Trans in Lockdown: We Will Always Be There For You

Mental Health, Transgender, Wendy Cole

By Wendy Cole

don't give up. You are not alone, you matter signage on metal fence

“I woke. Something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. Where was she? Where was Wendy? With all the movements of the wrong body, I made it to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The face was virtually unrecognisable. Slightly bearded; tired, woeful eyes and … unarguably … male.”

For this blog, I start at the end; showing that despite the events, this does have a happy ending.

…due to the support from my friends, I was able to walk confidently into town, my head held high, looking directly into the eyes of those would-be detractors. I was delighted to be greeted by an older lady on my way there, and a cis-gendered male on my way home. They both surprised me, wishing me – a trans lady – a happy day.

I am Miss Sassy again.

Yet trying to write this blog, a callously blank page stares back. As I take up my pen, all those thoughts, feelings, images swirl into turmoil like the very Hellespont. Though Byron swam across that whirlpool, I found myself drowning; overcome by these thoughts.

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It was cast to me, the lifeline; and against all odds, I grasped at it. (The lifeline was the notes I had been creating for this blog). These notes were the remarks of my friends. By their strength, it assuaged all panic attacks and freed me to write.

25th August 2020; 5:00 a.m.

I woke. Something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. Where was she? Where was Wendy? With all the movements of the wrong body, I made it to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The face was virtually unrecognisable. Slightly bearded; tired, woeful eyes and … unarguably …

Male.

“What I do remember, apart from the constant need to cry, was that none of my body was mine. So difficult to explain.”

I did not even notice the slight but noticeable scratch across my temples, nor feel the slightly-pained contusion until much later.

I sat back onto the bed; in tears. I was distraught. Where is she? Where is Wendy? Why do I not feel her anymore? How do I get her back?

Well, that is it. I am male and male for the rest of my life.

Though I dressed, I felt so uncomfortable and odd. I have very few clothes that people would describe as male. I did not go in search of them; partially, in the state I was in, I had no idea where they were; partially, maybe, to bring Wendy back.

man hugging his knee statue

I could not shave; I could not apply make-up (an art that I greatly enjoyed and a moment of blissful mindfulness to centre myself each day).

I honestly have little to no recollection of that day (just that I was rarely sleeping) or the entire seven days to come; nor how I had hit my head.

It is scientifically formulated that we know just one third of the ocean (that is the great majority of this planet). By comparison, we know and think we understand only a tiny fraction of the brain, the human mind.
The most likely reason that I remember very little is the brain protecting me. Until I re-read the comments from my friends, I truly feared writing this blog and reliving that week of hell would expose me to endless panic attacks.

What I do remember, apart from the constant need to cry, was that none of my body was mine. So difficult to explain.

Imagine you had decided to spend a long time moving in only robotic actions. Once you stop after a long period you might notice that even a tiny movement feels to you alien, robotic still. So it was with me; except each movement deplored me by its maleness.

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I cannot explain why, but I reached out (not something I do when in the darkness of depression) to my friends via Social Media (again, something I do not greatly use).
“Two nights no sleep, and I do NOT feel Wendy any more.”
This was my first message.

M.: “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“No, I am okay. All I feel is male. It’s horrible.”
R.G.: “I’m sorry it’s hitting you so hard. Dysphoria is a horrible thing … you are just as valid a woman as any other, and I see you as such. We’re here for you x.”

That was as if R.G. had located and pressed my reset button. I had no idea I was suffering dysphoria. Yes, I have experienced it before; never like this; never an entire week!

When you are in the forest, you just cannot see it for the trees. R.G. does not realise how indebted I am to him for making me realise what I was suffering. It may have taken me an entire week for my brain to re-boot and go through its virus scan, checking all systems, but where would I be now if he had not intervened and pressed that switch?

All I know is that, at some time that week, I very nearly put all my clothes in the fire.

What is dysphoria? M. “…everybody has different stories, different feelings, but we are still ourselves. … my will power knows that I cannot do this, because I realise I am more feminine than I realise…”

“Thank-you all … as you said, gender dysphoria and allowing that to sink in, I … am feeling more secure. Cannot say I feel exactly female, but less male … grateful you are there to help. Feel kind of foolish.”

Foolish, or not, this is the raison d’être of this blog. In lockdown, as you know, I had recently gone through the first anniversary of my father’s death. To recall him is to recall me: a boy. Recently, I unconsciously had my gender bombarded by hate crimes. Lockdown had caused me to consciously face these on my own. Wendy fled for safety.

