Jessica: Full Interview

Duration 01:12:18


Interviewed by Charlie H
6th December 2018

CH: Today is Thursday the 6th December 2018. We’re at the Yorkshire MESMAC offices. Interviewer is Charlie H. Would you like to introduce yourself?

J: My name’s Jessica […]. I am a lesbian woman, living in Wakefield. I also happen to be intersex, and probably transgender as well, if we’re really going to go there, because things are all across the spectrum.

CH: Great –

J: The intersex thing came later [laughs]

CH: So that’s, I guess that’s why you were interested in being interviewed for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. Do you mind if I ask which age bracket you would fit into?

J: I am 44 years old.

CH: 44 years young [laughter]

J: Yes, well.

CH: Well I would never have hazarded a guess at that age so that’s –

J: That’s dangerous isn’t it!

CH: I’m usually – you look very young.

J: Thank you.

CH: So, I suppose you’ve kinda brought up a couple of different areas of interest in terms of what we’re doing, so if we start with your – I guess – your early experiences, your kind of how you were brought up, your initial, from birth to teenagers I guess. What was your experience there?

J: I was born in 1974. So my very early years were brought up with parents who were actually pretty liberal, really, and they weren’t – they weren’t as stuck in ‘blue for boys, pink for girls’ as other peers in my age group. I grew up in Wakefield, well in a little village outside Wakefield called Horbury, and the – my grandparents as well, I mean my grandfather’s best efforts to make me his apprentice, he only had one child and she was, she was female, my grandfather was very much old school. So I was my grandfather’s apprentice. Other than that, I used to play with my mum’s dolls, I used to ride my Grifter bike, I used to watch a lot of TV – I was never really a boyish boy. I was assigned male at birth, I should clarify that. Constantly being mistaken for a girl [laughs] and, yeah that was really the 70s, there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary with it. And then my parents enrolled me in a private school, well a public school, sorry, in Wakefield, called Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, and that’s a single sex school, and it’s very, very very boyish, lots of testosterone, rugby being the game of the place and all that kind of thing – and I did not get on with this at all.

When I was at school they had – there was definitely the boyish boys, the rough and tumble ones, but I was in Wakefield Cathedral choir as well, so there was a certain amount of [sigh] softness there I suppose, for want of a better term. When it came to doing rugby at school there was the A team, there was the B team, there was the rugby side games team, and then I was in the fourth team, which was fondly known as ‘The Pixies and Fairies’ and we were the ones that used to get tackled to the ground and forced to eat mud and all that kinda thing, which was – it wasn’t fun at all. When it got to – when it got to probably about the age of 11 I was in a school production. It was a play called ‘Tin Pan Alley’, a musical, and I was cast as Princess Scheherazade, cos it being an all-boys school, the girls – the female roles had to be played by boys pretty much. And I was cast as Princess Scheherazade and I snuck away the heels, and that’s where I think it began. Not because of heels, but it was – it was the first memory of really something happening. I played with my mum’s dolls and things like that at grandma’s, and that kinda thing, getting baths and all that kinda thing, and I remember my uncle taunting me because I ‘wasn’t being a boy’, quote unquote. I had a few, I had a couple of dalliances at, in my teenage years, with other boys at school, but never really had a problem with it. I grew up, it being the mid-‘80s, section 28 and that sort of thing, and the big… the prejudices were very much there because AIDS was coming to the fore as well, so that was used as a bullying tool, so if you showed any signs of being out of the ordinary, at school, you were mercilessly bullied, I mean mercilessly.

I mean, I thought I was gay – turns out I was, just slightly different way. I mean I thought I was gay but really boys didn’t float my boat, it was just they, we happened to be there and, y’know, so it happened. And so that was being a teenager, and as I – I got expelled from school, I had behavioural problems, I was expelled from school – for computer hacking actually – and went to the local college. The local college was mixed sex and so I discovered girls. And despite that I was, y’know – flamboyant, and effeminate, and that sort of thing, and struggling – although I didn’t know it at the time – struggling with quite bad dysphoria, I ended up, I ended up in relationships with girls, each of which I desperately wanted to marry as soon as possible, and settle down with. Roses round the door. Classic life. Just like my grandparents had. I went to university, met the woman I would later marry, and yeah, so that’s where – that’s where it starts, I guess.

CH: So in terms of your early, what you might call your formative years I suppose, you say like things kinda started for you in this, with this play and being cast in – I see your point in that lots of people were putting on you labels that you didn’t really fit, I guess. Was it – did you feel like you mentioning you having this idea of ‘oh I must be gay because I’m not this, that or the other’. Was that something that you kind of thought was not necessarily the case after you started dating women, or was that something that you still felt didn’t sit with you properly, or?

