, so I needed and received reassurance that its lines would stay the same, even if its volume increases.

If… if… everything works, there will be no implants, no fillers, no Botox, but a lot of the issues that currently prevent me from looking remotely female will hopefully have been addressed. Mr Inglefield is confident that I will achieve the transgender holy grail of “passing”: going about one’s daily life in one’s new gender without being spotted as trans.

But what if, having begun to present as a woman 24/7, I discover that it’s not actually right for me? After all, patients are obliged to “live in role” for at least a year before final genital surgery to make absolutely sure they don’t want to change their minds. Which presupposes that they might.

In those circumstances, would the surgery that I am having now prevent me from ever reverting to a male presentation?

“That’s a very, very good question,” said Mr Inglefield, to my relief, since I’d feared it might suggest a worrying lack of commitment on my part.

“The first thing to consider is that many men have quite feminine faces. That’s why female-to-male patients very rarely have surgery to give them squarer jaws or stronger foreheads. They can get away with having feminine features, whereas transwomen with strong masculine faces have great difficulty living in role.”

So, he assured me, I will be able to pass as a man, even if my features have been feminised. “It’s about looking better in whatever role you choose.”

I actually believe that. I’m very confident that the procedures Mr Inglefield and I have agreed upon provide the best chance of the most positive outcome. I’m genuinely excited about how this could all work out.

It’s just the thought of getting there that ties my guts in knots. Still, it has to be done. I have no doubt about that.

So, fingers crossed, prayers said. Wish me luck, because here goes…

The original article is here.

‘One of the quickest things I can do to become a woman? Train myself to stand properly’

28 NOVEMBER 2019

Before I go any further, I have bad news to report. I may no longer be eligible to compete as a woman at the Tokyo Olympics.

You might ask, ‘How could a shortsighted sexagenarian with no obvious sporting talent qualify for Tokyo 2020, irrespective of their gender?’ But that’s just a hopelessly un-woke, ‘OK boomer’ way of looking at things.

As of six months ago, my testosterone reading had sunk so low that I was qualified to compete as a woman, under International Olympic Committee rules. Naturally, I intended to exercise that right and was ready to take on Team GB if it refused to select me. In the Brave New World of 2019, I, as an Official Trans Person, am apparently absolutely entitled to do whatever I want, wherever and whenever I want, in whatever gender I choose – and anyone who tries to stop me is just a transphobic bigot, so yah boo sucks!

Now, however, a new set of blood tests has revealed that my plucky Y-chromosome appears to be leading a fightback against the female hormones invading my body. Despite six more months of HRT patches, my oestrogen level is down by 15 per cent and my testosterone has quadrupled, albeit from a very low base. Dammit, I’m no longer a sportswoman!

I have therefore been put on to such a high hormone dose that it takes multiple patches to deliver it. Parts of me are covered in so many sticky rectangles, they look like a stamp album. Meanwhile, I’m going quietly mad.

There are now just days to go before the surgery – I know, I know, will I ever stop yakking about it and just get it over and done? – and I’m painfully aware that surgeons cancel operations if patients have any respiratory problems, and this is peak cold-and-flu season. So I’m in self-imposed quarantine, holed up in my attic apartment, desperately praying that I can avoid getting a cold, and freaking out at the slightest sniffle.

In a bid to stay calm, I am trying to forget things I can do nothing about and concentrate on those I can positively affect. Such as, for example, my posture.

Last Sunday, shortly before placing myself in purdah, I went to Brighton to visit my old friend Sarah Gibbings. We first met more than 30 years ago, when we were both ambitious young journalists working on the legendarily catastrophic launch of Today, the UK’s first colour newspaper. (It wasn’t our fault, by the way.)

Since then, Sarah has enjoyed a series of highly successful career iterations before alighting on her latest role as a fitness instructor. Now she’s advising me on how to use exercise to reshape my body into a more female form.

The key word here is ‘curves’. The middle-aged male body doesn’t have any, except for the protruding arch of the average gut and the droop of sagging shoulders. But they are the curves of a large boiled egg, rather than the fetching hourglass that I’m aiming to create, or convincingly fake.

I’m reasonably belly-free, but seen from the front, the sides of my body run almost straight up and down from armpits to hips. To change this and create shape, Sarah proposes exercises that will add a small amount of muscle at the outside edges of my shoulders, right at the top of the arms, and another wee bulge at the top of my hips.

Next, she proposes another series of exercises aimed at working the oblique muscles that wrap around my middle, to act like a drawstring, pulling in my waist. (Sarah was too polite to say so, but cutting down on calories might also help this process.)

Exercises aside, the most immediately impactful thing I can do is simply train myself to stand properly. By means of instruction and physical manipulation, Sarah got me to pose with my head up straight, my breastbone pulled up, my tummy sucked in and my bottom tucked under, and… Hey presto!

The effect was dramatic. Immediately I looked much better, healthier, livelier and more feminine. Then I stopped concentrating, relaxed, and returned to my default state of middle-aged slump. Oops! The spell was broken.

Essentially, all those deportment teachers at debutante finishing schools were absolutely right. Posture matters. So my sporting ambitions may be dashed, my hormones may be up the spout and flu bugs may wreck my operation, but at least I am able to master the perfect walk.

The original article is here

‘My extraordinary gift from a rock star’

5 DECEMBER 2019

‘Do you ever read the comments under your column online?’ my friend asked.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘I’m not daft.’

‘Good,’ he said, ‘because they’re 80 per cent hostile.’ Gee, thanks for telling me. But it’s not as if I was unaware that some people take a dim view. I recently opened my email queue to find a message that began, ‘Hey, I just read your article on trans people and I’m a big fan!’

‘Well, that’s very sweet,’ I thought. But then I read the next two sentences.

‘I’d just like to tell you that you can go f—k yourself! You are legitimately a horrible person, and stop trying to put yourself above the rest of us.’

Luckily, however, if I leave cyberspace and re-enter the real world, meeting people face-to-face, relating to them as an actual human being, my experience is entirely different.

‘Ooh, that’s so exciting!’ my bank manager said when I explained that my apparently irrational cashing-in of personal savings was caused by the need to fund my gender transition.

She rummaged through her handbag and pulled out a picture of a pretty, blonde woman. ‘That’s my best friend,’ she said. ‘She transitioned too. It was the best thing she ever did.’

My window cleaner said he’d read a few of my columns ‘Good luck to you, mate,’ he said. ‘You must really want to do it to go through all that.’

It’s not just expressions of goodwill. People have gone out of their way to help.

I mentioned recently that an Actual Rock Star was coming to Sunday lunch. He is in the agreeable position of being in an iconic band, whose records I have bought and loved, and whose hits are instantly familiar, while still being able to walk down the street without being hassled.

He and his wife came to lunch and were utterly charming. At the end of the meal, my nerves fortified by rioja, I mentioned that I’d been working on a song, loosely based on my personal experience. Did he mind if I sang it to him and maybe he could let me know it was utter pants, or not?

The rocker had a better idea, ‘Email me anything you’ve got and I’ll let you know what I think. I promptly recorded a vocal on my phone, and sent it along with the printed lyrics and chords. Two days later, I got his reply. Attached to it was an audio file that contained an incredible backing track for the entire song – guitars, keyboards, drums, the full works – which he had recorded.

I couldn’t believe that my little song could sound so beautiful. I was practically in tears.

With the track came an invitation to go to his personal, state-of-the-art studio in London to add my voice to the mix. Some seriously eminent singers have used the same vocal booth where I did my desperate best not to sound like the total amateur I am. But my host could not have been nicer.

He made coffee to pep me up and a drink of orange, honey and ginger for my throat. He dished up sandwiches, crisps and mince pies. He never said a discouraging word.

Over the course of the next week, more files appeared in my inbox, each with a new, improved mix, with the various takes of my vocals combined and edited and tweaked till I sounded as good as modern technology and a producer’s artistry could make me.

You might ask, why was the Actual Rock Star doing all this? My guess is simply, ‘Because he could.’ He had the means to help, the kindness to want to and the artistic pride to do the best possible job.

I came away filled with gratitude for the extraordinary gift that I had received, but also with a deeper sense of the presence and importance of human decency.