R.H. “…days where I wake up feeling like my assigned birth gender… Being uncomfortable in that thought is dysphoria … means I am trans which means I am valid … we don’t realise how big of a knock-on effect to our mental health … until it’s too late … we subconsciously know it will hurt us and do it anyway, which is a form of self-harm. You have not failed by accidentally triggering yourself … it can take a long time to unpick that stuff so we can look after ourselves … Well done on reaching out …”

Wendy Cole spent four years in banking, thirteen years as a teacher and seven as a deputy head, before working for the government, but the real her is a poet, photographer, historian and chef. Kylie, Daniel Craig and Wendy have the same thing in common … they were born in the same year!

Read all Of Wendy’s Trans in Lockdown posts

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Postcards From Lesbainia: The Gender Dance-Off

Gender, Hayley Sherman, Lesbian, Non-Binary

By Hayley Sherman

“Had I been growing up now, ‘non-binary’ may have been a shoe that fit, but as I skidded through my teens in the nineties, gender was as fixed as the colour of your skin; you could change it no more than you could change the weather or Sporty Spice’s insistence that she was straight.”

When I was about eleven, I won a £5 Co-op voucher in a dancing competition in an old people’s home. I have no idea why I was there on my own, but it was a cake stall and tombola kind of day, and there were maybe five of us kids bopping to ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ by Bros in a threadbare-carpet clearing, watched by flossy-haired old dears – me in my shorts, Rowdy Roddy Piper T-shirt and floppy, mousey, boyish curtains. I don’t know if I even knew it was a competition until the music stopped and a middle-aged woman in a flowery number gave out the prizes.

“And in second place … (pause for tension) … this handsome young fella here.”

I looked around, and when I turned back, she was coming at me, lips first, and planted a smacker on my cheek. Me? A handsome young fella? But …

“Give him a round of applause,” she told the dusty crowds, and I blushed as the place erupted into creaky applause.

As she moved onto the winner, I was left gripping my voucher, not only wondering if the Co-op sold anything other than frozen chips and fish fingers (which was what I was usually sent there to get), but if I should correct her. I’m a girl! You kissed a girl! But at the same time there was something too delicious about it. I’d wanted to be a boy my entire life, and in that moment, I was. It wasn’t like at school, where kids I’d known since I was five would laugh and ask, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ in high-pitched voices. This was actually passing. Eighties disco-boy realness! It didn’t stop me running to spend my voucher before anyone found out and took it away, though.

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I joke now that I was a little boy until I was about twenty, when I became a woman. There was never a girl phase. I still wonder if the girls in my school had secret makeup, hair and giggling classes that I was excluded from. Without these classes (which I assume also taught appropriate walking, talking and breast management) the transition into womanhood wasn’t particularly easy, but what other option was there? I couldn’t remain the muddy, tree-climbing scamp that I had been as a child, and the secret ‘man classes’ at school also went on behind my back. I wasn’t particularly butch anyway; I was just other.

I occasionally tried to go undercover with women, drawing on my face and limping along in high heels, but I was always sprung, and I’m not a natural conformist, so more often than not, I would just do me, which thankfully always landed me good friends: initially menfolk who didn’t easily fit the man-mould and then other lesbians when I finally worked out where to find them. 

Had I been growing up now, ‘non-binary’ might have been a shoe that fit, but as I skidded through my teens in the nineties, gender was as fixed as the colour of your skin; you could change it no more than you could change the weather or Sporty Spice’s insistence that she was straight. And, to be honest, wrapping my brain around being gay was hard enough; not viewing myself as a proper woman was something that would occasionally make me feel shit, but it wasn’t the centre of my world.

Checkout artwork by Nicola Copsey

Now, many years later, I’m glad that the wonderful term ‘non-binary’ was unavailable to me, although I see that it fits some people, because I feel like I’ve won a hard-fought battle over the years to pocket the term ‘woman’ on my own terms, to wrangle and panel-beat it into something more comfortable. And the gender revolution has provided something that feels so much more useful to me than a new term; it’s given me representations of women that I can relate to … on TV, online, in the street, in movies; they’re everywhere, and seeing myself represented – seeing us all represented – is validating. As a younger woman I had such a fixed idea of what a woman should be – everything I wasn’t. Turns out it was my definition of the word ‘woman’ that was faulty, not me; my position on the vast sliding scale of femininity does not determine my success or even my qualification as a woman. We come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, all just as delicious as each other.

Hayley Sherman is a writer, ghostwriter, blogger and editor who just wants everyone to be nice to each other. Her blog smiles in the face of adversity, licks the cheek of the oppressor and generally reflects on her denial about being a middle-aged lesbian. hayleyshermanwriter.com.

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Trans in Lockdown: Is Life Still Going On?

