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 for ever to come to the boil, while others are done in no time at all. My stubble, for example, is taking a lifetime to remove. Meanwhile, my bust is expanding faster than a soft white loaf at gas mark 6.
I had to take a break from hormones last year, only four months after starting them. If I’d kept on going I’d have been the bearded lady by Christmas. I had to stop before someone offered me a part in The Greatest Showman.
Of course, the notion that things take a lot longer than planned – and cost an awful lot more – is one with which I am entirely familiar from a lifetime spent blowing money on houses.
I told myself, ‘You’ve renovated six different homes. How hard can it be to renovate yourself?’ So I approached the process of making myself more fabulous the same way I’d start on a refurb. I surveyed and measured what I’d already got. And I also determined what parts of the structure could be changed and what had to be left as it was.
There’s nothing I can do about my skeleton, which is a bit of a problem. I’m 6ft tall with size 10 feet. To reassure myself, I drew up a list of women I knew who were roughly my height. I quickly came up with a dozen names, one of which belongs to a very beautiful brunette who is so spectacularly tall that when she wears heels she can look down and see my bald spot.
My skull, however, is a trickier issue. The average woman’s head is smaller than a man’s, but mine is massive, even by male standards. But short of heading into the Amazon rainforest, finding a tribe of headhunters and saying, ‘Go ahead lads, shrink away,’ there’s nothing that can be done.
On the other hand, some news is surprisingly good. I used to work on the BBC’s Film 82, presenting location reports. On one such set, the veteran movie producer Sam Spiegel, who made Lawrence of Arabia, eyed me up and down and said, ‘Great shoulders, kid. You should be in the movies.’
From then on, I assumed I had a fine, manly frame and bought extra-large shirts, suits and jackets. It was only when I finally measured myself in more detail that I realised all my male clothes were about three sizes too big.
It turns out I have narrow shoulders and a slim chest. To be specific, ladies, I take a 36in bra-band, usually on the middle, or even tightest, setting. As I rapidly discovered, sizing varies wildly between brands, but most of the time I can comfortably fit a size 14 jacket, shirt or top. So I count as a large or even ‘Omigod, get that elephant outta here!’ for fancy, designer labels. But in the real world I’m pretty average.
My hands are not enormous. My ankles and wrists are slender by male standards, no problem by female ones. I can live with that. Now we come to the bits that need changing.
I weigh about 12½ stone. That has to come down to 11½. I’m 33 inches round the waist on a fat day, 31.5 if I’m being good. I can do something about this. I want to get it down to 30. By giving up chocolate, red wine and ice cream for Lent, taking a bit more exercise and hula-hooping regularly (it’s the best tummy exercise ever), I’m just about on target for weight and waist alike.
As for hair, I’m basically Mr Tumnus: a thick beard, hairless chest and legs like a goat. The difference is that in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr Tumnus didn’t suffer from male-pattern baldness.
This, too, I can do something about, but that’s a matter for another day. For now, I will just leave you with the other reason why male transition is like a full English breakfast.
By the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of the sausage.
The original article is here.
If I’d transitioned in my teens, it could have ruined my life
At least five clinicians have resigned from the Tavistock Centre, the only specialist NHS clinic for transgender children and adolescents. They claim that the clinic’s young patients are being used as guinea-pigs in a great gender-bending experiment, whose outcome remains unknown.
Children, it is alleged, are being given irreversible, life-changing drugs when they may not be transgender at all, but just gay, or simply confused. Trans-rights campaign groups stand accused of pressuring doctors to approve treatments that may be harming, rather than helping vulnerable young people.
All those claims are vigorously disputed by the Tavistock’s management and the trans activists. Meanwhile, my thoughts are with the children and parents at the centre of the dispute. After all, I am both transgender and a father myself.
I was a mixed-up, confused, unhappy Seventies teenager. Back then, no one had a clue what to do with kids like me. Today, my adolescent self would certainly qualify for treatment if he presented at the Tavistock, and he would leap at the opportunity. But would I, as an adult, think that was a good idea?
The obvious answer is, “Yes, of course.” I know from personal experience that if a child really is trans, it isn’t a phase and they won’t get over it. Nor is it a disorder that can be cured. But equally, I recognise that some kids may think they are trans, who actually aren’t. Telling the difference between the two can’t be easy.
Even if the diagnosis is correct, extreme caution is surely essential when contemplating treatment that can have lifelong, irreversible consequences. Yes, it would have been easier to look convincingly female if drugs had spared me the sudden, mid-teens growth spurt that saw me mutate from a short, smooth cheeked schoolboy into a tall, heavily bearded undergrad.
But equally, I could never have had my career, or my family if I had spent the past 40 years living as a transwoman. Transition in my teens or even twenties might not have been best solution. For some, it never is.
Imagine a huge suspension bridge, with great towers at either end holding up the roadway between them. Think of one tower as ‘male’ and the other as ‘female’. Trans people are in the middle of the bridge, walking from one side to the other. Some people go all the way across. But many find a point along the way, say, ‘This suits me nicely,’ and settle down without completing the journey.
I have one close transgender friend who has lived and worked for more than 30 years as a woman, but without ever having the final surgery. I have another who presents as a woman, but accepts the male side of his nature and has never gone near a female hormone. Both are entirely content with their choices.
