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Shay Robertson talks to Helen and Marianne about his journey as a trans man, from the very first meeting with his GP, through surgeries and on, into his role as a trans advocate. Together they explore some of the key questions around surgeries for masculinisation as well as providing guidance on how to work with your GP, and where you can go to get the support you need.

 

From Sally to Shay, book by Shay Robertson

My Journey: From Sally to Shay, by Shay Robertson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Sally to Shay – A visual journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast, and would like to get in touch, please drop us a line at info@GenderGP.com. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us. If you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app, it will help others to discover us.

 

Links:
From Sally to Shay by Shay Robertson: Purchase on Amazon here
For more information: Visit Shay’s website here
Advice and support: Visit Shay’s Facebook Page here

 

The GenderGP Podcast

From Sally to Shay: Shay Robertson – the GenderGP Podcast S5 E1

 

Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.

 

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Hi everyone, I’m here today with Shay Robertson and Marianne Oakes. Hi Shane. Hi Marianne. Lovely to have you both here. Really excited to have you, Shay. I’m just going to hand over to you so you can tell everybody who you are, why you’re here, the work that you do, the inspiration that you give, the journey that made you arrive at the beginning of that inspiration. So over to you, and tell us all about you.

Shay Robertson:
Well, first of all, good morning, Helen and Marianne. Thank you for having me here. My name is Shay Robertson. I am an FtM female to male. I have been transitioning since 2011. What I’ve done over my journey is when I first started looking out, actually, I did struggle to find information for my journey. I found a lot of information male to female but not really my way around. I did struggle. It was kind of a bit like I was in the dark. I knew what I wanted to do but didn’t really know the process. So really from going to see the GP going through consultants, I was completely really unawares. So what I decided to do was during my journey I noted everything down so I could help others in the future. And then what I did was I managed to create all that and make a book about my journey, which on my part, I think is actually doing really well, and I’m getting so much positive feedback from it. You see a lot of things online. You see a lot of things in books where doctors can tell you things, surgeons can tell you things, but they can’t actually tell you the feelings of what the actual person going through that journey is actually feeling. I put everything down into this book, so it doesn’t just help the person transitioning; it can help partners and friends that can support as well. What I also did was document everything from the meeting from the first doctor to what they said to the surgeon, to the consultant. All the worries. It’s doing really well. I’m really proud of that. I also went on to create a Facebook page which I call “Transpirational,” and that’s been quite a big hit as well. It’s not just your everyday Facebook page. It is people that are generally asking questions and where others can jump in. I started with four admins. One transitioned, i.e. me. One transitioning female to male. One partner. One parent. So anybody jumping in hopefully one of us within that group can help others. So that’s a little bit about myself.

Marianne Oakes:
That is a lot.

Shay Robertson:
It is a lot, actually.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
And in this short time actually. I don’t know whether those years have zoomed by or not, but that’s a big achievement. Your own personal journey, and then documenting it all and sharing and learning your own journey and then sharing and learning and teaching that journey to other people to help them. That’s a lot in eight years, isn’t it?

Shay Robertson:
It is a massive a lot, and I do find sometimes I have taken on too much, but I will never not answer one question. Wherever I sit up till one or two o’clock in the morning because I do have a lot of people in the trans community approaching me or messaging me, and I make sure that each and everyone will get an answer somewhere along the line. So yes, I’m proud of that.

Marianne Oakes:
There are a couple of things that just came to my mind while you were talking there. The first one was the fact that you took notes right from the start. I just wonder how many people would even think to do that. I never did. But really good that you did that. So, I’m just wondering what your background was. Where you a journalist?

Shay Robertson:
I nearly got a fail in English. No, not at all. My spelling isn’t very clever. My grammar isn’t very clever. I’m not sure if you read the book or not, but the whole book is really down to earth. Words that everybody can understand. That’s another thing that I’ve also found as well when you pick up books. Sometimes there are a lot of big words in there that you end up having to ask somebody or Google what the word means. Literally, my book is very down to earth, very open. And it’s very basic, but it’s got all the details in it. So, I’m not a journalist. Far from it.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
You are now.

Shay Robertson:
I am now yes.

Marianne Oakes:
The second thing that came to mind was what you said that actually, you went to the GP. I’m going to say we all know what the buildup is to go into the GP. We’re all unique, but what is the buildup? And then something happens, and we decide we’re going to speak to the GP. But actually, everything at that time when we decide to get help is a mystery – or it was to me. And the trouble that I find is you go into this NHS void. That yes, you have been referred to a gender clinic, but like you just said there, nobody ever gets to the knob of how it feels.

