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During Dr Helen Webberley’s hearing we’re bringing you Transitions, a new mini-series from the GenderGP podcast. GenderGP team member, Cleo Madeleine, will be joined by members of the community to talk about the journeys they have been on, the transitions they have been through and the moments that changed everything. In this episode, Marianne rejoins the show to interview Cleo.

If you’d like to know more about our services you can contact us, or read more on our website. If you’ve got a story of your own you’d like to share, why not reach out on social media where you can find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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The GenderGP Podcast

Transitions: Cleo

 

Cleo:
Hi there. My name’s Cleo Madeline from Gender GP, and I’m stepping in for Dr. Helen Webberley for a special new mini series of the Gender GP podcast. Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear firsthand accounts from members of the community about the journeys they’ve been on the transitions they’ve been through and the moments that change everything.

Marianne:
Welcome listeners today. I got the lovely Cleo Madeline with me and, um, we’re just gonna enter into conversation and I’m hoping to learn a bit more about Cleo for now. I’m just gonna hand over to Cleo and say, Cleo, could you just introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about what you do with your work at Gender GP.

Cleo:
Thank you so much, Marianne. It’s really exciting to be on this side of the desk. I’ve done quite a few interviews in my time, but I haven’t been interviewed quite so often. So with Gender GP, I work on the communications team, which means we’re behind the articles, the letters and the podcasts, of course, which is where my heart is. The listeners at home. Won’t be able to see it, but as Marianne can see, I am a bit of an amateur audio file and have got a piece of kit, the size of my head floating in front of me on the video. <laugh>, I’m actually relatively recent at Gender GP. I started gosh about three months ago and it’s been an amazing journey being able to work on these projects for them. So yeah, real privilege to be here.

Marianne:
I‘ve got so many question I wanna ask you now. So I’m gonna ask you two questions. So one of them is what was your road to being involved in comms mm-hmm <affirmative> and, and what is comms just for the listeners that, that don’t know the terms, but also, also, what was your journey to Gender GP as well? If that makes sense, cause I’m sure they kind merge somewhere.

Cleo:
So what is comms is a great question. If I answer this wrong, sorry, Abby comms is communications. So it’s the department of Gender GP. We’re quite a small team compared to the patient facing teams and we deal with the way that the company communicates to the outside world and the way that the world communicates with us. So we do advocacy and outreach. We do newsletters, blog pieces, podcasts. As I said, basically all the bits and pieces that Gender GP puts out. It’s been genuinely really exciting working here because there is such a close team and such a diverse array of projects. It’s like a really thriving environment. Shout out to all the rest of the comms team, by the way, without whom I would be totally lost in terms of how I got here. So I am actually still finishing my PhD kind of on the motorway off ramp of academia. I started at university and back in 2009 at the UEA in Norwich, and basically never left. I’ve had a really wonderful time in academia and I really hope to finish the PhD to the best of my ability, but partially the UK academy, isn’t an easy place to thrive as a trans person right now. I mean, nowhere is an easy place to thrive as a trans person right now, but there are certainly some issues that became stumbling blocks over time. And partially my colleague Rhea who I think by the time this episode is released, You’ll have already heard, finished slightly before I did. And they went to Gender GP and then they just kept saying to me, it’s this company and this full of transgender people that you, you never have to justify who you are or explain who you are. And I thought, oh, that sounds incredible. How do, how do I get a slice of the action? And then the communications job came up. I’d been doing a lot of communications work through feminist network to the university and one thing led to another. So it was a bit of a big leap and not one that even a year ago I could have seen myself making. But I think once I heard about this magical place where you could do your job and be yourself and there wasn’t some kind of conflict between those two things. And once I had that, I, I just had to have it.

Marianne:
I think that’s really interesting actually the way Rhea described Gender GP to you. Because I know when I first came here, it was nothing like it is now, apart from it was this, if you are trans, you are believed approach. And I remember just kinda doing a bit of research, I’d been contacted by one of the members of the team. Would I be able to help them? And I went and kind of researched and I thought this can’t be right. You know, where’s all the gate keeping. So yeah, I think the way Rhea described it to you, it, I was always taught if it sounds too good to be true, it’s prob- probably too good to be true <laugh> but the reality is when we get here, we realize what goes into it and yes, it is true, but it’s also very professional. It’s happening all over the world. It’s just in the UK where it doesn’t,

Cleo:
I suppose it’s simultaneously like it’s fantastic for me for us, but it’s also a commentary on the significant extent to which things could be better in the UK. You know, it’s not that Gender GP is necessarily unique in providing this kind of workplace. In fact, every workplace should be a place where no matter your identity, you feel comfortable in expressing that and in just being able to get on with your job as the person you are, and the fact that that does feel so unique, that that does feel too good to be true. I think says a lot about the other kinds of working environments that there are.

Marianne:
That’s A really good point. There are any, um, business leaders out there, you know, come and visit Gender GP and see what inclusive working looks like. Cause this isn’t, it’s not exclusive to trans people, the working environment. It is where we have a whole array of people from all different backgrounds and we are all equally valued. And how can I say all included? That was it. I’ve not thought of it in that way before what I was going to ask you, uh, Cleo is if you don’t mind, what would your route to transition if you knowing what were the key points the epiphanies are? I don’t know.

