en English

CW: This episode contains a sustained description of self harm from 2:19-2:33

 

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.

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 @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.

 

The GenderGP Podcast

Transitions: Marianne

 

Hi there. My name is Cleo Madeleine from GenderGP, and I’m stepping in for Dr. Helen Webberley for a special new mini-series of the GenderGP 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 changed everything.

 

Cleo Madeleine:
Hi everybody, and welcome to the show. My name is Cleo Madeleine, my pronouns are she/her, and here with me today is Marianne Oakes. Marianne, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and what it is you do here with GenderGP?

Marianne Oakes:
So, yes. I think it’s pretty well documented. I am a trans woman. I’m proud of that. I am also the lead therapist at GenderGP, which basically means I just always see the other counsellors, make sure that they’re, you know, if they have any dilemmas working with any of our patients that you’ve got the support that they need, or if they’ve, you know, if they’re challenged in any way. But ultimately I’d like to think that I take charge of the emotional wellbeing of all the patients at GenderGP in some kind of way. And again, I also make sure that anybody joining the team fits with the philosophy that GenderGP has adopted, which is basically gender affirming therapy.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s so important. There’s so much in there about wellbeing and affirmation. I think really speaks a lot to both of your work, but also to you as a person like this huge commitment to making sure that people who have often had to go through a lot by the time they get to us, get what they need from us. It’s certainly been my experience, anyway. You’ve been here longer than I have.

Marianne Oakes:
Well, I’d like to believe, you know, I don’t want to big up my department, but I’m going to. I’d like to believe one of the things that makes, one of the things that makes GenderGP unique is that we have a big wellbeing team. There is no lack of support for people and emotional wellbeing. And I think a lot of focus when people are transitioning is on the medical stuff, you know, medically transitioning, but actually a big part of transition is emotionally transitioning. It’s about switching our mind to this is happening, this is who I am. And that comes with its challenges. And, you know, we, we get a whole mixed array of people coming to us with different mental health, some have serious mental health issues and eating disorders. I mean, some of the self-harm that I’ve had the privilege to witness, just seeing the scars from how deep people have cut themselves and to what degree on one end, we’ve got serious mental health issues driven by gender dysphoria. On the other end, we’ve got people that are functioning well in the world, but are stuck and can’t move forward and just need help with the language or, you know, coming out to a partner, to the parents. It’s just a whole array and you know, some people just need to talk and get it out. The reason I say, I think it’s unique to GenderGP as a gender healthcare provider is that, like I say, all the other areas of health care, focus more on the medical side and actually, you know, just giving somebody tablets isn’t job done, that there’s more support that, that may be needed.

Cleo Madeleine:
It’s so important to have that deeper understanding of who these people are.

Marianne Oakes:
Yeah. Yeah.

Cleo Madeleine:
Tell me a little bit, cause I, I genuinely don’t know this. What was it that brought you to this line of work in the first place?

Marianne Oakes:
That was basically, when I started thinking where’s my life going? And I had two life changing things happen, two people died. One of them was my father, and I’d never experienced that kind of grief before. And then literally 12 months later, my best friend died. And that started to make me question my own [inaudible]. I was 45, 47. It was between being 45 and being 47 that that was happening. And I kind, so I’ve, you know, I’ve just got to reevaluate my life. So the first thing I wanted to do was go and talk to somebody about it. Could I find somebody who had experience working with trans people? I’m going back, oh gosh, I’m going to calculate now, 14 years. And there was nobody. And I did find a counselor but, I’m not going to say it was useless. It was very good on many levels, but it didn’t go where I needed to go. So I figured I would go and do the training myself because I just believed there would be others that needed that level of support.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s amazing. Do you think that those experiences help you in the way that you approach your clients?

Marianne Oakes:
I, I haven’t come particularly across somebody that, you know, come because of brief, usually it’s because, you know, if they’re old, because of it hit a significant number with their birthday. So, you know, 40, 50, 60, whatever that might be. And, and you know that there are these times that we have. Rarely do I come across somebody that, that kind of suffered grief. However, you know, part of my training as a person-centered counselor is to just be able to sit and be with a client. Just to, to be clear in counseling, we call them clients because it doesn’t make them ill just cause they’re in counseling. So when I sit with a client, I just try to be there and be what they need. So I always say I wear different caps, you know, sometime I could be a parent, sometimes I could be a teacher. Sometimes I could be a favorite auntie. The reality is I just try to be what the clients need. And that’s part of what the trainings gives us that ability. Ultimately that’s all under the umbrella of counseling. The only thing that we ask about, I would like to think any counselor asks of our client, is that their finding it therapeutic on some level, because we can’t say whether it is, all we can do is create that therapeutic environment.