Shay Robertson:
They don’t. You can describe your feelings yourself and like say all the doctors know all the details there is to know, but they can’t sit there and actually climb inside you and tell you how you’re actually feeling, how your recovery is. How you go through your surgeries, the feelings you’re feeling through your surgeries, and even down to being scared whether things are going to work or not. That isn’t something that a doctor can really explain. They can tell you or they can you how other people have told them but not actually feel it themselves.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes. Again, I’m going to use the word void. I always think it’s a void within the transgender healthcare. We deal with it almost like it’s a black and white thing that you come here. That you want to transition. I’m starting to get irritated a little bit at the word “transition” now because my experience is it’s anything but a transition. It’s more like an evolution. It’s where every day where I have arrived because of my past. But it’s treated like “Oh, you want to transition? This is the criteria. Meet that criteria, you can transition.” But it’s so much more than that. I don’t really know if that was your experience.

Shay Robertson:
This is what I’m saying my experience was I have not—People will say to me “did you always know you were transgender?” and I have to say, “No, I didn’t because I didn’t know what the word transgender meant.” It’s only later on in adult life that I fitted my jigsaw together. I knew I was different. Everybody can say that. I know I was different, but I didn’t know what was different. In my world, going back quite a few years ago, all I really associated with was gay or straight, to be fair. That’s all I knew. So, when I actually found what transgender was, it was like the jigsaw was fitting back together. And from that point then I went to the doctor. And when I went to the doctor, he actually had no clue whatsoever. He told me to go away, he would make some calls, and he would get back to me. Six months later, he still hadn’t gone back to me. So I then printed off the internet details from—I think it was from St Peter’s actually—all the details for a GP to read for the next step. So, I took all those details in. Again, I left it with him, and I had an appointment in two weeks. It was only then I was referred to a gender clinic because he was in the unknown. He didn’t know. And I was the first one in their GP surgery. So, for them, it was a bit of unknown ground if you like. I know over the past few years it’s actually gone quite big, so there’s a lot more awareness out there. But quite a few years ago, probably the same for you Marianne, there wasn’t as much then as what there is now.

Marianne Oakes:
The last five years, I think, has been massive. I don’t know whether it was Caitlyn Jenner, whether you like it or not she ended up in everybody’s lounge. She ended up on the front cover of Vogue. Whether it was that or not I don’t know but we kind of went from marginal visibility to this—

Shay Robertson:
Massive.

Marianne Oakes:
Without question. I’m just wondering Helen, you know listening to Shay there about the experience with the GP how that makes you feel?

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Well there’s so much. Shay, actually what you said very simply there is really useful because we have heard this so many times. People go to their GP, and their GP says, “I don’t know.” Like a scared rabbit in headlights. “I don’t know, but please can you get out of my room so I can not know in private.” There’s nothing worse than not knowing in terms of your patient. I’m sad that your GP didn’t come back to you. That’s wrong. But what I did like about what you were saying is that okay it took six months, but the next time you found the courage to go back you said, “Okay well if my GP won’t learn himself, I will teach my GP.” And you shouldn’t have to do that, but actually, we have heard so many people, haven’t we Marianne? And I’m sure you have as well Shay, come to us say “I had to take it all and teach my doctor about it.” Which is what you did. And the particular thing that I want the listeners to understand and hear of what you did was you made the appointment two weeks later, and that’s really useful, isn’t it? Because it’s like “Dear doctor, I’m going to leave this stuff with you that I’ve given you and in two weeks’ time I want you to have done your homework, and I’m going to come back, and I’m going to want some actions.” It sounds terrible that we might be asking our GP to do some homework, and then I’ll come back and see you, but that’s how in many ways many stories that we’ve heard that’s how it works, and it’s really useful.

Shay Robertson:
Yes, I mean at the end of the day he was on unknown ground. I don’t hold that against him at all because the way I see it, I felt like this for a long, long, time but it’s not for him to understand that because he didn’t understand. A lot more GPs understand now – a lot more do – but at the time he didn’t. And the way that he did look after me, unfortunately, he’s now left the surgery, and I’ve now got a cracking doctor that actually will ring me up even though I’m completely discharged from the clinic and from the gender clinic. And what is nice to know is even the gender clinic I will get a random phone call to ask how I am, and that’s really nice that knowing you’re discharged you’re still kind of in the miss that they do. Still, they’re still all there. So it is a really good way that they do look after you.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s really good. The other thing that resonated with us, and I’m speaking for the both of us here, Marianne, you can challenge me if you don’t agree, is that your description in the beginning when you’re saying the doctor is supposed to be the one with all the knowledge and you’re kind of asking your doctor to help you, but actually it’s you who has the knowledge. Many people who (unclear 11:02) they wrote they’ve had that same personal experience that you had, and yet they’re kind of in charge of their health care. It’s kind of tricky, isn’t it? But on the other hand, many doctors haven’t had heart disease or cancer or diabetes. In all of these situations, as a doctor, you have to learn what it might feel like to have diabetes or cancer or heart disease or bereavement or to be transgender. And that’s a professional responsibility to try and understand that, but you’re so right that the person’s experience is so invaluable and we’ve got to have each and every ear open to listen to people’s own experience, and it’s interesting when you talked about the language you know when you were growing up you didn’t understand those words. In our generations, we understood gay and straight, like you said, but we didn’t have that language for the gender thing. Marianne often tells a story that the first word that she found about it was, what was it, Marianne, “transvestite” or “transsexual”?