Cleo:
So even from very young, I was a little gay kid, you know, I <laugh>, sometimes I talk to people like other people in the trans community and you know, they’ll say like, oh, I came out to my parents and they said, oh, you know, we always knew or something and, and so on and so forth. I don’t act actually know if my parents always knew or not. We’ve never talked about it. Hi mom, if you’re listening to the podcast <laugh> but I feel like they must have known something because I was one of those little kids where even when I was younger and was, you know, still being identified as a boy would like play all the girls parts in games, in school plays and so on and so forth. I even when I was in my early teens, got special dispensation, so I could play on the all girls netball team because it was the only sport I was passionate about. And I, then I found out the other day, I was talking about a mutual friend who is also a transfeminine person and found out that she also got special dispensation to play on the netball team as a teenager. And you just sort of think like people are out there in the news saying, you know, we can’t offer gender affirming care to children. They’re too young to know. And I just look back at my past and it’s like, oh, children will make it very clear to you that they know so much more than we do. I always knew that something was different, I guess for a while I thought something was wrong, but now I know it’s more, something’s different. And I came out as bisexual, really early. I was about 14, 15, and I learned the word and was like, oh, that’s me. But I didn’t really learn about transgender until I got to university. Uh, so I was 18, 19 20, something like that. And I remember going out dancing and I’m a terrible dancer and everyone who’s knows me in the real world will vouch for this. I’m a terrible dancer, but it, it doesn’t stop me absolutely loving. It I’ll have a Boogie any possible opportunity. And I was out dancing in my late teens, early twenties. And I was with a group of friends, all of, of whom were cis women. And suddenly it clicked. And I was like, I’m not hanging out with them just because this is the kind of company I keep and I’m not hanging out with them because I’m a bisexual man. I’m hanging out with them because I’m one of them and this is how I dance. And then it was just, yeah, everything just unspool from there. And I guess there have been other like smaller, perhaps not epiphanies, but you know, twists and turns. I think when I first came out, I was very, you know, I have to be high, feminine, high maintenance all the time, or I’m not really transgender. And I’ve calmed down a lot since then. Again, Marianne will be able to vouch for this. The number times I’ve shown up to produce one of these podcasts with no makeup on, in my partner’s cardigan. But yeah, that was, I think the big moment when everything lit up,

Marianne:
I always say all our journey is unique. And, um, you know, the reality is there are some children without question display, characteristic that what, you know, just be seen as feminine. And I’m kind of jealous that you got on the netball team. I did try playing netball and I was better with my feet than with my hands. Let’s say that <laugh>

Cleo:
I don’t think I was very good with my hands either. I think I was just persistent. I actually I’ve lost touch with her, so I don’t know where she is now, but I broke my friends. Nose playing netball. Oh, <laugh> yeah. I’m not sure if they felt especially positive about letting me on the team after that one.

Marianne:
And you said that was a friend <laugh>

Cleo:
Yeah. <laugh> well, it was before the incident afterwards, things were a little strained

Marianne:
<laugh> interestingly enough, you know, and you were talking there. There’s a, there’s a little story I tell about out, you know, as I grew, I built this facade of maleness mm-hmm <affirmative> that, that it was a facade, you know, my values and my taste nothing’s changed there, but there was a facade of maleness. But what I found when I started to transition was I quickly started building a facade of femaleness. And you said there that you went kind of a hyper femininity, makeup. And it just reminded me that I think that’s, again, a process that we all go through at some point is how do we get validation? You know, how will everybody see me as a girl? You know? And was that what was going on for You?

Cleo:
Yeah, that’s exactly. I mean, I don’t know if I ever, one of the problems with talking about epiphany, in my own life is that I can be pretty slow on the uptake with these sorts of things. So I don’t, I dunno if I ever really had the emotional intelligence to be asking myself questions, like, you know, how am I presenting? What if people don’t see me? And I think it was more just like an impulse. I felt like, oh yeah, well now this is the sort of stuff that you have to do. And, and I don’t think it was entirely false. I definitely, you know, really threw myself into the aesthetic and the performance of it all. But then, yeah, I think as I’ve got older and as I’ve come to know the community a bit more and come to know myself a bit more, I’ve actually come to realize that. Yeah, for some people, cis women, trans women, people of all genders, femininity is about the hair and the nails and the dresses. And that’s okay. I mean, so long as you don’t say that’s all femininity is about, then the feminist in me rises up. But if that’s any person’s version of femininity, regardless of their gender identity, then that’s okay. But that doesn’t have to be femininity. And whether you are cis or trans there’s no right way of being a woman or, or looking like a woman, I think that’s right. This is where the university scholar in me starts to come out where I’m like, oh, if I said something really stupid there, maybe I should write a few thousand words on it. Let it sit with me. <laugh>

