Trans beauty pageants

Running more or less parallel to the Inquiry in to trans rights in the UK Parliament, we’ve got another powerful force for trans equality. Yes, it’s the Miss Transgender UK pageant, whose homepage proclaims: “Isn’t it about time we were noticed and accepted? Well it’s up to us to show the UK that we’re here. We work, live and function as part of society, and as women together we will bring the UK in line with Europe for acceptance and equality for all.” By means of parading around in frocks on a catwalk.

The judging criteria is apparently 50% on your appearance and performance in several catwalk runs, and 50% your answer to questions about your home life, education and positive messages about trans people.

Actually, I find the questions bit more worrying than the appearance section. How on earth do you score someone’s home life? Do you get bonus points for having a partner? A mortgage? How many points do I get for a cat and some pot plants? Equally, I don’t know quite how they’re assessing education. Presumably not via a points system

The top prize consists of : cash; a voucher for overseas gender confirmation surgery to be taken before March 2016 (for those who’ve already had surgery, this may be exchangeable for other surgeries); and a lingerie modelling contract. Prizes for runners up and heat winners include more cash, discounts on facial feminisation surgery, and a makeover session.

Now, I do not subscribe to the view that it is any one trans person’s duty to be a positive role model and representative for all other trans people. If it is someone’s dearest wish in life to be in a beauty pageant and win a lingerie model contract, then that’s their choice. If someone thinks it’ll boost their confidence, or be a bit of fun, then so be it. I do not, in principle, think that a trans beauty pageant is any worse than any other beauty pageant. I wish pageants didn’t exist, but they’re part of a wider issue of social attitudes towards women, and it’s that that needs addressing, not the symptom.

However, what I do object is that this pageant has the chutzpah to claim it is doing something positive for trans representation. The whole set up tends to confirm several pre-existing, and constraining, stereotypes about both trans people and about women. It says that a successful trans woman is one who is attractive (and has a suitable home life, apparently). It says that trans women must all either have had surgery, or want surgery imminently (note that the surgery has an expiry date meaning there is no option to take some time to decide). It says even those who have already had surgery will want other aesthetic procedures. It says that a lingerie modelling contract is something trans women should aspire to. It says that confirming these stereotypes will win the general public over to supporting trans people.

Some people have criticised the competition and its organisers for not including trans men. I couldn’t be more thankful that they haven’t. There are already more than enough social pressures around how people, and especially women, should express their gender without needing to formalise those rules and explicitly judge them.


Dating, Touching and Deception

Over the last few days, I have been trying to work out if I am potentially a sex offender.

I have to admit, it isn’t a question that has never occurred to me before. I’ve never had sexual contact with anyone underage, and I’ve never had sexual contact with anyone who didn’t want to have sex with me. Ordinarily, I’d have that ought to be enough to establish the answer pretty conclusively.

However, as previously covered in detail by Zoe O’Connell and now also discussed in the mainstream press, me being trans raises complications around the issues of consent in the UK.

Our current situation under English case law, established by the McNally judgement* appears to be:

  • If you are (for example) a married 50 year old man, and you have sex with a woman for several years, while telling her you are single and intend to marry her one day, that is not criminal. The fact that the woman might not have consented if she had known you were already married is not enough to say she did not consent.
  • If you are a 17 year old who is confused about your gender and/or sexual identity, and you perform cunnilingus on someone while allowing them to believe you are a gender other than the one assigned at birth, that’s ‘sexual assault by penetration’, because your failure to disclose your birth-assigned gender invalidates their consent.

To me, I can’t see that there is any clear reason to state that being deceived about gender is always and universally worse than being deceived about marital status. However, I can see that if you’re a (middle-aged heterosexual male) judge, it might be easier to imagine yourself in one set of shoes than another.