Marianne Oakes:
You’re making me cringe now. It’s “transvestite.”

Dr. Helen Webberley:
You know it’s about that language is really difficult to come by and I suppose actually for doctors as well that language is difficult. We’re not used to it. We were not taught it in medical school. We weren’t taught it in our postgraduate training when we were in hospitals and in clinics. So, for many doctors, that same language is being learned now. And what I would love to see is some doctors coming forward and saying, “Can someone teach me this language?” We’ve seen a rise in people coming forward. So, can someone help teach that language? And Shay, that’s what you’re doing by your book and your Facebook group and just increasing the language, and people hear it to ask questions, isn’t it?

Shay Robertson:
It is, and that’s why I wanted to put myself on the platform that if anybody wasn’t sure they’ve only got to ask the question. It’s a bit like what you’ve just said there. Even though you’re a GP even though there’s all these GPs we cannot expect you to have all the knowledge of everything that walks through your room. It’s not fair on you, and it’s not really fair on the person either so that awareness between the two people is learnt. So, people like what you’re doing is great.

Marianne Oakes:
I was just going to put in two things. Just could apologize for cringing at the word “transvestite” because I’m not passing the judgment. It was what I learned, and actually, the dictionary definition of it had lots of sexual connotations, and that’s what makes me now look back and sometimes recoil, what I think needs to be changed. There are a lot of people out there so just going to say that before we offend everybody. Where the doctors are concerned, and this is for counsellors as well, because I get so angry when people say to me “I went to the counsellor,” and they go, “Ah, no one listens about gender.” Let’s get one thing straight we’ve all got gender, and we all understand ourselves, and why wouldn’t we believe that somebody else understands their gender? So that’s the first thing. The other thing is we don’t need a doctor or a counsellor or any health care professional to understand us. What we need them to understand is that there is diversity within gender and sexuality because ignorance just doesn’t stop with transgender healthcare. It stops with lesbian and gay healthcare as well, and the very specific issues around their health concerns. I don’t believe every doctor needs to know every nuance of all of that, but what they need to understand is that there’s a range of people that are going to come into your surgery and they’re going to have a range of needs, and the very least you can do is ask the right questions with a basic understanding to make sure that they get the sense of, you know, that it’s okay to talk about this. And I hear so many stories of doctors and counsellors that go into meltdown.

Shay Robertson:
I think a lot of the time that all that one person wants is somebody to listen to them, not judge them and lead them in the right path. And just to be able to guide them in the right direction they need without being judged by anybody they come across.

Marianne Oakes:
I think the most powerful words anybody can say, and I’m happy to be contradicted on this, but the most powerful words anyone can say to somebody in our position is, “How can I help you?” That’s all I needed to hear.

Shay Robertson:
I know I was listening here.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes. And you know and it could be, well, a referral to the gender clinic might be nice.

Shay Robertson:
Exactly that’s all it needs, isn’t it? Even if they don’t understand when that person walks through the door, all they got to do is kind of say, “Don’t worry, leave it with me. I will get back to you.” but they need to follow up the “get back to you” bit and not be left like I was at the beginning, but like I say it was unknown for him at the time and to be fair it was quite unknown for me as well. I was learning, and I was finding out information. I was trying to find out stuff to actually give him so he could find the right path as well, really.

Marianne Oakes:
I don’t know how you’ve experienced it. It definitely was different – I don’t know how old you are Shay but, it definitely different for trans-guys you know, I was going to say, six, seven, eight, ten years ago. There were very few role models like yourself out there. Very few people. A lot of the trans-guys that I ever came across kind of just drifted off into society and were getting on with their lives. So, I can understand that you walking in might be – they expect a trans-woman perhaps to walk in and ask that question, but I’m not making an excuse, but there just wasn’t visibility, so.

Shay Robertson:
I think that is the thing that there wasn’t really visibility there weren’t people for me to look up to either. Whereas nowadays we have got a lot more trans-guys coming forward, so there is the information coming out now, which is good.

Marianne Oakes:
And great books to read.

Shay Robertson:
Have you read it yet? You haven’t, have you?

