My Story: Steph
I was born in 1952, when food rationing was still in existence. I lived with my parents, together with my older sister in an old, cold, four-roomed cottage, deep in the English countryside. We did not have a car, bathroom, or even an inside toilet, so bath time was on a Friday night by the living room fire in a long tin bath. Going to the loo meant a trip down the garden to a galvanised iron shed in which there was a toilet seat secured to a wooden frame with a metal bucket underneath which my father would regularly empty into holes dug into the surrounding farmland. My father was a land worker, my mother a part-time cleaner for the local gentry (posh people). Without question, we were poor.
One of my first memories, probably at the age of four or five, was asking my mother for a dancing skirt and she kindly obliged with one of my sister’s old skirts. It was a typical fifties cotton flared skirt, primrose yellow with blue and white flowers. Being seven years younger than my sister, it was way too big, so my mum would secure it around my waist with a safety pin. It was far too long as well, but this added to the twirling sensation and fun that I had dancing to fifties songs on the wireless (radio). By the age of seven, my dad had built an extension to our home. We now had a bathroom, and I no longer had to share a bedroom with my parents.
My sister got promoted to the newly built bedroom, and finally, I got my own room. This was very convenient for me because the room had some very loose and broken floorboards, meaning I had a hiding place for all the clothes I had started to steal from her. At night I would remove her clothes from under the floorboards, trying them on, fantasising that I was going to grow into a beautiful young woman.
At the age of ten, I remember being carried from the netball court by my school’s headmistress after being accidentally kneed in the stomach while jumping for the ball. I wanted to play in the netball team but could not – because I was a ‘boy’.
I was fortunate that my parents understood my gender issues from early on. Most parents in those days would have tried to beat it out of their kids or sought conversion therapy, which was very common in those days.
At secondary school, many of my friends were girls, and my friend, Ann, suggested I become a hairstylist on leaving school. It was an idea that worked for me. With my parent’s agreement, I made an application to the local Technical College, and both my mum and dad came with me for the initial interview. In the waiting room was a very pretty tall girl accompanied by her mother. She too was waiting for an interview as a student hairdresser. I smiled, and she blushed profusely. We were engaged within two years and married two years later, I was twenty, and Linda was just nineteen.
After my hairdresser training, I went on to work for several big companies ending my time in the beauty industry, working for a global brand. For me, my hairdressing and make-up skills have been of particular use throughout my life.
Linda (Lin), my wife, knew from early on that I was trans. We had loads of fun, often going out shopping as sisters as I could ‘pass’ reasonably easily. We built a very successful retail business together, which very conveniently provided flats above the shops we rented. This allowed me to dress femme pretty much whenever I wanted. Lin later extended the use of the flats and they became a safe haven, where men from across the area would come and secretly crossdress, away from the scrutiny of their families. Some wanted to be schoolgirls and brides, but for most, it was a case of wearing a dress, having a coffee, or for the very brave, going out for a shopping experience.
Around one year later, I met Jen, and we fell instantly in love. We were engaged within a few weeks, and Jen with her two daughters, moved in with us, making us a family of seven. Jen and I married as soon as my divorce was finalised, and we are still very much in love.
Jen is a wonderful woman. When we met, she had utterly lost faith in ‘normal men’. Her previous marriage, like mine, ended in an unhappy divorce, which is always sad. Jen was a bit surprised when I came out to her, but you marry a person, not a gender and after all, having a partner who can fix cars, cut hair, and do all the sewing is pretty useful!
We do everything together from going for long walks (we cover about twenty miles a week) to sharing dresses and going shopping. I often feel sorry for a woman on a shopping spree with a cis man. Sat outside the changing rooms they often resemble a row of newly convicted prisoners, about to suffer a root canal filling!
Over the years, I have learned that life can be very unkind. Our first grandson died very suddenly; he was just 26 days old, and our third grandson is autistic. Eight years ago, Jen suffered ovarian cancer, and five years ago she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Miraculously she has survived – I was with her every step of the way.
In 2010 Jen and I agreed I should go onto hormones. Because of a very concerning prostate issue. I was already on mild testosterone blockers, and I wanted to be at peace with my true gender. I was 58 at the time and was becoming increasingly aware that life was passing me by and that, while almost everyone knew me as male, in reality, both Jen and I knew my female side dominated me. I was not quite in the depths of despair, but Jen knew I had been very patient in sorting out my gender dysphoria issues and had always looked after our family first. Coming out to my excellent female GP was not easy. Still, she instantly confirmed she would prescribe me oestrogen subject “to passing the necessary psychiatric tests” which I subsequently passed after visiting a private psychiatrist.
While I was exceedingly lucky in being able to handle my dysphoria for most of my life, most trans people simply cannot. In my case, I was able to tell myself I was ‘special’ and that being able to be a man or a woman was a gift. But eventually, even this mindset became eroded.
Being trans can become all-consuming, an ever-pressing obsession with becoming your true self which eventually explodes to the surface. For me though, hormones were not enough – I knew I had to have surgery to fulfil my final destiny.
I can only beg parents, that if their young (school-aged) son or daughter declares they have gender issues, to take it seriously. Be kind and accept what they are saying is valid. In my experience, the crunch ages are often at around seven and then just before or after puberty. If only I had been born fifty years later and had the opportunity to puberty blockers – but that was not to be.
My fight for surgery lasted several years, but with the help of GenderGP I got there in the end and had surgery on the 2nd of July 2019.
It was the best day of my life.
In April of this year, I decided to put something back to the trans community by launching my website https://www.stephsplace.uk
I became acutely aware that transphobia was becoming an issue in the UK and that cis people needed to be told the truth – that we just seek acceptance and peace.
In reality, I wanted to live a “normal life” not build a website. I have a passion for singing and wanted to join a choir, but Coronavirus has put paid to that dream, at least for the time being.
I describe myself as a student trans activist as I struggle with social media although I understand SEO.
I also hope that I can inspire younger trans people that while it can take many years before achieving the life they deserve the fight is worth it in the end. Peace can be achieved by just “hanging on in there” and remembering they are “special”.
I would be a liar if I said I do not have regrets though.
I regret missing out on childhood and not being a girl, not having a childbearing body… and not being a mum. I feel I have been cheated of the life I should have had; but life is never fair, and we all have to accept that.
On the outside, I am delighted with how I look, and that makes me feel good. I have had to fight very hard to achieve what I have achieved with hundreds of hours of electrolysis, laser treatments, voice therapy and of course, pain. But all the pain (both physical and mental) and all the effort has most certainly been worthwhile.
I am very grateful for all the support I have had from my health professionals, family, friends & work colleagues…to them I can only say a huge “thank you” for accepting me as I am.
Ultimately, I have the best wife in the world, and I have a lot to smile about – I am very happy.
I am Steph, a woman, and a 68-year-old trans activist – in training!
Steph is on Twitter @PlaceSteph but as she finds social media challenging, please be patient with her.