So many people feel a need to be nasty. Yet, amid all the ranting politics and the hateful social media frenzy, life goes on. Most people want friendship and peace. And there is goodness and kindness and love in our world.

Stop press: I can now reveal the rocker’s identity is Phil Manzanera: recently inducted into the official Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the guitarist in Roxy Music, alongside Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. He is producer of albums by David Gilmour and Pink Floyd, purveyor of killer riffs to Jay-Z and Kanye West, and, above all, an absolute gentleman.

The original article is here

‘My new face is not yet a pretty sight’

12 DECEMBER 2019

One moment I was lying on the trolley, pulse racing, preparing for the anaesthetist to start administering the intravenous dope. And the next thing I saw was the blurry face of my surgeon, Christopher Inglefield telling me that my four-and-a-half hour facial feminisation surgery had all gone brilliantly.

I blacked out again, and when I awoke from that, it was 10 pm at night and 
I was in my hospital room, looking like a cross between an Egyptian mummy and the Phantom of the Opera.

The top of my head was swathed in a thick compression bandage, over which went a supportive, elasticated ‘face-bra’, resembling a flesh-coloured version of those white, flame-retardant hoods that racing drivers wear. On top of all that came a semi-transparent face mask, through which chilled water was pumped to cool my swollen skin.

Various tubes were taking fluid away from my head, putting saline into my system and pumping jets of water into the anti-Deep Vein Thrombosis devices that were wrapped around my calves.

It was a long, sleepless night: hardly surprising, given the nature of the operation and the fact I’d already been out cold for several hours. But things were about to look up.

A friend of mine, Annie Tomkins, is a former surgical nurse at St Bart’s Hospital. She now lives a few miles from the hospital in Hertfordshire where I had the operation.

In another of the acts of above-and-beyond kindness with which I have recently been blessed, Annie offered to look after me for the week after my op. This took a huge weight 
off my mind, given the nerve-racking prospect of getting all the way back from Herts to my home on the south coast, then being alone in a top-floor flat.

Instead, Annie has provided the expert reassurance of knowing exactly what to look for when examining the various stitches across my forehead and around my ears and the plastic splint plastered to my nose. She has monitored the 24 pills 
(antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers) I have to take every day. And she’s an absolute genius at providing scrummy fruit smoothies and pulped food for me to consume when chewing is out of the question, because the 
back of my mouth is laced with stitches too.

Amidst all this pampering I have hardly felt any pain, just an occasional tugging behind my ears, where the stitches are being pulled by skin that wants to go back to where it was before. I have to sleep sitting up, which takes a bit of getting used to, but over four nights at Annie’s I have taken my kip-count from two, to five, to six hours, which is not much less than I get normally.

The bandages around my head came off at 48 hours, post-op – what a relief that was! But I’m still using a portable version of the cooling-mask machine for several hours a day, to help reduce the swelling.

I only had to feel my face to know that it must look like an over-inflated barrage balloon, or a sausage waiting to burst, so I studiously avoided mirrors for the first three days. I’d lived with my old face for so long, could 
I cope with the shock of a new one?

Eventually, the contortions I had to make in order to wash without catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror became too absurd to sustain. I stood before that unforgiving glass, opened my eyes and gazed upon my newly acquired countenance.

It was not a pretty sight. My face was horribly swollen, the skin-tight, waxy and a jaundiced yellow; a vivid scar across my forehead; bruises around and under my eyes the colour of crushed raspberries and blackcurrants; a massive plaster stretching from one distended cheek to another, holding the nasal splint in place.

But I didn’t despair, and for this, too, I thank Annie.

When she first walked into my hospital room, she took a long careful look at me and said, ‘Those lips are amazing. I can’t believe how much difference they make. They’re so feminine. It’s a much gentler mouth, like a lipstick advert.’

Mr Inglefield also visited me 
the morning after the op. ‘You will look spectacular…’ he said. He paused, then added, ‘eventually’.

Now the outlines of my new appearance are gradually emerging from the fog of inflammation. And every tiny, positive change I see in the mirror takes me closer to that day.

The original article is here

‘The weirdness of seeing my face change before my eyes’

19 DECEMBER 2019

Going public has had one very welcome side effect. The news of my male self’s imminent disappearance seems to be stirring old friends into getting in touch after years of disconnection, like shoppers snapping up the last few bargains before a sale ends.

Jacqui is an artist who lives on a hillside outside Marbella, with her screen-writer husband Piers. Twenty years ago, Piers and I were pretty close, good mates as well as professional collaborators. We never remotely fell out, but our paths diverged and contact was lost until, out of the blue, an email arrived from Jacqui.

She’d been following my story in these pages and was curious to know how I felt after my facial surgery. ‘I imagine your excitement to see the results is tempered only by the terror of the exact same thing.’

Precisely. Just as stock markets veer wildly between greed and fear, so I’m torn between the optimistic dream of a presentable, passable outcome (a view strongly encouraged by my sisters and close girlfriends who’ve seen what I now look like and are loyally super-positive), and the nightmare of ending up like some genderless freak.

Almost two weeks have passed since my operation and I’m rapidly regaining energy and strength. A couple of days ago, I went to London for a couple of post-op appointments at the London Transgender Clinic. The stitches were removed from the brow-lift incision that spans my forehead at the hairline, and the cast was lifted from my nose, on which it had been weighing like a sarcophagus lid.

I have more incisions around my ears, on my top lip and inside my nose and mouth. These were all examined and found to be clean, infection-free and healing well. The patches of bruising around my eyes were, if anything, smaller than expected and are vanishing by the day.

I still have a lot of inflammation all over my face, but it’s diminishing and the only discomfort comes from the supersensitive tip of my nose, which angrily protests when touched.

Considered purely in medical terms, the operation has been a spectacular, virtually painless success.

True, there are some disconcerting side effects. A full brow-lift cannot be achieved without cutting through nerves. As a result, the top of my head is completely numb, with that slightly heavy effect you get with a local anaesthetic. It’s a bit like wearing an invisible helmet. This, too, should pass, although it could take six months or more for the nerves to heal and reconnect my senses once again.

A similar time-lapse may apply to recovering a full range of facial expressions. I haven’t quite got my smile back yet and my eyebrows are virtually immobile. That mask-like effect is quite unnerving to experience, as well as behold, and it’s another reason why I’m so frequently cautioned, ‘It’ll be a long time before you see the full results.’

By then, the considerable amount of hair that seems to have fallen out will, with any luck, have regrown, too. But there are already some upsides.

My lips really are as Lily James-y as my lovely nurse/friend/sick bay-provider Annie had promised. And even though the heavy swelling along the full length of my nose makes it a little too like a spaniel’s muzzle for comfort, I’m pretty sure that once everything calms down, no one will be offering me doggy chews.

Similarly, my cheeks – the left one in particular – still have a slightly exaggerated bulge, but they seem to be deflating to more elegant proportions. And I’ve been relieved to discover that what looked like unreconstructed jowls were just more inflammation, so… phew! There wouldn’t be much point in having a facelift if there was no actual lift.

What these attempts at objective description leave out, of course, is the sheer weirdness of seeing one’s face – such a familiar sight for so many decades – changing before one’s eyes. When I wake up in the morning, I genuinely do not know what I will look like when I first set eyes on the bathroom mirror. And today, something completely unexpected happened. I started to see myself again, my old identity re-emerging as the side effects of surgery dissipated.

This is, of course, precisely what I asked for. When my surgeon Mr Inglefield asked, ‘What do you want to look like?’ I replied, ‘Myself … but different.’ That is what he has given me. But now I’m pondering a new question, as much philosophical as aesthetic: if I’m still myself, is that actually different enough?

The original article is here

 ‘I’m self-conscious of my new appearance, but no one takes any notice’

2 JANUARY 2020

‘I’m shocked,’ my hair guru Mr Hinchliffe said, when he set eyes on my rebuilt face.

‘In a good way or a bad way?’  I asked tentatively.

‘In an excellent way,’  he replied.

Thank goodness for that. Still, it’s all very well getting these kinds of early compliments for my face (don’t worry I will do  a reveal in these pages soon), but it won’t mean a thing without the hair to match (which is why I haven’t done a big reveal yet). Hence my trek to west London for yet another meeting about its upcoming transformation.

