Like many trans people I had to endure a torrid time when I first realised who I was. At the time there was little support and I had no idea of what being trans actually meant. I just knew I was different. It was the late 70s, I had no role-model, no friends I could tell and no support. So in the end I let the world get the better of me and, despite all my misgivings and feelings, I became determined to be the “man” I was told I was.
Fast-forward through many years of depression and suicidal thoughts during which I struggled to be the male that society insisted I should be. I dressed in business suits and tried too hard to layer on the masculinity in an attempt to hide any of what I saw as my obvious femininity. I did “man” sports and mansplained my way through the world, all the time hating who I was.
Then I got to the point in my life where it was all too much. I became completely dysfunctional and unable to cope. I cried and I cried more, feelings became amplified until they were screaming at me, my head felt like it would explode.
Seeing how dysfunctional I had become, my employer at that time sent me to a psychiatrist. Finally, I thought, this would be the start of the road to recovery. The psychiatrist belonged to a well-known company that treats people with mental illness and drug addiction and it was based in a large house down a leafy lane on the outskirts of London.
I sat in the main waiting area looking at the ornate ceilings as people passed by, some with smiles, some crying, some just blank. Some were alone and some had friends or partners.
I was called into a large office and a man sat behind a large desk.
I sat down. “What’s the problem?” he said. I started at the beginning, telling him how I felt, how being a man was just incongruous with who I was. How I was trans and had hidden it for many years. He listened for a while and then held up his hand and said:
“It’s OK, really it is, we are here to make you normal again and make you a valued member of society”.
For what seemed like and eternity I sat and stared at him. Then I couldn’t hold it back any more. To this day I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went along the lines of:
“I am normal, being trans is normal, trans people ARE valued members of society. We may not be common, but we are normal”.
Actually, I know there were a lot more expletives in what I said and I was very loud. He went red in the face and I stormed out, slamming the door behind me and then shouting at it.
I lost it completely. Outside I burst into tears and I sat in the car. All I could think of was that the man thought my being trans was somehow abnormal and that I would only be normal if I resigned myself to a life of misery and went back to being what everyone else wanted. I went home thinking: so much for therapy.
Luckily, thanks to my wife at the time, I eventually found someone who did help and who started me on the long road to transition. What the event did do was make me determined not to sit back and allow others to dictate to me what I should be. The man was a perfect example of the kind of attitude that many trans people endure on a daily basis. Some of us of course endure much, much worse – black trans people, for example, are also subjected to higher levels of physical violence. If this experience taught me anything, it’s that prejudice lurks everywhere, even amongst so-called professionals.
So my one clear message to any trans person reading this article is simple:
Comment from Dr Webberley
This is a very powerful post and there are two common themes.
The first, is how often we hear of trans people trying to fit their birth gender. Trying to make it work, trying to be what everyone else thinks they should be. And how it doesn’t work, you can’t make it fit, the disparity just causes deep damage to your mental health.
The second is how vitally important that first encounter with a healthcare professional is. If you are a healthcare professional and you are reading this, please understand that the look in your eye, the expression on your face, the words that you speak – all have the potential to make a profound difference to your patient – for good or for bad.
Trans people exist, they are normal in every beautiful way and each and every one of them has a valuable place in this world that we all share.
If you have been affected by any of the subjects raised in this article, and you would like to speak to a member of the team, please contact our Help Centre.