So where is Natasha while this person, apparently a man, flounders around attempting to carve a career in journalism? She is very, very buried. I’ve described earlier how my realization of the likely reaction of family and others as a child made me decide, very quickly, to conceal my feellings. And how later, in early adulthood, I attempted to emerge from the closet but was confounded by circumstances, including medical problems. Even that failed attempt was only about engaging with a sub-culture – support groups, drag balls and so on.
What you end up being able to do is lie to yourself. In recent years, as UK law has improved (a bit) and society has become more “tolerant” (a bit) the number of people coming forward for medical assistance with their transness has begun to increase rapidly. I don’t think there are any more trans people out there – it’s just that emerging from the shadows seems slightly less terrifying. Revealingly though, the average age at which people seek such help has not changed – the majority do so in their forties. One key reason for this, I think, is that at a time when your adult identity is beginning to form – adolescence – the idea of revealing this about yourself at a time when you feel so vulnerable is terrifying. But equally, you know something about yourself at a very deep level, and the knowledge (possibly not conscious) that you are about to deliberately bury, your true self, a self which you think others will find unacceptable, is almost unbearably difficult. So in my case, I dealt with it by deciding to lie to myself, and instead define myself as a crossdresser. Maintaining a lie in a way that involves keeping the truth about yourself from yourself is a huge, and draining effort. In the end it is doomed to failure and one must then decide whether to continue to be unhappy as you head to the grave, or whether to do something about it. The increase in numbers seeking treatment since the climate for trans people improves suggests a lot of people have taken the knowledge, and their sadness, to the grave.
The period when you do hide your true nature from yourself is painful, but as Dru Marland has said, while the pain is constant the level is not. And in the end you have to get on with life anyway. Go to college, get a job, form relationships. There are days when the feeling of difference is acute and almost stops you from functioning at all. There are a lot of days when it is more like low-level toothache, and you bat it away and get on with stuff. But in the end …
Back in 1990 I have some “help” in suppressing myself as a consequence of my depressed hormone levels and their effect on my body chemistry. Not only does this have the effect of keeping my transgender feelings more at bay, and keeping me unwell in other ways, it also helps detach me from my sense of self, so even in the supportive environment of group therapy I still give very little away. The difficulty in attendance – as I work in so many different locations as a result of temping and then working for John Brown – doesn’t help. But while some people don’t attend some weeks because they are avoiding their issues, I always try to get there, my lateness a combination of work and tube delays. I can avoid the issues in the therapy room thank you very much, I don’t need to stay away to do so.
I form relationships with others in my group – one woman in particular I become very close to. Our therapist frowns on people meeting outside the group (or talking outside as soon as the group ends) but many of us naughtily do this from time to time. At some point due to a change in the therapist’s job we relocate more centrally, to St Barholomew’s Hospital, which at least makes the group easier to get to for me. Yet still, there is very little “me” in the room. I probably go to group therapy for about five years and I recall finally mentioning my crossdressing about three years into that period. The therapist trots out some standard stuff blaming the imperfect relationship with my father. So his pat response, and my reluctance to talk about my feelings, leaves things pretty stuck.
So how does all this relate to my success, or lack of it at the time, in my career ambitions? That’s a difficult one. Where does one’s true personality begin or end? How much is it shaped by circumstances, and by family and medical history? There is now research evidence that the experience of transgender children limits their social integration and self-confidence, and this can lead to under-achieving academically at school and beyond, and result in them working in jobs below their potential and capability. I recognize something of that in me – in the choices I made, the opportunities I was too afraid to take and the relative mess I made of some opportunities I did take.
Of course that’s not the whole picture. If someone has, for example, a physical disability it may limit their career options but it doesn’t define precisely how they may function in a particular job. It’s always a fuzzy edge because there are lots of other contributory factors. So being trans was never the defining issue in my career, but it was a limiting issue. And as I gradually started to take control of aspects of my life – a long, slow process looking back – I can see how my career did start to become more focussed, make more sense and have more successes, even if it wasn’t the career I had originally envisaged. I sometimes say that my CV has two halves – the first half makes almost no sense at all, it’s the job pattern of a person on the run! The second half is much more coherent and continuous. I’ve now worked at UEA for nearly ten years, more than twice as long as I’ve worked anywhere else. And although some jobs in the early part of my career were fun, that wacky early part of my CV is gradually becoming a smaller and smaller part of the whole.
Back in 1990 though, I am still in the magazine world, and about to fulfil a cherished ambition to be working for the BBC. Next stop Radio Times!