J: It – I guess – I later realised – and we’re talking in my probably early to mid-20s – that was the point where I realised actually I was probably bisexual at that point. But bisexuality wasn’t a thing when I was growing up, y’know we had on TV, all our role models were either flamboyant effeminate gay men like Larry Grayson, or we had – the only lesbians we saw on TV were butch dykes that were picketing outside Greenham Common, and if you were trans then that was an object of ridicule because we had people like The Two Ronnies and what have you. There was no – there was no prospect that you might have a happy life with any sort of thing, and there was certainly no prospects that you might like both. Or neither. Nothing like that. The early ‘80s were a very bad time, with the ridicule and the rising up and everything else, and that a massively profound effect on me – I was very, very scared and very nervous about what I might be. I remember saying to my dad once, ‘people bully me and say I’m gay, and I don’t know why’ and my dad said, ‘well, my friend’s gay’ – ‘that sort of doesn’t help, dad’. Y’know, I’d love it to have done, but it really didn’t. I don’t think my dad or my mum knew what to say, which is something that followed me all the way through till, y’know, later on in life, which I’m sure we’ll come to. So yeah, it was all a bit, it was all a bit difficult really, and… we just had no labels, other than – you’re either a lezza, or you’re a bender. That’s it. Or you’re one of those horrible cocks in frocks. And that stayed with me up until probably, probably about 2012.

CH: And what happened in 2012?

J: [dramatic voice] The floodgates opened!

CH: Do you want to tell us about that?

J: Yeah. As life went on, and I struggled with my gender identity an awful lot, there were in the – as I came out of university I got married in, to my first wife, in ’99. Y’know, very traditional wedding, very traditional relationship, and then – however, I had said to her, a couple of years beforehand – we met in ’95, no ’94 – I had said, y’know, I have issues with my gender, with someth- there is something here, I don’t know what it is and she said in no uncertain terms, ‘If you turn out to be anything other than the norm – I – it’s over’. And so I thought I could hide it away, and I successfully hid it away for about 13 or 14 years. Where the floodgates happened was actually… May the 17th 2013, but it had been probably going on for about six months before. When I wanted – we had an annual party every year for – believe it or not – the Eurovision Song Contest, and you either dress up as a host or you dress up as an act, or you dress up as a country, and I wanted to go in a dress. And I had dresses. I’d still got my first pair of sling backs, I had dresses. And I forced the issue. And I gender-crashed – that’s a term I’ve come to discover is, y’know I didn’t know where I was – suddenly I was out, accident- y’know I was, people were going ‘oh you’ve got nice legs’, ‘oh you’re not bad’, ‘actually it pretty much suits you’. And suddenly I was out with impunity, and I dressed up wherever I could and I – and the – my ex’s, well my first wife’s life pretty much fell apart as a result.

The big constants that folk see is gender. And when I came out and said, ‘actually, I think I’m transgender’ and it – when – I’m struggling to put this into words. When I came – when I came out, I wanted to explore this and the woman I was married to at the time couldn’t cope with that. And, it is a very, very selfish thing. Transition is a thing you do to yourself, for yourself, it’s – it is selfish, and nobody else can really understand it unless they’ve been there. The compulsion. The – looking in a mirror and not seeing what’s in there, what’s in your head, and so I had pretty much a full-on breakdown. Alcohol was a crutch. And I had this full-on breakdown. I tried to take my own life. Failed. Was beaten up, in a pub toilet, in the ladies toilet by three men. Went home – the, my wife said, ‘well, what did you expect?’ And that was pretty much the reaction from my friends. By this time I’d started self-medicating through anti-androgens, what have you, that I found on the internet. And then I came out to my mum. And that was the best thing I could’ve done, because my mum said, ‘First thing we’re gonna do is lose that wig – because you’re pretending’. You’re thinking – you’re – when you first come out, when you first come out as trans you become a parody of womanhood because you’re only ever learning from other people who either don’t want to talk to you or – most of the time – either people who don’t want to talk to you about it or, you’re learning from other trans people who’re making the same mistakes, so it’s like when you’re 13 at, 12 or 13 at school and you’re learning off your peers and you’re making the mistakes that – you don’t [unclear] – I was a bloody embarrassment, frankly. Came out, and I said to mum, ‘I’m self-medicating, I don’t quite know what to do now, I need to find out where I’m going with this’. And she said, ‘well, it’s your 40th birthday. I was going to give you some money for your 40th birthday. Why don’t you use some of it to find somebody who knows what they’re on about?’ And I found a private therapist in London, a guy called Dr Curtis. And Dr Curtis saved my life. Stabilised things. Made sure I got access to the right therapy. And… yeah.

During the time when I was having the breakdowns I was living, still living in the marital home. I have two children, who are – my daughter was extremely supportive, my son was confused. They were hearing things from people like, ‘Dad’s died’, and I didn’t know whether I was meant to still be called dad or anything. I didn’t know where I was meant to be. April 2014, yeah, April 2014 I was finally made homeless, and I ended up having to find somewhere to live. Pulled rabbits out of hats, found somewhere. And that was me full-time. Yeah.

CH: Are you OK?

J: Yeah. It’s just hard to – it’s just – getting the timeline right in my head and things, and articulating it.

CH: And connecting with those what must be very upsetting emotions?

J: It was, at the time, it was very upsetting.

CH: Did you – you mentioned about your mum and sort of how she responded and also about how your children have responded, and your ex-wife. Was your – how was your dad? At this point, was he still alive?

