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I grew up on the Wirral in England, where, as a child, I was often bullied a lot for being “different” – I was intellectually bright and quite eccentric. At primary school, I tended to socialise more with girls than boys – and, when I did play with boys, it was often in a rather over-the-top kind of way, as if I was imitating what the other boys were doing, rather than it coming naturally to me. At home, as well as stereotypical “boys toys” such as cars and trains, I also had a few dolls to play with, that used to belong to my big sister; I don’t remember there being any problem from my parents with me playing with those. I even remember wearing a dress as part of a dressing up game on one occasion. However, I don’t remember specifically actually thinking that I was a girl back then – even though I do remember feeling very jealous that girls got to wear nicer clothes, make-up and nail polish, and wishing that I could myself – but, at the same time, having a sense that this was somehow very taboo, and something that shouldn’t be discussed.
For the first three years of secondary school, I went to an all-boys school – this was because the school that I chose had a good reputation, and had the best atmosphere of the secondary schools that I’d visited when choosing a school. The only co-educational option at the time didn’t have as good a reputation, even though it was a lot closer to where I lived. I found that I really blossomed academically at secondary school; I’d been bored a lot of the time in primary school, especially in the last couple of years there – and now found myself being really challenged and stretched. However, I was still a big target for bullies – again because of being quite eccentric.
At the start of my fourth year at secondary school, the boys school I’d been at merged with the girls school next door and became co-educational – however, I’d now already started on puberty, and it was almost as though I’d lost touch with the girls socially at this point now – especially now there was so much peer pressure to “be a man” and get a girlfriend. As for puberty itself – I was never really that happy with things like facial hair growth and my voice becoming deeper – although I didn’t really know why at the time
I had my first relationship in the lower sixth form when I was 17 – I got chatting with a girl on a sponsored walk the school were doing to raise money for a new minibus, and we ended up falling for each other – I remember that day well – Friday 14th June 1991. However, I was incredibly shy, and it was only with the help of a male friend that I knew from the school orchestra I used to play in, that I got the courage to cycle to where she lived and ask her out – we ended up having a relationship for a couple of months or so – although my parents really didn’t like her and were afraid that she’d spoil my chances of getting into university – so we ended up splitting up a couple of months later.
When I started at university in 1992, I remember feeling very lonely for the first couple of years, and wishing that I’d meet someone. I studied Chemistry at St John’s College, Oxford, and wrote a short piece called “The Chemistry of Love”, which ended up being published in the Scientific Society newsletter – which was all about a lonely complex ion searching the Universe for their ideal electron. At the time, there were probably twice as many men as there were women studying at Oxford – and many of those who seemed most successful at finding a partner also seemed to be far more masculine than myself.
At the start of my third year at Oxford, around October 1994, I used to keep a diary on my BBC computer, where I used to write as if I were talking to the computer about my feelings at the time. It was on one evening, in my student room at Oxford, around then, that I had a major revelation that led to me coming up with what I called TQL (Trans Quasi Lesbianism) – the idea that I would probably be both a lot happier in a relationship and a lot more successful in finding someone if I were able to express myself as a woman – and that the people most likely to fall in love with me would be bisexual women. A few months later, in February 1995, there was a Rocky Horror night at St John’s, and I asked a couple of women I knew if they would let me borrow some clothes and do my make-up for me. Although the Rocky Horror night ended up getting cancelled, there was a “cross-dressing bop” on at Wadham College on the same evening, as part of their “Queer Week” events – so I still dressed up and had my friends do my make-up for that. I was still very shy at the time though, and when I got to Wadham College, the dance floor was still empty as everyone was in the bar, so I didn’t stay long and just ended up going back to my room at St John’s and chilled out on my own.
At the beginning of August the same year, I was with my parents at the Unitarian Holiday Conference in Great Hucklow – this was a week-long event for Unitarians that I used to attend fairly regularly with my parents – they actually met there in 1972! My father was a retired Unitarian minister, so I was brought up as a Unitarian – which was actually very lucky, as the Unitarians are one of the most liberal religious groups in the United Kingdom, and are very progressive on LGBT issues. One of the events that was going on there that year was an “opera group” – the aim of which was to put on an “opera” as part of the social event on the final evening before everyone went home the following day. So I managed to end up playing a part in a dress – it was a character called “Miss Print” (a pun on “misprint”) – and kept my costume on afterwards in the pub. A couple of ladies around the same age as me noticed how happy and relaxed I was, and basically figured out that I was trans – and we ended up having a very deep conversation outside below the stars. This was another key moment in my life – as it was the first time that other people had understood how I felt and were positive and accepting of me.
