Complexity and I.
The foggy blurriness of gender is my burden in life. One of the benefits of my travels and my open mind to what happens around me is that there are people out there with far worse burdens in their lives. In Africa, it was the widespread poor health and poverty of many, which were so visible. In this country it is the use of the media to highlight cases of affliction frequently of those so young. Some are born burdened, some acquire burdens but the most important aspect is learning to deal with it. Some succeed, some fail and most are braver than I. I have achieved a lot in overcoming my burden, but there has been hurt along the way for those I love and what follows I hope may help others to understand what is frequently simplified or ignored.
My first memories go back to my childhood. Then and it was before the age of 12, I recall several instances. Some might call it curiosity but I was drawn to the dresses and clothes of my sisters taking what opportunity was on offer to try them on and wear them in secret. There was also the annual school play in my all-boys school where I was wishing for the opportunity to play one of the few female roles but remain cast as a “boy”. I do not know what sparked and drove my interest but it was there and not in a casual way.
The start of my teenage years saw a continuation of this interest but with more opportunities to dress. I don’t mean frequent opportunities but more so than in my pre-teens. The media provided little information other than the stereotypical drag queens, which while of interest from an entertainment view did not tally with my interests. In Ireland at that stage there was men and women, a few men who did not marry and a few “old maids”. The concept of gay (not even "trans") was something played out on telly or by panto dames but not something likely to happen on one’s street. It was a weirdly sterilised and sanitised world of gender defined as men and women by the most traditional definition of their respective roles with society's pressure to conform should one not feel willing.
Softness in Africa
Early 20’s and out to Africa sharing houses and homes with similarly aged folk meant there was less opportunity to dress. South Africa was also more conservative than Ireland. England and London might have offered an opportunity to explore my gender but I did so much wanted to be a bloke that would marry and settle. The desire for conformity and acceptance was ever so strong. The desire for acceptance is still there and I think it exists in most people but the definition of conformity is far more relaxed here in England than in what I experienced before.
When I moved to Ballito, Natal in 1988 and bought my 1st (and only) home, I found myself in a position where I could buy and wear at home such items as a skirt and top as well as a pair of heeled shoes that did fit me. On the dressing scene it is too easy to cram a male body into a feminine outfit stretching and destroying its shape where imaginative ambition ignores physical reality. Some women even do this and so it’s not just my community. I recall the first outfit of white 2” heeled court shoes and a darkish green 2 piece skirt and matching top. No: I don’t still have it!!
I cannot recall the timing of when I bought my first wig but it was in central Johannesburg from a proper wig shop. My extreme nervousness seemed to melt with a friendly helpful reception and yes a mature wish to sell merchandise from the owner but also a growing awareness that I was not alone. I mean this was a sense that there must be others out there, just like me, but I still felt alone. I returned to the same shop over the years as I became more confident and more so when it moved out of the city centre which was becoming less friendly and safe as years passed.
It happened, as it was to happen frequently over the years. My clothes makeup and shoes were binned. I would not dress again (as I promised myself) other than in male attire. Through my 20’s and up to my mid 30’s it happened frequently. It was my self imposed willpower in action and some who criticise what we do and want to do would say that I should have persevered and defeated this cross-dressing impulse a word I use as critics would use it. My “impulse” was based on an opportunity to be alone and knowing I was unlikely to hear a car in my driveway as some friends popped by innocently. Whilst the desire for acceptance was strong it was a feeling that came combined as rider and horse with a fear of rejection and ridicule by my closest friends. Its not the kind of comment that one lets slip out despite no matter how lubricated by alcohol my tongue would become in whatever the situation. A wall of silence compartmentalised by dressing.
She who will be obeyed
Sometime in the early 90’s I think it was 93 before I went on my first back-packing trip that I took a step forward. I had found an advert in the long long classified section of the daily paper “The Star” in Johannesburg. I’ve never seen such a lengthy classifieds but somewhere close to escorts and massage services which were not the reason for me looking !!, there were a few adverts for bdsm and x-dressing. It did take a long time to get the courage and I went to my first dominatrix. She had a male guardian guard or I don’t know what, who opened the door in a non-judgemental manner. Maybe it was simply for safety; we went (she /I) went to a small box room, which had lots of things I had never seen before. It was not the best-equipped “dungeon” by any means, in fact it was simply a normal room with some un-normal equipment for bondage, restraints paddles canes etc. My interest was in the dressing and whilst I cannot remember what I wore that time I left very confused as she advised “maybe its not for you”. How could it have been for me as I was so nervous? I left on my Asian travels more confused than ever about what and who I was. Those travels helped focus my mind but on work rather than on gender. Work always was a big thing in my life as it provided a structured disciplined world. I mean discipline as in roles, performance and expectation rather than in some sort of sense of punishment. The desire to be punished did not interest me. I did not see myself as deserving or earning punishment for what I was doing.
