Transgender stories: ‘People think we wake up and decide to be trans’

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From a teenager whose mum joins him at Pride parades, to a 70-year-old who was sacked five times for being trans, five people tell of their experiences

Nikki Hayden, 26, psychology student, London

Until I was about four or five I didnt know I wasnt a girl, to be honest with you. One of my earliest memories, about five years old, was being yelled at by a teacher for going to the toilet with the girls. About the same age I realised I was different to these other boys. At the age of nine I refused to have my hair cut. I didnt have it cut until I was 16, because having it cut was such a torment to me.

School was extremely difficult. I got bullied a lot. I was picked on for being too thin, for being feminine, for not liking football, for hanging round with girls, for having long hair. They mocked everything they could think of in terms of gender and sexuality.

Nikki
Nikki Hayden. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I learned what trans meant through YouTube. I knew how I felt but I didnt know there was a term for it. I was basically just trying to Google what I felt. A lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, this explains all the issues Ive had as long as I can remember.

I never really told my family. They know, but I just started transitioning. I never said: Oh, by the way My mum asked me if I was transgender when I was around 19 after Id already transitioned. She said: Well, are you? And I was like: Are you blind?

On a day-to-day basis I dont tell people Im transgender. The thing about trans people is, we feel very normal. Its the way we are, its only when people say youre not normal that you feel that way.

Ive always been extremely feminine, I always felt that way. I cant say that I ever felt like a boy, I just had to live as a boy for the first 16 years of my life.

Trans people are the same as everyone else, our ideals in life are to be happy, to be respected, to be comfortable. Ive had people who have openly said to me that theyve had prejudices around trans people but as soon as theyve met me theyve understood more its who I am and the way that I was born. Theres no real difference between myself and people who are cisgender [non-transgender].

Keith Reynolds, 18, student, Surrey

A lot of people have it in their head that we wake up and decide to be trans. I want people to know that its not a choice. Nothing has happened in my life to make me trans. I was born trans.

I told my mum when I was about 13. She was shocked and didnt really understand. Then six months later she told my dad and he was so angry. I love my dad but he was a very traditional person. There was a lot of tension. I couldnt wear mens clothing, or I couldnt wear mens deodorant it would cause an argument.

It started to get better, but then Dad got cancer. He died a week before I turned 16. When he got sick we didnt talk about it any more. I thought that once he had recovered wed go back to talking about it, but he didnt recover.

After my dad died I found a book about transgender young people and I gave it to my mum. She read it and it was a complete change. She says her main thing and also my dads main thing is they were worried about how it will affect me in life will I be able to find a job, will I be able to find a partner. Well, those things have happened: Ive found a partner, I have no trouble finding jobs.

My mum is fantastic, shes really proud of me. She comes to Transgender Pride with me, if anybody says anything bad about me being trans shes ready to hammer them. She makes me the envy of many trans people, I think.

Keith
Keith Reynolds. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

I was referred to Tavistock [the clinic for children and adolescents] in May 2014. Youre not allowed testosterone until youve been on hormone blockers for a year at Tavistock. But I was 16 at my first appointment and had already gone through puberty, and knew that by the time I had done a year on blockers Id be picked up by the adult clinics. I decided not to go on hormone blockers, because it wouldnt really do much for me. I was referred to an adult clinic in May 2015. I still havent had an appointment, which means I havent had any medical intervention in three years.

Im desperate for hormones and surgery. My dysphoria makes me feel like Im embarrassed for people to look at me. In my head Im this weird thing that is ugly. I have to wear baggy clothes to hide my hips, I have to think about how many layers I have to wear to hide my chest.

I really understand that the NHS is overstretched because theres a sudden influx of people being referred. I completely understand why, but that doesnt stop the frustration.

Surat-Shaan Knan, 40s, project manager for Liberal Judaism, London

I didnt really know anything about gender identity until quite late, when I was in my mid-20s. I also come from a secular Jewish family, so I didnt know much about what it means to be Jewish either.

I identify as non-binary, trans-masculine. Being trans and Jewish seemed a complete oxymoron. I thought, it cant be, I have to decide between them. But I had this wonderful community here to give me all that space and time to come out.

I feel very blessed that everyone, including family and friends, have been extremely supportive throughout. I havent had to go through what many trans people have to go through.

Years ago when I came out I went to the wall [Western Wall in Jerusalem]. There are three sections the male section, the female section and an ungendered section. Now I would probably go to the ungendered section, but it was my first time presenting as male in such a holy place and I went to the male section of the wall. It made me so happy to do that, to go to the part of the wall I wanted to. I was transitioning medically and spiritually and it was one of the most important moments of my life.