The consent provision in the McNally case is from the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The charges brought in that case, and admitted by the defendant, related to sexual assault by penetration. However, the same consent rules seem to apply to sexual assault generally – which cover any kind of sexual touching, for example touching someone’s bum or thigh. As far as I know, there hasn’t been English case law testing this. However, up in Scotland the Wilson case seems to have convicted someone who was living full time as a man, in part for kissing and cuddling someone without disclosing his birth-assigned gender.

Now, on one of my early dates with my current boyfriend (some six years ago) I seem to remember that I put my hand on his thigh, in a sexual manner, before I’d told him I was trans. We were in the cinema, in the middle of watching a film, so it wasn’t exactly the best setting for a long chat about my gender identity. Nonetheless, the McNally judgement seems to imply that there is a question over whether my partner could consent to me touching him in a sexual manner if he did not know I was trans.

I’d never told him I wasn’t trans. On the other hand, we’d met via a dating site, where I was listed as a man looking for a man. We’d messaged a bit, and been on a date before, without me telling him I was trans. And yes, I knew that I was keeping something back that he might not like. Why? Well, at the time I felt it was quite a personal bit of info (I’m less sensitive about it now). I felt it was information that potentially made me vulnerable, and I wanted enough time to decide if I felt safe disclosing it to someone I’d met online. And I didn’t necessarily want it to be the first thing he knew about me. I wanted him to know what I’m like to chat to, what my hobbies are and so on, before we got down to discussing the configuration of my genitals. I imagine other men who are aware that their genitals or their bedroom performance might not live up to their partners’ expectations also do not necessarily advertise this from the get go. (Perhaps the judges might have had more sympathy if the issue had been presented to them in those terms…)

Now, okay, it’s probably unlikely such a case would get prosecuted, even if my boyfriend had reported it, which clearly he hasn’t. Let’s face it, the police and prosecution service haven’t got a stellar reputation for prosecuting sexual assault cases under the clearest of circumstances. And there’s some argument that the fact that I am most definitely trans (I have a doctor’s note and everything!) would give me stronger protection than McNally, for whom the issue of identity was unclear. My partner was considerably older than McNally’s partner – though I’m much older than McNally – and I’d known him for less time before I told him, so there’s less question of trust. My touching his thigh is less intimate than penetrative acts. However, I did not have a Gender Recognition Certificate at the time, so I did not benefit from the specific protections that might have provided.

Ultimately, though I feel selfishly glad that I had the luxury of being able to manage issues of personal disclosure between me and my now-boyfriend, in a way that I thought felt appropriate to the situation, without it even occurring to me that I might also have to worry what a judge would think. It doesn’t seem fair that for other trans, queer, non-binary and confused people, it still isn’t entirely clear what’s okay till someone else gets put on trial.

*(To be clear: the most recent case, the Newland case, is rather different to the McNally case, and brings up additional issues. Although the coverage of the Newland case sparked me to write this, I am largely writing about the implications of the McNally judgement)

Written Evidence to the TransInquiry #2

Nine more written submissions to the transinquiry have been published. I’ve previously summarised some key points from the first 17, so here’s some highlights from the newly-published submissions:

