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How Stephen Became Stephanie – and other transgender tales

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Olivia Foster, a lesbian who wrote a paper on transgender and homosexual individuals for her English class,  recently commented how transgender and homosexual individuals are socially isolated from society. She asked: ‘How do you think we could help people understand transgender individuals? I really want an inside opinion! Thank you so much!’

This was my reply, which I am repeating here as a separate posting:

I think the first thing is that we all need to support and be tolerant of each other in the LGBT community. If we can’t be tolerant of each other, when we are ‘differently gendered’ or ‘differently sexually orientated’ from the so-called ‘norm’, how can we expect so-called ‘normal’ or ‘straight’ people to be tolerant and understanding of us?

As I said in my last blog post, I love lesbians and gay men, and I love socialising with my sisters and brothers in the ‘Gay Village’ in Manchester.

Unfortunately I have come across people, mainly in the trans community, who, in spite of their own transgenderism, appear to have a bi-polar approach to gender, and want to self identify as either a ‘transvestite/crossdresser’, just ‘a bloke in a frock but there’s nowt queer about me’ at one end of the TG spectrum – and what I might call ‘fundamentalist’ transsexuals at the other end, who regard themselves as in some way superior, or ‘more the real thing’ than other transgendered folk.

I think it is crazy to divide ourselves off from each other in this way. To me, if we have ‘gender discomfort’ or ‘dysphoria’ to any extend at all, whether we are occasional crossdressers, regular or full-time transgendered girls or boys, she-males, drag queens or drag kings, or pre- or post-operative transsexuals – we are ALL members of the transgender community, sisters and brothers under the skin, although some but not all of us usually identify ourselves as one gender or the other (not necessarily our birth gender) by our outer clothing, hairstyle, makeup, mannerisms, voice pitch, speech patterns and gender identity.

This is why I prefer the term ‘transgendered’, because it is inclusive and can be taken to cover us all, wherever we are on the gender spectrum or continuum, and I believe most people, including those who are not transgendered – so-called ‘normal’ people, are also somewhere in the middle.

We all, regardless of our biological and chromosomal sex, have feminine and masculine characteristics – but unfortunately many people are frightened or reluctant to fully express all parts of their personalities. So if most people are somewhere in the middle regarding the gender spectrum, transgendered people are just folk who find themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the mid-point of the spectrum, so they self-identify as the ‘other’ or ‘opposite’ sex – that is, they have, in terms of traditional gender attributes and gender stereotyping, more of the characteristics of the gender on the other side of the gender ‘mid-point’.

This of course is very confusing for them, in a world which persists in the traditional bi-polar attribution of so-called ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits. But that is not to say that if this gender bipolarism was reduced to the point where everyone was free to wear what they like, and express their gender identity in any way they like, there wouldn’t still be transgendered people, because obviously there would be those, like me, who feel the need to have surgery to change their bodies as well as their clothing so that they can feel ‘whole’, be fully the person that they feel they are inside, and be perceived as such by others.

I don’t think I have exactly answered your question, Olivia, about how transgender and homosexual individuals can feel less socially isolated, as regards ‘straight society’. I’ll try to address that now:

Within the LGBT community, we can feel less socially isolated by all supporting and learning to understand each other, whether we are transgendered, lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, or any combination of the aforementioned.

But how do we achieve social and cultural acceptance, and therefore feel less socially isolated, regarding ‘straight’ society? The answer is simple, and it is what the Gay Liberation Movement did in the 1960s and 70s – ‘coming out’ – by NOT staying in the closet, by holding events such as Gay Pride and Sparkle, and by mixing as much as possible in and with ‘straight’ society, so that we seem as ‘normal’ to them as we seem to ourselves – just ‘people’, human beings – like them.

I guess the implication of this is that we shouldn’t just hang out in LGBT bars and clubs, and areas like the Gay Village in Manchester, where we know we are safe – we should also go into and be seen in ‘straight’ places – out shopping, and in ‘straight’ pubs and clubs, or anywhere that any other citizen of the world can go! We should be proud to be who we are, and the more we are ‘out’, the more it will be accepted as ‘normal’ to be LGBT.

Easier said than done, I know! I recently did go into a ‘straight’ fairly working-class ‘blokish pub’ in my home town, as my femme self, naturally, together with my (genetic female) wife/partner and a genetic female friend. The three of us girls were the only females in the bar, and we did get stared at, and I felt decidedly uncomfortable. At least one man, a little, wiry, Yorkshire terrier of a chap who was very ‘blokish’ indeed, looked over in our direction with a scowl on his face, as if there was a bad smell emanating from our corner of the room!