Upon returning to SA in late 1994 I was sharing a house with 2 friends (Marie and Johnny) and had the courage (over powerful word) to try a different Dominatrix by the exotic sounding name of Carmen. Over the years she was to be a great source of confidence building and advice giving. Her non-stage name was Janet on the East Rand side of the metropolis into which I sought anonymity. It was the opportunity to discuss my interests that I appreciated. Her premises were much more spacious and the atmosphere more relaxed. Maybe it was the absence of a bloke in his secret role. Two things became apparent. Firstly the bdsm had very little interest. Secondly the dressing did not bring on any need for mono-sexual relief (i.e. masturbation). It was a path of exploration rather that a series of repetitive experiments. We went for a drive to a nearby lake and then for a walk. Later it was for a walk around the lake itself (maybe 30 minutes but time was elusive to my stressed mind) Stressed yes but also relaxed and satisfied that we had done so. A shopping trip was planned but I bottled out of that and nearly ran out of the shops in fear. Janet was a natural shopper at 5’8” and I was 6’2” in my heels feeling like a misplaced lighthouse on stilts. Then there was a meal in a restaurant where I could not eat but she made it as relaxed as possible that quietish Friday lunchtime as the restaurant filled up. We exited past a large part of 20+ folk with a comment “is that a bloke”. The fact that it was a question rather than a statement pleased me as I was feeling so out of place. Slowly I was realising the importance of been relaxed but this concept clashed with public acceptance. On the fetish side which I was curious about we went shopping for a school uniform in a school uniform shop. It was very smart and more fun when I was wearing the uniform and dropped off a half mile from her home. I did enjoy the thrill but when I got back, Janet was talking with a neighbour and daughter in her driveway. I headed off around the block as the new shoes cut my soft feet. The block was big and quiet residential but on return she was still talking. I was in pain and had to go in. Not sure what the neighbour made of it all. It was incidents such as this that led me to think I was simply a transvestite rather than transgendered. That world seemed simpler and fun. But these activities were one-off exploratory adventures. They were not providing answers but rather eliminating possibilities.
I did not want to be a woman as to do so would mean in my view rejection by family, friends, community and work. Reality and the passage of time have seen me experience family problems, some but not a big share of community problems and very few work problems. Friends are a special matter and if they cannot accept what you are then there is no friendship. My friends have stayed with me: Thank you. Pretending to be something one is not in order to secure a friendly circle is wrong and false.
Over the years that followed on my visit to Janet it became more an opportunity to dress and chat. The exploration of fetish scenes was there but once experienced was simple an experience, an interesting one but boring if repeated. It was like a check-list of what to various transvestites fantasies or fetishes.
It was Janet and later the Dominatrix in Toronto that raised the question of being Fiona full time but for the reasons above I was fearful and said no.
From 1995 to 2002, my dressing opportunities were restricted by my working environment but in Zambia half of the 2 large wardrobes was for my preferred clothing. It was more than my male clothing in its space requirements. I was finding that I was happy and content when dressed, as simple as that.
The Internet opened up the underworld of dressing and there was a sense that there are a lot more transvestites out there. In December 2001 I went from Nigeria to Ireland for a Christmas holiday and then out to Toronto to spend a few days en-femme in the house/home/working area of a woman who had a certain notoriety of been the first to be sued by a prudish segment of Canadian society for her activities which were quite wide ranging. It was a very cold experience (the weather) and very warm terraced house with a well equipped basement dungeon (e.g. human sized restrictive boxes with various apertures for inserting pleasurable painful devices, racks) an adult baby room whose appeal-concept misses me by, a schoolroom. I had arranged for several days I think 4 in all for feminisation training from walking to talking to materials and fashion. I skipped out on all the fetishes as on offer and when not in classes sat with a book near telly with the working girls coming and going for their various clients. On the first night that I arrived we went out on the local and popular gay scene with a collar on, something I had not worn before but gave a curious controlled feeling. The days passed too quickly with visits to local shops, botanical gardens, eateries etc etc. She raised the question if I was interested in full timing, as I did not seem in her view to have the normal transvestite interests.