Covid-19, Gender, Transgender, Wendy Cole

By Wendy Cole

“Gender dysphoria alert! Childhood equated to me: a boy. Yet, how can that be true?  I am a woman; those memories should be of a girl. What had gone wrong? What would my father think if he knew? Was I dishonouring my father by not being the son he knew? The truth of the past jarred and fought the truth of today.”

Had 2020 pursued its correct course, I would have:

Continued attending Evolve Trans. (my local trans group) face-to-face;

Spent a week or more visiting my recently widowed mother;

Written a good deal more poetry to work out a whole host of thoughts and feelings;

Turned the image of my throne that I had created during therapy into a sculpture and completed designing the rest of the room wherein that throne ought to reside;

Took that first major step: my first appointment with the Gender Identity Clinic (G.I.C.)  in July. 

But, as probably everybody knows, the biggest nuclear explosion (the Covid pandemic) shattered the world. One minute I was trying my best to enjoy my birthday (Can I really say ‘enjoy’? I cannot. It sounds heartless; feels guilty; as this was the first without my father), and the next I was being told to take my laptop with me and work from home.Whilst other colleagues struggled with balancing laptops on knees and even ironing-boards, I had an extra room that I could use as my study.  I had often worked from home since November.

My father had died in May 2019, so Yuletide 2019 was unbearable; I couldn’t mix with the frivolity of Christmas shoppers. Thoughts of Father constantly sent me back to my childhood; that childhood I was a boy.  I could not reconcile that with the woman I now am. Due to gender dysphoria and depression I couldn’t face people, so I worked at home. So, for me, when the world was suddenly turned upside down and put on hold, little had changed.

Or so I thought.

Trans in lockdown? Like this devastating plague, isolation had also mutated. When I needed it, isolation was reassurance. A pulling up of the drawbridge and curling up in that throne (or bed, if I ever get round to drawing it); close my eyes tight and view the mental image of me: the woman I am: much much shorter; slight of frame and long raven hair.

Isolation is nuanced now. It is sometimes a reassurance; other times a torture of a multitude of thoughts.

In lockdown, May 2020 was the first year’s anniversary of my father’s death; June the anniversary of his interment.

My sister, and a number of friends and colleagues say that I over-think things. I analyse something from its obvious black and white state, and instead find anxiety from the multitude of shades I seem to create.  Between May and long past June, that analysis focused on memories of childhood with my now-lost father. Gender dysphoria alert! Childhood equated to me: a boy. Yet, how can that be true?  I am a woman; those memories should be of a girl. What had gone wrong? What would my father think if he knew? Was I dishonouring my father by not being the son he knew? The truth of the past jarred and fought the truth of today.

But, due to past therapies and bereavement counselling (that I was now able to pursue on the telephone – which, I feel, was actually better; I tended to have to really focus hard), I have illumined confidence to say that was the past. It is not my present. I do not need to allow it to become my future.

Easier said than done, but the experience of presenting myself as the true woman I am at home (yes, full make-up even in lock-down) and in town, is the constant beacon that I am me only as a woman; so much confidence; ability to speak out. The beacon has a stable foundation: it is what others (not me) have said to me. Some call me Miss Sassy. 

Sassy.

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But, isolation causes me to overthink. Watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” makes me question: am I a male in drag? Oh, thank goodness and God bless Emily (Trans. Evolve) for her one-to-ones during lockdown. She put me straight (though I am still pan-romantic – there’s a joke there if you look for it, reader).  She emphasised that I  am a woman: clothes and make-up are skillfully placed to pass and not be noticed; not a panto-dame or drag.

Writing this, it is a year on from a hate crime that I experienced. And history repeats. Recently, in Tesco, I experienced it again. I was amazed at how resolute I was this time. (I wanted to ask sympathetically: “What is making you afraid?”). Sassy? No, now that incident gnaws away at me. Stepping outside, I am more anxious (though I know I will be great when I meet those who know me. Tesco staff call: “Hello, Wendy,” or “Are you making trouble again?” for example).

But I feel prevented from fully being me. It’s like in lockdown I – the real me – is locked away.  I cannot change my name, and the G.I.C. is on hold; that major step in becoming me is prevented. Also, nurture: to grow, I need to be around other women.

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Finally, my mother. She does not know. My sister says not to tell, as mother is still frail over the death. I am a bad daughter as I do not telephone as much as I should. I am in tears after every banal chit-chat; forcing myself not to say what I need. And I totally despise myself for not being me. Horrible of me, I know, but I partially long for a second wave, so I cannot go home to mother. How can I endure even a single day in male drag? How can I say anything that is not real?