  • Gendered Intelligence have submitted points along the lines of Jay’s verbal evidence, challenging gender stereotypes throughout education, pointing out the need for local joined up support for trans youth, and the problems with trans inclusion sport. They’ve pointed out CAMHS and social care support for trans young people is inconsistent, and highlighted the need to support the development of the trans community.
  • Mermaids have said that even when EHRC have found trans young people are being discriminated against, they can’t always intervene to protect under 18s. They’ve said 16 and 17 year olds are being falsely told blockers won’t help. Transfer between youth and adult services is poor. Most parents think delays harms their kids. Assessments are stressful – sometimes up to 7 clinicians in a room. Gender identity services for young trans people don’t involve hair removal, speech therapy and support with issues such as binders. Schools and social workers lack appropriate training and resources.
  • The Forum for Sexuality and Gender Identity in post-school education say non-binary people have a lack of choice in titles, which are often compulsory on forms. Services are missing opportunities to be inclusive due to lack of knowledge and fear. Equalities policies often exist but are poorly publicised. Many non-binary further education learners consider  dropping out. It’s hard to get titles changed. There’s a lack of appropriate toilet and changing facilities. Most staff aren’t trained in transphobia and possibly don’t understand what trans is. Trans related bullying possibly isn’t take as seriously as other types of bullying on equality characteristics.
  • The National Union of Students largely raises similar issues, including high drop out rate and issues around sports participation. Trans students are at a relatively high risk of being bullied, harassed or assaulted on campus. They point out trans students are misnamed and misgendered by staff. They highlight the lack of career support capable of advising on issues like the impact of a change of name on references and employment history. Most students reach higher education not having been taught about LGBT issues in sexual and relationship education. They highlight issues in health care, in particular travelling distances and the fact trans young people often have other health issues. They point out the GRC process is bureaucratic, time consuming and doesn’t include NB people. They point out the spousal veto undermines trans rights.
  • The Uni of Sussex Hate Crime project highlights that trans people are at a relatively high risk of hate crime, often multiple incidents with a significant impact on wellbeing. There is a lack of trust in the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Comments suggest sometimes the police do not take crimes seriously or suggest trans victims have contributed to their own victimisation. Hate crime not only affects direct victims, but the whole community.
  • The Prison Reform Trust highlight the lack of research and data collection (agreeing with the verbal evidence today). The prison service instructions should cover many of the key issues, but are poorly understood and followed. There seem to be concerns about trans prisoners living in role – the Trust suggest there should be quick specialist assessments if there are such concerns – this isn’t happening. They say it is likely there are issues with bullying and sexual assault. The response to unconvicted prisoners who wish to transition possibly violates their human rights.
  • An Equality and Diversity Officer in a prison has submitted a personal capacity comment on the lack of support trans prisoners get from staff, and that trans prisoners are not seen by specialist consultants.
  • Terry Reed of GIRES highlights the lack of inclusion of NB people in the Equality Act, and the issue of trans inclusion in sport.
  • An educator in a FE college highlights the growth in non-binary identities, stresses that trans young people should be able to change their name for free, and that there should be more funding in education for trans support

Transinquiry – mark 2

So we’ve just finished the second Parliamentary evidence session for the trans inquiry (following on from the first). I will start by saying that I am extremely impressed by the Committee, and how much time and effort they seem to have taken to think about and learn about trans issues.

This is my own short summary:

The first session was on trans issues and young people. I’m always a little bit cautious of expressing my views on this – I first started to be consciously aware I was trans when I was 14-15, but I never discussed it with anyone till I was 18. So I’ve got no personal basis on which to discuss experiences of youth services, nor can I discuss the experiences of people who’ve known they were trans since they were small children. So I’m commenting from a somewhat external perspective.

I absolutely agreed with many of the points made by Jay from Gendered Intelligence re: wider approaches to gender in society. It doesn’t hurt anyone to allow a young person to change their name, change their pronouns, change how they dress. It doesn’t hurt anyone to respect those choices. None of those changes are irrevocable, none of them are likely to damage anyone. Indeed, I suspect trying to suppress such choices is far more likely to cause harm.

We heard about both good and bad example of social and educational establishment reactions to young people questioning their gender identity, with Susie from Mermaids giving some particularly shocking examples of schools rejecting trans young people or entirely failing to respect them. We heard about families rejecting trans young people, and young people not feeling safe in the social care system. Anna Lee highlighted some of the issues in university, particularly around sports. None of this is new to anyone who knows anything about trans issues, but it was great to have it explicitly highlighted. I think everyone present was mostly on the same page on the need for better social support for trans young people.

Where there did seem to be some disagreement was around medical intervention for under 18s. A Tavistock and Portman representative, who I believe was Bernadette Wren (not the advertised Ashley Miller) drew the short straw of trying to defend the status quo. There were some rather confusing points in there – at one stage she seemed to say the Tavistock had never refused physical intervention to anyone who wanted it – but she also spent a lot of time talking about checks and balances, and how if the age limit for hormones was dropped, it would be harder to say ‘no’. If they never do say no, the point seems somewhat moot.