Honestly, the D-Day landings were planned in less time than this. Then again, Eisenhower and Montgomery didn’t have to worry about balancing existing hair and artificial weave, nor was the success of their mission contingent upon achieving precisely the right shade of blonde.

In the end, a schedule was set for a two-day operation. It will start with a three-hour dye job on what is left of my natural thatch, which is still, incidentally, coming out in great handfuls. I attribute this to the trauma recently suffered by my head. Skin has been discarded, flesh manipulated, nerves severed. No wonder my follicles have given up the ghost.

Luckily, the wide-open spaces on my scalp will disappear on Hair Day Two, as a complex, multilayered arrangement of hairpieces is woven on to me in a six-hour procedure.

I feel reasonably confident that the results will be somewhere north of amazing. But nothing can happen until all the incisions on my head have healed, which will be several weeks yet. What am I going to do till then? Who am I going to be? On the trip to the hair man, I’d dressed in a more-or-less male fashion. For the past several months, my actual appearance has been less ambiguous than my picture might suggest. Even if my clothes are all, in fact, designed for women, I’ve still seemed conventionally male.

The operation on my face has changed all that. The inevitable swelling, bruising and scarring of post-op life haven’t helped. Then there are the newly arched eyebrows, wider eyes, higher cheeks and fuller lips. I’m neither one thing nor the other.

As I scurried from my car to the motorway service station lavatory, I felt seriously self-conscious, worried that someone might take issue with my cross-gender appearance. Needless to say, no one took the blindest bit of notice. Most people aren’t thinking about anyone other than themselves. But still, I felt that  I was no longer remotely convincing as a man.

Back home, I started preparing the dinner I was having with my friend Nik, who is one of the three women who sing in our choir. I wanted Nik’s advice on whether I dared show my face at the next choir practice and, if so, in what guise.

Having made such a pig’s ear of looking male, I thought I might as well try the alternative. I put on a grey, stretch-cotton dress, did my hair and make-up, and looked a lot better than I had done earlier. Then  I waited to see how Nik would react.

With amazement, was the simple answer. She was incredibly encouraging. No one, she said, would ever take me for anything other than a perfectly normal woman, albeit taller than average, with, Nik fumed, infuriatingly slim ankles.

‘True,’ I said. ‘But huge feet on the end of them.’

After a lovely, chatty evening, Nik departed, leaving me with greatly boosted morale. So much so, that  I found myself, shortly before midnight, going on Facebook and telling my friends that, as of now, my years of delay and prevarication were over.  I was taking the plunge, properly beginning my gender transition. From now on I would be presenting full-time as female. ‘He’ had finally made the switch to ‘she’.

The response was overwhelming, a tsunami of kindness, encouragement and support. I was buoyed, uplifted, filled with hope.

But… but… I had gone up to London twice in the past five days and socialised as if I were fit and well. Now my body reminded me that I was still, in fact, an invalid.

I spent the weekend feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth. On the Monday I woke to find my face puffed up and my nose massively swollen. Black hairs, which I thought had long since been blitzed, were sprouting ferociously beneath my nose and under my bottom lip. I might be determined to present as female, but the man inside me had other ideas …

The original article is here

‘There was no option but to face the public dressed as a woman. Would I pass the test?’

9 JANUARY 2020

I had a three o’clock appointment at the opticians to choose some new, feminine spectacles to go with my new face. So even though my cheeks were still swollen, my nose bulbous and my scars visible, there wasn’t much alternative but to go there as a woman.

I showered, washed my hair and sprayed on a ton of aptly-named Bed Head Queen for a Day Thickening Spray in a desperate bid to make up for my sudden onset of post-operative baldness. Then I put on black Ugg-style boots, jeans and a tunic-length grey roll-neck sweater. I’ve dressed in this androgynous style for years without anyone batting an eyelid. But this time I wore a bra, making the figure I’ve kept hidden in my day-to-day life a lot more obvious.

Next came make-up. Touche Eclat to cover up the equally sudden, distressing explosion of black hairs around my lips and chin. Estée Lauder tinted moisturiser to conceal the concealer and put a dash of colour into my pallid skin. Then a swipe or two of Charlotte Tilbury’s Pillow Talk lippy, lashings of mascara and a smoky blur of eyeshadow.

I went back to my hair for one last bid to fake it with blowing and spraying. No, it just wouldn’t do. I stuck a grey beanie over my sparse locks, put on a dark blue overcoat, and drove into town.

At the car park, a woman was struggling to make the highly temperamental ticket machine work. She made apologetic conversation to me without showing any signs of either puzzlement or disgust at my appearance. So that was one good sign.

Then came the journey through crowded shopping streets to the opticians. I reminded myself about The Walk – stand straight, head up, shoulders down, chest out, move from the hips – and set off.

‘I’ve dressed in this androgynous style for years without anyone batting an eyelid. But this time I wore a bra…’
I had A Cunning Plan, or at least a cunning accessory to help me on my way: a pair of non-prescription Ray-Bans. The combination of dark glasses and short-sightedness left me only just able to see where I was going, but completely incapable of discerning the expressions on the faces of anyone I passed. If anyone was slack-jawed in horror, or doubled-up in laughter, I didn’t have a clue.

The ladies in the opticians knew about my situation, because I’d told them when I arranged the appointment. They were like most people  I tell about my transition: sympathetic, curious, not quite certain about whether they’re saying the right things or not.

I assured them they needn’t worry. It’s an effort for me to wrap my head around all this too. That’s why I still don’t claim to be a woman. I’m on my way, but I feel as though  I should be walking around with  L plates on.

I certainly haven’t passed the test yet. And I’m a million miles from that blissful moment you get as a new driver, when you realise that all those things that seemed so impossible to remember, still less do, have suddenly become second nature.

Of course, the only way to get to that point is by expert instruction, constant practice, and learning from one’s mistakes. That’s where I’m at now.

Anyway, the optician’s appointment went really well. I chose a rather daring pair of specs, improbably named Prawn Cocktail, plus Tom Ford shades to die for. When I went back for an eye test, two days later,  I was in leggings and kitten-heel black-suede boots.

One of my oldest, closest friends – the best man at my wedding – came to dinner that night. I met him at the door in a dress: he didn’t bat an eyelid and we carried on as if nothing had changed.

The following night, it was my choir’s winter concert. I wasn’t fit enough to sing for 90 minutes, but  I wasn’t going to miss it. So I walked through the hall in frock, kitten heels and beanie, sat in the second row and watched the wide eyes and double takes as everyone on stage realised who I was.

At the interval, I went backstage to see all my friends, to be greeted with hugs and kisses and many, many kind compliments. And of course, they may only have been trying to be kind. But when you’re feeling nervous, insecure and worried about your appearance, and lots of women make a point of saying, ‘You look amazing!’, then you discover that, truthfulness be damned, female solidarity is a very wonderful thing.

The original article is here

‘What it’s really like to be on the receiving end of transphobia’

16 JANUARY 2020

I’ve spent my life as the very epitome of privilege: white, male, straight and privately educated. Now I’m seeing life from a new perspective. And I’m getting a crash course on what it’s like to be part of a controversial, even hated minority.

Rewind to 11 am, Christmas Day: I’m on the phone, howling like a deer in a poacher’s trap, ‘I’m not a bad person, am I?’

‘No, of course you’re not,’ my sister Harriet replies, firmly.

But I don’t believe her, so I pack up the food that I’ve spent days preparing and that everyone’s expecting to eat at my flat. I take it down to my dad’s house, where Harriet and my two nieces are staying, hand it over and say, ‘Sorry, but I just can’t face anyone today.’

Then Harriet, meaning well, calls me by my female name and the absurdity, the sheer implausibility of it hits me like a live electric cable and I race away. In the rear-view mirror I can see my poor father, standing helplessly in his front garden, wanting to wish me ‘Merry Christmas’, but I can’t bear to hear it.

So what was the problem? Partly these were just the regular blues of a divorced dad alone at Christmas. But most dads aren’t in the process of changing sex, and suddenly that process seemed to be crashing off the rails.

My impetuous confidence that I could start ‘living in role’ as a woman had collapsed faster than a failed soufflé. But maybe that entire plan was nothing but a pathetic fantasy.

