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My Story: Sarah

Every one of us is unique, so it makes sense that, for those of us who are trans or nonbinary, the ways in which we come to the realisation that our gender differs from the one we were assigned at birth, varies from person to person. Whether that realisation evolves over a lifetime or hits us seemingly out of the blue, it is essential to remember that every experience is valid. Marianne Oakes – Read Marianne’s blog on realisation.

We’ve all seen it in the movies, when an epiphany strikes

The camera zooms into the shocked, frozen face with a dramatic orchestral crescendo. Well, when my one and only epiphany struck me just eight weeks ago today. There were no cameras, and the only music playing was “You’ll be back” from Hamilton.

7pm on the 14th of February was when I suddenly realized I was trans. A minute before that I was convinced I was a heterosexual male. We often read that trans people always knew they were trans but I certainly didn’t. It was an innocent Google search, looking for the formal distinction between transvestite and cross-dresser, that led me to an article about the journey of a trans woman.

Up to then if you had asked me to define a trans woman I’d have said, “Originally a male (almost certainly gay), always wore dresses/makeup/nail varnish when he could as a child, and probably still does as an adult, hated his masculine body, especially his genitals…” Therefore, I was not trans. I almost closed the browser (as my favourite Hamilton song was about to start), but I read on for a couple of minutes… and my life changed forever.

The article listed many factors that were indicators of being trans. As I read each one I found myself saying “tick”, “tick”, “tick” (yep, just like a bomb about to go off), but there were other factors in my life that seemed to fit as well.

Aged six I would cross-dress with my best friend. It wasn’t sexual (I was six for heaven’s sake!), but I so wanted to be a girl like her. The clothes she wore, the games she played, her circle of friends. Sadly, we got caught by my mother, and she made it clear to me that what I was doing was very wrong, and that I must never ever wear girls’ clothes again.

Two years later, on a Saturday morning TV show, a girl wrote in and said that if girls can wear trousers then boys should be able to wear skirts. “Yes!” I thought, I wish. But when I chatted to some of my male friends at school about it I got some strange stares; they even laughed at me. So I locked away any further trans thoughts…for forty-five years.

I never really enjoyed the traditional male pursuits; football, physically boisterous games (even though I was a strong, fast and very capable male), cars (particularly trying to be loud and fast), and I really hated the male banter while going out drinking which always seemed to focus on laughing at someone else’s misfortunes, debasing the enemy (other males) and treating women as objects of sexual satisfaction only.

My career in healthcare has always been female-dominated and I loved working with women – their compassion and empathy resonated with me. Of course, there was empire-building and plenty of bitching but I learnt how to avoid getting caught up in it all (and was probably protected from it by being perceived as a man).

I jumped at every opportunity to play a role in the theatre that involved presenting as a woman or wearing women’s clothes! There I could wear dresses, tights etc. and not be ridiculed. As the years went on I assumed this fascination with wearing women’s clothes was a fetish or a kink, but this never left me feeling fulfilled.

I envied women in the gym, at the pool, on the beach. I wished I could be them. I wanted to look like them and wear the clothes they wore. I wasn’t gay – and I was clear that my sexuality had absolutely nothing to do with my gender. I didn’t wear dresses, makeup or nail varnish – but that was because I was taught that I wasn’t allowed to. And I didn’t hate my male body – so surely I wasn’t trans. No. Wrong. Although my male body had been fun, it was an inconvenience, a blockade, a frustration.

Then I read a question that I’ll never forget: If you could press a magic button and instantly become a woman, and have to remain so for the rest of your life, would you press it? And how long would you take to seriously think it over?

Yes, I would press it… And it took about one second to seriously think it over.

It was 7pm on 14th February and my favourite song from Hamilton was coming to an end. It took just three minutes and forty seconds to realize I had been a woman living inside a man’s body all my life!

The next eight days were the craziest of my life

I spent every waking minute (and many when I should have been sleeping) researching what it means to be transgender. I devoured everything: blogs, journals, formal medical publications, and many YouTube videos. They led me to GenderGP, where I could save five years of waiting on the NHS and get a formal, professional opinion and diagnosis, as well as help and support for every aspect of the transitioning journey.

The diagnosis from GenderGP? Yep, you are a trans woman.

Let me take you on a short journey through these eight crazy days:

Day 1

Order a makeup set and wig online. Go to work thinking about the epiphany every minute. Head to a supermarket after work to buy some women’s clothes. Now here’s a problem: how do you convert male sizes to female sizes? I guessed I was a size sixteen – nope, I’m between a twelve and a fourteen, but better to aim higher.