Possibly part of the problem was at times it became somewhat unclear (at least to me) whether speakers were talking about hormone blockers or hormones, and “physical intervention” is a somewhat euphemistic phrase. Another aspect may be that, as Susie from Mermaids indicated, the big problem may not be so much that the Tavi says no, it’s that the process is slow. Therefore young people end up not starting medical intervention until either they’re old enough for the adult services, or irreversible puberty changes have started to happen. She also highlighted the fact that a single service makes it extremely difficult for people to complain, or ask for a second opinion.

I also felt there was a pretty obvious mismatch between what Bernadette Wren was saying about trying to understand young people and their situations and support networks, and operating a blanket, no exceptions policy that blockers must be started 12 months before hormones. Fine, some young people need a chance to reflect, or are not sure what they want. Are we seriously saying they all need exactly 12 months to reflect? Or that the ones who took months and years to get to a gender identity service didn’t spend time reflecting before that point? As I’ve said, I can’t claim expertise, but it seems improbable.

The adult gender identity services came in for some implied criticism for their long waiting lists and inconsistent policies. GPs and CAMHS were also highlighted for often refusing referrals, failing to understand processes, delaying and so on.

The second part of the session I’ll cover much more briefly, because there isn’t much to say. Only two witnesses attended, Megan Key from the Probation Service and Michael Brookes, a Professor in Forensic Psychology. Unfortunately, I believe the third witness, who didn’t attend, was supposed to represent prisoners’ point-of-view, which was rather needed.

If I’m honest, this part of the session didn’t feel like it should have been given its own slot, at least not at the expense of other trans and non-binary issues. There is little or no reliable evidence regarding trans people in prisons or in the probation service. At the moment, no-one collects data, or systematically reviews what’s known. Megan Key was aware of a forthcoming report addressing many of these issues, but she wasn’t able to discuss  it in detail. Michael Brookes couldn’t quite remember the current policy on searching trans people in prisons, though he knew there was one.

We did, however, get some examples of specific detriment to non-binary people (are you listening, Ministry of Justice?) – the prison system is entirely binary, can make no accommodations for non-binary people and no-one’s ever really thought to look at that or challenge it.

I can only hope that the Committee respond by supporting more research (I will declare an interest in that, as a UK university PhD student looking at LGBT health issues). They may perhaps  also need to revisit some of the criminal justice issues once the new policy is out.

UK government response to the trans petitions

The UK government’s response to the petition on allowing trans people to determine their own gender, which received 30,000 signatures. My views in italics:

Government Response:

The gender recognition process in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was developed as a result of the Government’s commitment to allowing trans people to gain legal recognition in their acquired gender.

No, it was developed because the European Court of Human Rights found the previous law not compliant with European Human Rights.
The Gender Recognition Process

The general procedural requirements for gaining gender recognition were developed as a result of the Government’s commitment to allowing trans people who have taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in the acquired gender to gain legal recognition in that gender, by establishing a robust and credible process to determine applications for recognition. The provisions are contained the in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA).

A person’s gender has important legal and social consequences. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that people who take on a new legal status can establish that they meet certain criteria. The required statements and evidence are limited to what is necessary to establish that an applicant meets the criteria for recognition.

Actually, gender has increasingly few legal consequences. The ones it does have are often technicalities that serve no real purpose but inconvenience trans people. The Panel appear to be asking for statements and evidence which go far beyond anything set out in the act, e.g. enquiring into people’s reproductive history.

There are no requirements for a trans person to apply for legal recognition; it is entirely a personal decision. Many trans people live and work in their acquired gender without feeling it necessary to apply for legal recognition. However, an application for gender recognition should only be made where a person has made a permanent decision to change their gender.

