To give you an idea of the how I came to transition - and what happened as a result - I need to tell you a little bit about myself. I'm sure you'll appreciate that it's difficult to summarise the relevant parts of my whole life without either over-simplifying or going into far too much detail, so please bear with me.
Hopefully what I've written here (distilled from lots of musings I wrote down since I started to come to terms with who I was way back in 2001) will give you an idea of how I came to realise I was trans, what I did about it and how the process affected both me and those around me.
- University, Work and Hobbies
- Marriage and Family
- Acceptance and Consequences
- Asking for Help
- My Church, and their Reaction
- Starting Treatment
- Transitioning At Work
- A New Challenge
- A New Spiritual Home
I was born in September 1966, in a town called Bishop Auckland in County Durham, North East England.
I wasn't socially adept as a child, and didn't feel like I had many friends. I coped by throwing myself into my schoolwork (and later my career) - a habit I only really managed to break after I accepted that I was trans in 2001. At school, being good at academic work made me a regular target for bullies (I still have scar tissue on my left arm from one such attack).
I first became aware that I was a little different when I was around 7 or 8. I remember looking at myself in a mirror and feeling sad at what I saw - I just wished I had been born a girl.
My teenage years were a complete mess - like many trans teenagers I experimented with cross-dressing (which not surprisingly was mixed up with evolving - and confused - sexual feelings). Eventually I learnt what a "transvestite" was and felt deeply afraid and ashamed - so much so that I'm certain I pretty much invented my whole visible personality to disguise my feelings and protect myself.
In October 1980 (by which time I'd just turned 14) I became aware that I wasn't alone when the BBC broadcast a programme titled "George to Julia - a Change of Sex", which documented the gender reassignment treatment of a trans woman named Julia Grant.
What I saw in that documentary absolutely terrified me - in particular the truly appalling way she was treated by her psychiatrist at Charing Cross Hospital (Dr. John Randell, who is thankfully long gone from the NHS gender clinic he practiced at). The fact that I felt I had nothing in common with Julia didn't help, either - she was much older than me, and presented with a style of femininity I didn't aspire to at all (though with hingsight when I finally started transitioning two decades later I wasn't so much different to her).
A few years later the way that the UK tabloid press destroyed the life of Caroline Cossey ("Tula") after they discovered that she was trans confirmed just how bigoted and unaccepting society was at the time.
In fear, I retreated into deep denial. With hindsight, it's now brutally obvious to me that in that climate of ignorance there was almost no way I could have talked to anyone about how I felt. Maybe that's for the best, as had I tried to obtain help then I may not have coped at all well - at the time being trans was something you had to hide very well* (even once treatment was completed) and that's not something I feel I could have done.
* In fact it wasn't until 1999 that trans people in the UK became protected against being fired just for being trans.
As time passed, fantasies and daydreams became my way of coping without acknowledging my feelings (or cross-dressing for that matter - that became taboo to me). Of course, in my fantasies I was always female - I often wondered what it would be like just to be one of the girls I knew. But had you asked me, I'd have vociferously denied being trans.
By the time I left school and went to Surrey University to study Electronic & Electrical Engineering in 1985, I'd managed to bury my feelings so deeply that I was only dimly aware of them. I tried to be "normal" - and to an extent I suppose I succeeded. I tried to be a social person, but it was never natural to me, and it showed. I had lots of aquaintences, but so few close friends. I did howevero discover that I loved live music, and I became quite involved with music societies in the Student Union.
After leaving University in 1989 I started working for Racal-Dana Instruments Ltd (soon renamed to Racal Instruments Ltd) in Burnham, Berkshire. Outside of work I did all the usual sorts of things: lots of social drinking (I was even a CAMRA beer taster for a while!), sports (5-a-side football and badminton), paintballing, gaming, and finally in 1993 I joined a Basingstoke-based Living History/Battle Re-enactment group named The Hounds of the Morrigan.
The reenactment scene was far different to anything else I'd ever enountered, and great fun. The people there were unconventional, creative and fun - and given everything that happened subsequently it's no exaggeration to say that getting into re-enactment literally changed my life.
I met my future wife in July 1996 at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival (a large War of the Roses re-enactment held every year). I was there as a participant with the Woodville Household, and she had travelled over with an Irish group from Dublin. I remember the way we both felt that weekend vividly, and when we parted on the Sunday evening I was inconsolable. I felt like I'd found a soulmate, and to be parted from her was incredibly painful.
She eventually moved over to the UK to live with me, and we were married in July 1997. Our first child was born in July 1998, and our second in July 2000. I was present when both were born and it was a truly remarkable experience - as any parent will understand.