Day 2

Wig and makeup arrive. Spent hours watching videos on how to do makeup – jeepers! You need a degree in cosmetology to understand that. My first attempt made me laugh out loud. Never put makeup on in a badly lit room because you’ll look like an oompa-loompa! Now it’s midnight on a weekday. The local estate is sleeping as I slip out as a woman. I am petrified that someone will see me, but equally there’s a part of me that wants someone to see me. A dog walker in the dark distance did see me but carried on without a second glance. Then I looked down at myself: there I was, a woman, in public. It was so amazing, but most importantly it felt right. Then I joined a Facebook support group.

Day 3

I didn’t get much sleep the night before, as you can imagine. Today is the Information Gathering Session with GenderGP. Some advice: make sure you put as much detail as you can into your original application. It helps the counsellors, but it also really helps you to consolidate your mind. The session was wonderful. Tilly made me feel so comfortable, and really helped to reconcile the thoughts going through my head.

Day 4

More clothes (the right size now). Another venture out, late at night. I feel indestructible but as I walk, I start to appreciate the danger that women face. I may have the body of a six foot male, but that won’t always be the case. The HRT might affect my musculature, and some men will be stronger and bigger than me. That was a wake up call!

Day 5

I have decided to commit the rest of my life as a woman. I don’t need permission from anyone, but I do want it from two people: my kids aged 19 and 17. I knew the eldest, my daughter, would be over the moon about it (she is bi and we’ve always been advocates for the LGBT community) but I didn’t know how my son would take it. I brought him up to be open-minded and accepting. Everything hinged on his response. And his response? A big thumbs-up, a hug and a “You go, girlfriend”. I burst into tears because I knew I was going to commit to being a woman for the rest of my life. I knew I would be exposed to the many negatives of transitioning, but I also knew that the joy of truly being myself was greater than anything else. I should say here that I was married for twenty-four years and I’m still good friends with my ex-wife. When I mentioned my transition to her she wasn’t (too) surprised: “I always knew there was something… But I never knew what it was.

Day 6

I told my mother. She was a bit confused, but more worried about me being in danger. My brothers took it really well. They were very supportive, even though one of them said it was too fast and I couldn’t know yet. He was wrong: When you know, you know. I also told a good friend in New Zealand. They were the only non-family member who needed to know before I made it public.

Day 7

What a day! I went out to meet a good friend for a walk. This was my first venture outside, in front of people, in daylight. I was so scared! I tried not to get too close to people, and if I did I turned my head so they couldn’t see my face. My friend was late so I had to hang around as people walked by. My imagination was racing, thinking looks were judgements, horror, anger, fear. But no. There wasn’t a single negative reaction from anyone. Now that’s not what my research told me. I even got a couple of pleasant smiles from people. Looking back, I know that some must have ‘clocked’ me, but they didn’t care. And seven weeks further down the line, as I write this, that is exactly how it has been since then. When my friend turned up she didn’t recognise me (but her dog did). She said that as I approached her she wondered who this woman was! On my first day I was correctly gendered: Tick! Later that day I recorded a video to put on Facebook, so all my friends would know what I’m doing. If there were any negative responses then I’d simply remove them – I only wanted to be surrounded by positivity.

Day 8

I was going to wait a week before permanently transitioning to Sarah, but the massive amount of positive and loving messages following my video made me realise there was no point in delaying the inevitable. Today was my last day as David. I don’t mourn any loss because it’s just the name and the way I present that’s different; I’m still exactly the same person

 

So that was how, the space of 8 days, I grew from a heterosexual male to a trans lesbian. Yes, it’s fast. It’s very fast, but all my life I’ve had so many unusual, odd, quirky things about me that never made sense. I’ve always known I was different from the traditional man, and now I know why. I won’t let the grass grow under my feet: if it’s right, then I’ll do it.

 

23rd February 2021: Sarah is born.

My first day is a working day, and it takes me over an hour to get ready (makeup takes a long time to do when you’re desperate not to look like an oompa-loompa!). I work for myself in a small medical clinic. I was afraid that I might lose clients – but then, the only clients I would lose are those I wouldn’t want around me anyway. When I turned up to the clinic my first client was waiting outside with her husband. I had an overwhelming desire to drive back home, but this was the point of no return. I knew I would face hundreds of ‘firsts’ that I’d have to overcome. I didn’t need to worry – they were wonderful about it. And so was everyone else. In fact, I found myself almost apologising to people for how I looked, which was actually self-insulting. After a short time I decided not to justify why I looked the way I did and no-one had an issue with it. Some asked me, with some it slipped out into the conversation, and for many nothing was said at all.