J: My father lives in Western Australia. He’s on the other side of the world – he’s pretty much completely detached from it. I phoned him, and said, ‘look’ – in fact I’ll tell you, I remember exactly where I was when I phoned him. I was working for the BBC at the time and I was sitting on the first floor of Children’s BBC in Media City. I was sat next to all the Blue Peter desks. And it was half seven in the morning and I said, ‘Dad, this is happening and I don’t know what to do’. ‘Oh well, erm, it’s probably just a phase’ – if I had a penny for every time somebody said it was a phase – and… he tried. He really, really did try. But probably about a month after I got an email from him telling me what I was doing was extremely selfish and I was hurting everybody. And we didn’t speak for probably a year after that.

CH: You used that term yourself to say that it’s quite a selfish act –

J: It is, yeah.

CH: What can you – can you elaborate a bit on that?

J: Ok. It’s not – it’s not selfish as in negative, malicious selfishness. It’s just that – you do it to fix yourself. You admit, you work it out to fix yourself. I mean, I – I was an alcoholic, I was prone to extreme mood swings, which we’ll come to in a couple of years’ time. Extreme mood swings. I was self-destructive. I couldn’t – I had massive imposter syndrome. Couldn’t quite work out, y’know, and actually all the time I thought I was bi and or I was gay or that something was up… but as I – probably in the first six months of coming out, I was reconciling it in my head that if I fix myself I can be a better provider and a better dad. That I can make sure that everybody else is OK because I won’t have that distraction. And so that was the way I reconciled it in my own head and y’know thought about it.

There’s a lot of confusion between – with cis, cis people – that it’s a lifestyle choice, and it really wasn’t. It was honestly at a point of a matter of life and death. And I didn’t re-, certainly didn’t realise it at the time, that it was an absolute matter of life and death. And I had to do it to – stay alive.

CH: So it’s something that’s for you and not for others and that’s kind of, yeah, I understand, I get kind of what you mean.

J: Yeah, that’s it exactly… There’s this perception when you come out – as trans certainly – that you’re, that you become a completely different person, and I remember one quote from somebody I used to know, who I haven’t spoken to since, that um… [pause] I – my previous name was Joel, it’s no massive secret, that ‘I knew Joel, Joel was my friend, but I don’t know Jess; Jess has to earn my friendship’. And there was that perception all the way over. There were folks that said, ‘oh it’s like Joel’s died. Now fast forward to about maybe a year and a half, two years later, and I’m at a music festival that my ex-wife is at. And she came over to chat, because we had the kids with us, and walked down, we walked down across the grounds together and she said – honestly, it was like old times – and she said, ‘you haven’t changed a bit, have you?’ And I went, ‘no’. And that’s the point. My brother said to me, ‘it’s like… the first time my brother and I went out for dinner, after I’d hopped the fence, we were down in London on the South Bank, he works down there – and he said, ‘you know, it’s strange, it’s like every little behavioural tic you ever had suddenly looks normal’. And so it was nice to be validated in all those different ways, but it came at a massive, massive tremendous cost. That I wish it hadn’t, because I really, really loved my ex-wife. I absolutely bloody adored her… So, yeah.

Forward to, slightly forward, past that to 2015 [sighs], 17th November 2015, when I had my GRS, my surgery. Actually: no – no – let’s go to nine months before that. Nine months before that – that’s an appropriate number isn’t it? Nine months before that I went to Brighton, Brighton Gender Clinic – oddly enough the same place I’d had my initial diagnosis almost, well, in November 2013. And um… I went to Brighton, I went to see the surgeon, the guy who was going to be, I wanted to be my surgeon, for an assessment. And he looked at my levels, and he looked and he said, y’know he looked at everything and said, ‘no problems, no problems, you’re sorted, we’ll be able to do this. But I want to get you checked out’. Now – the place where they sent me had at that point, I don’t know if it’s still there, but they had an MRI, and they put me on MRI and said, after various bits of toing and froing, ‘thought so – you’ve got an ovary. You’ve got an ovary and part of a uterus… which is weird, because you’ve got both your testicles. So all we can think of really is that it’s an absorbed twin. And it’s more than likely that your mood swings’ – cos you know I’ve get a journal – sorry a little side note – I’ve kept a journal since about 1986. It’s not frequent, but I keep them all, and y’know, it’s, looking back I see mood swings happening in various times of the month, and it turns out I was having a period [laughs] – what the hell?! This is a bit weird! Very, very strange!

And um, yeah, so I went and had my GRS the 17th November 2015. The clock in the room was set to 3:20 and 40 seconds; it had stopped, and so you know, 3:20 and 40 seconds is the time, it’s that little bubble, and for five or six days I was in that room, in this little morphine-induced haze, and according to my mum, when I came out of the theatre and went into recovery, she’d never seen such a big smile – ever. It was like everything was alright, and it’s, when I said earlier, it’s like background distraction. If you wire up a – if you wire up a sound system wrong, you get a hum – it was like somebody had turned the background hum off. And, yeah – so it turns out that, I mean y’know, yeah transgender covers it, but actually intersex, and it’s, y’know, it’s a weird body [laughs]

CH: It’s a body as it’s supposed to be.