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Gender GP has a copy. Victoria, who’s the one who leads our pathway appraisal team. She has read it. She loved it. She’s reviewed it, so it’s on our website, anyone wants to go and have a look at that. She was very impressed with it. She is a transwoman herself and rightfully says that there is a lot of information for transwomen and like you say not as much for transmen.

Marianne Oakes:
One of the fears is my child is going to grow into society, and my child is going to be bullied. My first response is I’m not sure that that’s true. The media might have you believe, and the anti-trans lobby might have you believe that, and actually, people that don’t know might have you believe that. One parent actually raised this, and I said “You know I’ll be honest with you I could walk up to the street here now, go buy a sandwich from Subway or other reputable sandwich outlets, and I’ll be fine. No different than anybody else.” I may bump into somebody that takes their protection. Touch wood, it has never happened, and I’m sure people have walked passed me and spoken to whoever they’re with, and I don’t hear it—but generally speaking when I’m out in society, no problem. So, I came with this idea that I remember being at school, and there was a boy who used to wear glasses, and when I look back, it was incessant. The names he got called, the way they had to deal with him during the sports and the way he was highlighted for wearing glasses. And I thought, but nobody would ever suggest, “Don’t let your child wear glasses because they might get bullied.”

Shay Robertson:
You’re right.

Marianne Oakes:
But if we’re going to talk about gender “Oh, you don’t want to get help for that,” you know.

Shay Robertson:
But do you not think that’s a lot to do with the misunderstanding of what people actually don’t understand so they kind of criticize instead? I mean luckily for me I’ve never had any negative at all from beginning to end. I know obviously, some people do. But there’s a lot of questions that will get asked. “Do I pass?” And to me, you shouldn’t be asking that question. You should be yourself whether you pass or you don’t pass. Just be you. You don’t have to conform to anything. You’ve just got to be how you feel to yourself.

Marianne Oakes:
What are we passing as?

Shay Robertson:
Exactly.

Marianne Oakes:
I understand why people have that fear, but it’s imposed on us by other people.

Shay Robertson:
And it’s by society as well it’s what they think that they need to fit into. That role, isn’t it?

Marianne Oakes:
I think you probably experienced something in the same way as I do. And I think parts of that is when I meet people when they realize I haven’t got Tourette’s, that I’m not running in the ladies toilets touching everybody up. That I’m just going about my day, and I think it really disarms people and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m used to going to buy a sandwich. I don’t know what they expected. I just go and buy a sandwich the same as everybody. But we’re demonized in certain sections of society, so I think one of the reasons they let trouble in. And what I imagine the same for you is that when people actually meet us, you know, we’re just people.

Shay Robertson:
We’re normal people. What is normal? We just are. And at the end of the day I’m happy to be as I am I’m happy to look as I am it’s got no nothing to with nobody else. I’m just going about my daily business as I want.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
So, Shay, what kind of questions do you get asked on your Facebook. Is there like a top three that people are always asking or want to know about?

