Sexuality and Gender – A Journey of Discovery
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
I was born in 1959, in Newbury, Berks, a male. The eldest of three I was brought up in the staunch upper-middle-class traditions of the 60s and 70s. This meant single-sex schooling, boarding from the age of 11, a smart home set in an acre of woodland on the edge of the village and very little social interaction outside school. We were taken to classical music concerts, read serious books, had comics called 'Look and Learn' and did proper activities such as horse riding (the only cup I have is for best junior pony club rider 1972), Rugby and Ballet (I went to lessons with my sister who became a classical ballerina). TV was strictly rationed, with ITV banned because of the adverts, the toothpaste disgusting, but good for us, loo paper like sandpaper and my underwear regulation white.
I dutifully went on to university where I studied beer and mechanical engineering and then, after a brief spell in manufacturing, moved into the brave new world of IT, where I forged a career selling and supporting software. I got married, had two children and moved to a village in Oxfordshire where I became an active pillar of the community. It was all very normal.
Were there any signs you were transgender when you were younger?
I wasn't one of those who was clearly transgender from the outset but was, instead, an absolutely typical cloistered trans male. It took a long time to come to understand and accept this, though, as I am from an age and social environment, where transgenderism was a complete unknown.
I was aware from a very early age that I didn't really fit with other boys and at school distanced myself, as best I could, from male group activities, putting my effort into and excelling at solitary academic and practical activities. However, none of this was considered abnormal by the adults around me, to whom I was a sensitive, gentle, intelligent, high achieving and well-behaved boy; it was to my peers who quietly bullied me until I found an effective way to fight back.
As I approached adolescence I baulked at the idea that I was destined to become a gorilla-like my elder peers and started praying every night that I’d wake up a girl – my first significant transgender thoughts. I assumed this was perfectly normal and just a passing phase, but the reality was this was just one of many many similar feelings and behaviours I had, which never went away, that would have clearly identified me as transgender.
The signs were there in even the most basic aspects of life. My friends at university were from the female-dominated language and arts faculties, rather than my own male-dominated Engineering faculty. In the testosterone dominated world of the fledgling IT industry, I was, as a colleague put it, 'clearly a fish out of the water, surviving only by proving to be successful in many different roles. But recognizing these for what they were and making sense of them was very difficult and it took the arrival of the Internet and a lot of soul searching for me to be able to do this.
Was your puberty normal?
When it came to puberty I was a late developer, late hormonal driven development being it seems part of my genetic make-up. This would help explain my transgenderism which, from male to female, is caused by an insufficiency of androngenising testosterone at a critical stage of foetal development, which means I was left with a female wired brain – a brain that does empathy and multitasking and can't fathom why one could possibly be interested in football. While my peers were turning into testosterone-fueled knuckle-dragging grunting hairy beasties, I was desperately searching for the first signs of pubic hair. In fact, I was such a late developer I was referred to the growth clinic at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, where after a series of humiliating tests I was informed I would catch up, but I would be running a few years behind schedule. This meant that as physical sexual awareness and emotional sexual attraction started stirring in those around me I was left behind, though I knew I had to demonstrate a degree of conformity.
So how did your sexuality develop?
My emotional sexuality started, quite typically, with my being not particularly attracted to either males or females. The copies of 'Health and Efficiency' (the naturist magazine) that circulated secretly at school, had pictures of naked couples and I found the men as interesting as the women.
This, and my being in a single-sex boarding school, meant my first sexual experiences were with males though, as far as I am aware, homosexual activity was pretty rare (too much bromine in the tea?). Homosexuality had only been decriminalised when I was eight years old and still carried a stigma, so the ‘gays’ tended to remain closeted. My experiences were singular, sporadic and initially typically innocent, but I found them physically enjoyable and satisfying. This I found deeply challenging.