Surat-Shaan
Surat-Shaan Knan. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

A Jewish online magazine reported on that and it sparked off online, I got really abusive messages. I thought, these people dont know me, I dont think anyone should be able to tell you who you are and how to live your life. Yourself is yourself, even in the religious community.

A lot of people from mainstream trans communities ask me, how can you be a person of faith, because even your own religion has been so horrible to LGBT people in general and trans people specifically? Thats true. But its about what faith means and leaving out what some leaders and institutions do with it.

In the media, the focus is often on the pathology and medical transitioning and thats a big part of it, but there are so many layers of what it means to be trans. Its almost like trans people are one-dimensional, they are just these people who need medical help. I do hope we will change our view on what trans looks like. Its not just something on the outside, its something thats very deep and spiritual.

We are created in the image of God. I am part of that as a trans Jew.

Jenny-Anne Bishop OBE, 70, retired sales manager, scientific instrumentation, Rhyl, Wales

I knew I was trans from about three or four years old. From a very early age I thought one day Ill wake up and my body will be like my sisters and my parents would say: Oh, we had a girl, not a boy as we thought.

When I went to university I learned about transsexuals and that some of them transitioned. I brought this up with my tutors and they said: People like you dont do that. They said: Just get married and itll all go away. That was the perceived wisdom then they told gay and lesbian people the same thing.

So I was persuaded that I should get married. Within three or four months I told my ex how I felt and initially she was very supportive. I used to go to a support group once a week; Id have a weekend out once a month where Id get dressed up and go clubbing with some other girls in Manchester. I had to travel a lot for work, which gave me opportunities to be myself. These coping strategies kept me going through about 30 years of marriage.

Jenny-Anne
Jenny-Anne Bishop at home in north Wales. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

When they found out at work Id regularly lose my job. Its happened five times, most recently after the equality legislation had been passed. One time, very early on, I was coming back from my support group at night. I got stopped by police at a routine roadblock. The officer asked if I was allowed to drive a company vehicle dressed like that and called my work to tell them I was dressed like a woman.

I had one job where they got rid of me and then they wrote to every company I applied to and said: Dont employ this person, theyre trans. Each time I lost my job we had to move. The last time it happened my wife wouldnt move any more thats what really ended our marriage.

When I transitioned full-time [in 2007] we had difficulties like having the car regularly damaged and having the trannies live here painted on the house. When I moved to north Wales to live with my trans partner, Elen, no one knew me as anyone else, so almost all the abuse stopped. Elen and I got married in 2011.

Theres still so much to do, but there have been huge improvements in acceptance. There is much more legislation to support us, particularly in the last few years. That night I got outed by the police officer, I wouldnt have even dared go into the police station as myself. Now I go in and have lunch with the assistant chief constable or the police and crime commissioner to discuss combating transphobic hate crime.

J Fernandez, 23, administrative assistant, London

The people you see in the media are usually one type of trans person. Theyre usually binary [identify as either female or male], they usually pass [as someone of that gender], theyre usually white and they usually have this narrative that theyve always known theyre the wrong gender. It makes other trans people scared to tell their stories.

Non-binary people are people who dont identify as male or female all the time. There are lots of subsections you might be agender, gender fluid, bi-gender, a demi-girl or a demi-boy. You might not understand the nuances of the differences, but everyone is always making up new identities to match their experiences and that can only be a good thing. While it can be confusing, its better than saying you can only be this thing and we wont talk about anything else.

I just identify as non-binary and dont put myself into any sub identity. Some days I like to be a woman and Im also OK with identifying as being a guy. Im pretty much nothing at the moment.

I came out as a trans guy and transitioned. I took testosterone, Ive had top surgery [chest reduction] and then a hysterectomy in 2015. The hormones and surgery is about aligning my body to what it should have been at birth. Being born with the correct parts would have made things easier, but at the same time I dont want to be told that my body is wrong.

J
J Fernandez in London. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Its very difficult to get treatment as a non-binary person. They were dismissive about the fact that I was feminine. Non-binary people are used to it, you are warned when you go in [to the gender clinics], if you want treatment you will have to present as male or female and stick to that story.

I dont want to be part of any mainstream [pro-trans] movement if it doesnt include non-binary people. In terms of celebrity, there needs to be a lot more diversity. Its a circle: people dont come out if they dont see anyone like them.

Im mixed-race: my mum is Spanish and Nigerian. I am still finding out how I connect with an identity apart from a western LGBT identity. Thats something Im still working on. Within the religion indigenous to the Yoruba people [an ethnic group in Nigeria] there a lot of gender fluid deities; as a trans person trying to find my roots, thats one part of my heritage that I feel positive about.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/10/transgender-stories-people-think-we-wake-up-and-decide-to-be-trans