Towards the start of my fourth year at St John’s, there was another cross-dressing bop, and I ended up wearing a dress for that and getting someone at college to do my make-up again; following on from that, someone at the student union at college suggested that I get involved with the university’s Queer Rights group, as this was the most appropriate group at the university at the time for catering for transgender issues. Over the next few months, I gradually came out as transgender, at that time taking the name “Hayley Anne” (this was from a dream I had a couple of weeks or so after my friends at Great Hucklow had realised I was trans – although ironically a year or so later, it also became the name of Coronation Street’s first transgender character – Coronation Street being a long-running soap opera in the United Kingdom – and I wonder if they got the name after seeing a website I had up and running at university around then).
At the beginning of 1996, I became friends with a local transgender woman who was slightly younger than me – who encouraged me to go full-time as a woman. So, for most of my penultimate term at Oxford, I lived pretty much full-time as a woman. This was an amazing period in my life, as it felt so right – and the majority of people I knew at Oxford were absolutely fine with me living as a woman. Unfortunately, my parents were devastated when I told them that I wanted to live as a woman, so I ended up reverting to living as a man at the end of that term – they were especially worried about my career prospects, given that I was almost at the end of my degree.
At that stage in my life, while living full-time as a woman in Oxford, I was undecided about how far I wanted to go with my gender; it was a very clear-cut case for my friend, who was very gender dysphoric and wanted surgery at the earliest possible opportunity – whereas, at the time, surgery, and even hormone treatment, seemed like a massive step for me – and I was young enough to still live successfully as a woman – at least socially – as I was.
After graduating, I got a job with a local software firm close to where we lived in Trowbridge in Wiltshire; just under a year later, I bought a house in Trowbridge a few minutes walk away from where my parents lived. This gave me enough privacy to start dressing as a woman at home again. In February 1998, I put an advert on “Teletext Dating” (this was a dating page on Teletext on ITV back then), which led to me meeting a lady in South Wales, who I started a relationship with – this was the first proper relationship I’d had with someone who knew I was trans – even though I was identifying more as a cross-dresser at the time. Sadly we ended up not being compatible, and split up before the year was out – but it did show to me that it was possible to have such a relationship.
A month or so later, at the beginning of 1999, I got my first computer with an internet connection at home (the last time I’d used the internet for anything related to gender stuff was back at university in 1996). This enabled me to start talking online with other transgender people in the UK. I even got to see in the new Millennium at an event for transgender people at a hotel in Newquay in Cornwall.
In the spring of 2000, I started a new job at a company in Sunbury-on-Thames, near London. As this was a couple of hours’ drive away from my house in Trowbridge, I ended up renting a room from a transgender woman who was fairly early on in her transition – she was still getting electrolysis done and I don’t think she’d got to transition at work at that time. I was still working as a man, however – even though I had even more freedom to be a woman outside of work than when I was back in Trowbridge.
It was while I was living away near London that I also got into body painting – this is something that I’d wanted to get involved with for quite some time before. My first experience of body painting was at the European Bodypainting Festival in Austria that summer – I booked a holiday there – the first time that I’d travelled abroad on my own. When I got back to the UK, I started doing body paint designs on my friends, and got a website up and running – http://www.bodypainting.co.uk/ – that is still running now, but is desperately in need of an update!
In the summer of 2001, I returned to my house in Trowbridge, and got a job at a software firm near Chippenham – around 15 miles away from where I lived. This was because my father was seriously ill at the time – and I was fed up with all the traffic jams to work in my previous job near London. The following year, I got an account on LiveJournal – a popular blogging website at the time – I found out about this from a friend I knew through body painting – and it was through this site that I made friends with people from the bisexual community in the UK.
In 2003, I booked in for BiCon – an annual bisexual convention held in the UK. This was around the same time that I decided to call myself Ruth rather than Hayley Anne – this being so that I could keep the same initials as my birth name – and because of Coronation Street having adopted my previous female name for their transgender character.