I’m not sure what they’re trying to say here. They started with “legal recognition is a very serious thing”, now they’re on to “it’s a personal choice”. If you do not have gender recognition there are certain areas where the law may still treat you as your birth gender. These may cause problems, often in situations you haven’t planned for. For example, prisons and death registrations are two areas where not having a GRC may mean your gender isn’t recognised. So while no trans people are forced to get a GRC, those who don’t may be penalised.

The Gender Recognition Panel, a judicial body, determines all applications for gender recognition and an applicant must prove to the satisfaction of the Panel that they meet all the requirements set out in the GRA. The requirements for applicants going via the standard route are that the applicant:

– has or has had gender dysphoria;
– has lived in the acquired gender throughout the two years immediately preceding the date on which the application is made;
– intends to continue to live in the acquired gender until death.

Applicants must also provide medical reports, from:
– a qualified medical professional who works in the field of gender dysphoria giving details of their diagnosis of gender dysphoria; and
– a GP or surgeon, detailing any surgery or treatment that the applicant has undergone to change their sexual characteristics.

In addition, applicants must provide documentary evidence in the form of:
– an original or certified copy of the birth certificate;
– an official change of name document or documents;
– documentary proof the applicant has lived in their acquired gender throughout the preceding two years.

We know all this. That’s what the petition objected to.

If the Panel is satisfied that the applicant meets all the conditions in the GRA they must issue the applicant with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).


It is quite normal for people to pay for a whole range of services, for example, passports, birth and marriage certificates, drivers’ licences, applications to the civil courts for a variety of issues. Given the cost involved in administering the gender recognition process, applications for gender recognition also carry a fee.

At present, the application fee stands at £140. So as to ensure that nobody is excluded from gaining legal recognition in their acquired gender, remissions and part remissions are available to those who are unable to pay the full fee. Traditionally a large percentage of applicants have been exempt from paying a fee.

True, but disingenuous. £140 is considerably more than you would pay for a passport, birth certificate, driving licence etc. Why? Because those documents are processed as administrative matters – you fill in a form, send in supporting evidence if needed, and if it’s all there, you get your passport. But for the GRC, they get in a panel of lawyers and doctors to sit around and discuss your gender – and I assume they get paid for their time. The petition was wanting to move processing gender recognition much more like processing a passport.

Gender Identity Clinics

Current service provision in England is network-based, shaped around seven adult gender identity clinics, three providers of adult genital reconstruction surgery and one designated provider of gender identity development services for children, adolescents and young people.

Each gender identity clinic delivers services in compliance with contemporary, generic service standards for their discipline that respect the specific needs, values and dignity of transgender people.

In England, people accessing gender identity services have a legal right under the NHS Constitution to be seen within 18 weeks of referral.

Unfortunately, this legal right is not being met. By any of the clinics. This legal right has never been met, since the 18 week right came in. So what are they actually going to do?

Non-binary Gender

Non-binary gender is not recognised in UK law. Under the law of the United Kingdom, individuals are considered by the state to be of the gender that is registered on their birth certificate, either male or female.

Under the Gender Recognition Act, the Gender Recognitions Panel is only able to grant a certificate to enable the applicant to become either male or female. The Panel has no power to issue a certificate indicating a non-binary gender.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination if it arises from their being perceived as either male or female. We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment, and it is not Government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents.

There’s an inquiry currently under way, which has received over 230 pieces of written evidence. I rather suspect that this will identify “specific detriment”. The Equality Commission has submitted evidence to that Inquiry saying it thinks the current law should change.

Gems from the first lot of written evidence to the Trans Inquiry

They’ve published the first 17 of 230 submissions to the UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committees Inquiry into trans issues. (See also my summary of the 1st 2 sessions of verbal evidence). Full copies of these submissions are available.