It would be easy to conclude that he had ‘read’ me as transgendered and was prejudiced against me, or that he resented our feminine intrusion into an otherwise male sanctum, or that he was just appalled that two of us ladies were drinking pints! But it could just have been that it was a Friday, the end of the week, he had perhaps had a bad week, and was tired and not in a good mood anyway – and that that was just his characteristic expression – and nothing to do with our presence in the bar!

This brings me to a final point – which is that it is too easy and in fact we can be completely wrong when we try to ‘second-guess’ people’s reactions to us. What did that look mean? Why is that person staring at me or smiling at me? We may think we are attracting unwanted and possibly hostile attention – but it could just be that if someone is looking at us – they might just be thinking how nice we look, or how interesting we are, or how they would like to come up and talk to us!

In the past I was what is sometimes called ‘an occasional TV’. I have gone for months and even years without cross-dressing, but lately I have got back into it again in a fairly frequent (and joyful!) way. I have been taking female hormones for about 8 months, and am starting to grow fairly obvious boobs. 

This is the second time I have taken female hormones; I took them for about six months a couple of years ago, then stopped, which I regretted.

This time I am carrying on with the hormones indefinitely. I don’t know where it’s going to lead or how far I’m going along the transgender path…we shall see. My partner (my wife of 31 years, Rosie) is enjoying the fact that I now have boobs, but also prefers to make love to someone with the requisite male parts below. Her ideal sex partner is perhaps a she-male, which is pretty much what I am becoming. How did this come about?

My attitudes to gender, feminine clothing, cross-dressing, sexual orientation, and to terms like ‘transvestite’, transsexual’, transgendered’, ‘she-male’, ‘drag queen’, etc. have changed and evolved over the years. I’ll get to that presently, because delineating the evolution of my own understanding of these subjects is partly tied up with the development, over the last 40 years or so, of social, psychological and genetic theories and explanations of transgenderism, ‘gender dysphoria’, or whatever you want to call it. 

According to developmental child psychologists, gender identity is established sometime between the ages of 1-2; at 18 months, most babies already have a notion of it, and where they fit in. The prevailing orthodoxy used to be to emphasize the importance of nurture over nature in gender identity development – the idea that one is mainly conditioned into one’s gender (pink for girls, blue for boys, etc.) I could quote the relevant academic references for this, but you’ll have to take my word for it, as this is a blog, not an academic treatise.

In the late 1980’s I did a dissertation for my Masters degree on the development of gender identity. There is still a copy of it in the University of Nottingham library, under my male name – and if you are interested in reading it, you’ll have to contact me through my FFG website ( or YouTube channel (, so I could quote chapter and verse if I wanted to.

But suffice to say that social conditioning was considered to be crucial in developing a sense of gender, conditioning by parents and the wider society from birth onwards, being dressed as a girl or as a boy, and trained in the corresponding gender role, etc. This was very much in line with feminist thinking of the 60’s and 70’s. Girls and boys were conditioned into the acceptable norms of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ social gender roles. Women are ‘made’, not born.

More recent theories on the development of gender identity and sexual orientation have tended by contrast to emphasize the importance of ‘nature’ over ‘nurture’ – it is suggested that much in the way of social bahaviour and psychological traits is genetically predetermined. There have been attempts to identify genetic factors leading to differences in brain chemistry and brain anatomy to explain transsexualism – is the brain of the male to female transsexual more like tha the brain of a woman? Likewise, can a ‘gay gene’ be identified which ‘explains’ homosexuality? Again, I could quote the recent research on one side or on the other – it’s out there if you want to find it – but it’s not within the scope of what I am trying to do now. 

I will just note in passing that I am firmly of the opinion that transgenderism and homosexuality are not just ‘life-style choices’ or ‘sicknesses’ that can be ‘cured’ or overcome with will power or the power of prayer. 

Fundamentalists of any of the three great monotheistic faiths who think otherwise are as bonkers as their religions. Yeah, that’s where I’m coming from, I’m an agnostic (sometimes verging on atheistic) secular liberal humanist and I have little time for god-botherers or creationists, the people of ‘faith’ who try to force their bigoted and intolerant views on the rest of us.

For me then, how did it all start? When did I first have feelings of wanting to be a girl and/or wear female clothing? 

Well. I’ll tell you that next time…