Being married was both wonderful and sad - wonderful because I felt I was able to share lives with someone so special, and sad because I had to hide from myself and others my deep feelings of regret at being born the way I was. Apart from being aware that I was still ashamed of how I felt (while not even acknowledging how I felt to myself - being trans is complicated!) I was also afraid that talking about that would hurt her so much it could destroy our relationship and family.
Looking back, I do wonder if it was becoming a parent that started to bring my feelings to the surface again. I certainly wasn't a typical father - my maternal instincts felt really strong. With hindsight I was adrift, and drifting towards the rocks.
As time passed (and possibly accelerated by the experience of being at the births of our two children) the feelings of sadness and regret grew gradually stronger. Despite this, I still wouldn't acknowledge them (it didn't even occur to me that I might be trans, and I certainly had no intention of changing myself physically), and looking back I think that I started to grow more withdrawn as a result.
In Spring 2001 I attended an Alpha Course (basically an introduction to Christianity) at Buckskin Evangelical Church. For about a year beforehand I'd known that Faith was developing within me, but I waited until I felt I was ready before talking about it to anyone.
We started attending Church early in the year, and when I found out about the Alpha Course I knew it was something I should do.
To cut a long story short I was Saved one Thursday evening in April 2001. I was a little hesitant so I needed a bit of prompting at first, but once I finally opened and asked Jesus to accept me as a Christian the feeling of God's Love was unmistakable. I just can't describe it, except to say that it was wonderful.
After the main part of each course there was a prayer/discussion meeting. On one particular evening I remember one thing that struck me more than anything else...the fact that when we are Saved, the old person is left behind and a new one born. I felt that this was a sign to discard the masks I'd worn over the years and to be true to myself.
By that time, I accepted that I had a gender disorder of some kind, and I knew that I had to deal with it somehow. I reasoned that I had to accept how I was and move on - without making any physical changes (after all, I had a family to think of!). I started praying for help and wisdom, and over the next three months I gradually became truer to myself and as I felt a sense of contentment and peace I'd never felt before. I just knew I was doing the right thing.
Eventually there was only one hurdle left - to discard the last of my many masks, and the biggest of them all. However, before I could do that I needed to understand why I felt the way I did, and so in early July I started doing web searches and reading the experiences of others who had confronted the same feelings. As I did so I kept seeing echoes of my own life and feelings - so often that I knew it had to be more than coincidence. I researched more, studying medical and psychiatric literature and learning more and more each day.
After a month of reading and researching I knew I had to know if what I suspected about myself was true, and on 4th August 2001 I bit the bullet and (not having anywhere else to turn) took no fewer than three online gender tests.*
* Gender tests are quackery - however, back in 2001 I really didn't know that, and did them anyway.
The tests all said the same thing - that I had a condition called "Gender Dysphoria". One of the tests was more forthright than the other two and diagnosed me as a "probable last-onset Transsexual", that my condition was "potentially serious and indicative of a probable inborn gender conflict", and that I should at the very least seek counselling - or even experiment with living full-time as a woman.
Despite the tests (apparently) confirming what I already suspected, this "diagnosis" still came as a huge shock. Although I felt vindicated and relieved at finally knowing why I felt the way I did, I didn't fully appreciate the impact of what I'd accepted - and I certainly wasn't prepared for the feelings that acceptance unleashed. Over the next few weeks, I rode an emotional roller-coaster - euphoria, followed by intense depression (and on really bad days, complete despair) - again and again, repeating constantly. The fact that I had no-one to confide in didn't help.
That all started to change on 28th August 2001. That evening I was in a Christian chatroom called "Adams Rib", and ended up talking to a girl who was in some distress. She kept calling herself a "freak", and I felt genuinely sorry for her and wanted to try to help. Eventually, she confessed to me that the reason that she was upset was that she had a condition called Gender Dysphoria, was in the process of transitioning to a female gender role, and had been suffering hostility from people she'd trusted as friends. I was stunned - I'd met someone who suffered - and understood - the same pain that I felt.
That contact moved me a step further towards healing myself in that I finally accepted who I was (although I still couldn't talk about it to anyone else). She introduced me to a Christian MSN Community called "God's Rainbow World" and with their support I started to try to make some sense out of the mess I was in.
A little later I joined another MSN community - "TS Chat" - in which I met some great friends - including Janey and Jo who I visited on my holiday in August 2002.