Shay Robertson:
“How quick can I get on hormones?” has got to be the first one. And you know what, I don’t like people to rush in. I like people to think about what they’re doing. I mean at the end of the day the way I see it is I’ve been feeling this for twenty odd years, so a little bit longer isn’t going to hurt me, but I want people to look into it deeper and actually understand their path, to actually understand where they’re going, this is what’s going to happen, and not just turn round tomorrow and say “you know what I want this.” I want people to look into it, have the right treatment, see the right people, and you can get the right treatment if you look in the right places. The next one has got to be “I passed. Do I pass?” And I have to say I have stopped allowing those sort of things on my page. I don’t want people to pass, I want people to be themselves, and a bit like what I just said a minute ago. And the other thing has got to be “How do I tell my parents?” You know what? I actually didn’t tell my parents. I carried on my everyday life. I went to see the GP. My partner has been with me every step of the way. She came with me to every meeting, every appointment, and every surgery. Everything. I’ve been on testosterone for 18 months; even got a beard, yet my dad still never asked me a question. And the kind of way I see it, this is my life. I’m transitioning, or this is my journey. If you want to ask me a question, I’ll answer anything, but I’m not coming forward saying, “Oh, I’m doing this. I’m starting testosterone. I’m going to the GP.” It’s my life; I don’t see the need to tell. I know a lot of people do, and they do come across that path where they are worried to tell their parents, tell their friends. But I kind of explain it to them. Just go about what you want to do, forget the worries of everybody else, think about yourself. And that’s got to be probably one of the top ones. I just say to people, you know, hold your head up high. You carry on walking. You go the journey you want to do, and instead of pushing it into people’s faces let them ask the questions and then you’re in control rather than worrying what you think is in somebody else’s head probably isn’t even in there. You’ve just got to make that kind of the first step of doing what you want to do and not worrying about what your mum and dad will say. I’ve had a lady message me this morning, actually, that her child told her last night that she wants to become a male. And she’s absolutely brilliant. She’s joined a couple of Facebook groups overnight. She’s asking for support, which is brilliant because the fact that she’s joined the groups and she’s asking for support is what that child needs anyway. She has said that she is very scared for the future and what path does she need to take, and the first thing I’ve said is “Look, don’t worry. This isn’t a slow ride it is going to take time. Go see your GP. Your daughter is not going to turn overnight into male. You’ve got time to adjust to this.” And I think that’s a bit, probably the scary thing as well. People think it’s just going to happen overnight and they’re losing their daughter, and it isn’t like that. We’re still that person. It’s just a different front on the outside. When my daughter, and she was 14 at the time, and something was explained to her because she was finding it a little bit hard, she was still at school, and she did say to me “How I am supposed to call you mum when you’ve got a beard?” And the thing is, and the way I see it, and it’s probably completely different to everybody else, but I am still my kid’s mum, no matter what anybody says. I gave birth to them; they’re my kids, and they can call me whatever they want no matter who’s around them. For them, they don’t really call me mum in public, but that’s their choice. If they did it’s not an issue, but for her, she did struggle for a little while, but somebody said to her once if I’ve been in a car accident and my face was slightly damaged would she see me any different? And she said no. And that’s what he was trying to explain to her that just because I’ve got facial hair I’m still the same person, and for her, that changed the whole perception of how she understood things. I am still me. I am still there for her, and that’s how it works. So just because I dress—well I don’t even dress differently because that’s still the same—but just the facial hair that’s different.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I think that’s really lovely and basically what you’re saying is, if I would coin it, is there isn’t one rulebook for everybody. Where some families or people would like to completely disregard anything to do with that other gender, whichever whatever it is or whatever on the spectrum it is, for other people, it’s not like that. You know every single person is different, and Marianne, again we’ve talked about this a lot, haven’t we? That doesn’t in any way mean that your identity is to be challenged in any way, or its role, or it is not complete, it’s not a hundred per cent. You don’t mind being called mum; this is your journey in a way that you’re living it with your family, and everything goes. I think that’s really amazing. It’s a lovely story, thank you really.

Shay Robertson:
You’re welcome.

Marianne Oakes:
Two things I just want to go back to one of them is that idea that your dad’s never mentioned it. My parents both passed away before I moved forward. Interesting people say, “Do you think your dad ever knew?” and I think, you know, why’s that even a question? If he did know, it shows not to talk to me. However, the truth of the matter is, I don’t think people realize that if we’ve got to go and explain ourselves, it feels like we’re having to apologize, or we’re having to make excuses, or we’re having to validate. When people come to us and ask questions that show they genuinely care, makes us feel safer. And I don’t think people always understand that, thinking that we know what they want to know so we will go and talk to them. Puts us in a subservient role. It just feels really difficult to do, and even me as a counsellor does not like to walk into an uncontrolled environment and talk about this. I much prefer when people come and will show interest, and you know even if they ask, how can I say, questions that may not be seen as politically correct; you know I’d rather that and that they ask the question. At least I have gotten an understanding of where they are, and then the conversation can ensue.

Shay Robertson:
That’s exactly the same for me I don’t go forward and offer any question, I let people ask me the questions so if they ask them they’ll get an answer. Whereas I don’t like to push anything. Just jumping back to my dad a minute. Unfortunately, I lost my mum prior to my transition and me, and my dad became very close. He will not, even to this date, call me Shay. We came to a mutual agreement where my previous name was Sally, so he agreed to call me Sal because I run my own tire business. It is very male orientated anyway. And I used to cringe when he shouts, “Chick, put the kettle on,” or, “Sally, put the kettle on.” So, I find it when other guys are looking at me. I’m thinking, oh no, don’t do that. But we came to the agreement they call me Sal. And even though for him, I understand. So, Marianne, I’m 48, but I’ve been in his life obviously for the 48 years. I would rather have my dad love me and be around in my life and just call me Sal than not have him at all. So, for me, I can cope with that it’s not an issue. I know some people can’t, but that’s my dad. I love him, and I won’t want him to be any different, so I put up with that.