In the week before Christmas, I’d been reading about Maya Forstater, a woman fired for posting tweets that insisted no one born a man could ever become a woman. When an employment tribunal judge upheld her employer’s decision, Forstater was declared a martyr for free speech. Even JK Rowling came out in her support, tweeting, ‘Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like… But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?’

Actually, it was a judge who did that. Still, I get why people presume that the division between the sexes is black and white, even if I, and the latest scientific research, might suggest that there are actually shades of grey in-between.

But this isn’t just an intellectual debate for me, nor another hand grenade in the toxic gender war being fought by extremists on either side. This is totally, deeply, terrifyingly personal.

I have staked everything I have and years of my life in the hope that gender transition will enable me to live a life that is true. To be told that I will never be accepted and must forever bear my male birth like a mark of Cain upon my soul – and for this to be regarded as a truth that decent people should defend – feels to me like a hateful rejection.

It’s as if transpeople don’t even truly exist. We’re just self-delusions.

That’s why a story that was barely a blip on most people’s radar was enough to tip me into a swamp of shame and self-loathing. Because it’s constant, this drip-feed of transphobic comment, and it’s absolutely horrible to be on the receiving end of it.

‘The tyranny of the trans minority has got to be stopped,’ I read, and wonder how a tiny fraction of the population, suffering sky-high rates of poverty, harassment and suicide, can tyrannise anyone. And yet, apparently, we do. One day transpeople ‘have a stranglehold on much of our culture and legislation’. The next we ‘threaten the whole of society’, and ‘women’s rights are being eliminated’.

These fearful visions of wicked conspiracies are absurd. Just imagine the offence that would be caused if those same statements were made with the words ‘black’, ‘gay’ or ‘Muslim’ instead of trans. Well, that’s how hurtful they are to people like me. And why would we even want to threaten the rights of the sex we’re trying to join?

The real truth about us is that we inhabit a world of extreme vulnerability, fear and fundamental uncertainty. Even as our very identity is being challenged, there’s a nagging, self-betraying voice in our heads asking: ‘What if they are right?’

That’s when I look in the mirror and think, ‘Who am I kidding? I’ll never be anything but a freak.’ And the next thing I know, I’m calling up Harriet and howling down the phone.

The original article is here

‘My transgender diary: ‘Learning to love my new female face’

23 JANUARY 2020

The meltdown that began at Christmas continued into the new year. As the post-op swelling went down and my features re-emerged, all I could see was my old, male face. I became obsessed by the black dots of stubble that had suddenly reappeared around my mouth, despite years of laser treatment and electrolysis.

No matter how hard friends and family tried to tell me that I just wasn’t seeing what they were seeing, which was a very different, much more feminine appearance, I didn’t believe them. The blues that often follow a major operation, and the emotional impact of a recently raised oestrogen dosage, hardly helped my grasp on reality.

Things came to a head at the first choir practice of the year. My fellow choristers have been nothing but supportive and accepting towards me and I’d normally love seeing everyone again. But when I did, it was a disaster.

I hated my reflection so much that it took every ounce of willpower to drag myself out of my flat, so I arrived late in a total tizz. Unable to relax, I felt cramped by the people around me. I couldn’t sing or even breathe. I panicked. Halfway through a song, I got up and fled, just as I had from my father’s house on Christmas Day.

And for the same reason: I was ashamed of myself. Something had to be done before I cracked completely. I reached out to my friend, and fellow transwoman, Juno Roche. She told me a harsh, but oddly comforting, truth: my terror of going out in the world in my new identity was perfectly normal.

‘It’s a tough gig,’ she said. ‘For the first year of transition, I was afraid every time I left the house. So be easy on yourself.’ Her good news for me, however, was that one’s fears were often overblown. Juno was a primary-school teacher when she transitioned. She couldn’t sleep for days before taking her first class as a woman. ‘But the kids were brilliant,’ she said. ‘And if one of them called me Sir by mistake, I’d hear all the others whispering, “ You’re supposed to call her Miss!”’

Even my stubble crisis was par for the course. Many years after transitioning, Juno keeps a mirror by the front door to check for unwanted hair. ‘I was talking to a very beautiful trans actress,’ she said, ‘and she told me she still shaves every day.’ It seemed I just had to grit my teeth and get out there. I had a postoperative check-up three days away, and my surgeon, Mr Inglefield, would certainly be expecting to see a woman walk through the door of his consulting room.

But what should I wear? I began with a pair of knee-high black suede boots, with flat crêpe soles: incredibly comfortable, easy to walk in and very relaxing.

From there I worked up, ransacking wardrobes and shelves until I’d found a satisfactory combination of practicality and elegance. (I’m actually quite confident about my appearance from the neck down. My problems are, in every possible way, in my head.)

I ended up with a cream cashmere polo neck from M&S and a Toast midi-skirt in black and dark-brown stripes, topped with a long, fitted (and slimming) black quilted jacket by Me+Em, all tied together by a long cream scarf. Then I asked my lovely neighbour Maria to come over and answer the single question: ‘If you were standing on the station platform and you saw this person, what would you think?’ ‘I’d think she was a woman,’ she replied. And though we chatted for ages, as we do, that was the key sentence I needed to hear.

Maria left. I went to the mirror to see how my make-up had held up over the hours since I’d put it on. I didn’t want to leave home nicely painted, only to arrive at the clinic two hours later looking like a wreck.

And then something amazing happened. I saw a new face in the mirror. It wasn’t the fright-mask I’d been looking at for the past fortnight. It was the face everyone had been telling me they could see.

It wasn’t perfect. It was still a work in progress. But it was a perfectly acceptable, normal, middle-aged female face. She would do fine. And suddenly the clouds that had been hanging over me parted, the sun shone again, and I felt ready to face the world.

The original article is here

‘The sheer joy of being called ‘madam’ by a stranger’

30 JANUARY 2020

So, there I was, one day to go before I had to go up to London to show my surgeon how the face he had given me was getting on. I’d finally accepted that I didn’t look as horrendous as  I’d feared.

Still, before I exposed myself to a two-hour train journey in a crowded carriage, then the cheek-by-jowl crush on the Tube, I needed evidence that I could actually get away with facing the world in broad daylight as a woman.

I had two errands to run. I needed to buy some food for the weekend, and there was a small package (a Dior Rouge lipstick, as it happens) waiting for me at John Lewis. So there was my Mission Impossible, and I chose to accept it.

On went a simple knee-length skirt given to me years ago by my friend Lucy Lunt – thank you, darling! – a baggy jumper with a chunky bead necklace and an olive/khaki cagoule. I got in my Golf, drove to the retail park feeling only mildly terrified and parked the car.

I took a deep breath, cast one last glance in the mirror and got out. The next thing I heard was a female, Eastern European voice saying, ‘Car wash, madam?’

I smiled politely, said, ‘No thank you,’ and just managed to resist the overwhelming desire to pump my fists and shout, ‘Yeeeesssss!!!!’

Then I went and did my shopping. And absolutely nothing happened. Everything went just as it always does. I got my food. I loaded my trolley. And I somehow messed up the self- service checkout, because no matter how many times I use it, there’s at least a 50 per cent chance that I will do something wrong and lights will start flashing and I’ll end up apologising to the staff member who has to come and sort it all out. Which she did. Twice.

And that was great. Other shoppers paying me no attention at all was absolutely ideal. Because, as I’ve said before, the whole purpose of going to all  the insane, obsessive lengths I’ve taken to transform my appearance is to look as completely normal, even invisible, as possible. I specifically don’t want to turn heads.

Off I went to John Lewis. My task there was simpler than the food shopping because I only had to get one object. On the other hand, in order to do so, I had to speak to an assistant, who would be no more than a couple of feet away from me. So that was two challenges: get my voice right and survive a close- quarters inspection.

And, once again, the entire transaction was entirely normal. I dictated my name and reference number, which were tapped into the assistant’s hand-held gizmo. He fetched my parcel, he wished me good day, and I left.

It was just an everyday errand. But ‘everyday’ was everything. As I drove home, a tummy-flipping, ecstatic whoosh of emotion welled up in me that I can only compare to the thrill of that moment when you suddenly realise you’re in love.