By the start of September I realised I couldn't deal with this by keeping quiet, and confided what I was feeling to three close friends - Robbie (who I called my adopted mum...we met while we were both hosting in a Christian chatroom some months earlier), Bev and Lisa. All of them were very accepting and sympathetic, and looking back at my diary for those few days I was full of optimism.
I made an appointment to see my doctor on 14th September. I was scared stiff, but needn't have worried - she was very understanding, and arranged for me to be referred to a local NHS psychiatrist* (who I saw on 21st November). I was so moved after that appointment that I wrote her a thank you letter!
* Under the treatment protocols of the day, local NHS psychiatrists were the only clinicians allowed to refer patients to NHS gender clinics, so this was a prerequisite step for NHS care.
I told my wife how I felt on 28th September. It wasn't planned, but in retrospect the time was about as right as it could ever have been - the emotional mess I was in was all too apparent to everybody around me. Not surprisingly this news wasn't welcome, and our relationship was very strained afterwards, although I could tell she was trying hard to understand.
As time moved on I became more and more aware that my feelings weren't going to go away - even with counselling and support. I knew that I had a horrible choice to make - I could either become myself (most likely losing my family in the process) or suppress my identity again for the sake of my family. The fact that I doubted I could bury my feelings again even if I tried just made it worse. The pain of it all was starting to make me feel suicidal.
By early December I'd accepted that I had no choice but to transition. Tragically, that Christmas was to be the last one we would spent together as a family.
I told two people from my church (a Christian Counsellor and one of the Elders) what I was going through in December 2001. By February there were a significant number of people aware of the situation - most of whom I considered to be friends and cared for deeply.
Although they didn't understand at first (especially the guys!), they seemed very sympathetic, and did what they could to help. They referred me for Christian counseling - which was (I'm sad to say) a complete disaster from the start. Although the counselors I saw (who were from the local Community Church) were understanding, virtually the first thing they said to me was that they believed this was a psychiatric condition, and therefore could be cured - a position which is completely at odds with all current medical and psychiatric understanding and research. That session was doomed from the start, and we effectively agreed to disagree. Maybe they learnt something from me - I certainly hope so.
On Thursday 20th March 2002 I was summoned to a meeting with the Elders of the church. Normally when I went to the church I could feel such a feeling of pure lovethere, but this felt like a boardroom meeting - perhaps because in my heart I knew the outcome already. After I'd explained about how I'd come to where I was (basically summarising my life story, how I felt - everything), I was told that the Elders had researched the issues involved and prayed about the situation, and they now believed that for me to change my body would be against God's Will. They asked me to stop any preparations I was making for transition, and told me that if I went ahead "There will be consequences". I told them that I wouldn't make a promise that I couldn't keep, and from then on, I knew it was only a matter of time before I was asked to leave.
In all honesty it felt as if they'd decided on the outcome they wanted, and then gone hunting in the Bible for passages to back it up...certainly, to me the scripture they quoted seemed worse than tenuous in this context. Needless to say, I don't agree with their logic or their interpretation of God's Will, and I certainly don't believe that God wants us to live in misery unnecessarily or judges us based on what changes we make to our bodies to become true to ourselves - that just doesn't fit with Jesus' message to us as God's children.
Trans and intersex conditions are part of normal human variation, and gender dysphoria can all too easily kill - a tragedy which sadly happened to someone I knew in September 2003. Rest in power, Debbie.
For years I'd worn a mask to hide my true self and acted out a life that wasn't mine. Having experienced that for many years, believe me it isn't healthy and wears you down - no matter how true your heart really is.
To say I was hurt and upset by what the Elders had said to me is a severe understatement. I just couldn't believe they were doing this to me as over the previous four months there had been absolutely no hint of this outcome aside from the abortive counseling session. I felt as if I'd been let down badly, and (despite all assurances to the contrary) that they were judging me. To me it felt as if the church (as an organisation as opposed to a fellowship) had decided that my presence would be too difficult to deal with, and wanted the problem to go away. After that meeting I l left in tears and didn't return for three weeks - and only then because a friend in the church persuaded me that I was still welcome.
A month after I'd started hormone therapy I was summoned to another meeting on Monday 1st July 2002. It felt like I was in the dock at a Court Hearing rather than in the House of God, and of course I knew the outcome before I even arrived - they asked me to leave. At the meeting I undertook (without being asked) not to contact anyone from the church unless they expressed a desire to remain in contact with me. At the time I felt that was only fair (the last thing I wanted to do is make anyone feel uncomfortable) but with hindsight it was probably just a way of keeping an inconvenient issue (i.e. someone like me) away from the church so they didn't have to confront it anymore.