Marianne Oakes:
I’ll go back to something else you said earlier as well when we talked about passing and that you’ve had to kind of you know not necessarily ban the question, but it hasn’t got to be a topic of conversation. My response generally to people is that passing becomes less of an issue the more comfortable we come with ourselves. And the risk of promoting the counselling, shall we say that you know counselling is a really good place. That was the opportunity I never had. I had to find comfort in myself the long way round. The truth of the matter is being comfortable with your dad calling you Sal and that it doesn’t trigger great dysphoria, you know it’s not impossible. It’s about the roles we play in lives, and it’s about playing roles we’re comfortable with. I’m still playing the father role to my kids. They’re in their thirties now I have to say, but you know I still play the father role because who am I to try and become some domestic goddess that their mother already is. If I’m not comfortable playing that then you know I’ve got to find roles that I am comfortable playing, but becoming comfortable with it is really—

Shay Robertson:
At the end of the day, I don’t want my kids to be any different to what they are. It’s me that has changed. They haven’t changed. I want my little family, and however, that is and however we’ll be happy that’s how it’ll carry on.

Marianne Oakes:
And when you get to that place I think, if you could, if there was an injection that we would give people that would put them in that place it would be perfect, but getting to that place where we are comfortable where we are able to not worry about how they relate to gender because of the roles we play or because the names that our children call or our fathers call us. When we get to that place that’s where I think we find that I’m not going to say gender euphoria, but we’ve got control of the dysphoria at least. And perhaps then it becomes a thing of the past.

Shay Robertson:
I think a lot of the time when the people worry like I said earlier about what their friends will think, their family will think, they are worrying a lot. When actually, if they actually did come out or not worry about it they’d actually feel better about themselves than putting more strain and worry about what others think about them that might not even be the truth.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes I think the other thing for parents as well, I don’t know what others will think of this, but you know sometimes they fight in this. It’s an unwinnable battle. Your child cannot fight their feelings, so your fighting is not helping anybody. It’s not helping you. It’s not helping the relationship you’re going to have with your child. It’s helping nobody. It isn’t about colluding; it’s about just accepting your child is questioning their gender, and creating an environment for exploration rather than them battling it.

Shay Robertson:
It’s just there for them, isn’t it? And helping them and guiding them in the right direction.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
So, tell me a bit about surgeries. I know that you see on your Facebook group you get lots of questions about surgeries. It’s interesting actually because as a doctor, I’m not a surgeon so I don’t get involved in any of the surgeries, but I’m interested as a human and as a medical person, like how do they do it? How do they change that bit to that bit kind of thing? And actually, if you have a look at the internet, you can see cartoon videos of feminization surgery. You can see the pictures. You know there’s a lot out there, but the other way round there’s not much information there. If I was somebody who was thinking that I wanted to have masculinization surgery, there’s very little information there, isn’t it? Very little pictures, descriptions talk about it.

Shay Robertson:
Yes I mean the other day actually somebody put on to my page a feminization YouTube link I think it was. It only lasted three minutes, but it was really interesting in the way that surgery is created. I looked at it, and you know what, I must’ve spent an hour, two hours, trying to find the same sort of video for female to male, I couldn’t find one. I can find a mix of surgery, quite gory surgery, but not an actual one that was on the page the other day. And it is very in-depth, though, obviously depends on which surgery you go for. I went for radial forearm surgery, so in other words, my phallus is made from my arm, which right going back from the beginning again I didn’t know which sort of surgery was available until I walked into the surgeon into the surgery. At the very point when I was thinking about it, I thought “Oh, you know what my belly is very big, I’ll have it off my belly.” So I thought that’s a good idea. No scarring, nobody will see it, so in my mind, I’m trying to get a bit of a tummy tuck going on. When I went in there he says I couldn’t have it off my abdomen; that there’s an abdominal flap procedure, but there’s no nerves or arteries in your stomach so if it’s taken from my stomach and placed downstairs, then there will be no feeling. So that then put me off completely. I’ve always got my arms rolled up, so I didn’t really want it off my arm but then if I’m going to get everything, as I said to the surgeon, “I wanted a Ferrari, not a Skoda.” If I’m going on to that operating table, then I want the full works. And I knew I was going on this table so just give me the best procedure you can do. I think as well some people will say I want this or, I want this and without boasting, people want bigger ones or smaller ones. But at the end of the day, I do tend to say as well that the surgeon tells you what’s best for you. He knows how your skin is he knows what’s going to work and that’s the rule I took. I went to my forearm. So they take the forearm they put that downstairs and all in total there were four surgeries. So at the first points, I had both bits because while the new piece is healing, I’ve still got to use the old bit. Then the second surgery is kind of sculpting and closing up and then creating the scrotum, and then the last surgery is implants. So, there’s quite a long process of it all. I mean my first surgery, lower surgery, I actually ended up in a coma for a while. Now I could’ve thought, “You know what, that’s enough. I’m not going any further.” That’s not what I wanted. I wanted what I wanted, and I was going to see it through, and luckily for me, everything works. So, it is all down to your body, how you heal and everything, but I would definitely say let the surgeon tell you what is best. You can give them ideas of what you do what you want to look like but let them tell you as well don’t just go off in the tangent that you want a bigger one that isn’t going to work. Do you know what I mean? But there is not a lot of information out there.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I’m going to ask a question, and you do not have to answer at all, but if you wouldn’t mind I’m going to ask you some of the questions that we get asked that I don’t necessarily know the answers to, because like you say, the information is not out there. Please do not answer anything that you do not want to answer. So when men have had lower surgery, do they urinate through the penis? Does it come out from your bladder out?