Here’s a highly selective few gems:

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission thinks the current law on trans discrimination needs to be broadened to make it clearer that non-binary people, those still developing their identity, intersex people and those not living full-time in their preferred role should be protected.
  • The British Association of Gender Specialists say they’re not entirely comfortable with the current diagnoses around trans identity. The British Psychological Society says there should be more of a holistic consideration, rather than simply diagnosis.
  • The British Psychological Society says trans people are being kept from their kids, and this shouldn’t happen. Sad that this even needs saying.
  • The British Association of Gender Identity Specialists say they know of areas – including the entirety of Buckinghamshire – which refuse to prescribe hormones, often on the basis of one person’s opinions. Similarly, those who need hysterectomies and speech therapy, which could be provided locally, are often bounced around between services.
  • BAGIS also report on a case where it appears likely a trans woman wouldn’t have died if she had been promptly referred to a Gender Clinic (as should have happened)
  • The BPS comment that better support for trans people and their partners would be more use than the spousal veto
  • BAGIS comment on the lack of follow up data on trans patients, and that the NHS should be able to coordinate this data anonymously, leading to better patient outcomes


So I have just finished listening to the evidence session at the Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament, discussing trans issues in the UK.

Obviously, the first thing to say is that it is fantastic that the UK Parliament has approached and addressed this issue. It’s probably pretty evident of the strength of feeling that the Committee received over 230 submissions on the subject. The evidence session took the form of two live discussion sessions with three or four people giving evidence at each – the first was on healthcare, the second on hate crime, transphobia and the media.

The healthcare session was, I thought, far and away the better session. At that session, there were two representatives of trans support organisations, and two representatives of NHS organisations. (As far as I know, one of those four identifies as trans). In general, the four of them agreed on a lot. They agreed that the current waiting lists were not good enough. They agreed that there needs to be a substantial change in systems, and improving local care, not just expanding specialist services. They agreed that arbitrary time limits and hoop jumping exercises in order to access treatment didn’t help anyone. They agreed that trans people are not necessarily mentally ill, although are often facing challenges which increase their risk of mental illness. They agreed that clinicians throughout the NHS need better training and better guidance, and that often the problem is ignorance about very basic issues. They agreed that there is a need for action on one of my own pet concerns, which is that we need to consider trans people’s health in the long term, for the twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years they may be using the NHS after being discharged by the gender clinics. Somewhat surprisingly, Steve Shrubb, of the West London Mental Health Trust (which runs the gender clinic generally known as Charing Cross) outright stated that he thought the NHS is not presently treating trans people equally.

Jess Bradley of Action for Trans*Health made a point which is dear to my heart (later reinforced by Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch in the second session) which is that yes, it is absolutely true that attempts to educate and inform and develop local resources needs to involve trans people. However, it is not fair to expect trans people to give up their time and effort and expertise for free, often burning themselves out and damaging their own wellbeing, in order to patch over the failings in the NHS (which, let’s make it clear, we pay taxes for too).

I thought that there were some weaknesses in the discussion. They got a bit hung up on the Real Life Experience as a criteria for surgery, which detracted from the wider point about trans people being expected to demonstrate in fairly arbitrary ways that they were ‘trans enough’ to be treated. I thought some of the discussion around family involvement and social support was potentially dangerous: as a competent adult, I can and should be able to access medical treatment even if my family entirely disagrees. The issues of inconsistency between clinics; long waiting lists; and poor pathways for those who enter the system having already transitioned were touched on but not discussed in depth. There remains a fundamental disagreement between trans people (and their supporters) and the NHS over the idea of informed consent. But insofar as you can cover trans health issues in an hour and a half, to a parliamentary committee with mixed knowledge of the issue, and with only one trans person actually involved in the discussion, it was a good start.

The crime, media and transphobia session was weaker. Firstly, I think there was an issue over conceptual clarity in combining media and hate crime. Helen of Trans Media Watch was informative and raised important issues, but there was a lack of other opinions since the two other witnesses (a police rep and a hate crime rep) were there to discuss hate crime. Equally, on the hate crime there was little sense of the voice of  trans people who were directly affected by hate crime, since Helen was there to discuss media, and could only tangentially touch on hate crime. Really there should have been two sessions, with GALOP or a similar organisation participating to represent the voices of trans people on the hate crime side, and other views brought in on media issues.