I therefore probably suppressed any feelings towards boys while nurturing my feelings towards girls, to ensure I developed an increasing attraction to and crushes on girls. But I struggled to form relationships with them. Aside from limited opportunity and naivety, my being transgender caused problems. Firstly most of the girls I fancied I fancied because I wanted to be them rather than ‘have’ them! Secondly, my female brain was wired to be the chased not the chaser and I didn't have the wiring to do the peacock strutting, stag rutting, male courtship routines.
It was therefore some time before I lost my heterosexual virginity to a girl I met in a disco on the other side of the world while travelling during my gap year - a passionless and mechanical exercise that left me unmoved. It was several years more before I got my first girlfriend – and then only because she seduced me – and I started to experience the full physical side of heterosexual sexuality.
Please can you tell me about your marriage?
Despite the difficulties I had initially with relationships, I did get married. I met my wife on the first day at university when she had swept into the room in her cheesecloth blouse and long Indian print skirt and I had instantly said to myself "that's the girl I'm going to marry". It was an absurd thought, not least because I learned afterwards, she was going to a completely different university and was expected to settle down with a long-standing boyfriend.
We managed to strike up a friendship and kept in contact, partly because she and I shared a birthday. When I met her serendipitously in London post-university I discovered she was single and knew this was my opportunity. The subsequent courtship was brief, I proposed and she accepted.
She and I had similar backgrounds, were very similar as people and worked extremely well as a team. She wasn't someone I wanted to be as she was in effect my female extension. Our role sharing enabled me to indulge in commonly ascribed female activities - on a Sunday morning the chances were I'd be the one in the kitchen cooking a roast for 10 with one hand while holding a child on my hip dealing with whatever it needed with the other. I was though the primary male of the family, and so worked hard to prove to myself and the world what a great male I was. Unfortunately, this put a lot of strain on myself and the family and that led to relationship issues, which coupled with issues in the bedroom, ultimately led to my wife deciding to leave me.
You mention issues in the bedroom. Could you tell me more?
When it came to sex I had a lot of doubts and confusion. I’d been somewhat underwhelmed when I first lost my virginity, which I put down to ‘first night nerves, but this continued as my experience grew. Sex was enjoyable but not explosively exhilarating or deeply satisfying.
Despite having a well above average sized penis, which should have brought pleasure, I regularly struggled to reach orgasm and decided I was not particularly physically sensitive. And, as I have subsequently learnt, I didn’t think and feel as I should have as a man when having sex - a primitive, raw, animalistic and selfish consciousness that fixates on the urge to procreate. Instead, my female nature meant I was unassertive and tended to be more concerned with the other person’s pleasure than my own, which, ironically, wasn’t especially what my partners wanted.
Being married, familiarity made sex even more difficult for me. I looked for ways to enhance my excitement but found that I experienced more pleasure using the lingerie and toys I had bought my wife than she did. My wife was understanding but couldn’t really make it work and needed something just a tad more normal!! As she was leaving she commented that both she and her friend had concluded that I was gay. Surprised, but having confusion and uncertainty, I revisited the idea and decided to put it to the test. I visited a gay friend and we ended up in bed together. As we started to make love I immediately felt the testosterone-driven male to male chemistry was wrong. "Not male mode, try girl mode," I told myself. This is hard to explain but it involves taking a very different mental approach to sex and responding differently to the experience. Eureka! It was exhilarating and hugely satisfying and I spent the following day in girl mode savouring the experience. I repeated the 'test' not long afterwards with the same result.
From this and my other sexual experiences I concluded that my physical sexuality went:
- Sex with a male as a female – great
- Sex with a female as a male – okay
- Sex with a male as a male – not so okay
- Sex with a female as a female – yet to be determined!
But this left me pretty confused as I still felt it was women to whom I was attracted and I couldn’t see how this fitted with my physical experiences.
Did you resolve the confusion between your physical and emotional sexuality?