Having known about the meeting for several days, the previous day when I took my two children to church it was to say goodbye in my heart to the church I loved and my spiritual home. I was extremely emotional and struggling to hold back the tears, and yet when I arrived one friend (who sang in the music group) gave me a huge smile when she saw me arrive - a memory which still brings out the tears when I think of it. Being married to one of the Elders, she must have known what was about to happen, and yet her love and compassion shone through.
I still miss her, as well as so many others. Looking at photographs of friends from my then church family taken at my 35th birthday party still makes me tearful.
Despite what I'd been told when I was asked to leave, I knew God was with me - I could (and still can) feel His presence - exactly the same feeling of love and understanding I felt when I was Saved. That's remained with me throughout my journey, and I have no doubts whatsoever that I've been guided to do the right thing for a reason. I now believe a big part of that reason is to reach out to others who like me have been rejected by churches they had confided in, and of course in integral part of that is to lead others - whether Christian or not - to understand and accept us.
In September 2002 I took a big step in that direction when I was led to a new church - St. Thomas of Canterbury in Worting. Ironically, it was not far away from my old church, and is in fact rather closely affiliated with it. However, in contrast to the opinions expressed by the Elders at Buckskin Evangelical Church, the Rector at St. Thomas told me that he felt it was not his place to judge.
I transitioned in that church on Sunday 22nd December 2002. Being Christmas the church was of course extremely busy - and yet I felt nothing but love and acceptance. Since then, I made some great friends there, and although some in the church seemed to find it difficult to understand what I was experiencing, not one person rejected me.
Despite the many challenges we had coped with as a couple, I rapidly came to realise my wife couldn't cope with being around me whilst I was going through transition, so when she told me she wanted a divorce at Christmas 2001, I wasn't at all surprised, though I was (and still am) extremely saddened.
Proceedings started in February 2002 and completed in Spring 2003. I don't feel I can discuss the details here except to say that it was a very painful process and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I was very relieved when it was finally over.
I started seeing NHS psychiatrists on a regular basis starting in November 2001. They changed every 6 months, so I'd seen three before I was discharged in early 2003! I was fortunate in that the first two I saw were both female (and young), and I found them very easy to talk to. The third was male - which I could cope with by then, but probably couldn't have handled as well at the outset.
Having accepted what I needed to do I arranged to have a patch test for laser hair removal in January 2002 at Christianos Laser Clinic in London. I started treatment proper in March, and by the August (after I'd had five treatments) the results were starting to show. In July 2002 I started getting my chest and abdominal hair treated too - this time at Hairaway (now Lasercare) in Shaftesbury Avenue, London.
Having heard nothing about a referral to Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic in London (but a lot of discouraging things about their treatment protocols and the way they treated patients) I made an appointment to see the (then rather famous among the UK trans community) consultant psychiatrist Dr. Russell Reid on 17th May 2002.
The appointment lasted for an hour or so and we talked about my experiences and feelings throughout my life. I couldn't help feeling that he could tell a lot more about me than I realised from what I was telling him! The surprise came at the end. I expected to have to come back for another appointment in 3 months time before any treatment would be prescribed, but in fact he wrote me a prescription (for Ovran and Oestrogel) there and then. I was stunned and flattered - I felt that another doorway (and a beautiful one at that) had been opened for me.
After a lot more prayer I started treatment on Wednesday 29th May, and by mid August (when I ventured out as myself for the first time) I was developing very nicely indeed! I went back in early September for a follow-up consultation, and to get a fresh HRT prescription.
I moved out of the family home in late October, and after sofa-surfing with friends for 6 weeks or so, I finally found a new place to live (which was rather awkward as I was still only living part-time in a female role then) in early December.
I finally transitioned on Christmas Day 2002 (so I've now got an extra reason to celebrate Christmas!) and since then I've been living full-time as myself.
I felt like I'd found myself...it just felt right. After that, the only I ever appeared "male" (which didn't fool anyone - I'd changed so much!) was when I was seeing my children. Sadly, that contact ceased in May 2003, and I gave up on the Family Courts entirely in 2006.
I always had a feeling that when the time came to start talking to my then employer (Sonardyne International Ltd) and colleagues about what I was going through I would find support.
I talked to the Engineering Director of the company about what I was facing in January 2002. As I'd hoped, he was very supportive, and over the next few months I kept him informed as to what was happening, as well as providing background literature. By early August I felt the time had come to inform the colleagues I work with directly of my situation, and he arranged to brief the team on my behalf (on the Friday before I went on holiday). The rest of the company (over 100 people in the UK alone) were informed of my transition and the reasons behind it in late November 2002.
