…when I was 50-splodge. That is, in decimal, a couple of years more than I like to own to.
But still. There you have it: being trans is an “adult” thing. No need to tell the yoof of today. And absolutely no need to mention that cursed LGBTQ initialism to primary school kids.
Wait, though! I first knew… I first KNEW… on a grey spring afternoon in 2009 or thereabouts when a young trans woman I was interviewing turned the tables on me. In our post-interview chat, she listened to my story: my feelings, my woes; and went, simply “why are you asking me about trans stuff? Because you are trans yourself.”
That simple assessment hit me like a brick. I didn’t quite fall off my chair: but I should have. Not because she “transed” me, as some would have you believe. Rather, because in one simple question she cut to the core of years, decades of angst and not-fitting.
It also landed me with a big problem: like, knowledge is one thing. Next, though, comes the $64,000 question: to share, or not to share, that is the… Yeah: we just did that. Could I, should I, share with those nearest and dearest: family, friends, children, my partner? And what would be the impact if I did?
Would they walk out on me? Fall about laughing? It was all unknown territory. In the end, my hand was forced.
…it could have been different. Very different. And sometimes, just sometimes, I allow myself to mourn the life I never had.
As some good, close, queer friends observed, by end of 2009 I needed to come out. My transness was seeping out of every orifice. Even my partner was beginning to notice. It came to a head with one of those awkward, unplanned conversations that every LGBTQ+ person fears. She confronted me. “Something’s up”, she observed perceptively. “Is it another woman?”
I swallowed. Hard. Well, yes. But not quite the way she imagined. And then it was on to all the things you might imagine follow such an admission. We talked. And talked and talked. I was relieved, grateful, surprised that she stuck with me. An eternal thank you to her for that. Then on to the long slow process of “transition”.
A wasted, abusive encounter with the NHS Gender Identity service: but thankfully, by the time I got there I had started down the private route. A consultant sat, listened, took my inside leg measurement and declared me “transsexual” — but chronically repressed. Which meant, I think, I’d only just discovered my transness.
Starting down the transition route was one of the most joyous moments of my life, and I’ve written more on that elsewhere. At the same time, it left me facing two awful truths.
First, that repression thing. It is always dangerous to re-invent your past. Yet wherever I looked, there were clues. My early socialisation, in a Catholic convent school (!), where my best friends were always the girls. My dreaming, aged 9, 10, when, I remembered, blushing now, I’d so often been a girl.
My teen years when, consigned to a tough sport-playing Boys School, I found solace in the drama group, which was where all the gay and non-sports players congregated. Oh the fun we had subverting PE, inventing, to the dismay of our sports teachers an activity that I can only describe as queer badminton — even if the q-word was not then in our vocabulary, other than as insult. Except, if I did not fit in with the aggressively straight sports players, I did not fit the gay alternative either. For a while, I picked up the epithet “bent”, applied ironically by a gay friend because I hung out with their group, but apparently wasn’t. Gay, that is.
Puberty I remember, too, and longings, long suppressed, for a different body. Over time, it all came flooding back. Not invention, no: more like pieces of a jigsaw whose picture I could never quite make out at the time.
More seriously, my life grew increasingly bogged down over issues with work, relationships, sex. Because nothing ever quite fit. I was like an actor schooled in playing a part: except I had not a clue what my motivation was meant to be; and no-one, least of all the Director, could be bothered to explain it to me!
The reason I was ready to hear that fundamental truth about myself is that, unable to make sense of who I was, I was drowning in plain sight.
That is the real issue. I grew up at a time — the 60s and 70s — when the only trans role models I encountered were presented either as freaks or sexual perverts. From time to time I would dip my toe in the trans-adjacent pool: but because mainstream narratives were so determined to depict trans as sinful, disordered, I’d get so far, then run away again!
So, yes. I First Knew I Was LGBTQ+ when I was 50-splodge. And that’s not because I needed to be adult to understand, but because when I was growing up, no-one told me, no-one explained it to me, ever.
All I know is that had I been born today — or born then knowing what I know now — I’d have been trans aged 10. I do not, will not regret the life I have had.
Yet it could have been different. Very different. And sometimes, just sometimes, I allow myself to mourn the life I never had.
This piece is written in response to as egregious piece of LGBTQ-phobia out this week as i have known in a while. According to an anti-trans figurehead, young people shouldn’t be ‘labelled’ LGBT+. Stonewall has asked users to share when they realised they were queer using the hashtag #IFirstKnewIWasLGBTQ.