To conclude, with permission, I share Anne’s story with you. Anne is a trans woman and conversations with her have been really helpful to me. The story is framed a little like an interview, but originally was told in its entirety by Anne.
I am a very ordinary woman living a very ordinary, but extraordinary, life. My name is Anne and I have a family including a wife, three daughters and seven amazing and beautiful grandchildren. I like cycling, painting the beautiful Suffolk landscape with water colours, travelling and music. I have been an active Christian since I was 18 years old and have worked as an architect here in the UK and overseas. My favourite bible passage is Romans 8:28-39. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What does it feel like to have Gender Dysphoria?
Living with GD is like listening to life through one of those old radios. The ones where you used to get background static which stopped you really understanding what was being said. You only hear half the programme. GD is like seeing things through a fog or a filter. Never quite seeing shapes and colours as they really are. GD is waking up with a shock every morning because you look into the mirror and see someone else. GD is like seeing your name on a passport and thinking ‘that’s not me’. GD is asking God every day why you were not born female. GD is having to control what you say, the way you move and what you say. GD is having the wrong sounds coming out of your mouth when you speak. GD is the sadness you feel when understand that you will never bare your own children. GD is living with thoughts of suicide when you sometimes wish it would all just end. GD is sometimes like hanging on by your fingertips.
How did you reconcile having Gender Dysphoria with your Christian faith?
I first realised I was different when I was 3 and a half years old. Over the years of my childhood this caused me much distress and a confusion on how to relate to other people. In 1972, when I was 18 years old, I became a Christian. Knowing that I had given my life to Jesus. Almost immediately I began a roller coaster journey of guilt and shame as I asked God to take away whatever it was I had. During the 60’s and 70’s society would only condemn people like me as deviants. I was ashamed and worried for my salvation and about what society and my parents would think of me. Later in life, and in an attempt to become ‘normal,’ I married and had two wonderful children, all the time feeling the same shame and wondering how God could ever love me…or forgive me. I even wondered if I might be possessed. Then one day I was struck by a kind of revelation during which I realised that God had made me just as I am…for a purpose. I was no deviant in Gods eyes but perfect in His own image. I was not possessed, and I was not a freak.
What about your Christian life and work?
Since realising that God had created me as I was, and for a purpose, I decided to honour him, even with this thorn in my side. I changed my work role to one in Mission that some might describe as extreme. I moved to Africa where I worked full time for 5 years and then part time for a further 10 years. During this period, I felt I was not only honouring God but, by excluding other thoughts, controlling my GD. This kind of coping mechanism had become very familiar to me over the years as I tended to take on intense work, study, relationships and travel as a way of pushing down my GD. I believe it’s a common way for people with GD to cover up and deal with all the issues that come out of our struggle. Like others I have often chosen the hardest and most dangerous route in life. My experiences in Africa for example often brought me into contact with life and death situations in a most extreme way. Seeing the suffering of the poor often made me see my own pain in a much wider context. What right did I have to complain when I compared my life to the real suffering I could see all around me?
Have you considered suicide?
From my own experience and background reading I have learned that thoughts of suicide are never far from the minds of people with GD. In the region of 70-80% of us have considered it; 40-50% have tried to commit suicide in one way or another and 20-30% have succeeded. I think these figures may differ from those quoted elsewhere in this book but suffice to say that, whichever report you read, the suicide rate is very high. James Bellringer, an eminent surgeon working in the field of gender reassignment surgery (GRS), has described the reason for his specialisation as being because it saves more lives than any other branch of the medical profession.
My own experiences with considering and/ or attempting suicide seem fairly normal… although by the fact that I am still here writing these notes you will see that have not succeeded. I have though felt the call of suicide and, despite my Christian faith, tried to end it all 3 times because of an inability to cope with my GD. Long term counselling has helped me to fight this but, in the end, I am convinced that the only longer term ‘cure’ has been to start my journey of transition. There is no cure for Gender Dysphoria other that to be the person you really are.
What has been your experience of counselling and having friends and family who will listen?
The society we live in is very ignorant about the subject of Gender Dysphoria, thinking as it does that GD is like Transvestism. Coming out of that is a belief that GD is a kind or perversion and THAT means it is easy for people with this to fall into the trap of thinking of themselves as having something to shame. From this trap many people can go on to develop mental health conditions and depression owing to the stress of having to cover up who they really are for so long. In my own experience this has taken a lot of unravelling and has caused me to undertake 10 years of specialist therapy during which time I have never questioned the fact that I am a woman. It has allowed me though to disconnect feelings of shame, worries about the opinions of family, employers, friends and others. It has helped me to realise how much of my life experience has been caused by my dysphoria and how much I can be grateful to God for the way that he has made me.