J: It’s a body as it’s supposed to be. And, yeah…

CH: So that kind of background hum having been switched off, how have you sort of seen your life change since?

J: [pause] I can go swimming. It’s – there’s – okay, right, I’m going to tell you one weird moment of joy I had yesterday, okay. Now I d-, when I first came out, and I knew that this was going to be a permanent thing I had little ‘achievement unlocked’ things going on in my head. So, the first time I went out of that front door; first time I got on a bus; first time I drove the car to the filling station; and the first time I went on holiday; even the first time I went abroad, y’know, comes with work. And I hadn’t had an ‘achievement unlocked’ for probably about two or three years, and I accidentally had one, earlier on this week. I was at the gym, and our boiler’s broken at home at the moment, so I’m gonna go to the gym, I’m gonna get a shower. So I went to the gym. And I stood at a communal shower with all the women not batting an eyelid, and got ready for work, sorted my hair out, y’know, this battle for the vanity mirror at the gym, and it was just – normal. It was normality. I wasn’t ashamed of anything, there was nobody going ‘oo what the hell’s she doing in here?’ – there was nothing like that. And then this morning, I’m in the gym changing rooms again, and there’s somebody I know from a local group who knows my history that isn’t bothered. Y’know, it’s not – there’s no shame in it, nothing like that.

Out the other side, I got my gender recognition certificate last May, so my birth certificate’s correct: Susan Jessica, that’s what it is. And, mum introduces me as her daughter, there’s no, there’s no misgendering, no silliness any more. This morning my 93-year-old grandmother phoned me, and called me Jess, and she’s never done that before. She’s always called me SJ – I kept the same initials – but she called me Jessica this morning. And that’s a massive, massive thing.

CH: That’s beautiful.

J: [pause] I live now in Wakefield, with my wife-to-be, Helen. And she – bizarrely, I first met her in 1996, when I was back in what passed for bloke mode, and I was out on a – I was out on a girls’ night out, and I’d decided to start dating again, which is a bloody minefield when you’re trans – and I decided to start dating again, and I was on my nth disastrous date, and – I was actually standing in Viaduct up the road – and I was just on this dating app thing, half-cut, frankly, and this woman – I noticed this woman had seen my profile and I just thought ‘sod it, nothing ventured nothing gained’ and just went ‘pub?’, and she went um, ‘yeah alright, yeah, what you thinking?’ And I said before you know, before we go any further, just if you want to look me up and make sure I’m real and genuine and I’m an honest-to-God real person, my name’s Jess […]. And she said ‘oh! I thought you looked familiar, are you Joel’s sister?’ And I went... ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘are you related to Joel?’ and I went, ‘yes…’ and then I went silent for 24 hours because I had no idea how to deal with this, and then I said, ‘yeah I… yeah know Joel [quietly]’. ‘Oh right OK, are you Joel’s sister?’ And I said, ‘No, one and the same’. She went, ‘oh, right, that makes sense’. OK, right, yeah. Cos we’d got largely the same hair, y’know, I mean it’s the same long hair any everything else. And that as three years ago, and we live now in Wakefield with my stepdaughter; my son comes round occasionally. I don’t see my daughter any more, she’s gone off to be a teenager, and yeah we’re getting married next year.

CH: Congratulations.

J: Thank you. Thank you. I needed my GRC for it because I’m buggered if I’m getting married in another hetero relationship [laughs]

CH: Yeah, I hear you. So that’s really nice, that’s really positive. So your son has kind of come round to the right way of thinking about it now?

J: My son came out himself, as gay. He’s – he does quite a lot of activism himself, with the UK Youth Parliament, and he’s – he calls me Jess, occasionally he calls me dad, which I don’t mind, cos after all that’s what I am, and yeah, yeah… A good kid, a bloody good kid. Very proud of him.

CH: That’s all good. And you say your daughter’s gone off to be a teenager?

J: Yes, yes. She decided to go – she decided to go live with her natal mother, my ex-wife, and at some point will probably see her again, y’know but that was two years ago. I think she just found it a bit of a struggle. She’s been, you know she’s working out her own labels as well, y’know, where she thinks they’re necessary.

CH: So there was no fall out in that respect, it was just –

J: No fall out in that respect, it’s just y’know, I’ve decided to go with my other parent now, sort of thing, y’know, same as I did when my parents split up and the same as teenagers y’know the world over, y’know and I just went, ‘fine, y’know, we’re here when you want us’.

CH: Like you say, standard sort of teenage, teenage angst.

J: My stepdaughter is 11, or my stepdaughter-to-be, but I refer to her as my stepdaughter, and she has absolutely no problems with any of it, as far as she’s concerned she’s got two mums, and y’know, she deals with that at school, and Helen and I co-parent as best we can and it – for the most part, it works.

CH: Do you think that the school experience for your stepdaughter is a positive one at the moment?

J: She doesn’t seem to be having any problems with it, and the schools, the schools – I say schools because she’s just gone from primary into secondary, or from middle school to secondary or whatever it is now – she’s – the schools have been pretty good actually, at the co-parenting thing. We’ve got no complaints there. My son – when he came out, my son had issues with the school. He still has issues with homophobia at the school, and he was teased mercilessly about me coming out. It was a pretty bad time for him.