I got home, took my shopping upstairs and then rushed right back down again. It was a cold, crisp, sunny morning, and the South Downs were looking even more ravishing than usual. So I popped in my ear-buds, turned on my iTunes, which happened to be set to a playlist of classic Elton John tracks, and took a walk along the path that leads from my house up into the hills, dancing as I went to the songs in my head.

I climbed to the top of the first rise, from which there’s a glorious view out across the Channel towards the Isle of Wight. And then, because the hills really were alive to the sound of music, and I felt as joyous as Julie Andrews, I stuck out my arms and twirled around, making myself feel even giddier than I already did.

All my life I’ve wondered whether there might be a better, happier way for me to live. For the past five years, I’ve staked everything on that bet. And suddenly, all my questions had been answered.

I’m doing the right thing. I’m absolutely sure of it. Of course, there will be more pain, more uncertainty, more moments of despair in the months and years to come. But I will get there in the end. And everything it has taken will prove to be worthwhile.

The original article is here

‘How a gentleman called Frank made this lady’s day’

06 FEBRUARY 2020

You remember Brief Encounter, the stiff-upper-lipped yet heartbreaking movie, starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, about a couple who fall in love after meeting in a station café?

Well, I have spent the past few months in my own private version of that tale. Granted, there’s no romance, or heartbreak. It’s just me and a chap called Frank. But still…

We met almost a year ago. My train had been delayed, so I went to get a coffee. The only other customer was a man, sitting at the table opposite mine. Judging by the silver in his hair and beard, I reckoned he was about my age.

He looked as though he had just had a very long, hard night – and possibly more than one. There was a small suitcase at his feet. I got the feeling that life had not been treating him kindly.

I don’t recall us talking then. But we both left the café to take the same train, ended up getting seats opposite one another, and our conversation began.

A number of things swiftly became clear. First, Frank was far from down at heel. In fact, he worked for a company that made bespoke, hand-made shoes that could easily cost £5,000 a pair.

He came from Preston originally, but was now living down South, and his current business was just the latest in a long line of intriguing occupations, of which, if I remember correctly, psychotherapy was one.

What really bonded us was a shared strength of feeling about Brexit. Suffice it to say that many readers of this newspaper would have found our unfashionably positive opinions about leaving the European Union entirely sympathetic.

Frank got off at one station, I at the next. That, I assumed, was the end of it. But then, a couple of months later, I was waiting for the train at the same station… and there was Frank.

We greeted one another with cheerful smiles and manly handshakes, for I was still presenting as male at this point, and had another agreeable natter for the 90-minute ride to London.

Frank told me that his office was in Wimpole Street. I did not mention that the London Transgender Clinic, to which I was going, was 40 doors further up the same road. We parted at Victoria station and that was that.

We met on one more train, I came out to him as trans, and we even became Facebook friends. But we went several months without actually seeing one another… until one recent Saturday morning, at about 8.30.

I was going up to London, for another appointment at the clinic, feeling very nervous. This was my first big day out as a woman: skirt, make-up, visible curves, the works. To my alarm, the station was surprisingly busy, with far too many potentially prying eyes.

I was heading towards a less crowded patch on the platform when I spotted a familiar face. I gave a little wave and saw Frank’s puzzlement as he wondered who this tall, strange woman coming towards him was.

Then the penny dropped. In an admirable display of grace under pressure, he smiled, reached out his arms as I walked towards him and gave me a hug, exactly like any other man and woman who knew each other, meeting by chance and being delighted to do so.

We took our seats on the train and resumed our year-long, on-off conversation, which now ranged from the mating rituals of middle-aged Northerners to the utter futility of human life itself (the first of those topics leading seamlessly to the second).

Being there, talking to Frank, was the most wonderful, precious gift because it made me appear, and more importantly feel, normal. I wasn’t sitting self-consciously by myself, dreading the possibility of some random stranger plonking him or herself down beside me, close enough to see the flaws. I had a friend to take my mind off everything except for the pleasure of chatting with him.

This time we took the Tube together, walked to our shared destination and said goodbye with another hug and a peck on the cheek. And though my appointment went well, my surgeon said, ‘You look lovely,’ and I spent a happy hour or so browsing the fancy clothes shops on Marylebone High Street, the thing I will always remember will be the blissful relief of spotting Frank on the platform.

Because even in these woke times, the presence of a proper gentleman really can make a lady’s day.

The original article is here

‘I now understand why women take so long to do their hair’

13 FEBRUARY 2020

Not long ago, my haircare routine went as follows… Step into nice hot shower. Use shampoo (any will do) on short, balding crop of hair. Rinse. Step out of shower. Rub hair vigorously with towel. Job done. What carefree, innocent days those were!

Today, as I look at my dressing table, I see a hairdryer, a curling tong, a hot air styler (which, for the uninitiated, like me, is a combination brush and dryer), six different types of brush, a Click N Curl set of rollers, a comb with a wicked-looking metal detangler on one end, eight hair clips, one hair claw, several scrunchies, 50 hairbands and goodness knows how many pins.

To go with that I have special shampoo and conditioner, two pre-blow-dry conditioners (one cream, one spray), hair-thickening spray, anti-frizz spray, Moroccanoil and a gigantic canister of actual hairspray.

And the truly mind-boggling thing is this: I actually do need this stuff.

Yes, that’s right. To the personal maintenance madness of depilation, hormone replacement, vocal training and assorted surgeries, we can now add the acquisition of a head of thick, shoulder-length hair (roughly 60 per cent my own). It’s a dark, reddish-brown, spookily reminiscent of my mother’s natural colour, artfully enlivened with paler brown and honey-blonde highlights.

The process of getting it took 12 hours, spread over two days at the Lucinda Ellery salon in west London. On day one, a lady called Michelle, who grew up just around the corner from where I used to live in Fulham back in the ’80s, coloured my own hair to match the stuff that was going to be added to it on day two.

‘Everyone agreed that the finished result was a-may-zing’

That took around three hours, and by the time that Michelle had given me a proper, professional blow-dry, the results looked so good that I almost said, ‘That’ll do nicely,’ before cancelling everything else.

Then I remembered the size of my pre-paid deposit and decided to stick with Plan A.

At 9am on day two, I reported for duty again, and a lovely lady called Maria laid down the complicated pattern of meshes, weaves and extensions with which my own hair was combined.

In the afternoon, Emilia – an actual, bona-fide genius – styled it all into a proper hairdo.

The whole event became quite a social occasion. A friend of mine, Suzy, who has long suffered from hair loss, was getting her problem fixed on the same day, so we sat at adjacent chairs and chatted the hours away.

We broke for lunch – a large, mayonnaisey, chicken and avocado sandwich, with a delicious banana smoothie for me; a few bits of apple and cheese, plus water for Suzy – before returning to the afternoon session. Then, towards the end of the day, as the final blowing and spraying was going on, my friend Amanda, who lives just around the corner from the salon, popped in for a gossip and a glass of prosecco.

Everyone agreed that the finished result was a-may-zing. But when I got home that night, the bouncy, flicky, super-feminine gorgeousness of my hair seemed to point up all my facial failings. I had yet another one of my mini-meltdowns.

Now, I know that my inability to see my face as others do has a neurological basis. My brain is simply used to seeing a particular image of me in the mirror. It could take months for it to adjust to the new reality. Even so, by the time I went to bed, I was seriously contemplating calling the salon and telling them to take it all out.

The next day was my birthday, which I was celebrating at a local restaurant with Nik, Corina and Margaret, who are fellow choristers and three of my absolute besties.

I fought the desire to cancel the whole thing, told myself to tran-up, put on a little black dress and took my hair to dinner.

It went really well. My friends loved my new look, and showered me with compliments, cards, presents and champagne. It was a lovely, warm, mood-lifting occasion.

Towards the end of a delicious meal, the waitress came to tell Corina that the soufflé she had ordered for pudding hadn’t risen and it would take 10 minutes to make another. She then turned to the rest of us and asked, “Would you ladies like your desserts now, or would you prefer to wait?”

And, as my heart did a happy little dance, I decided that I might just keep my new hair, after all.

The original article is here

‘Plucking up the courage to buy women’s underwear… for myself’

20 FEBRUARY 2020

If I had a pound for every time that a woman has said the words, ‘Join the club’, or ‘Welcome to our world’, to me, I’d be on the Eurostar to Paris right now, for an appointment with Maria Grazia Chiuri for a Christian Dior couture frock.