Over 6 years I worked for 3 entrepreneurs who had built up businesses, this inspired me and when combined with the fact that I was not enjoying the money accumulating social lifestyle sacrificing world of expatriate life I decided to take my savings and go live in England setting up a conventional internet business for cross-dressers. Frankly and in hindsight it was an expensive and effective way of coming to terms with my gender. In 2003 in a newspaper article both in the Evening Chronicle and Northern Echo, both with double page centrefold of male and female me, I was gaining in confidence as to who I was. A transwoman (male to female transgendered) whom I met thought I was more Transwoman rather than TV (Transvestite) such a chasm between the 2. I still clung to my dual life. Hang on here a moment it had taken me from my pre-teens to my early 40’s to be comfortable with simply dressing up. A slow learner maybe but many others have the same feeling as I have expressed above but do not take the steps to reveal their true selves maybe in some cases as it’s a fantasy but more so for the same reasons that delayed my transition. It’s a scary lonesome world out there for those of us who cross the gender divide. When the article in the papers was being prepared I recall the questions as i clung to my male world. I beleived that by changing my gender I would lose my family (did happen), lose my friends (a couple only and I have gained better), be unable to work, (not been a problem other than my confidence which nosedived on transitioning and lose respect and acceptance in the community (most folk have been top class). But it was the fear of the unknown that led to to cling to my male world.
My first experiences of the “T” scene on the Tyne was not super. Taking a travel bag of attire into an upstairs large loo with more mirrors than male loos would tolerate gave me the opportunity to meet others in the attached bar, some confident in their femininity, some as fragile as I and some as predators for sex. There was no single stereotype. In 2003 that facility above “The Yard” was withdrawn by the owners due to a lack of support. We would dress and go out to other places rather than staying around to drink in their confines. Confidence boosting for us “girls” but financially disadvantageous for the owners.
One Transwoman by the name of Michelle following a general sense of acceptance by the local pub in the area where she lived started a group in an informal rather than formal sense that would get together once a week for a few drinks. She herself offered a changing facility from her home and the thrill of a walk to the pub some 200 yards away. The big change here for me was the general acceptance by the locals. The area was a grown up housing estate that was not posh in any way but straight talking and accepting in a neutral and accepting way. There was never a sense of hostility that we as a group experience so often. It was decent and genuine. My friendship with Michelle was such that when I started working away during the week she kindly invited me to join her on Friday evening and also on Sunday lunch. I would take a taxi from home whilst dressed as Fiona and spend several hours in the company of herself and her friends (some T girls, some conventional). It was the defining phase in my life that made me see that I was quite happy and relaxed in the social setting. I always had been an easygoing pub going person and now I was finding that whilst my external appearances was changing, than my internal personality was the same. I still was very fragile and my confidence had taken a dip but I was finding a sense of happiness and contentment that had been missing from before.
In December 2003 I returned to Ireland and family for Christmas but could not wait to get back to the freedom of Newcastle to spend the New Years Eve with Michelle and a few others. That evening I struck up a friendship with Amy, a teacher of similar age who lived close by me. Our friendship for the years that lasted was based more on shared values rather than being a T girl. It was part of my evolution that the T scene was meaning less to me and that the “normal” world was saying why stay away, why isolate in a sub-group.
At Easter 2004 I was around at Amy’s house having a liquid wine laced afternoon in her garden with one other T girl and a female friend when the suggestion was made about going to the Maggie Bank which at 50 yards from my home was a natural local pub for my male life. Over the 2 years my femme life had been moving closer geographically to my home. From Newcastle city, to Michelle’s pub to Amy’s garden it was getting closer. As we entered the Maggie that evening Amy’s word were “life will not be the same again for” for me. She also meant this for herself but hey this was my local. The landlord was not around that evening, the fact that it was Easter and the 3 of us in traditional loud TV fashion got a large amount of attention. I enjoyed the time but realised that my relationship with the pub would not be the same ever.