In the past, even when I first started to realise that I was in fact a woman, the psychological professions used to recommend Reparative Therapy, sometimes known as Conversion Therapy as a way to convert people like me back to their ‘correct’ gender. This was, in the past, particularly recommended by the church. With no notable successes however this has been proven to cause huge amounts of psychological harm to individuals and has now been outlawed. In the 1970’s Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) similar to that shown in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was used and this was even more damaging. It was stopped for people with GD because it never converted anyone back to their ‘correct’ gender. I know this sounds simplistic but I believe that when you know who you are… you know who you are.
My understanding is that, at present, approximately 8% of people who transition from female to male or from male to female regret their decision. Some revert to their birth gender but the rest go on to live fully integrated lives with a suicide rate on a par with the rest of the population. It seems that the most obvious course of action is for people with GD to be able to speak openly and for us to be accepted as the people we say we are. Not forced to be people who society expects us to be. Friends, family and churches can and should be willing to stand and support us as we struggle to be ourselves.
What other key memories would you like to share?
I remember that my first thoughts of there being something wrong with me was when I was 4 years old. In my first school they would often teach the boys and girls in separate classrooms but, when someone was ill or injured they had to stay in the girls classes. I remember how I cut my hand so that I could be in the girls’ classroom just because I felt that was where I knew I had to be. I didn’t understand it at the time but, as I look back, I knew that I should have been with the other girls. I still have the scars from those cuts today.
As mentioned above I believe that being accepted is a two-way street. In my earlier days of transition, I remember visiting a Christian group of transwomen. I got lost finding the venue at a church in London and wondered around the very full streets trying to find where the church was. During this time I was fully accepted and in ‘Stealth’ mode. Stealth mode is where everyone around you accepts you as your true gender (in my case as a woman) and not as the gender you are not. Nobody looked twice. Eventually I found the church and joined a service for about an hour. Afterwards it was the custom for the small ‘congregation’ to go for a meal together. Unfortunately, others in that group had found it a little harder to be in ‘stealth’ mode so, walking back through the streets again, we were looked at many times. For me I think this experience made me realise that trans people don’t necessarily have a right to be accepted without making an effort. I, as a trans-woman, needed to dress correctly, walk correctly and speak correctly. It was a rite of passage that I realised I had to earn, just like any other woman does.
I remember how it felt when I opened up about who I really was to the ministers of the church I attended at the time (one of whom is the author of this book). Three ministers came along to my home and I found them friendly, warm and accepting. I told them my story and, when they left, I was confident that the next stage of my journey was going to be alright. We had spoken about the best way to tell the church and had left it they would seek confirmation from the rest of the leadership before, together, we took the next step. Although very nervous I felt supported and hopeful.
Then, some time later, it turned out that others in the leadership time had been feeling far less welcoming because of very conservative Christian beliefs, or finding some other way to reject me without even talking to me about how and who I was. In fact, none of these people ever spoke to me again. It seemed to me that the ministers I had spoken to all felt that, in order to move on, I had to get the WHOLE churches approval and so my journey at that church came to an end.
Today I wonder about this and I feel that perhaps the church could have made a decision on principle (to accept people like me) and, if this had caused people to leave the church then perhaps it was God telling them it was time to leave. There are few ‘inclusive’ churches around in my part of the country and I think that the church might have considered whether it wanted to be inclusive or not rather than letting it make a decision based on the threatened actions of a few individuals. Perhaps I had no right to expect the church to decide for trans-people but I think I would have been happier if the church had decided to make a decision based on principle rather than (apparent) fear. I have since occasionally attended another church and been reassured by the minister there that he would stand by my side whoever threatened to leave his church. This, I thought, was a very Christ like attitude and very affirming that God is first and rules (or conformity) second.
What about feminism and equality as a trans woman?
I am a woman as I have said and, having travelled extensively, I can’t help but link myself mentally with women all around the world. I am them and they are me. I have experienced though the privilege of living in a male body. I have been able to use the sound of a man’s voice on the telephone to get what I want. However, I am also privileged to be part of the ‘conspirational’ sisterhood that women share together. This ‘foot in two camps’ privilege has allowed me to see how hard life can be for other women. Treated sometimes as second class, as of lessor intelligence, payed less for more work. However, not only do I object about women’s place in society but I also object at the way trans-women are sometimes treated by cis women. Having said that I find that other cis women are much more accepting of trans-women than men are. It seems that they understand and don’t feel threatened.