I'm pleased to say that it went very, very well, and I had a lot of supportive things said to me afterwards! I went back to work as Anna on 6th January 2003 (after the Christmas break) without any issues. Although it felt a little surreal at first, things quickly settled down, although I did find working in a team where I was the only woman very difficult and upsetting at times.
There were times when I really could have done with having someone at work about I could talk to about what I was feeling and experiencing, and the guys I worked with just couldn't handle that. That really hurt, and there were many times when I cried at my desk or in the toilets.
That said, they tried their best - and I'm just glad that Sonardye were so supportive so that being the only woman on my team (and for much of the time in fact on the entire floor!) was basically the only problem I faced in the workplace.
Having never had much experience of the medical profession, I expected the experience to be clinical and a little impersonal - but in practice the whole experience was quite something else entirely! The results are everything I'd ever dreamed of - both in terms of appearance and feeling.
On 21st January 2004 I returned to the clinic for facial feminisation surgery, to attempt to reverse some of the effects testosterone had had upon my facial appearance since puberty and help to give me the confidence to better reintegrate back into society.
One thing that I have been heartened by is the response of friends - virtually everyone accepted my transition without any qualms, despite me being (in some cases) out of touch for many years.
I've since met up with many of them, and it's as if nothing has changed. I've also been contacted by several former school friends and work colleagues - who've all expressed the same acceptance and support. I'm truly grateful to them all.
When things change in your life, it is usually without warning. So it was once again with me, when in June 2004 I met someone new, and as a result things started to change once again.
As a result I left Sonardyne in August 2004 to found Riverblade - an independent software vendor focusing on software quality tools. That in itself is a (very) long story, but the end result is that 19 years later we're still going - so I assume we did something about right!
I'd be lying if I said that stepping outside the office world I'd inhabited up until then was an easy thing to do (there's an adage that this is a great way to end up working twice the hours for half the salary), but I've also found it to be a thoroughly liberating experience.
It has also led us to do things we never expected - like attending and speaking at technical conferences. For me, this has been especially affirming - and something that's brought me into contact with many like-minded people.
As a result of meeting Beth, I eventually moved from Hampshire down to Dorset, eventually settling in Bournemouth. As a result, I left one inclusive church and found another - Metropolitan Community Church of Bournemouth (since renamed as Inclusive Community Church, but still part of the UFMCC denomination).
If you've not encountered MCC before, they are an inclusive Christian denomination founded by Revd. Troy Perry in 1968 and both LGBT+ leadership and a specific outreach to LGBT+ people. MCC has played a huge part in the history of the LGBT+ movement (especially in the US), so it shouldn't be surprising that even here in Bournemouth the church was involved in setting up several LGBT+ charities, and in starting the Bourne Free Pride Festival.
I've been at the church long enough now to become part of the furniture, and inevitably I've gradually been asked to do things I never expected (or indeed imagined) as part of the ministry of the Church - everything from running the A/V desk ("our knobs go up to 11"), to helping out at events (and Pride marches!) or even consecrating and serving communion.
It is a very moving and humbling place to be. I never expected anything like this, and it's just fantastic to be part of such an amazing ministry.
Until I transitioned I can honestly say that not one person truly knew me. I'm very glad to be able to say that that's no longer the case - since I stopped trying to pretend to be someone I'm not I've not only become true to myself but found it much, much easier to relate to other people.
Although the experience of getting here was desperately painful for everyone involved I have no doubts whatsoever that I did the right thing. Had I tried to fight my dysphoria any longer, I have a strong feeling that sooner or later I'd have fallen into depression and lost myself totally - or worse. I've stared suicide in the face on more than one occasion and believe me it's not an experience I'd wish on anyone.
Acceptance of my true self allowed me to be able to share who I am (and how I feel) with those closest to me. In doing so, I've found that my Faith has strengthened, I've become much closer to those around me and discovered so much about myself I'd subconsciously repressed while I was in denial.
I know I've become a better person for it - even though the journey was (and sometimes still is - my mum passed away without us being reconciled, and losing your kids is an experience I wouldn't wish on any parent) desperately painful at times. If you have to walk the same road - or are trying to understand someone close to you who is doing so - my thoughts and prayers are with you.
God Bless you, and good luck!
It's now 2020, and I have no idea what will come next in my life. However, if the last few years have taught me anything, it is that unless I really muck things up it will somehow be OK, and all part of God's plan for me.
As such, I try not to worry about things, and just get on with living my life and enjoying the peace I find all around me now that I am finally at peace with myself.