Sadly, however, the comments come without a cash bonus. But, hey, a girl can dream. And in the meantime, this particular girl has finally – to use the transwoman slang – ‘gone full-time’. That is to say, I’m now living in role, presenting as female 24/7.

It turns out to be much less frightening than I had feared. But it’s certainly an interesting experience. And a very instructive one.

So, for example, joining the club last week meant being in west London overnight, between the first and second days of my new hair installation. I went for a wander down King Street, Hammersmith, looking for somewhere to while away the time and realised as I went past numerous pubs, that I couldn’t just do what I would have done as a man.

‘He’ would have popped in, found a quiet seat with a view of the football on the TV and settled down for a pint. ‘She’ feared unwanted attention and possibly humiliating exposure and walked right by.

Then again, joining the club can also be more, well… clubbable. On the afternoon before my first post-hair choir practice, I spent a mind-boggling two hours washing, conditioning, drying and styling (a complicated process when you’re rocking a massive nest of weaves and extensions that I will reveal to you in due time).

Or, to put it another way, doing my hair now takes one hour and 55 minutes more than it took me before.

At the end of my efforts, my hair looked as frizzy as a cartoon character who has just stuck their hand into an electric socket. Oh well, never mind. Off I went to the choir, which is currently about 45-strong – the vast majority female.

My problematic locks were greeted with enthusiastic admiration for the artful colouring, along with the deepest sympathy expressed for the frizz.

Every woman there knew the grief brought about by hair that is as uncooperative as a stroppy teenager. Hence, there were half-a-dozen more ‘Join the club’, and everyone had their own preferred solution, from ponytails, to buns, to anti-frizz sprays and miracle conditioners.

I have long been blessed with the affection and support of the other choristers, but this felt to me like real sisterhood, and I basked in it like a kitten in the sun.

The following day, some bras that I had bought online were delivered. I have a Sumptuously Soft M&S bra, size 34C, that is indeed sumptuously comfortable, so I’d ordered three more. But when I tried them on, the same thing happened with all three: the cup size was fine but the band was as tight as a boa constrictor wrapped around my ribs.

I lined up the new bras beside the old one. Sure enough, there was a clear difference between them.

I now had a choice. I could wrap them up and send them back, or I could risk taking them in person to the returns counter at my local M&S. I opted for the Mission Impossible.

Now, you know the moment in an ice-skating routine where the teenage prodigy attempts her final, disaster-defying quadruple spin? She pauses at one corner of the rink, takes a deep breath and the tension is unbearable as she just goes for it.

Well, here was the newly full-time transwoman’s equivalent. This was not just a shop visit. This was a Marks & Spencer shop visit – involving a conversation about women’s underwear.

Convince the assistant that I was a fellow female and I would land the jump; betray the least shred of maleness and I’d come crashing down on to the ice.

I paused at the top of the escalator, took my deep breath, set out across the floor, approached the counter… And I had a nice little chat for the next few minutes as the assistant tallied up my items, while we agreed that, of course, one could be different sizes for different brands, but it was very odd for that to happen with the same items from the same brand.

And she didn’t say it, but I quietly thought it, ‘I just joined the club.’

The original article is here

‘Plucking up the courage to buy women’s underwear… for myself’

20 FEBRUARY 2020

If I had a pound for every time that a woman has said the words, ‘Join the club’, or ‘Welcome to our world’, to me, I’d be on the Eurostar to Paris right now, for an appointment with Maria Grazia Chiuri for a Christian Dior couture frock.

Sadly, however, the comments come without a cash bonus. But, hey, a girl can dream. And in the meantime, this particular girl has finally – to use the transwoman slang – ‘gone full-time’. That is to say, I’m now living in role, presenting as female 24/7.

It turns out to be much less frightening than I had feared. But it’s certainly an interesting experience. And a very instructive one.

So, for example, joining the club last week meant being in west London overnight, between the first and second days of my new hair installation. I went for a wander down King Street, Hammersmith, looking for somewhere to while away the time and realised as I went past numerous pubs, that I couldn’t just do what I would have done as a man.

‘He’ would have popped in, found a quiet seat with a view of the football on the TV and settled down for a pint. ‘She’ feared unwanted attention and possibly humiliating exposure and walked right by.

Then again, joining the club can also be more, well… clubbable. On the afternoon before my first post-hair choir practice, I spent a mind-boggling two hours washing, conditioning, drying and styling (a complicated process when you’re rocking a massive nest of weaves and extensions that I will reveal to you in due time).

‘This was not just a shop visit. This was a Marks & Spencer shop visit – involving a conversation about women’s underwear’ CREDIT:  EDD HORDER
Or, to put it another way, doing my hair now takes one hour and 55 minutes more than it took me before.

At the end of my efforts, my hair looked as frizzy as a cartoon character who has just stuck their hand into an electric socket. Oh well, never mind. Off I went to the choir, which is currently about 45-strong – the vast majority female.

My problematic locks were greeted with enthusiastic admiration for the artful colouring, along with the deepest sympathy expressed for the frizz.

Every woman there knew the grief brought about by hair that is as uncooperative as a stroppy teenager. Hence, there were half-a-dozen more ‘Join the club’, and everyone had their own preferred solution, from ponytails, to buns, to anti-frizz sprays and miracle conditioners.

I have long been blessed with the affection and support of the other choristers, but this felt to me like real sisterhood, and I basked in it like a kitten in the sun.

The following day, some bras that I had bought online were delivered. I have a Sumptuously Soft M&S bra, size 34C, that is indeed sumptuously comfortable, so I’d ordered three more. But when I tried them on, the same thing happened with all three: the cup size was fine but the band was as tight as a boa constrictor wrapped around my ribs.

I lined up the new bras beside the old one. Sure enough, there was a clear difference between them.

I now had a choice. I could wrap them up and send them back, or I could risk taking them in person to the returns counter at my local M&S. I opted for the Mission Impossible.

Now, you know the moment in an ice-skating routine where the teenage prodigy attempts her final, disaster-defying quadruple spin? She pauses at one corner of the rink, takes a deep breath and the tension is unbearable as she just goes for it.

Well, here was the newly full-time transwoman’s equivalent. This was not just a shop visit. This was a Marks & Spencer shop visit – involving a conversation about women’s underwear.

Convince the assistant that I was a fellow female and I would land the jump; betray the least shred of maleness and I’d come crashing down on to the ice.

I paused at the top of the escalator, took my deep breath, set out across the floor, approached the counter… And I had a nice little chat for the next few minutes as the assistant tallied up my items, while we agreed that, of course, one could be different sizes for different brands, but it was very odd for that to happen with the same items from the same brand.

And she didn’t say it, but I quietly thought it, ‘I just joined the club.’

The original article is here

‘What trans women really get up to in ladies’ loos’

27 FEBRUARY 2020

I have now done it at six motorway services, as well as sundry other garages. I’ve done it at London Victoria, Gatwick airport and my local railway station. And I’ve also done it several times at a hair salon – but less often at a couple of restaurants, a pair of museums, a handful of Starbucks and one cinema.

Yes, I’ve recently been using a lot of ladies’ loos.

Now, I don’t wish to brag, but I feel this makes me something of an investigative reporter, fearlessly going where others dare not tread.

After all, the presence in female-only spaces for transwomen – and particularly those, like me, who have not yet had genital surgery – has proved to be a rather hot topic of late.

So what actually happens when I, wearing one of my many fashionable frocks and sporting the messy bun that I’ve recently got the hang of creating, walk into a ladies’?

Well, I start off by locating a spare cubicle. I use it for the purpose for which it is intended then, taking care not to get my skirt caught in my tights, flush and exit the cubicle.

“Everyone goes on about the long queues outside and bustling crowds inside female WCs, but I have breezed right in and no one has paid me the blindest bit of notice”

Next, I proceed to the nearest basin and give my hands a thorough, virus-bashing wash, before carefully checking my make-up, hair and general appearance. Male readers please note: this is not just vanity. It is essential monitoring.

For example, I discovered the other day that I had spent half of a rather important lunch with my two bosses – because one just isn’t enough for me – with my necklaces hopelessly tangled in the collar of my polo-neck sweater.