Marianne:
Do you know, that’s why one of the problems though, isn’t it we’re tied in knots. You know, I really, I, I empathize there because one of the things I try to help people to understand is that, do you do your nails because you like doing your nails, that you do them because you think that that’s what girls do and that people you a girl exactly. And is a difference. I, I learned very early on that this isn’t about mimicking being a female. It’s about being a female and being the female that you are. And I think that’s what you were explaining, but it’s very difficult to get that across because we can tie ourselves in knots. I listen to, um, a YouTube video where they were saying that the risk of opening off too big a conversation and edit this out if you want <laugh>. But rather than say, trans women are women. What we’re opening, there is a philosophical debate about what it is to be a woman. And everybody will get damaged. Even women is something we need to be careful of. And I think the anti-trans brigade open up them arguments and they don’t care who they hurt to just score their own points. And we need to be careful sometimes. So yeah. You know what you said? I think it summarizes how difficult it is being trans in 2021 that we feel that, you know, if I do my nails, people just think, um, I’m doing it. Cause that’s what girls do. So if you’re doing it, because that’s what you like to do, then there’s no better reason to do it. And we should have the freedom to do that.

Cleo:
Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, you’re right. That it is a huge can of worms that countless people have cracked open that can, and just been swallowed by the worms inside. But the long answer is somewhere out there on YouTube. Still the short answer is yes. Trying to circumscribe definitions of womanhood to exclude trans women is always going to hurt cis women. Non-binary people, everyone. It hurts everyone. It hurts everyone. Yeah. I think an example that comes out for me all the time is you see on some trans exclusionary, social media things about trans women can’t carry children. They don’t have periods. They don’t have these essential biological aspects that make up a woman. And you sort of wanna say regardless of the future of reproductive health or the relationship between endocrinology and menstruation and trans healthcare, all of which are super interesting. And we absolutely don’t have time for here. There are more cisgender women without wombs in the world than there are transgender women and you can’t exclude all of them. And I know that that’s not the point that the trans exclusionary rhetoric seeks to make. And I’m sort of taking it a bit in bad faith, but I think it does illustrate the point that yeah, we as trans people, shouldn’t let ourselves be excluded by narrow definitions of womanhood. We also shouldn’t try and squeeze ourselves into narrow definitions of womanhood because both of them come out badly for all women

Marianne:
Couldn’t agree more. Well put as well there <laugh> thank you. Um, well I was going to say you’re far more nuance than I, and just for anybody listening, you know, I genuinely believe trans women are women. I’m just not ever gonna enter that debate. You know, let’s not absolutely if I can help it, these clever people than me can enter that debate. What I wanted to ask you, cuase we’re kind of the times ticking away here. And one of the questions in the back of my mind all the time you’ve been talking here is how do you see your role at Gender GP? How, how are the comms and how are you gonna be able to influence the comms to, I want to say make it better for trans people. I don’t know if that’s even the right question, but you know, how do you see your future in the comms and what, what would you like to achieve if you could?

Cleo:
I mean, that’s a really, really good question. And it’s one that I think we all ask ourselves in pretty much every meeting, you know, every comms team meeting that I’ve been in, we’ve always reiterated that message at the heart of it, which is that Gender GP is absolutely committed to providing gender affirming care, to providing advocacy for transgender people. It’s not a question I can fully answer for that. You’d need someone who’s been around a lot longer and knows a lot more about strategy, but certainly, I mean this project, the reason we’re talking now emerged from a conversation where we said, we think it would be good to have more trans voices producing positive content. You know, Gender GP is first and foremost, a healthcare provider. And in that regard, our responsibility in the comms team is to provide clear information about our services, how to access them, make that process as streamlined as possible between people in the public. Who’ve never heard of us before and people reaching our patient services team, but we are also an, an advocacy organization partially because we’re actively involved in advocacy, but also partially because we’re pretty big now, right? We’re pretty big people know about us. And that gives us a presence in the trans community. And that gives us an opportunity to yeah. To platform trans voices, to produce positive trans content, to really spread that message that actually you don’t always have to justify yourself. You can be the person that you need to, I’m aware. I’ve not given you a very specific answer to your question. Yeah, certainly I see myself as being able, I hope I’m able to bring some of that positive momentum to everything we make at Gender GP, everything we put out,

Marianne:
Just the fact that we’re talking about having trans voices positive or otherwise, you know, how often do we hear that our voices are not part of the discussion and uh, I think through the comms team and people like yourself Cleo, you know, I wanna put a thank you out for actually even conceiving of this cause too many institutes in the UK just seem to erase trans voices. So I think having the opportunity to speak and hopefully we can expand this as well and keep it going. Uh, so if that’s all we achieved, I think that would be fantastic.

Cleo:
Oh, well thank you so much. Like I say, it’s been an absolute privilege to be here and yeah, whatever the next project are. I thoroughly look forward to them. Thank you so much for listening. If you’d like to find out more about Gender GP or the kinds of services that they can offer, then you can go to our website, which is www.gendergp.com. Or if you’ve got your own to share or a suggestion for a future podcast, then you can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @GenderGP. Please do get in touch.