As a statistician, I have some stats for you. Over a seven week period of transitioning I have met over 350 people in my clinics. The most negative comments were from a regular customer who said that “all this trans thingy is being promoted too much because it’s turning people trans!” I told him it’s a bit like promoting the education of autism: People will not suddenly decide that they’re going to be autistic next Wednesday – they’re either autistic or they’re not. The overall effect is to educate people so it can be understood for everyone’s benefit. He didn’t agree. I don’t think he’d ever agree.

The worst encounter I had was with an elderly man. He didn’t say anything about my transition but was intent on staring at my genitals (I’ve got much better at ‘tucking’). I didn’t mind at first – I expected people to be curious – but he kept on staring even while I was talking to him. I felt more and more uncomfortable, to the point that I felt I was being sexually harassed! It’s a very unpleasant feeling. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I now know what it is and I won’t hesitate to challenge anyone else who does it. I have banned this client from returning.

 

Family and friends have been very supportive and my clients don’t have an issue. Nor have I had any issues outside in public. I must say I like having to wear a mask in shops as it gives me a confidence boost.

 

So what about transitioning over these last seven weeks? My focus has been on visual appearance. I’ve been watching more makeup videos and now I can understand half of what they’re saying. I’ve got my daily makeup routine down from 65 to 25 minutes. Wearing a wig is a bit awkward, but my natural hair is very short so I’ve got at least another eighteen months of it. I’m getting better at daily brushing and tying ponytails but it’s still not right, and I’m dreading the gym and going swimming. Hair tied back, minimal makeup and no face mask will all be hurdles I have to jump. The manager of the gym says I can use whichever changing room I feel is appropriate for my gender, and if I feel too uncomfortable they are making the disabled changing room gender neutral changing room (much better than I expected!).

I’ve been practising my feminine walking, standing, and sitting (no more bowed legs now I wear a skirt!). The biggest psychological obstacle I’m dealing with at the moment is my voice. I’ve been watching and practising the vocal exercises on YouTube, which are great, but I find that with close friends and family I revert to the way David would speak. With strangers it’s easy to speak as Sarah (although if I talk for more than a minute or so I can hear my voice drop down to David). It’s just practice, and patience. I had my ears pierced. That was painless, but catching an earring while brushing your hair is not!

After ten days as Sarah I received my HRT [hormone replacement therapy] package from GenderGP. I even made a short video update for my Facebook friends as I was so excited! This was the first time I had presented myself as Sarah to everyone I knew, and I was inundated with messages of love and support. After nearly six weeks of HRT there has been very little change (but it is very early). I don’t need to shave twice a day now, and there are very tiny mounds developing under my nipples. This week I’ve noticed how smooth and soft my skin feels. It’s these small but significant changes that really help when things don’t feel right. By that I mean that every so often I don’t feel feminine; I don’t think I look, or talk, or walk feminine. But these feelings only last about a day, and the following day I feel so girly.

I have changed my name by deed poll, which was much easier than I thought it would be. I’m waiting for my driving licence to come back under my name and then I can get my passport changed. This week I’m also having my first laser hair removal treatment – exciting! The following week I’m going to see a skin specialist to see what they can do to make my face more feminine.

In July I’ll be attending a charity naturist swim. I’ve been a naturist for years and never had any issues with being naked in public (I was even on a naked TV dating show two years ago), but being naked with a male body while presenting as female is something I’m quite worried about. Another hurdle, but if I don’t jump the hurdle I’ll never give Sarah the chance she deserves to be herself.

In October I’m going on a week’s holiday with the trans support group I belong to. It should be great – everyone I’ve met at the support group has been fabulous and fun.

My transition is fast because I know it’s right. It has been easy with the help of family, friends, and GenderGP; it has been much safer than I expected; and it has been scary – but the fear is nothing compared to the joy of living my life honestly.

 

Many who read Sarah’s story may wonder how someone can so quickly realise they are trans. ‘Is this too fast, too quick, slow down, take your time.’ However, if you read carefully, you will see that these feelings have clearly been there for a long time, there were markers throughout Sarah’s past which have all pointed towards gender incongruence. What was quick was the realisation that Sarah could and would live her life as a woman rather than a man, and that she could seek help to do so. This also raises the concept of ‘who is the expert?’ Should someone, other than Sarah, tell her that she should wait six months, should she have therapy to be sure, should she involve family and friends and wait until they are supportive? Or should Sarah dictate her journey, in her words ‘practise’ what it is like to be feminine in clothes and speech. Gauge the reactions of others she meets socially and professionally and allow those experiences to inform her and shape her as a woman? Everybody’s gender journey is different as are the stages of realisation, acceptance and action in affirming your gender. Stories like Sarah’s will help others realise that there is no ‘right’ way to experience your gender, just a beautiful variety of honest stories. The most important thing is to be yourself, you know what’s best for you, live your life.