I looked utterly rubbish and it made me appear like someone who can’t even put a necklace over her head without messing it all up.

Still, it was a miracle that I was able to even spot my mistake because the mirrors in the ladies’ loo at this fashionable London eaterie were tinted sepia, with a vintage, cracked finish that made them look stylish, but at the same time prevented a proper reflection.

‘Only a man could have designed that,’ I thought, then realised, with a wicked thrill, that this was my first disparaging, womanly thought about the uselessness of men. An encouraging sign that I was heading in the right direction, I felt.

Of course, female readers may be thinking at this point, ‘But where is the exciting frontline reporting in all this? It sounds exactly what we’ve all done a million times.’

To which my answer is: absolutely, yes, it is precisely the same – barring the odd, private, anatomical difference. And that’s my point. There’s absolutely no drama at all.

However, I may not have yet provided quite enough gritty, inside information. So I will answer the question that I’m sure some of you will still be asking by saying, ‘Yes, most of the time I sit down’.

In one of nature’s snide little ironies, despite goodness knows how many oestrogen patches, I still suffer from the exclusively male curse of an enlarged prostate. This affects my ability to urinate and can mean I have to stand to function properly – or even at all.

But I only do that if the cubicles have solid sides, so no one can look across and see my feet pointing in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t want to alarm them, or embarrass myself.

What, though, of other female toilet-users? How have they greeted my arrival into their midst? Well, to be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of them. Everyone goes on about the long queues outside and bustling crowds inside female WCs, but I have breezed right in and no one has paid me the blindest bit of notice.

Except once. As I walked into the ladies’ loos at Gatwick South Terminal, there was another woman in front of me. We stood for a second and regarded the endless line of cubicles, all apparently occupied, stretching away into the distance.

The other woman headed off in search of an unlocked door. Finally, she found one. Then she turned and looked straight at me.

For an awful second I feared she might have spotted me for a trans-intruder. Instead, she simply smiled, pointed to the door next to hers, and called out, ‘It’s free!’

I smiled back, said, ‘Thanks!’ and went to do my business.

So that, dear reader, is what transwomen get up to in the ladies’. And there is no cause for alarm.

The original article is here

My transgender diary: ‘It’s finally time to say farewell to David’

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/transgender-diary-finally-time-say-farewell-david/

‘Calm down! Calm down!’ I hissed at myself. But it was no good. I was in a total state, running late, panicking, needing one stress-wee after another, and still no closer to getting out of my front door and on the road to London.

I was completely torn between the desperate urge to be off, and the equal but opposite longing to stay precisely where I was. These urges were driven by the thought of a rack full of beautiful clothes to try on. My fear was the reason for their presence. I was having my photograph taken.

Finally, I fought my way to the car and roared off up the road. The truth was, I had no choice.

You see, the things that I write about in this column really happen as I describe them. But the way the page looks is a lie. The photos no longer resemble the real me at all.

There’s a very simple explanation for this. I planned my transition so that I would look to all the world like a normal man, right up to the point where I looked like a normal woman.

Until the end of last year, I presented as male, even though the jeans, shirts, jumpers, jackets and trainers I wore had really been made for women.

The body beneath those clothes was changing with every month that passed, but I became an expert at disguising my new curves. And a face whose heavy black beard has, in fact, been removed by hours of agonising laser treatments simply looks well-shaved.

But a bloke, looking like a bloke, would hardly convey the story I was telling. So I settled on a visual compromise: a sort of effeminate, indeterminate halfway house that was actually the very thing that my real appearance sought to avoid.

In the past couple of months, however, my tables have been turned. With my face remodelled and my hair rethatched, I now go out in the world exclusively in female guise.

Thus the portraits that were once too effeminate are now not female enough. That’s why we needed new photographs – and lots of them. And all I can say is, if I don’t look good, it’s not for the want of trying.

An amazing make-up artist called Samanta spent hours (not colloquially: actual hours) painting my face and curling my lashes. Emilia, my regular hairdresser, transformed my tonsorial stew of weaves, extensions and actual, home-grown hair into the tumbling locks that models swoosh around in shampoo adverts.

As regular readers will know, I have a hate-hate relationship with my own reflection. But when I saw the final results of their camouflage job, even I had to admit that I looked quite feminine and not entirely awful.

Meanwhile, Sally the stylist had summoned clothes from all over London. True, I had, in my panic, left the bag containing my jumbo-sized shoes and giraffe-length tights back at home, but Sally and her assistant were still going to dress me well or die in the attempt.

The photographer, Bex, was a slender, redheaded wisp of a thing, who quietly but firmly exuded an air of absolute command. I adopted the poses she required. I did my very best to replace my short-sighted, mad-eyed stare with the relaxed, gentle look she had to ask for again, and again, and again.

David will be revealing a new look next week CREDIT: EDD HORDER
While Bex was shooting, Samanta, Emilia and Sally hovered like a Formula 1 pit crew, waiting for their driver to come in. At the slightest break in shooting, they’d dash in to add a dab of powder, move a strand of fringe or fractionally rearrange a cuff, then fly back to their positions until the next call to action.

And just like a pit crew doing a tyre change in 2.1 seconds that takes Kwik Fit three hours, these girls carried out total hair, face and fashion makeovers between one camera click and the next.

As I write, I have no idea what the finished results will be like. Every new image flashed upon a computer screen just behind Bex, but I never took a single glance.

I hate photos even more than I do reflections. If I ever saw how I was looking, I’d never have the confidence to stand in front of the camera again. But for better or worse, the next pictures that you see of me, starting next week, will be as true as the words beside them.

The original article is here

‘Call me Diana’: Our columnist David Thomas reveals her new life and look

By Jane Gordon

14  MARCH 2020

Diana Willow Penrose Thomas – formerly known as David William Penrose Thomas – is gyrating her body to the soundtrack of her youth in the London studio where she is making her modelling debut. As Bowie’s Life on Mars ends and the next song begins – his 1974 anthem Rebel Rebel – a mischievous expression crosses her newly lifted face.

‘Oh, I always thought this track was right up my street,’ she exclaims to the photographer as she mouths the lyrics to the song, ‘You’ve got your mother in a whirl/ She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.’ ‘Bowie was hugely influential to me; the idea that you had some choice over who you could become was a huge, huge thing. Even if it did take me 45 years to follow that idea through.’

It is a little over a year since DT (as she is known to close friends) began to chronicle her transition in her column for this magazine. Now that the scars from her facial surgery in November have healed she is finally ready – at almost 62 – to go ‘fulltime’ as Diana.

‘I didn’t change my initials because I wanted people to know that I was still the same person in practical terms. But D is not good for girls’ names. I didn’t want to be a Davina or a Dora and I am absolutely not a Daisy, so it’s Diana, which has five letters like David,’ she says as she changes outfits, pushing her feet into a pair of embroidered slippers that are, she declares with a self-deprecating smile, a little too large for her size 10 feet.

Becoming Diana – a process that will not be acknowledged in law with a GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate) until she has lived as a woman for two years – is the realisation of a dream that is all the more fulfilling, she believes, because of its timing.

‘I have this opportunity late in middle age when a lot of people are feeling a sense of, “Oh my God is this it?” and maybe thinking that they were never quite the person they wanted to be. It is a very human thing to have dreams that you never fulfil, and how lucky am I that at my age I can fulfil my dream? It is really exciting,’ she says when the shoot finishes and we sit down together to talk further about the dramatic changes that have taken place in her life since we last met, more than 20 years ago.

It has to be said that the woman I encounter today is a world away from the man I knew during a period in the 1990s when, as journalists, we would frequently find ourselves writing on opposite sides of the gender divide. But the fact that we are now two 60-something women – hopefully on the same side – is not as strange as I expected it to be. This is partly because there is no denying that Diana’s facial surgery has subtly softened her face in rather the same way that her new identity seems to have softened her character. The argumentative, slightly domineering, Eton-educated man I remember (he was the original white privileged male), who penned a book in praise of the patriarchy called Not Guilty: In Defence of the Modern Man, has mellowed in a way that makes a lot of our conversation seem like a slightly frivolous woman-to-woman chat.

‘Sometimes people say to me, “Why do you want to be a woman? It’s such a faff.” ‘And it is a faff, but I love the faff. Although I have had to readjust to how long it takes me to leave the house. These days, it takes at least an hour longer, but that hour is kind of fun,’ she says.