Shortly after, Richard the landlord wrote an article for a publicans publication loosely based on me, the improved profit margins from selling me wine rather than beer and the toilets issue. And how he had managed the situation particularly the toilets.
Toilets, ah yes a subject that causes such controversy in the whole T-scene. I have only experienced one blatant incident (and a few close lol) when the toilet cubicle was used for purposes other than its intended purpose (such is my innocence) and that includes drug taking most selfish. It was only after I had been living as Fiona and was at a T-function when the other side of the toilet-scene became clear. I was touching up my makeup when this gi-normous TV on heels strode in. The door was opened with force to squash the evil gremlin hiding behind the door and this serious expressioned body took occupancy. It was a combination of size and attitude that made the place less welcoming. I admit to having regularly used the male loo over many decades and it is was similar to the way men use the mens’ loo. You may think I’m talking rubbish here but tis an issue where I have been more fortunate than my “sisters”. My way has been to open the door gently (in case someone is behind it, at a mirror or hand-drier etc), to smile pleasantly and move on with what was intended making polite and simple conversation. It is a genteel place in comparison with the male version, which frequently seemed to say, “here I am and I'm not gay”.
During 2004/5 my world became more divided between the working male part and the feminine weekend one. Shopping locally became part of the Fiona world. The community were fine and accepting. Money has no gender but all were and remain friendly.
By December 2005, I was in a longish term temp role still craving the safety of a permanent job so that I could come out of the closet as my friend Amy had done. Her transition from a work perspective was not good. She was a solid bolshie character with a warm heart but she seemed to be fighting a system that was unfriendly and discriminatory against her. This scared me big time. Another T-girl that we both knew had lost her job around that time . The fear of not been able to earn a living, my financial insecurity both in terms of a rented flat in a reasonable area and my earlier unsettling scary period on the dole meant that I was risking what I had for a world on social welfare. There is no point denying that at its worst I took comfort and solace from a long conversation with the Samaritans. It was not that I was contemplating suicide there and then but it was a learning point that I had to make this work. It’s like walking the roof-edge of a tall building in windy conditions.
Through the 1st half of 2006 I waited for a session with a psychiatrist. My GP doctor of the day had suggested I could see one privately and more quickly but the NHS don’t like the pick and mix of public and private health services.
Eventually in June I had my appointment and on my 2nd attempt to get there by taxi I made it Ryhope hospital. I say 2nd as on the 1st whilst en route I received a call to say he was not coming to work due to personal circumstances. Very vague and very curious just like the gi-normous knots in my stomach that day. His first comments to me that day was “you came dressed” Stifling the humour about naturism in the chilly north east of England it meant that there was something maybe slightly different about me. The session went well and he said to come back when I was working as Fiona. At least I had made contact and that was 6 months not to be repeated later.
My male wardrobe was deteriorating in quantity and quality and then I moved what remained to the coat cupboard in the hall. In September my boss of the time called me aside to say that there was no permanent work but there was a lot of temp work coming up and she was requesting a commitment time wise from me. I remember that corner meeting room office with a window through which my past and present and future were pouring in confused torrents. It was a tough call for my boss, L to listen to an outpouring of my life. She seemed to handle it all very well and things started to happen smoothly. Human Resources were activated and established best practise etc.
On a Thursday afternoon at some latish hour before my close work colleagues of 8 in number were starting to leave I was given the opportunity to address them as a male for the last time. Emotion was swelling tsunami like inside me and S (as manager of team) said it would be all right. His smile and words did a lot for my nerves in those few moments. I cannot recall what I said other than I had a few notes prepared, talked from the heart and not from a script. I can be a good talker in those situations as my heart is strong. I then excused myself prior to the HR woman taking over to explain the recently adopted company policy. That Friday and Saturday I got my hair changed from the androgenous look to a more girly look, and bought a couple pairs of flat soled office shoes. That was one type of shoes I had never worn before and I certainly was not going to be wearing heels.