CH: How old was he at the time that you came out?

J: 12 – no, when I came out? 2017, so 10 or 11.

CH: OK, and then he came out himself when he was 12?

J: He knew – yeah, yeah he was trying to work out where he was, but he’s – one of the problems that we’ve had is that… the… [sighs] This isn’t first-hand experience, so I’m not sure how to put it, but there have been rumblings that the reason he’s out is because I am. That it’s been an encouragement for him. But, to be fair, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Y’know and I know there are other people down my line who’ve been closeted as well, so…

CH: Is that being expressed as a negative thing, that you’re encouraging him?

J: From what I can see, yeah. I mean we’re the, we’re the local rainbow family down where we are. The lesbians at number 25 [laughs] it’s hard to escape it – our… in 2013, sorry in 2012, about six months before it all exploded, I was on national television, in bloke mode, and it’s an interesting little reference point. I was on a TV show called Come Dine With Me. And it’s an interesting reference point, and the people that’ve seen it have said, ‘it’s just you in male drag’, or ‘it’s your irresponsible younger brother’. But every time that gets aired, something gets said somewhere, and that’s a bit, that’s a bit of a struggle.

It’s, nowadays I have no problem at all, y’know, with work and things like that, and I transitioned in a, I transitioned when I was working with the civil service, who have very good policies for it. And now, I mean, work for instance, I think I only actually told work about my history probably about six months into the job, y’know when I’d accidentally dropped something about when I was a kid, cos having gone to an all boys school, it’s quite hard to talk about your school days, y’know with other people, without actually coming out. And then folks that are talking to me for probably more than an hour will work out something’s up anyway, y’know, cos for a start-off I’m six foot two and I’ve got a low voice; my mannerisms are typically male, because I spent 38 years of my life being that, so there’s that sort of ingrained thing there, which is – which can out me, but I think I stopped caring about it about six months ago.

I went private for my treatment, my surgery and everything, and I remember the Leeds Gender Clinic – I was on the waiting list, and Leeds Gender Clinic phoned, er sent me a letter the week after my GRS saying, ‘you’re at the front of the queue but we’d like you to come for an appointment’. And I dropped them a line, phoned them and said, ‘you realise I’ve just – I’ve actually gone through the whole process, I’ve had my GRS and everything else now, y’know I’m done and dusted frankly’, and, ‘you know you must’ve been asked to come in for an appointment, y’know, we still want to see you’ And I said, ‘well, what if I don’t come’, and they said ‘oh we might have to put your transition on hold’, and I said, ‘what are you going to do, nail it back on?!’ And they said, ‘no no no, please do come in, we need you to come in’. So I went in and I said, ‘right OK, I’ve taken a day off work’ – and I’m self-employed at this point – ‘so I’ve taken a day off work, which is costing me money, I’ve got all the way up to Seacroft, why? What do you want me for?’ ‘Oh we’ve never spoken to anybody that’s this far down the line before, we just wanted to get your opinion on something’. I said, ‘hang on! This is consultancy?! I should raise you a bloody bill!’ [laughs] As it is now, I help with other trans groups and I do quite a lot of hand-holding and that kind of thing, way down the line, y’know, appropriate clothing for work, all that kind of thing cos, y’know, 42-year-old people in teenage girls’ outfits is a dead giveaway, y’know.

CH: What, is that through an organisation that you do that?

J: I was doing it through Trans Wakefield for a bit, but it tends to be on places like Reddit and the associated Discord channel, that sort of thing. Folks get in touch with me through – I do a show, called Rainbow Heart, or did a show called Rainbow Heart, I’ve finished it now, that was about coming out and searching for your identity. And I toured that around the UK last year, sorry this year. And there were people that came out to me at those that were saying just, ‘can I, can I just keep in contact with you’, and so I’m sort of this under-the-radar, middle-aged village idiot who’s just sort of hand-holding other people as they pop up! [laughs] Yeah, and so I’m not really affiliated with a support network, because I’ve found that the sort of people that go seek out support networks – the support is already there for them. I know that the groups that I went to, back in the day, were people early on in transition, it’s very difficult to find somebody late on in transition, or who have transitioned. And people early on in the transition tended to know it all – it’s like going to a school, I said this earlier, it’s like going to a school where, when you’re 12 or 13, you’re making all these mistakes, you’re making all the clothing mistakes, you’re learning, and as you go on – the 15-year olds don’t want to talk to the 12-year olds, but the 12 year olds know it all. And then gradually you get to sort of 17/18-year olds, where you dress appropriately, you know how to do your make-up, you’re effectively patting the 12-year olds on the head and saying, ‘you’re doing fine, y’know. And if you want, we can go out and I’ll, y’know I’ll maybe take you up Next and we’ll go and try stuff on if you want, and that kind of thing, and I’ll accompany you’. I do what I can in that regard. [pause] a lot of partner support I do as well, actually.

CH: Partner support?