Some of the ‘faff ’, she concedes, has been both painful and costly. The facial surgery, for example, hasn’t left her with that alien look it sometimes does, but it was extensive, and the shoulder-length brunette bob she boasts today involved an initial process of hair weaving and extensions that requires regular upkeep at a specialist salon.

Left: David in Lima, Peru, aged 10 in 1969; right: David in the USA in 1979 CREDIT: Courtesy of David Thomas
‘I had upper and lower facelifts – I have four little plastic carpet-gripper things holding me together – then I had nose-tip reduction. It’s still swollen, it will take a year to go down but then it will be a much neater tip. Then I had a lip lift – if you look you can see the scar on the bottom of my nose. It has given my lips a much more feminine shape, but I haven’t had fillers put into them. The only fake thing is the hair on the very top of my head, where it was receding before I began my transition,’ she says.

There have been other, not so visible, procedures that have helped Diana to become the woman she has always dreamt of being. In order to be able to go bare-legged when she is wearing a dress, for example, she has had to have extensive body-hair removal.

‘I had quite nice boy legs, but they were hairy and let me tell you, being zapped 4,000 times in one session is a whole new world of pain. There is a lot of talk about the agony of childbirth, but you don’t get an epidural when you have your legs lasered.’ Then, of course, her transition to Diana remains dependent on the hormones that – she says with a grin – she ‘mainlines’.

‘I am not female in the same way you are because I have never in my life had a period, but of course at our age nor does any other woman. I am getting my hormones from HRT, just as post-menopausal women do. I mean I need a lot; I need about three women’s supply.

Diana has no regrets, and there is nothing that she has gone through that she wouldn’t do again. ‘I haven’t yet had a change that doesn’t make me feel better. The further down the road I go, the happier I get. I am not faking this. I am a happy bunny. So it’s rather odd when people say what I am doing is brave, because what is brave about being happy?’ Can she, I ask, put a price on becoming Diana? ‘That’s difficult, some things have come in under budget, but I reckon it must be over £50,000.’ Is she worth it?

‘Oh, hell yeah.’ For all her rather beguiling enthusiasm for her new life, she remains, I can’t help but feel, very vulnerable. Her happiness may be genuine, but doesn’t she worry that in writing so openly about her transition in her Telegraph column she is exposing herself to a certain section of the public that seems to be increasingly transphobic? In that sense, surely, she is being brave?

‘Why wouldn’t I write about it? When I started the column I needed the money, I needed a job and look, I am a writer, and something interesting was happening to me so of course I am going to write about it. It’s like saying to a shark, “But why did you go and eat that surfer?” Because I am a shark, that’s what I do,’ she says with a grin before adding, in a more serious tone, ‘For once in my life as a journalist I actually felt I had a real moral purpose. Who would have thought it?’

There are, it should be said, certain areas of Diana’s past life that are not up for discussion. We do not, for instance, talk about her ex-wife (they were married for 30 years) or their three grown-up children; two daughters and a son (‘I promised I would not write or talk about them’). ‘There are things in my life that are really distressing to me, but I am consciously making myself focus on the positive,’ she says a little curtly at one point.

Nor do we go too far into the current clash between some feminists and the trans lobby, despite Diana’s evident concern for the issue (she has previously revealed how upset she was by JK Rowling’s tweet in support of Maya Forstater, who lost her job after suggesting that transgender people cannot change the sex they are biologically born with).

‘I must say that I never understood why the prospect of trans people in ladies loos is scary. I don’t go into a ladies loo to oppress women. I go in there to have a pee. I go into a cubicle where no one can see me, pull up my skirt, sit down – well actually sometimes I have to stand because of my prostate – and there you go. Then I wash my hands and leave. What is oppressive about that?’

It is Diana’s belief that ‘trannies’ (a description of herself that she uses a lot) can bring something extra to womanhood. ‘I use the immigration analogy because in the same way that immigrants bring to their host nation things from their own culture – food, music, whatever – I think I can bring – or we can bring – something new and interesting to the female experience. And I absolutely don’t deny the guy in me. I am not pretending I am not still him in many ways. I mean I still do that thing of sitting down on Saturday and watching Sky Sports before the game, during the game and after the game because four geezers talking football constitutes entertainment to me. But I also blub my eyes out to Strictly Come Dancing and I rather like the fact that I can do both of those things.’

Diana’s excitement at unveiling her new look is palpable; so much so that talking in anything other than a positive way about the journey she is taking is almost impossible. Even the most difficult – and delicate – part of her ongoing ‘road’ to full transition is something she is ridiculously upbeat about. Becoming legally female – and gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate – does not require reassignment surgery, but it is very much part of Diana’s future plans.

‘The direction of travel is constant. I have absolutely no doubt that I will be happier if I have full surgery. Although the process of having that is so gruesome that it is testing my willingness to go forward, particularly as I will soon be 62. But then my experience of transitioning has been much more joyous so far than I expected. I mean, the first few times I went out as Diana I w o u l d w al k down the street and my knees would be knocking, but here is the thing: I could never go back to being David. That would be so much more fake. It turns out that this is me. This is my true self.’

As true to her new self as Diana now feels, she is just a little apprehensive about how Telegraph readers will react to the physical changes in her appearance. During today’s shoot there have been moments when she has been self-conscious and a little uncomfortable in a way that probably any woman in her 60s might be. Clearly happier in her own – more muted and understated – clothes than in some of the brighter, bolder coloured coats, skirts and dresses that have been called in by the stylist (Diana admits that in the last 18 months or so she has almost caught up on the ‘40 years of shopping’ she missed out on when she was David), these days her taste tends towards modern classics such as Me+Em and Uniqlo.

She is hoping that she will gain a similar level of approval from the public as she received a week previously when she attended a dinner party thrown by a university ‘mate’ and his wife to ‘introduce Diana’ to their old friends. ‘I sashayed into this dinner wearing a quite fitted, mid-thigh-length dark-grey dress with a cowl neck that I matched with tights, kitten heels, big hair and some pearls – and it worked. I did actually feel good. I looked in the mirror and I thought, “Oh that doesn’t look like a guy.” And that was a new experience for me. I looked in the mirror and – I hardly dare say this because it sounds arrogant – I thought, “I look pretty.” And do you know the thing that really touched me that night was the reaction of the guys I had known since I was an 18-year old fresher. Because, bless them, they came in and said, “Hi, Diana,” and kissed me on both cheeks in exactly the way they did to the other women around the table.’ Diana is enormously encouraged by the way in which her friends – and her 86-year old ex-diplomat father in particular – have accepted and supported her in a manner that she says has reinforced her belief that most people are ‘kind and good’.

‘I came out to my father about six years ago and he was just so sweet. His only concern was my well-being and the fact that he had had no idea, and he wished he had known. And I said to him, “Dad, I was walking round the house covered in make-up the whole time. How could you not know?” and he said, “Yes, but you always had girlfriends.” And of course that was true and looking back it had me fooled as well.’ Are there, I nervously ask, now boyfriends in Diana’s life?

‘No, I wouldn’t enter into a relationship until some time after I have had the operation,’ she says carefully after a thoughtful pause. But surely, I persist, part of the dream she is pursuing must include the idea that one day her prince will come? ‘Yes, yes is the answer.

Yes, I do want my prince to come. And actually I think that ultimately I would make somebody a really good wife. I love creating a beautiful home, nothing makes me happier – except possibly cooking a lovely meal or going shopping. I have worked hard all these years, I have earned my way for long enough, so yes, put a pinny round my neck and let me be a homemaker, please! There is a lot of nurturing in me that has gone to waste and there is a lot of love that is not being used up,’ she says in such a heartfelt way that I find myself tempted to give her a great big woman-to-woman hug.

Seconds later, though, that other Diana is back – the sharp, sassy, witty one who owes quite a lot to her former self and is determined to amuse, bemuse and entertain us all as we follow her on her journey. ‘I mean look at me – long legs, brand-new breasts, knows the offside rule and the LBW rule, and can tell a googly from a flipper and if you want to watch endless documentaries about World War II be my guest! I think I have a lot to offer any man, don’t you?’

 

That’s all folks.