Shay Robertson:
I do, yes. But there can be two different ways. If you just want to go for looks there are less surgeries so if you just want to look like you’ve got a phallus, but you can’t pee with it, you can’t have sex with it, but it looks okay, then you can just go for that option. Or you can have what it’s called urethral lengthening. So obviously from a female to male, there’s a little bit extra that needs to be added, so that is then created. And what happens is part of your forearm on the inside of the forearm is taken and is rolled like a tiny tube, a bit like a straw, and that’s placed inside the phallus so that then becomes your peeing tube. So yes, you can.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Amazing. And you mentioned sex, so how can the bit of forearm inflate or get erect for sex how does that bit work?

Shay Robertson:
Okay I’ve actually got something called the AMS 700. There are different ones. You can have something called a rod, which is just a rod inside the phallus that you kind of just bend it into the shape whenever, whatever. I didn’t want that procedure. So, I’ve got the AMS 700 and what that is like for example two pencils, so there are two pencils inserted inside the phallus with tubes that run-up to my abdomen with like a little bit of rugby ball that’s full of saline. Inside my scrotum, one is a silicone implant and one is a little tiny ping pong ball but smaller with a little nodule on it, and what happens is when you squeeze that pump, the saline in the abdomen runs down the two pencils to make the phallus erect, and then afterwards you press a little nodule, and it goes flaccid again.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s amazing. I’m blown away. I’m actually blown away. That is so close to what happens in the human body.

Shay Robertson:
That’s what I wanted to feel without being too kind of crude. I wanted to feel the feeling of becoming erect, not just bend into place.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s amazing. I’m blown away. Here I’m going to congratulate my surgical colleagues for creating something so—

Shay Robertson:
It’s brilliant. Very clever, what they can do.

Marianne Oakes:
Did you get that on the NHS, Shay?

Shay Robertson:
I did. And you know when I very first went to the doctors, I’ve not got a clue what it’s going to cost me. Only when we actually got to the gender clinic where then I was told it was covered under the NHS. I went with the potential of probably a very hefty bill. But no, it was all covered, and luckily for me, I’ve healed every single, I’ve not had one problem at all. Top surgery, lower surgery, anything.

Marianne Oakes:
We get a lot of people coming having referrals for top surgery, and I’m not sure they’re always talking about procedures, and I’m never quite sure what the best procedure is. Is there anywhere people can get advice on the different techniques for the top surgery where there’s less scarring?

Shay Robertson:
To be fair, it depends on the size of the chest you’ve got. Some if they did not get a lot of chest anyway you could just have a keyhole. I was quite big-chested I was actually a 38 double F. Yes, they were like melons. So, for me, keyhole wouldn’t have been possible. So I actually had something called the double incision, and what they do is a bit like a T shape they cut down and they cut all the way across. Your nipple is completely detached, trimmed down to size, and then replaced when the chest is back made. So obviously that’ a little bit more in-depth than what to me is not so big chested is.

Marianne Oakes:
Are they the two main techniques there?

Shay Robertson:
They’re the two main techniques, yes.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I heard some people talk about like a lateral incision, is that right? From the armpit?

Shay Robertson:
Yes, it’s a bilateral incision so for me it’s kind of where it goes from in the middle and then goes all the way along both sides, so it is completely. And then after that, I then had a nice chest piece tattoo which then covers my scars.

Marianne Oakes:
Ah, right.

Shay Robertson:
And I’ve also had after my forearm surgery, which it doesn’t look very nice, to be honest. It is very severe wound-looking, but then two years later I had a big tattoo on my arm. You can’t see any scar on whatsoever. And it’s not the fact that I’m embarrassed about my scarring; I didn’t want to be asked questions about it. That was my choice. I didn’t want somebody go “Oh, what have you done to your arm?” I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want to have the questions, so for me, every scar I’ve got is being covered.

Marianne Oakes:
Brilliant.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s amazing, really. Really amazing. We need to join forces in some way, and you know, get this education out there.

Shay Robertson:
Yes, that’d be nice. I can come and join your counselling team.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
I think that’s a very good idea.

Marianne Oakes:
Well, what I was going to say, some blogging would be really good about surgeries and things like that. I think it’s interesting because to my shame I sometimes hesitate to talk about surgeries freely and openly because it is a personal thing, isn’t it? You know we wouldn’t generally ask about somebody’s genitals, surely not about how they were created.

