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.

Check out Poetry this month by the incredible Zelly Lisanework

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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Sometimes I Look for the Love of My Life When I Pee … Illustrations by Odara Rumbol

Inspirational, motivational illustrations that make it just a little bit easier to be a woman.

An Afternoon in Primark Changed My Life … Joni’s Story

Discrimination, Gender, Lesbian, Transgender

“It touched other aspects of my life for years to come: finding work was difficult because I was so searchable. Nobody wanted ‘that angry transwoman’ working for them.

I was standing in a queue of four or five women, all waiting to try on clothes in the fitting room in Primark, gripping a pair of skinny jeans and a couple of tops. It was only the second or third time that I’d bought women’s clothing and the first time I’d gone by myself.

“You getting those?” a sweet old lady behind asked me. “They’ll look really pretty on you.” I smiled and thanked her. I’m a magnet for old people, and we started chatting. I was glad of the distraction. It was still so early in my transition, and despite what people think about transwomen and changing rooms, it’s scary, especially with the discussions going on at the moment. TERFs would have you believe that transwomen are going into these spaces, helicoptering their genitals, doing a handstand, but I was really just interested in the clothes, and, of course, keeping safe and not getting myself beaten up, because using male spaces while female attired is dangerous. You’re in close proximity with men who do not take kindly to people wearing dresses. I don’t use female spaces to assert my femininity. I do it because it’s safe.

The queue went down slowly, and as I neared the front, I could see the young sales assistant manning the desk, giving out the number tags and hanging up returns.

Just ninja-in and ninja-out, I told myself. It had become a mantra for changing rooms, fitting rooms, toilets and any other all-female spaces. Don’t hang around. Just get in and out and hope not to be seen. My heart rate was definitely up a little now, though. I was already so uncomfortable in my own skin. But like any other woman, I can’t buy clothes without trying them on, and I’m not an easy size to clothe. I’m 6 foot 1 and built like a refrigerator. I’m not “woman-shaped”. I don’t have a face for make-up. I don’t ‘pass’. Passing is so important in society, but there’s nothing I can do to make myself look more like a stereotypical woman, and I was really trying then.

It was a huge problem for me, and none of the info I found online about how to be trans helped. It was all so ‘gatewayey’: Don’t choose a name like this because that’s a stripper name; you need to always behave in a dignified manner, be polite and courteous at all times; always wear a dress and makeup. I soaked it all in and tried to be demure and feminine and fit in. I tried to follow all of the advice, but it felt as if I’d gone from one body that didn’t belong to me into another. I had spent the first twenty-four years of my life acting as a guy, and now I was trying to fit into another box that was just as crippling. I would spend years in this place, desperately trying to find a way to fit in, throwing sparkly spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick, until I finally had to accept that this was never going to happen. And if you can’t change something, ultimately, all you can do is accept it, however hard that is. Life started to get better for me when I stopped trying to be what society told me to be and started being myself.

This was all of my worst nightmares happening at the same time. I turned around to see a long queue of women behind me, all looking around and over each other to see what was holding things up.

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I had always hung out with lesbians, most of them butch – I looked up to them; they were just so awesome and together, such a presence. They didn’t give a crap what people thought of them. Over time, I realised that I didn’t just like these women, I identified with them, I saw myself in them, and I was attracted to women, just as they were. Again, when I asked the internet how to be a transwoman, all the info online was geared towards being straight. But could I be trans and attracted to women? Could I be a transwoman without the flowery dresses and high heels? Could I be the opposite of everything the internet was telling me? Turns out, you can do anything you want, and at some point over the last seven years I stopped giving a shit and became a comfortable gender-non-conforming transwoman, or a butch trans-dyke, or transgender non-binary … if you need a label. Ultimately, my femininity isn’t defined by my attire or my body even, it’s just who I am.

But back in the early days, in Primark, I was just a baby trans, scared of being laughed at, scared of everything, still trying to fit in, with my flowery skirt and lipstick, and I wanted the moment over as quickly as possible. I wanted to try on the clothes and go, but it wasn’t to be. I finally reached the front of the queue and held up my clothes, smiling. “Just three items,” I told the sales assistant, who was about sixteen years old.

His face changed when he saw me, confusion and horror in his eyes, and he shook his head. “You can’t go in there.”

I found my voice to ask why.

“Because you’re a man. You need to use the men’s.”

This was all of my worst nightmares happening at the same time. I turned around to see a long queue of women behind me, all looking around and over each other to see what was holding things up.