J: Yeah, because they want – because they ask the questions, like – there’s lots of silly things that people don’t want to tell you that happens when you, things like HRT. Because yeah, y’know, your skin’s softens and all that kinda thing, but, my hearing changed. I don’t need spectacles quite as much. My tastes changed, y’know… OK, right, silly thing – I never used to be able to drink tequila and I can now, ok? But I can’t drink brandy any more.

CH: So it’s all worth it then?

J: It’s weird, it’s very, very strange. Your smell changes, and that’s a real big one for partners, your scent, because it’s, ‘you don’t smell like my husband any more’; that sort of thing. When I speak to – when I work with other trans women and some trans men, this is on the trans women side, there’s a lot of – where people tend to become a parody, almost a parody of womanhood, which is what the trans-exclusive rad fems concentrate on, actually, y’know, this sort of, horrible offence there. And it’s just trying to help people that they can go to work and not have the, not have the ridicule, where they can go off and dress appropriately without dressing like an extreme of a 70-year-old dowager, or a 17-year-old from, y’know, who’s been shopping at New Look. Y’know, there’s a happy medium that you can get to. And all that sorta thing.

CH: So, I understand that giving that support is quite – I imagine – would be quite fulfilling for you?

J: It can be, it can be dangerous.

CH: Yeah, is it – do you consider it a kind of activism in that respect, in its level…?

J: Yeah… I mean, the activism I do, I guess, is largely spreading the word that you can come out, and this stuff happens, like what’s the worst thing to say to somebody when they come out? For me, I think it’s, ‘we always knew’, because it’s like you’ve been hiding in plain sight, so I go out and do, spread that word that, sort of, actually, here’s how best to support your mates. Y’know, it’s not – I don’t do much political activism, I leave that to the people that can think on their feet a bit faster than I can, y’know people like Fox Fisher and that kinda thing, and Jacqui Gavin and co. For me it’s a bit, it’s more about support and make, and helping other people not fall into the same traps I did. When I first came – when I came out, initially, the people that I had as role models – I was pretty lucky in that – remember I said I was in Wakefield Cathedral Choir? There was another chorister in transition that was two years older than me, and she transitioned in the ‘90s, and y’know she was an inspiration, and I got in touch with her, and she actually provided a heck of a lot of just, big sister support, I guess. And there’s another – I work in a STEM industry, and there’s another woman who transitioned there, late 90s who is, she is a political activist, and she provided – she was an inspiration as well, y’know, and she didn’t directly answer any of my questions – just seeing her go on about her life was enough for me, and that’s what I hope to pass it on. You pay it forward. That there are other women out there who are trying to just get on with their lives, and occasionally will pop up and say, ‘I don’t know what to do about this, what did you do? Y’know, what did you wear, what should I wear?’ Up to: ‘which surgeon did you go with?’ So I’m, what, I’m three and a bit years down the line from GRS, y’know and I urge people to review past performance of surgeons, so you know what to expect. And, I’m perfectly frank about it, y’know I’m perfectly frank about everything from what you can wear to your gender and sexuality and, y’know, sleeping with members of the same or the opposite sex – not that I’ve got much experience of the latter. Cos the moment that you ask those at a support, things like that to support thing or of a GIC, it’s a massive red flag. Do you know what autogynephilia is?

CH: Yes.

J: Oh, well, that’s a massive, massive, massive thing. If you say, ‘will I still be able to have sex?’ at a GIC meeting, they will put it down as a big red flag. And there’s various trans women out there, y’know, who are very, very private people. I wrote a bloody article for a sex toy company on it, y’know: ‘this is what happened afterwards’. And folks find stuff like that – I did it under a pseudonym before you go Google it [laughs] – but that’s the way that I support. Through that I occasionally have my own mood crashes, but there are occasionally other people around to say, ‘what’s happening is normal, mate’.

CH: Would you say now you identify as a woman, a trans woman?

J: A woman.

CH: Yeah? Great, there’s a lot of people who always put that prefix, and it’s a bit –

J: I am – it’s a blurred line as to whether I’m transgender or intersex.

CH: Exactly.

J: But the thing is, transition by its very definition is a phase. It’s a series of steps to a logical conclusion. And that logical conclusion is that I am female. That is the side of my biology I have chosen to align myself with. The – there are male bits of me still hanging around like a prostate, but for the most part, everything’s got fixed, y’know the plumbing got fixed, and effectively it’s just a bit of urologist’s tidying up. I don’t say – I deliberately don’t say that I am trans.

CH: Cos it’s not true?

J: Because I don’t believe it.

CH: I agree. If it’s OK I’d like to just sort of come back to sort of what you might see as the difference between your own childhood experiences and those of your children and stepchild.


CH: I think, you’re right, you sort of mentioned Section 28 and the kind of atmosphere of being in school for you, and then you also mentioned that your kids have experienced their own issues in terms of, around either their kind of family set up or their own sexual identity, I suppose – do you see a change in those two experiences? Is it, you know, what do you sort of think on that?