Monday came too quickly and I took a taxi to work that day. Scared certainly but I wanted to focus on one thing at a time and the 1st priority was work. The daily travel by public transport would start at the end of the day. I was an early morning starter anyway and was most fearful. Sometimes I feel that the world was staring at me but they were not. I had read many fearful stories of similar first days but this seemed more upbeat. The computer settings had been changed and the first half dozen emails that morning were in the in-box from people whom I know not but were wishing me the best. It’s flipping awful fighting back tears on day one at 8.30am when the makeup was freshly applied and meant to last.
There was one incident that day when M said for religious reasons, as a Catholic could not work next to me. In my view it was the shock and the stigma in his view of been judged negatively as the hetero bloke next to me. Being a t-girl is not contagious but many behave as it is. Ebola is contagious, but less common. (By January he had reversed his decision and was back sitting next to me). The day proceeded as normal as did my return home by public transport. In recalling my experiences it is as distant in feeling and substance as my early 20’s in terms of its normality. Days progressed and the week drew to a close. The world had not gobbled up to devour me and many many ordinary working colleagues had treated me splendidly. If they did not agree with my lifestyle they hid it well. It’s easy to say that the company and people were conforming to the law but there is a big difference in what the law says and means in sentiment. In application and observance there can be a wide gap with intent.
Soon Christmas happened (I mean that 7/8 weeks flew by) but my family flew in the opposite direction. It was their stark refusal to accept that this was I, their insistence that they would call me by my male name and that whilst my mother and father were prepared to visit me here, there was no possibility of me being accepted in Ireland in their home. It is that aspect that hurt so much that led me to formulate the orphan strategy. Not implemented but its there and it is on one psychological supportive to getting on with my life it is also self-deceptive. It was shelved as a strategy as I have spent long enough deceiving myself over the years. Far better to confront and be bloodied by the battle. What a most unfeminine analogy. But one most suitable to a personal struggle in my life.
January arrived and hey I was into my 3rd month as full time Fiona. By the end of the month I had met my psychiatrist for the 2nd time and soon started on my medication. A low dose of oestrogen for 3 months (2mg a day) increased by 50% after 3 months combined with starting a daily dose of anti testosterone. The john-thomas department was sleepy by the 1st three months. Oh and M my work colleague had returned to sit next to me.
Dad had been ill for several years in a slowly deteriorating way with periods of healthy resurgence. On Friday May 10th after returning home from work I received a tearful call from my sister Audrey (the one that talks to me rather than the one that does not) that he had suffered an attack, was on life support unlikely to live beyond 10 and oh yes my mother had said she did not want me at the funeral. Simple all so simple.
It took me 24 hours to realise it was not her party but my fathers funeral. I went out that evening to meet Chris and Sue (two good supportive friends) as arranged but not telling them what was happening. I was hoping I could have a night out, liquidise and dilute my feelings and get home to hear the final news. After 10 sometime the phone demanded response and the news was confirmed. A man whom I had loved but could not accept my gender and as a consequence had not shared a conversation with me for 5 months had died. The weekend passed and I was thankful for the support of several friends who were close by. Most of my grief was private deep and painful. Monday at work was more painful endured in silence as the burial hour of 11 arrived and passed. Don’t blame him, I blame the entrenched bigotry of conformist don’t upset the applecart of Irish gender studies. On a different subject with a similar social conformist belief has the been the prolonged but creepy creeping revelation of pastoral abuse covered up spookily by a bunch of dress wearing blokes masquerading as messengers of a God. Until the streets of Ireland are filled by t-girls and the church run society weakens its grip on what is and is not acceptable then Ireland remains a strange country in terms of family. On my own whilst travelling there without family it has been friendly and helpful. A reinforcement of the advice of neighbour David who after my first week at work out of the closet advised in such a polite way that frankly these days people have other and bigger worries than whether Fiona was once a bloke. For a minority that is sadly still "The News".
The last chapter.
Surgery took place at Nuffield in Leicester on June 27th 2009, and my last conversation in a male body prior to the effect of anaesthetic was about music: hey it got my mind of what was happening and they were not into doing requests!!. The surgery went well and the nursing care was excellent. Okay, there were two days of my life of extensive discomfort just after surgery but was very much helped by the care I received. Six weeks recovery at home went well and the surgical all clear was given mid august. I'm delighted that this chapter of my life has now reached closure. It was a difficult, sometimes painful, frequently tearful phase of my life but its now closed AND I am the better for it all. Thankyou to all who have helped me.