Although it has been rather like untangling half a dozen pairs of tights that have just come out of the washing machine, I am getting there. As I have said in my adolescence I suppressed any potential attraction towards men and nurtured attraction towards women. However, I never felt properly in love in the relationships I had with them. I’d avoid answering the ‘do you love me?’ questions by challenging what was meant by the word love while the filial love I did feel – the love you feel for your brothers, sisters and best friends – was never enough to sustain the relationship, though it did enable me to maintain close friendships post-separation.
Confused, I would repeatedly question whether I was attracted to men. ‘Do I find him attractive?’ I’d ask as I passed a man in the street, and then do likewise for a woman. But while I could see what made men attractive the women always won and so I continued to tell myself my emotional sexuality had to be a heterosexual male.
The fallacy of this exercise did eventually dawn on me, though only after I’d accepted I was trans. Attraction develops through assessing a wide range of characteristics, not just visual physical ones, while for females very different sets of characteristics spark attraction to those that spark attraction for males. I had been applying a small selection of my carefully nurtured male rules, with inevitable results, and to answer the question properly I needed to apply a more female set of rules if that were possible.
I researched this and discovered that sexuality rarely changes, even in transgender folks, with the wiring, once made, remaining pretty fixed. So for me to develop and demonstrate female sexuality in which I was attracted to men the wiring had to be there already, suppressed and largely unused and I would need to free and nurture this. And, of course, for this to work I needed to be attractive to those whom I was going to be attracted to. That wasn’t gay men, because that required me to be male. It had to be heterosexual men and that required me to be female, and therefore to transition, which I am now, of course, doing.
And as I do so and am becoming more and more confident in my female identity, so I am finding and releasing long suppressed feelings amongst which I have found the seeds of attraction towards men. I am, as a teenage girl, slowly nurturing these as I progress through my second puberty, but it will be sometime before they were fully mature. I guess this means I’m
going to need to kiss quite a few frogs before I finally find my prince! Interestingly my growing awareness has also made me realise that I found many of my closest male friends highly attractive and with some behaved as if we were in a relationship which probably explains why I was jealous of the girls they went to bed with!
How and when did you come to understand and accept you were transgender?
The period when my wife left me was a difficult one. Aside from my marriage I lost my job and driving license (after drink-driving) and went through a period of severe depression. But I picked myself up and was soon in another relationship, though I kept my thoughts and behaviours secret including my growing fantasies about making love as a woman. However, after a number of years, the same issues arose. I was drinking excessively to cope with my fears and feelings, was deeply unhappy, and again in process of losing my relationship and having my sexuality challenged.
But this time I had an epiphany. During a visit to my gay friend I listened as he bemoaned his luck at having fallen for a happily married man, Reminded how like my girlfriends he sounded I asked, ‘Have you ever wanted to be a girl? ‘Oh no’, was the instant reply in a tone bordering on disgust. ‘But, I said to myself silently, ‘I do’. Bingo. It dawned on me I had been confusing sexuality and gender. My sexuality was irrelevant. I had a gender issue; I was trans.
I started trawling the internet and soon realised I ticked all the ‘trans’ boxes, something subsequently confirmed by relevant specialists. And that helped unravel the confusion I had had in every aspect of my life, including my sexuality. Finally, the jigsaw pieces fit together and I understood what and who I was.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I am now down the path of transitioning and am living as, as I have always been, a female. I have never been happier or more at peace within myself. It is truly wonderful to look in the mirror and now see reflected a person that is me, a person I associate with and feel good about. The person on the outside finally reflects the person on the inside and that is incredibly liberating and life-giving.
And I am now nurturing my female sexuality though it will be some time before I swoon at Mr Darcy’s feet, if, that is, it is how it turns out. I hope it does, as to have one’s sex, sexuality and gender aligned to ‘the norm’, finally, would be truly wonderful. Time will tell, but I will be happy however it turns out. To be able to be myself at last and to know I can be this for the rest of my life is wonderful enough.