The weekend before BiCon was due to start – on Saturday 16th August 2003, I took part in a body painting event in Walsall (West Midlands), as part of a Street Arts festival that was going on there – with a couple of friends – a guy (who I’d quite infamously painted as Spiderman the year before), and a lady (who I knew from LiveJournal from the bisexual scene, who was also going to BiCon). After the body painting event, we stopped off at some friends in Birmingham that I also knew on LiveJournal, where I met another lady who I got chatting with, and we ended up falling in love! I was still dressed only in a thong and yellow body paint (painted as a Devil) at the time, so I must have made quite an impression on her! I told her that I was trans that night too – this being because I already knew deep down that a relationship was only going to work if whoever I fell in love with knew about me – and, thankfully – it wasn’t a problem at all – in fact she’d had other partners who were trans in the past. So again, I was absolutely right in my hypothesis that I’d be most likely to have a successful relationship with a bisexual woman!
We got to meet the following week at BiCon too – as she was going to BiCon as well – and ended up having a long-distance relationship, where we’d see each other most weekends – as she was living up in Shropshire, while I was still down in Trowbridge in Wiltshire – so it was around 150 miles drive each way! So the following year, I sold my house in Trowbridge, and we bought a house together up in Shropshire, where we have lived ever since.
We got married in August 2005 – where we had two ceremonies on the same day – a church wedding at the Unitarian Church in town, where we got married legally as husband and wife – and a Pagan handfasting ceremony in our back garden, where we married as wives. Since our wedding, Sonia (my wife) has always seen me as her wife (as opposed to her husband) though.
Even though I had the freedom to be Ruth as much as I wanted at home, I was still working in IT in male mode. As time went on, this felt less and less ideal. In February 2008, I found a website called “The Salon Geek” – http://www.salongeek.com/ – while doing a Google search for transgender friendly hair salons. I ended up joining the site as Ruth (which is a forum site for salon professionals), and found that my IT skills were really useful for a lot of people on there – to the point that I began doing web design for salons as a sideline at the weekend, in parallel with my main IT consultancy work during the week.
In 2009, Sonia (who was having problems with her bladder and kidney stones as a result of complications due to her disability – Sacral Agenesis) needed to go into hospital in Wakefield in Yorkshire, which meant that I needed to be away from work for a week to visit her while she was in hospital. I had quite a lot of time, outside of hospital visiting hours, where I was on my own at the guest house, and took the opportunity to start work on a content management system (CMS) for beauty salon websites, which I called “Salon Alchemy”. Later on in the year, the contract work that I was on at the time ended up getting very stressful – so I decided not to renew the contract when it came to an end in October 2009 – and instead decided to see if I could make a proper go of the salon website business. So I spent several months working from home on the salon websites – even booking a stand at the “Beauty UK” trade show in Birmingham the following year, where I was able to network with potential clients. All of this proved to me that I was able to work successfully as a woman, even though it was freelance web design work for beauty salons, rather than IT consultancy work in an office.
However, all was not ideal with the business – I wasn’t charging enough for the websites – neither did I spend enough time on the salon appointment booking system I wanted to create – which would have been a far better sell overall than the websites – and I ended up getting very low on funds towards the end of August 2010. Thankfully, at around this time, I was head-hunted by someone I used to work with, who asked me to come and interview for some contract work in Wolverhampton at the place he was working at. I was successful with this – although again it meant going back to male mode to work – as I hadn’t legally changed my name at this point – and didn’t want to risk not getting the contract if he knew I was living as a woman.
Having to go back to male mode really felt as though my life was slipping away though – so, after finding someone in Nottingham who was a genius at electrolysis and who was able to progress my facial hair removal at an incredible rate of knots, I made the bold decision in the summer of 2012 to go ahead and change my name and title by deed poll – which I did on our 7th wedding anniversary. Thankfully, when I told the guy I was doing the contract work for, he took it surprisingly well. I still continued to work in male mode for a few more months (primarily because of needing to grow my remaining facial hair out for electrolysis sessions) before finally switching to live full time as a woman in April 2013.