J: I think there’s still a lot of playground learning going on, but then, y’know a lot of what – kids will still find it awkward in classroom. What we’re actually seeking, rather than, yeah OK, people are learning, are learning safe sex and what have you in a classroom, and all that kinda thing, but just normalising the relationships – normalising the fact that, y’know two women can walk down the street and hold hands, and not have ‘lezza’ shouted at them. And that happens frequently. Yeah, Helen and I were walking down Scarborough front, about two or three months ago, and some bloke yelled ‘lezza’ at us, sorry, ‘fucking lesbians!’ that was it. And it – I don’t think, personally, I don’t think lesbians have it as bad as gay men, because we’ve been fetishized, so you know, people get their jollies from it, y’know, Helen and I will look at each other and go, ‘he’ll be going home with that in his memory tonight’. Whereas blokes get attacked. And you see it so little with men that actually, down in Brighton – I was down in Brighton for Trans Pride – and I saw – I was just pottering around on the Monday, the Monday afterwards and I saw two blokes holding hands and actually I suddenly thought, ‘that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that in public’. Y’know, whereas Helen and I are pretty much open about it, on the basis I think it needs to be normalised. If it’s something that folks see every day then they’ll stop noticing it.

CH: And the kids will stop having problems.

J: And the kids will stop having the problems. It’s just such a shame it’s still such a big thing on TV, y’know, take The Bi Life for instance, I’d actually much prefer it if just bog standard dating programmes didn’t make such a big thing about it, rather than have a special programme for us, and all that kinda thing, y’know, it’s a shame.

CH: So would you say things have improved in the last few years?

J: Oh yes, things have improved – well, it’s difficult for me to say, because I’m not standing in a school as a child, so I’ve got, y’know anything I get is relayed from second-hand through the kids, y’know the kids that I am now guardian of, I suppose. I know that my son was bullied, a lot. I know that other LGBT people are bullied still. Whether that is as viciously as we were, I don’t know. Some of the viciousness was because I was in a single sex school and testosterone was running high. I would’ve thought it would be slightly better, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we’re anywhere near there yet.

CH: So I suppose the natural progression to that is, how do we get there? TV, is it as easy as that?

J: [big sigh] I think there has to be societal evolution before then. It’s part of that evolution, it’s part of that generational change that happens every single, that happens every single generation, y’know, for instance take trans people now – the trans movement now is where the gay movement was in 1986. The arguments against transgender people are exactly the same arguments from 1986 against gay people. There, it’s almost – I can see it happening, because y’know we were in the thick of it then, y’know the press had finished mucking around with the miner’s strike and we’re on to the bloody homos, and now they’re on to the trans people, so it’s like – it would be nice if a Sunday went by without a mainst- without a piece of the mainstream press publishing something negative. It would be absolutely lovely if I hadn’t have had to fire, if I haven’t have had to fire off a letter to Hull University as an alumni of Hull Uni arguing against Jenni Murray having a lecture theatre named after her. Y’know, because of her incredibly outdated views on gender. It would be absolutely wonderful if Julie Bindel hadn’t been, hadn’t been laying into the editor of Diva on Woman’s Hour on the BBC three days ago. Until that changes, nothing’s going to change. And yeah, imagine now if the stuff that had been going on in the 1970s comedy shows was aired now. I reckon we’ll probably be alright with transgender people in about 2050, judging by that timeline. We might have to wait for the 22nd century for non-binary. But it’s human evolution, we just need to stop – we need to all be human, that’d be nice wouldn’t it?

CH: Do you, you sort of mentioned like the kind of TERF movement a little bit earlier and this idea that things as you say are just taking a couple of generations, or at least a generation, to come into effect, and y’know, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between what feminists were saying in the ‘80s and ‘90s about like gay people, especially gay women entering women’s spaces, and then how that parallel there y’know with, I don’t know, what’s happening currently anyway. Is that – do you see any sort of way out of that, like, directly? What’s your kinda take?

J: The second wave feminism movement, people like Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, those sorts of folks… they’re still being paid to air their views, and not to put too fine a point on it, they need to not be airing those views, whether that’s because they’ve retired or because they’ve gone to the moon or whatever. Those sorts of views tend to be largely the 40+ bracket, from what I can see. Thankfully, folks are seeing through the early ones. There are massive hives of prejudice out there, y’know, Mumsnet being the biggest, easily, y’know some of the pearl-clutching that goes on with, y’know, ‘god I don’t want my children going through – I don’t want my children being infected with The Gay’. Have you ever heard of the word ‘nimby’? It means ‘not in my backyard’. LGBT nimbys are the absolute scourge. I came across a load of these when I came out; there were people that were very, very much into, ‘oh it’s good that the gays have rights now; it’s good that trans people can be authentic, they can be who they – well hang on, you’re doing it, ew, no, you live too close!’ I remember being absolutely furious at my ex-wife and really quite distraught – I used to go down to Pride in London every year, I still do if I can, and photograph it for various media, and I sat on the corner, 2013, I was about a month and a half out, and I sat on the corner of Oxford Street, and – what’s the one that’s got Hamley’s on it? Regent’s Street – I sat – the parade comes round the corner, from Oxford Street onto Regent’s Street and there’s a set of traffic lights there, which is a great vantage point for being able to get good photos. So I was standing there, and suddenly, it absolutely hit me like an absolute brick wall that… actually, somebody that I knew and loved, that I thought was accepting and everything else, suddenly wasn’t when it happened to them. And that – and I realised that sever- I had quite a lot of friends that had done that, and some relations, that maybe this had happened, it was LGBT nimbyism. And a lot of that nimbyism stems from the propaganda that comes from the anti-LGBT movement, you know, the Christian right-wingers, that kind of thing. And at the forefront of that is the mainstream media, who will say, ‘oh children are getting hormones, and can get the snip within six months’ – that’s utter rubbish! Y’know, that is an outright lie. There, that, y’know, ‘I sent my child to a, to a school and now they’re gay. Let’s quickly, we need to send them on a, we need to send them on gay cure course’, and all that kinda stuff. The crap that gets printed by groups such as Fair Play For Women and all these kinds of things… y’know, I accept that people have concerns and there, if there is a debate to be had, but please for goodness sake don’t debate my existence. Y’know, I exist, I’m sorry that pisses you off… The – until that media propagation, brought on by people like The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, the red tops, the BBC – all this mainstream media – once that calms down we can just carry on getting, with just existing, yeah.