Not Sassy, but I am ‘sowing the ground’ of her realisation.  Recently, I suggested she watch ‘Glow up’; that I’d love to take a make-up course (she thinks it’s down to my theatre love). I told her I have dyed my hair red. We chatted briefly about “Sewing Bee” – though I couldn’t say how cute the male models were.

But it lays the groundwork.

The future is female.  

Wendy Cole spent four years in banking, thirteen years as a teacher and seven as a deputy head, before working for the government, but the real her is a poet, photographer, historian and chef. Kylie, Daniel Craig and Wendy have the same thing in common … they were born in the same year!

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Transitioning Triathlete: Hitting Barriers

Gender, Kimberley Drain, Sports, Transgender

By Kimberley Drain

“I can’t prove or disprove that sports are trying to put barriers up for trans-athletes, I can only tell you how I feel, and it certainly feels like sports are putting up any obstacle they legally can.”

Hello Reader,

I’m Kim. I’m a twenty-seven-year-old trans-woman from the UK. I’m an (average) amateur runner and triathlete. This is my first blog, which is all very exciting. I’ve grappled with my gender identity my entire childhood, finally coming out in my twenties. I’m starting blogging just at the point when I’m beginning the process of being recognised as a woman, FINALLY by the sports I otherwise enjoy (running and triathlon).

Not being recognised as a woman, despite being out in all other areas of my life, has been difficult. Initially, I thought it didn’t really bother me – I had higher priorities to sort in my transition, and I knew that it would take time and money to meet the relevant criteria; money in particular has been a barrier – but I feel determined now to meet the challenge.

However, when my running club’s chairmen directed me to the relevant transgender policy of EA (England Athletics) and British Triathlon, I felt excluded. Rules require me to enter all races as male unless I can prove that my hormones are in the correct range for a year. I felt I didn’t belong, and my first thought was to give up all sport. So many transpeople give up sports, which is such a sad loss. But my own club has been great about my transition. At time of writing, we don’t have a club policy on trans-athletes, because they haven’t needed one before now. We’re currently working on changing this.

To clarify, I’ve been entering all races as male to date, as the rules require. However, transmen are immediately allowed to compete as male, in my sports (running and triathlon) certainly. That’s just plain sexism in action. If you perceive transwomen as having an advantage, you clearly view that transmen don’t have one. So … because transmen are at a disadvantage and not at risk of becoming successful, people are happy? At least that’s how it looks. I’m so flattered people think I’m a threat to women’s sport, but I’m really not, and it’s just so frustrating to deal with. It really affects my mental health.

For myself at the enjoyable, but certainly amateur, local races, nobody is forced to take doping tests, although steroids may or may not be used to enhance performance, but if you’re trans, you’ve got to spend hundreds of pounds proving that your hormones have been in range for a year. I can’t prove or disprove that sports are trying to put barriers up for trans-athletes, I can only tell you how I feel, and it certainly feels like sports are putting up any obstacle they legally can. It feels like discrimination, certainly at grassroots level, where, as I said, you see no doping tests, for example. It’s not transgender people’s fault that sporting bodies around the world have dragged their feet for longer and harder than the rest of society, but it feels as if we’re being penalised … not that trans-people are that fantastically accepted, respected and generally understood by wider society anyway …

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I have Crohn’s disease and spend a lot of time at the hospital. I bring this up because healthcare professionals seem to be able to manage the balance of respecting me as a woman (despite not being assigned female at birth, at the same hospital) and assessing my trans-female body, in person or looking at scans, bloods, etc., without a problem. There’s just more dignity and respect at the hospital.

However, at a race, it’s a different story; Miss Kimberley Drain is categorised MS (male senior) at registration. When I collect my racer number, race instructions, etc., there is no dignity, no respect, no choice in outing myself. I am openly trans, but what if I wasn’t? I have spent years progressing to be my true self, but these sports might as well use my dead name. And the further my transition gets and the longer I’ve been living as a woman, the harder competing as male becomes.

But I’m staying strong. I have a lot of shit to put up with, including the transphobic comments that come with being a trans-athlete, but it all just fuels me. I just channel it, so keep it coming 😘 That isn’t intended as confrontational, as it might sound, but this trans-athlete isn’t going anywhere. I intend to carry on swimming, cycling and running, and I intend to do it as an approved woman … eventually. People will discredit my achievements, but at least I’ll finally be my authentic self in all areas of my life.

I’ll keep you updated …

Thank you for reading.

Kimberley Drain is a 27-year-old transwoman, and a club-affiliated runner and triathlete (average amateur). She is one of these strange people that enjoy training more than racing … and she’s not short of opinions. Find her on Strava.

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