Shay Robertson:
You wouldn’t, but I have to be honest. I would love somebody to have told me what I was going to be going through. I would love to have seen and been able to speak to somebody like myself that I know what’s going to happen down the line rather than just try to Google or look on the internet because sometimes that can really put you off. So, I’m very open that anybody can ask me anything because I feel I’m positive and nothing’s gone wrong so ask me what you want kind of thing.

Marianne Oakes:
It comes back to that most people go through these procedures and then get on with their lives. They don’t want to talk about it. What the shame of that is it leaves all the people coming through struggling, and a bit like you said earlier, you know, it was just like waiting through modern times you know trying to get information what is available. So yes, having people that are willing to talk, to stand up and say, “Well, I’ve had this procedure. This was the outcome, and it was fantastic.”

Shay Robertson:
I mean sometimes I feel like I’m leading a double life because I do a lot for the trans community, but at work, nobody sees me as trans. I’m just the guy that runs the garage. So, I mean, I’ve never talked about it. If somebody came in and asked yes, honestly, I’d talk about it, but it’s completely a different environment to be in my daily work environment than when I shut off, or I’m on the phone or something else like doing my groups. So, it’s kind of switching in and out of two different modes all the time.

Marianne Oakes:
That’s kind of interesting because a lot of clients that come to see me one of the things we talk about is the different roles you play in life and how it’s going to affect that, you know, I am a person sent to the counsellor, so we’re looking at your whole life, but in a strange kind of way. For example, Helen, you know she’s a doctor, but she’s also a mother and a wife. and well, I’d like to think, Helen, you know when you walk into the family home—

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Marianne, you missed out massive party animal.

Marianne Oakes:
Well, I was keeping that quiet. But you know the truth of the matter is that’s the same for everybody, isn’t it? And that you know I would imagine, I don’t know about you, Shay, but you know being part for the trans community is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. So I can quite easily go and be a musician, and I can be a family person and all the other things, and I don’t it doesn’t all crossover, and the one thing I have to do is not always be a counsellor with my family (unclear 45:02).

Shay Robertson:
See, I struggle on that one to be fair, because my phone’s always on and I don’t like to say no to anybody. I struggle, and I do take it home, which I know I shouldn’t because I’ve got my family life, but my partner would say the same. I live on my phone, and I don’t want that to rule my life, but I have to say it does 90% of it. I get everything, it’s just all the time and then if I haven’t been on my phone. Well, I had it last week. Actually, I haven’t been on my phone for an hour or so because I was busy at work, and then I was getting messages “Shay where are you? Shay! Shay! Shay!” and I’m kind of thinking, you know I don’t want to say no, but I also have a job, too. So, I will get back to you, but please just bear with me. And I have to deal with it like that, but it does kind of infringe on your lives.

Marianne Oakes:
Well, that’s where professional training and boundaries come in. and you have to learn where the boundaries at because—one of the worries that I have is someone turning on doorstep thinking “I’m their best friend.” You know, that’s where I have to set the boundaries, so it accounts, but you know we are who we are, we can’t change that.

Shay Robertson:
But that’s what makes us who we are, though, isn’t it? That’s what puts a smile on your face that you’re helping all these other people. Same as Helen and same as myself. I feel that you are out there, you’re helping as much as what you can, and that’s what makes you Dr Helen Webberley.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
That’s Mr Shay Robertson. Well, I think we’ve had an amazing discussion. What a trio. Everyone one of us had a completely different start to their journey and where we are now. But obviously, all of us are very passionate about sharing our knowledge, and our expertise, and helping other people to be as happy as we are, which is really lovely. Shay, I have really enjoyed talking to you really enjoyed it. You taught me a lot. I’m blown away. I cannot wait to go tell my husband how it all works and how clever it all is, so thank you for your honesty there.

Shay Robertson:
Thank you for having me both.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Pleasure, and let’s talk, let’s talk about how we can get you to help people who need that knowledge.

Shay Robertson:
Would be nice. I’ll wait to hear from you then.

Dr. Helen Webberley:
Brilliant. Thanks ever so much. It’s been really great.

Shay Robertson:
Thank you. Bye-bye.

Marianne Oakes:
Bye-bye.

 

Thank you. We hope you enjoyed our program. Do go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t done so already. If you or anyone else is affected by any of the topics discussed on our podcast and would like to contact us, please drop us a line at doctor@gendergp.co.uk. We’re very happy to accept ideas for future episodes and guests, or if there is something specific you would like us to cover. You can also visit our website, www.gendergp.co.uk. You can follow us on social media @gendergp, and you can sign up to our monthly newsletter. Full details can be found in our show notes on the podcast page. Thanks for listening.

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