The contract work in Wolverhampton came to an end a few months later – not because of me going full time in work – but because of a lull in the work coming in – so I found myself in the position of going to job interviews for the first time as a woman. The first few interviews I went to, I wasn’t successful at – and this was really down to me not quite having the necessary skills and experience for those roles. Those contracts weren’t in ideal places either – one was in Leeds, and the other in Manchester – both rather too distant from my home in Shropshire.
Towards the middle of September, I found a contract role in Wolverhampton which looked to be an excellent match for my skills and experience – for which I did what felt like a really good telephone interview – and was subsequently invited to do a short technical test and was then asked to come in for a face-to-face interview. A few minutes after the face-to-face interview, I was offered the contract! This was amazing – the first time that I’d successfully interviewed for a role as a woman – and they loved me!
I knew now that it was the right time to start my medical transition – as I absolutely knew that I could be successful in work as a woman at that point – and it felt right for me to start hormone treatment now too. So I booked an appointment at my GP, asking to be referred to Nottingham Gender Clinic on the NHS – this was recommended to me by the friend who was doing my electrolysis for me in Nottingham. A couple of months later, I had an appointment at a local psychiatrist for an initial assessment – following on from that, I was referred to Nottingham Gender Clinic, as I’d requested.
My first appointment at Nottingham Gender Clinic was towards the end of May 2014, where I gave a brief history of myself and my gender dysphoria, and discussed what I was hoping to achieve medically with my transition. At that stage, I was still a bit apprehensive with regards to surgery, although very keen to start on hormone treatment. I had a subsequent appointment with another clinician there in July 2014, where I was asked to get some blood tests, as to get a baseline of where my hormone levels were, and then an appointment with both clinicians and my wife in September 2014. It was at this appointment that I was prescribed hormones – which were to commence after going to the fertility clinic at the local hospital to store samples should I wish to become a parent in the future.
While all this was going on, I was going from strength to strength in the contract work in Wolverhampton – so much so that I was offered a permanent role as a Lead Developer, which I accepted – and went permanent at the start of August 2014. I was absolutely chuffed to be offered such a senior permanent role – as I love the place where I work – there’s a lovely atmosphere and it’s an amazing team.
I began hormone treatment towards the end of October 2014 – on a fairly low dose of estradiol (1mg twice daily) – this was increased to 2mg twice daily a couple of months later. In March 2015, I had my first anti-androgen injection – this is a drug (Goserelin) that was originally created to fight prostate cancer, but has the effect of virtually wiping out testosterone levels. As the dose of the hormones has increased, and the anti-androgens started, I’ve felt better and better though – both with the changes to my body, and with my mental and emotional well-being too. I definitely feel that I can communicate so much better emotionally now, and that’s been a big help in work too, as teamwork is a very important part of what we do.
Last month, on 20th October 2015, I had my initial consultation for gender reassignment surgery at the Nuffield Hospital in Brighton. Any doubts I had about getting the surgery done evaporated as soon as I saw what an amazing hospital it was, and what a wonderful caring team they have there. Since that appointment there last month, I’ve probably felt happier now than at any stage of my life to date (with the exception of my wedding day, of course). Even more so because I’d also upped my estradiol dose to 6mg twice daily at the start of that week (at the request of my GP), and embarked on a very focused programme of diet and exercise to get my weight down prior to surgery, which has also made me feel a lot better too. So, a triple whammy of getting my initial surgery referral, upping my estradiol, and starting my weight loss.
I felt so good, in fact, that I ended up being a lot more “out” about being trans at work – which thankfully everyone who knows has taken amazingly well – I just love how people are so accepting where I work. I now want to get a lot more actively involved in initiatives to help transgender people – such as a group called the Diversity Trust, which organises transgender awareness training for employers, Trans*Code, which is a group to encourage transgender people to get involved with coding, and Diversity Role Models, which is a group which brings LGBT role models into schools to help young people. I also want to shoot a film on transgender awareness in the West Midlands, along similar lines to a project called “Trashing Transphobia” which some friends of mine on Twitter were involved with in Sheffield.
If all goes to plan, I’ll be getting my gender reassignment surgery done at some stage next year – hopefully in the summer. This will certainly be one of the most significant steps of my entire transition – and easily one of the most challenging too – but I’m really looking forward to it, and am busy making plans now, so that it can go as smoothly as possible next year.