Even I, now at last on the bridge to full transition, accept that something may happen to divert me. I could find that sweet spot where I have gone far enough, or receive medical advice that my age or health make surgery too risky. The point is, I am still free to make those choices. A youngster whose body has already been changed is not.
So it seems to me that doctors and parents alike should hesitate before taking decisions on children’s behalf that deny them freedom of action later on. Yes, absolutely, acknowledge their needs and identities. Support them, counsel them, respect them, protect them. But in the end, shouldn’t we let our children determine for themselves, as adults, who they are and how they want to lead their lives?
The original article is here.
He or she: What do you call a person who is transitioning?
12 APRIL 2019
‘At interview Ms Thomas articulated herself well and there was no evidence of current psychopathology, whether affective, psychotic or cognitive… I was satisfied that she was well informed and able to consent to starting feminising hormones, and I believe she will have a good outcome from oestrogen.’
That’s my consultant psychiatrist, one of the world’s leading experts on gender identity, writing to my GP to give him the green light to start writing ‘scrips’ for HRT. I cite him partly to reassure you, dear reader, that I’m officially Not Completely Bonkers, and have been certified as an Actual Transsexual, but also to point out the personal pronoun used throughout: ‘she’.
A lot of professionals in the trans trade refer to clients by the gender to which they’re travelling, rather than the one they currently inhabit. Primarily it’s a courtesy, but I wonder if it’s also a test, a way of asking, ‘Are you sure?’
Certainly, few things made me think, ‘Wow, this is getting real,’ more than seeing myself referred to as ‘she’, ‘her’ and ‘Ms’ after a lifetime of ‘he’, ‘his’ and ‘Mr’. It took a few slow, deep breaths before I concluded, ‘This is my new world… and, actually, I’m fine with it.’
Mind you, it confused the hell out of my GP’s admin staff. And they aren’t the only ones who are feeling uncertain about where to file me. Since I’ve come out, the question I’m asked most often is, ‘Should I call you he or she?’ No one wishes to offend or, God forbid, suddenly find me calling the cops and reporting them for hate speech. So I reply, ‘I’m he. And when I’m she, you won’t be able to miss it.’
Of course, gendering isn’t always that simple. The actor Kate Asia Dillon, who stars in the TV series Billions, identifies as non-binary, neither one conventional gender nor the other. Being neither, ‘he’ nor ‘she’, Dillon insists on being referred to as ‘they’.
Now, I sympathise with their need to find a way of saying, ‘This is who I am,’ particularly when the only other neuter option English offers is ‘it’. But the writer in me bristles at the use of plural pronouns to describe a singular person, who presumably still thinks of themselves as ‘I’, not ‘we’. And while I empathise with Dillon’s lifelong sense of not conforming to either masculine or feminine gender norms, I am personally nervous of twisting language or reality to fit my personal needs.
I don’t want to seem like Rachel Dolezal, the American civil rights campaigner who insisted she was black despite being ethnically white, or Emile Ratelband, the Dutchman, aged 69, who wanted his age officially changed because he identified as 49. I also remember Hilaire Belloc’s tale of Matilda, the terrible liar, who died because no one believed her when she screamed that her house was burning down. If I make a statement that appears false now, that will make it harder for me to make the same statement later, when it’s true.
As matters stand, if I demanded the use of ‘she’ and insisted, ‘I am a woman,’ you would be entitled to reply, ‘No you’re not.’ I could jump up and down and scream, ‘Help, help! I’m being abused!’ But that wouldn’t alter the fact that I’m still legally male, use a male name and look and sound sufficiently male that the world responds to me as a man.
I am not so pig-headed, nor delusional that I’d fly in the face of all that evidence. But I can reasonably say, ‘I am transgender,’ because I have the documentary evidence to support it.
And if I add, ‘I am in the process of gender transition,’ that is also verifiably true. People – in my experience a very small minority – might find the whole idea of someone being transgender offensive to their religious or ideological principles. But they can’t deny the fact of it. In due course, barring a sudden change of plans, there will come a time when I can truthfully say that I am living as a woman, with a woman’s name. At that point I will ask to be referred to as ‘she’, rather than ‘he’, and it will be a reasonable request, consistent with the way I look, sound and carry myself.
The final step will be a Gender Recognition Certificate, the government document that confirms the full, legal status of one’s acquired gender. At that point, the words ‘I am a woman’ become a statement of fact.
Of course, that won’t satisfy those who say that if you weren’t raised as a girl, and haven’t had periods and suffered sexism, you can’t ever join the club. As Germaine Greer so charmingly put it, ‘Just because you lop off your penis… it doesn’t make you a woman.’
Dr Greer, however, is no less prejudiced, or factually inaccurate than a shaven-headed BNP racist shouting that an immigrant who has legally acquired UK citizenship isn’t really British because they weren’t born in this country. In both cases, common decency and the law say they’re wrong. I explained all this, in highly condensed form, to a friend who had asked the ‘he or she’ question. ‘Great!’ he replied. ‘David it is until David it isn’t.’
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.
The original article is here.
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.
My transgender diary: ‘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.
My transgender diary: ‘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.
My transgender diary: ‘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.
David Thomas’s transgender diary CREDIT: EDD HORDER
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.
I hope to be able to post further updates to David’s story at some unspecified time in the future but I can’t promise anything.