“I’m not a man,” I tried, standing as upright as possible, talking in my calmest voice. “And I would like to try these on.”

But he shook his head. No, sorry. It’s not going to happen. I tried to protest further, but the words were sticking in my throat and I could feel my face glowing. All I could do was skulk away, leaving the women in the queue whispering behind me.

I didn’t leave the shop straight away. I spoke to a manager, but I was told exactly the same: if I wanted to try them on, I had to use the men’s. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I didn’t argue or fight. In fact, in a daze, I carefully folded the two tops and the jeans and returned them to the shelves before leaving the shop, not quite knowing what to do with myself.

I was a million miles from the activist I would become, but I was so hurt and humiliated, and I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else, so I emailed Primark, but I got nowhere. They wanted me to name the kid who’d served me. I didn’t want some kid to lose their job over it because they didn’t know any better and there wasn’t a policy in place. I didn’t want to contribute to one more person hating trans people. So I wrote a post about what had happened. It went viral. I then got a call from the local paper, The Evening Star. They wanted to write a piece about me. It wasn’t going to be a big story – just a little piece about a little thing that happened to a little person. So I agreed. If it stopped it happening to someone else, then it would be worth it. A few days later, they interviewed me at my house and then asked if I would pose for a photo in front of my house.

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“If you could just fold your arms, love,” I was told, and I obliged, not thinking too much about my natural resting bitch face, sparce makeup, the hairband and lucky hoodie I was wearing. It was, after all, a little piece about a little person … or so I thought.

The next day I got a text from a friend asking if I’d seen The Evening Star. I checked it out. I was on the cover, and that picture of me – which was horrendous and angry-looking – was huge. Not only was I outside my house, but they printed my address. The little piece about a little person had turned into something dangerous. I was now at risk. And it didn’t stop there. The local paper sold the story to The Daily Mail, along with the photo, and the Daily Star, and the Mirror, as well as papers in Italy and Kenya; I had a call from ITN; I even got a message from the South Korea Broadcasting Service, asking me if I could appear there. It was everywhere, and although The Evening Star had reported the story fairly neutrally, the likes of The Daily Mail obviously didn’t. I was still trying to find a way to exist, and now I was an angry-trans poster child. In fact, to this day, if you search ‘angry transwoman’ in Google Images, that picture comes up second, and I’m one of the least angry people I know.

“I now feel marked, as if I have to live my life differently because I’m labelled, and it will all explode again if I slip up – like ‘Angry Trans’ is at it again!”

My mum, bless her, was terrified that I’d get my head kicked in. I was scared too. I stayed in for three or four days. Then I started to lock down my social media because the deluge of abuse had begun. I was picked up by a TERF site that basically gathers as much information as possible about anyone in trans stories, including where they work, where they live, before rewriting them and switching the pronouns to misgender them. I’m still on there to this day. I set up fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to soak up the abuse, but my face was appearing all over the place: Steven Crowther, who’s a right-wing pundit, used my picture for a piece about transwomen opposing breastfeeding, which is bullshit. The Daily Mail has since used my picture online for an article about sex offenders. I have contacted them and asked them to remove it, but they said they don’t remove photos due to embarrassment.

And it wasn’t just abuse that I had to endure; it touched other aspects of my life for years to come: finding work was difficult because I was so searchable. Nobody wanted ‘that angry trans woman’ working for them. I eventually changed my legal name, but I now feel marked, as if I have to live my life differently because I’m labelled, and it will all explode again if I slip up – like ‘Angry Trans’ is at it again! I exist online under an alias and think twice about anything I post. It made me scared to engage in activism for a long time, but although it has been a painful experience, it did make a difference.

Not long after it happened, I ran into someone who asked if I was the Primark girl. She thanked me for speaking out, told me that it made her feel seen and made a difference to her. It also impacted Primark, who introduced a trans policy as a result of the backlash, so although it’s been hard, I’m glad it happened – if I could go back in time, though, I might not have folded my arms on that picture. I might even have smiled. Ultimately, if it’s made it easier for just one trans person to ninja-in/ninja-out without trouble, then it’s definitely been worth it. For me personally, however, I haven’t used a public fitting room since that day and I probably never will.

Joni Bendall’s story, as told to and written by ghostwriter Hayley Sherman

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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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An Afternoon in Primark Changed My Life: Joni’s Story

“It touched other aspects of my life for years to come: finding work was difficult because I was so searchable. Nobody wanted ‘that angry transwoman’ working for them. Read More

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