Cleo Madeleine:
Absolutely. Yeah. It has to be a relationship. It’s funny that you should say 14 years ago because it probably was about 14 years ago, more or less, that actually I first had the first thoughts about gender identity, although I was 16 at the time, so I wouldn’t have possibly known what gender identity was. But when you talk about, you know, the lack of resources at the time, it makes me think, yeah, actually, if someone had had resources for young people there had been something in school, even if there had been more role models available, then it might’ve taken me a lot less time to figure things out. It’s it really goes to show the kind of impact that people like you are making by having seen that there wasn’t these resources and decided, right, I’m going to go out there and put those resources out there.

Marianne Oakes:
Since I’ve qualified, I’ve kind of realized that there were, I mean, still there is a lack of trans identified therapists, you know, I kind of mix in circles where, you know, I come across them, but if you was to try and find them as a complete novice, it could be really difficult. So yeah, there are people out there, but those that are out there so busy, you know, trying to get appointments. So I think more training, definitely in that area, which I think we would all agree training in all areas of transgender healthcare is really lacking in the UK. I wanted to just kind of make one point. I had a kind of a, I don’t want to say unique, that would be wrong, but I was always expressing my femininity growing up from a very young age. And by the time I was, you know, 13, 14, 15, I was aware that at least at the time with the limited education I had that I was questioning my gender and it was always a source of confusion for me. I met my wife when we were 15, me and Vicky. We were both 15. And by the time we were 20, we’d bought a house and we were planning getting married. And I came out to Vicky before we got married. I thought I cannot marry this girl and her not know how I’m feeling. So I told her and, through brute force and ignorance, I always say we haven’t got a clue. I didn’t really know what I was telling her. There was no, transgender wasn’t a word back then. Not that I knew of anyway. So, but what that meant was I was always able to express myself as female throughout the marriage. And some people may call it cross dressing, but Vicky would agree with me when we knew it was deeper than that. We were going out and about shopping together. You know, we had this whole life going on. What happened 14 years ago, I just decided that we’ve got to stop being private. That was the only difference, that I had to start and think about moving forward and living my true self. I don’t know how long I’ve got left on this mortal coil, but it was becoming torture. So I decided I had to move forward. These were all the things I needed to speak to a counselor about, to get some sense of order into it. Does that make sense? What do I mean, where do I start? You know, how do I, how do I go about this? So yeah, that was my experience.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s amazing. And I do completely know what you mean when you feel like your head is just, you know, what the questions are, but you don’t know how to ask them or who to ask them to, or how to go about starting to find some answers.

Marianne Oakes:
Even back then, you know, it’s very easy [inaudible] here in 2021 with, you know, with, with my experience at GenderGP, with social media, you know, even the social discord around trans rights, even that is educating people that trans people exist. You know, the more they shout, the more numbers come out. My journey was to read negative stories in the, you know, the news of the world, you know, trans woman acted, you know, crazy in a shopping mall or, I don’t know. The Hollywood media representation was all negative. And I found comfort in just knowing that this was something that was real, the fact that people would talk about it, even in the negative light, I found comfort in. So whatever’s going on now, you know, I think that all their doing is educating us that we exist because I don’t know about you Cleo, but you know, I lived in my own head, if that makes sense. I didn’t know, certainly when I was growing up, I didn’t know that there were other people that felt like I did.

Cleo Madeleine:
Yeah. I have a joke with my family, that I came out, the womb wrapped in a pride flag. I always was this way or that way, but I never, it took finding the right words in order to get there.

Marianne Oakes:
The language is really important, finding our language. What do we want to tell people? You know, one of the things I say when I do, you know, if I talk to some counselors about how they can help trans people, I always start by saying, my name is Marianne Oakes and I am a transgender woman. If you want to know what I mean by that, then you need to get to know me. That doesn’t tell you anything about who I am. It just tells you, there’s a story behind how I got here. That’s all it tells you. And the more I get to know people, the less the transgender is kind of relevant. You know, as, as I form relationships, it becomes less of a something that people want to ask about.