Helen made it clear at the start that there was a difference between transphobia (irrational hatred) and cissexism (unthinking assumptions), and that often the cissexism was the bigger issue. However, that wasn’t really brought up again, and the committee largely focused on transphobia. A lot of the issues covered were important but hardly needed a parliamentary committee to establish: hate crime is bad; people don’t report it; trans people don’t trust the police; it’s difficult to prosecute hate speech on the internet. The one significant issue about hate crime which was flagged, a lack of parity in how certain categories of hate crime ‘stirring up hatred’ and ‘aggravated offences’ are dealt with, is apparently already the subject of a review (albeit there seemed to be some cynicism about that). There was also a mention of Facebook’s appalling ‘Real Names’ policy.

Even more unfortunately, it became clear that one of the issues the Committee wished to enquire about was the lack of legal protection for non-binary people. However, that primarily relates not to hate crime or to media victimisation, but to civil equalities and gender recognition legislation. None of the witnesses were really able to address this issue. I sincerely hope that the Committee does recognise that this was because it was asking an important question to entirely the wrong people.

Overall, some good starting points, but really just skimming the surface of the issues. As yet, the written evidence is not available, and it is unclear if there will be further evidence sessions. I await with interest.

Narratives of Transmasculine Identity #3

This is story 3 in my series of ‘possible ways I could tell my life’ (see story 1 and story 2). Like the others, it’s all factually true, and can be presented in a way which ‘explains’ me as a trans person. However, it is one of several different ways I could explain my life. Afterwards, I discuss it a bit.


When I was three, I was supposed to be the angel in my nursery nativity play. I was a little blonde girl, very cute, and they thought I’d make a great angel. I insisted I wanted to be a shepherd, and threw a tantrum until I was allowed.

At primary school, I usually played more with the boys than the girls, at least till I was about nine or ten, when I moved to a school where the boys didn’t seem that willing to play with me. I never owned a Barbie. I never wanted to wear make up. I don’t recall ever trying on my mum’s shoes or having my nails painted.  My mum suggested I get my ears pierced for a birthday when I was thirteen and I absolutely refused.

I hated my body when it changed for puberty. I didn’t want to get my first bra. Periods were always painful and messy. I remember wondering if I should become anorexic to try and make it all stop. I still wouldn’t wear heels, or make up. For a school play when I was about 16 everyone put lipstick on – I had no idea how and didn’t want to, but the other girls insisted and in the end someone put it on for me.

I had to wear a skirt for secondary school and hated it. I used to change into jogging bottoms before I went home. In my school it had always been the rule you could wear your own clothes for the GCSE exams (taken at age 16), and then after that you could wear your own clothes in the Sixth Form (ages 17-18). So I looked forward to my last day before exams as the last day I had to wear a skirt. I was devastated when they changed the rules and said you had to wear uniform for the exam. In the end, my mum went into the school and said I was so upset over it she was worried it would affect my exam performance, and they agreed I could wear trousers for the exams. I never  wore a skirt again. I started wearing men’s clothing the next year, and got my hair cut short.

About this story

Story three is the classic. People wanting diagnosis as transsexual have been repeating this one (or its exact opposite) since long before I was born, because it’s what the doctors expect to hear (I think they’re getting a bit better nowadays). I’ve certainly told some of this to “gender specialists”. It’s true, so far as it goes, but incomplete. I really didn’t want to be an angel in the nativity at three – but I can remember definitely wanting to be one at six, so I suspect it was just a toddler tantrum rather than a meaningful expression of ongoing identity. I didn’t have Barbies, but I had baby dolls and dolls houses until I was about 12 (interestingly, I had a doll called Julian, who I considered to be male but who was anatomically female. As far as I’m aware, he acquired his name because as a small child I thought his face and hair looked male and hadn’t really paid attention to other details, and I didn’t change his identity once I had noticed). I was fine wearing dresses and skirts until I started secondary school. I did mostly play with boys at primary school, but it was usually creative, let’s pretend games with the slightly oddball boys, not football with most of the boys (hence why the boys at my new school didn’t want to play with me). And I certainly had some female friends too.