CH: Just be able to get on with your life?

J: That’s it, and a lot of this this year has come about by the Gender Recognition Act reforms. Now I’ve been through the whole GRC process, I know how much it costs, I know how much data I had to collate for it – I had to collate 33 different pieces of evidence, to prove that I was female. Everything from surgeon’s records to the household bills, to prove that I was using my new name and title. Copies of my passport; copies of all my medication records; lots of stuff. First thing I say to people when they’re transitioning is, ‘get a box file – put everything in it’. Get everything; request your letters from your clinician, do your homework and get it all, get it all down there, because you will need that when your GRC day comes. And so, y’know, with all this GRA reform that went on and that massed the media because it sold papers, y’know, The Daily Mail.

CH: Do you feel like the T in the LGBT is the last to be acceptable for people to be horrible about?

J: I think non-binary people and intersex people still have a way to go. I think that that’s the next big battle ground, unfortunately, until we’ve got an ‘x’ on a passport, then I’ll be a lot happier.

CH: There’s some people in the kind of trans umbrella community are kind of excited to be fighting the fight and to be on the cusp of it all and kind of ‘in it’, and there are some of us who just want everything to be normal. You kind of strike me as somebody who’s maybe got a good balance of the two, but probably more into the latter.

J: I just want to be able to do what I did the other day and go into that changing room. I’d like to be able to go to the loo without being beaten up. It would be… as I said earlier, I don’t think fast enough to be a proper activist. I spend enough time fighting my own head, y’know, not to be fighting everybody else. I’m not an aggressive person anyway, God knows I don’t have enough testosterone to be an aggressive person [laughs]. The – there are other people, there are people on both sides actually who do stuff that I think is bad, y’know. There are people in the trans community, who – under the big transgender umbrella, who y’know go along with the transgender exclusive rad fem movement, y’know, I find – I’ve had personal experience of at least one of them and I find their, I find their arguments incomprehensible, frankly, but that’s the route they’ve chosen.

CH: What was your experience there, if you don’t mind me asking?

J: There’s an online forum that I’m a member of, it’s actually – I mean it’s hidden, I’m not gonna name it, it moves around to keep the – to keep people out of the way. If you’re fresh out of the box, it’s not the place for you – it’s basically, it’s largely middle-aged to older transitioned or transitioning women. Y’know, so we’re talking about our kids, we’re talking about how we, y’know, medication complications, that kind of thing – it’s a nice little support network, and it’s quite small. But it’s been going, it’s been going about 20 years. One of the members on there is a retired teacher, and apparently at the last forum she was a member of she went on, she went on national TV, on Newsnight and basically decried the whole trans thing, it was actually, we were worried it was gonna get dangerous and we ended up chucking her out, well the administrators ended up chucking her out. I mean, I’d disconnected from her some time ago, I said, ‘I’m sorry I find your arguments distasteful and incorrect and I cannot in all conscience, y’know, keep a dialogue open with you. It’s pretty obvious that that’s what you believe and I believe something completely different in the same way as I wouldn’t try and convert a Nazi’, and y’know after the first couple of sentences. It was a sad state of affairs. She’s still kicking around. Occasionally my music stuff gets targeted on Twitter, and I just ignore it, and deal with the people who can make better arguments.

CH: I think that everyday support is a very important part of activism, actually, I think you do more than you give yourself credit for.

J: That’s as maybe; I don’t feel like I do enough sometimes, but if I can – like I said you pay it forward, don’t you? Y’know, a lot of people helped me when I was coming out, and they kept me alive. If I can help somebody else, point in the right direction, and if that is the right direction being, ‘this isn’t for me’, then it helps those people doesn’t it.

CH: Is there anything that you haven’t discussed that you really wanted to make sure we got into the chat?

J: No, I don’t think of the top of my head. No I don’t think so, off the top of my head. No I think you’ve got pretty much, y’know [laughs] the whole lot there.

CH: That’s great, I’ve really loved hearing all that you’ve had to say. Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you.

J: I’ve very much enjoyed being part of it, I hope I haven’t gone on too long.