Cleo Madeleine:
And so for people who are further back on their journey and listening to this, maybe they’re just getting to those questions of what do I do? How do I find the words? Do you have any advice for them, from your experience as a trans woman and your experience as a counselor?

Marianne Oakes:
I think the difficulty is I’m obviously going to say, do you know, find a good counselor. The reality is I have my way of working and that is to help people put language on it, to put meaning to the journey. So, you know, transition is just an abstract word. What does it actually mean? What the challenge is faced with transitioning? But I do think finding somebody who you can talk to that has no vested interest in your outcome. So talking to friends and families, fantastic, we need friends and family. We need their support. They’re going to want to rescue you all the time. And sometimes you need to be able to say something without being rescued. You need to be able to come to a decision without worrying about how it’s going to affect the person opposite. When if somebody said to me, I’m going to start my transition by, you know, having a vaginoplasty or a phalloplasty, you know, that that’s fine. Is that what you really want? You think that that’s right for you? You know, it wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be going, oh my God, you know, why would you do something so serious? I would just be able to talk it out with them, and help them to help themselves to come to the right decision. That’s never particularly happened by the way. But just as an extreme example, you know, it’s your journey on your terms, I’m the person that you can come to and I’ll hold your hand and you know, be with you while you figure out what it is you need to do. And it’s somebody else, I always say to my clients, if you’re lost, I’m lost, always feels better to have somebody with you when you lost.

Cleo Madeleine:
Yes.

Marianne Oakes:
Than to be on your own. So, you know, it’s that kind of relationship.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s so beautiful. That’s really moving. I don’t quite know what to say to that. I’m really taken with this idea of it’s better to be lost with somebody else.

Marianne Oakes:
Interestingly, though, I told you about my friend who died, my best friend had been friends with Graham since the age of 4. Basically when he was about 18, Graham, we had to go into Manchester. We were from a town that, which is like an hour outside of Manchester. We had to drive into Manchester and he just said, will you come with me? And I said, right, and he said, “if we get lost, it will be a laugh. If I get lost on my own I’ll be stressed.” It’s that kind of thing, really. It’s better to have a friend with you and be lost, then be lost on your own. I think that’s where I took that from.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s amazing. We’re starting to run out of time, but that is a beautiful note to round up on. Even if you’re feeling lost, you can go and find a friend to be lost with. That’ll make all the difference to the journey. That’s incredible.

Marianne Oakes:
Yes. Yeah. I just want to make the point as well, private counseling costs. I’m a private counselor. I’ve got to earn my living, you know, it comes at a cost, and you know, that makes it unachievable for some people, but there are lots of charities around where you can get free counseling. Any trainee counselor has to do 150 hours of volunteer counselling. So the charities are pumped full of counselors. And if you just find somebody you can talk to, they don’t have to know about ‘trans’. They just, let them be lost with you. And, you know, just know that you’re not on your own while you’re lost. And I think that in and of itself is, is therapy.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s such an important point to make. I’ve, when I was younger, benefited enormously from volunteer counseling, what we’ll do is we’ll drop some links into the bio for this episode, with some places that you might be able to reach out to. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Marianne Oakes:
I’m sure there’s loads more that we could say, but when we talk about defining moments, the start of my transition, where I acknowledged that I was in transition was the day I walked into college to start my counselor training. It wasn’t about getting out there and having my nails done or doing my hair, I don’t want to trivialize, but you know what I mean? It was actually, becoming a counselor was taking me away from my whole life, my old life. And it was the start of my new life. So yeah, defining moments. Don’t always think that you have to start by starting hormones. You know, it’s about your whole life, thinking about what do I need to do to make this a successful transition.

Cleo Madeleine:
That’s amazing. Well, thank you so much, Marianne for joining us and for speaking so openly, I feel like much like your work in counseling, fulfilling the role of people who understand trans issues in the field, that the way that you can speak so openly about these things will fulfill that role for people out there who are just starting their journey. Certainly I think it will.

Marianne Oakes:
It’d be nice to think some other trans people, or more trans people will go through the same process because we do need identified counselors.

 

Thank you so much for listening. If you’d like to find out more about GenderGP or the kinds of services that they can offer, then please visit our Help Centre. Or if you’ve got your own story to share or suggestion for a future podcast, then you can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @GenderGP. Please do get in touch.