The hating my body at puberty bit, and having no interest in make up and so on, is definitely true. I really was devastated when I got told I’d have to wear a skirt for my exams. And my understanding is that it is more commonly the case that trans men’s gender identity issues come to the fore at puberty. But there were a lot of other things going on too (which I’ll address later).

I think looking back, it’s probably fair to say that there was a fairly consistent pattern of rejection of things stereotypically associated with adult female (sexualised?) identity, though not with femininity as a whole. I don’t see that as meaning that I’m stuck in some developmental phase – if anything I think I’ve always tended to behave rather older than my chronological age. But there was some sort of resistance there, and that meant puberty caused problems.

Narratives of Trans Identity #2

So this is the second of my little stories about myself, looking at ways in which I or other people have tried to explain why I’m trans. (See story 1). All of these stories are ‘true’, in the sense that the facts are accurate. How they’re told and what they mean is open to interpretation, and I finish with a little discussion of what they mean to me.

Story 2

My parents were told they couldn’t have kids. They tried for four or five years, and were on the waiting list to adopt when I was conceived. They had two more children naturally within three years and ten months of my birth.

I’m a June baby, so that summer I was four. Brother A was two, and Brother B was a couple of months old. B had hip dysplasia and had to wear a frame, and also wasn’t putting on weight well. A had started behaving oddly, starting with frequent tantrums, but progressing to struggling to stand and walk. At that stage, he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, giving him a few months to live. So my parents had three children aged four and under, including a terminally ill toddler and a baby with some health concerns. I was due to start school that September. My parents decided to leave me with a family they knew from church who had a daughter a similar age to me, while they went into hospital for several weeks with A, taking the baby with them.

In fact it turned out that A had a brain cyst, not a tumour, which was operable (he’s now healthy and well). But I know my mum worries that leaving me with a family I barely knew when I was so young had a bad impact on me. She says I became more withdrawn  and anxious. You could take the argument a step further and see a connection to my later gender stuff as well. After all, four year olds are developing a sense of gender identity and roles. I was the girl and I was left behind, while they took the two boys with them. I don’t remember thinking that at all, but then I was only four, and I don’t really remember much about it, other than odd memories of the other family’s house.


Story two is one which comes in part from my mother. A few years ago she did a counselling course, which had some  childhood attachment theory on it (Bowlby), and began to worry that by being separated from my parents before I was six, my attachment bonds were damaged and I grew up insecure as a result.

This story indirectly touches on earlier theories about gender/sexual diversity, which suggest the issue is in someway related to inadequate or abusive parenting. It also probably has a lot to do with the fact that society puts a hell of a lot of pressure on mothers, and tells them that every decision, from what to feed the baby to when to go back to work, could scar it for life. Again, this is a story which could be used to make being trans nothing to do with me, and all externally located in the actions of others. It’s also another story which suggests the potential for preventing the existence of trans people – if only the parents were better, we wouldn’t exist.

It’s a story I do not find compelling. My parents were good, loving parents, who were desperate for a daughter (when they considered adoption, they only looked for girls). For the conservatives out there, they were also Christians, middle-class, white, well-educated and remained married until after I was sure I was trans. I was left with strangers for entirely understandable reasons, and everyone did their best to explain that to me at the time, and to make sure I kept in contact with my family as far as possible. I have never been in any sense abused or neglected by anyone and my parents were certainly not authoritarians.However, if someone wanted to “prove” that trans identity is related to parenting, there’s probably enough in that story to include in a collection of case histories. But then, if you go into any kid’s background, you’re probably likely to find at least some nasty experience or example of bad parenting, many a lot worse and a lot more traumatic than mine.