It has been quite a while since I have posted anything on this blog. Five months, to be precise. Yet a few things have happened within the last week or so that have made me think that it might be time to write something again. In short, stuff has happened.
I had my first endocrinology appointment in June, and after confirmation that my blood pressure was normal and my blood tests showed no anomalies, I finally commenced hormone therapy on 16th August. I was a bit apprehensive as I came to stick on my first patch, even going so far as to check with a couple of trans friends who had been down this road before. The reason for my apprehension was that I had heard that it could adversely affect your mood at first, and since I had the kids that week I thought maybe I should hold off until they leave. The advice was clear: slap on the patch. So I did, and I felt… no different from before.
Ah, people said, it’s when you get your testosterone-blocking injection that your mood takes a dive. Mine was administered by the practice nurse at my GP surgery a week later. Other than a bit of pain where the needle entered my shoulder muscle, I felt no different. Again. Well, I was sleeping very well, but emotionally I felt the same.
Ah, people said, wait till you get the second t-blocker. That’s when it will hit you. Nothing hit me. I just carried on as before. I still feel like the same person. I am still sleeping remarkably well. I have not had a drop in mood. I have had my third t-blocker injection and still no change in that regard. The one change I do have is that within the last 2-3 weeks I have got some pain in my breasts, which I think means they are beginning to grow. Slowly, granted, but there is undoubtedly some thickening of the fatty tissue under my nipples. But really, just a slightly fatter yolk on my fried egg.
The arrival of hormone treatment also means that I am finally going to be able to avail of NHS laser hair removal. It’s not booked yet, but it should commence mid-November, fully 13 months after I had my patch test, paused while they waited for the hormones to slow the strength of growth. I’m looking forward to it. Well, strictly speaking I’m looking forward to it being over. I’m actually dreading it.
Possibly the most significant medical matter of all is that last week I had my second opinion with an independent psychiatrist and my diagnosis of gender dysphoria is confirmed. This means that subject to funding approval (which shouldn’t take more than a few months) I can be put on the waiting list for lower surgery. According to my therapist at the Belfast Clinic, I could be going over to Brighton for my initial consultation with the surgeon as early as January or February 2019. If he decides at this point that I need hair removal downstairs then that could delay everything by over a year, however if not (and the majority of cases do not require it) then I could be having my surgery by around May.
Except I won’t be having my surgery in May because my daughter Amy will be doing her GCSEs in May & June next year, and I’m not having her distracted by me being in hospital. I also need to take account of my ex’s availability since she will be required to assume full-time responsibility for the kids during a fair chunk of my recuperation. The upshot of all this is that I’m thinking best case scenario is that my lower surgery is around a year away.
Before putting fingers to keyboard on this post, I looked back to see just what I had written in my previous post back in May. As luck would have it, what I wrote in May is in fact quite strongly related to what has just happened that I want to document.
If you have time, re-read that, and in particular the section dealing with the “Emerging Leaders” programme that I had attended in April. This programme was run by an organisation called OUTstanding. You can learn what they are on their website, but in essence an LGBT+ advocacy organisation, specifically advocating for LGBT+ equality in the workplace. As part of this, every year OUTstanding produce their list of role models, comprising their ranking of the top 100 LGBT+ executives, top 50 ally executives, top 50 LGBT+ future leaders and top 30 LGBT+ public sector executives. It really is a “Who’s Who” of LGBT business leaders and allies. You can read who made the list here. No, I’m not on it. Don’t be daft, these are proper senior business leaders.
Rewind now for a moment back to that Emerging Leaders programme. Something that I had omitted from my account of that day was that we were divided up into groups to work on a project. The group of which I was part comprised five of us. In addition to me, there were two men and two other women. Between the five of us we worked for two financial services businesses, two technology businesses, and one financial technology business. We were all LGBT.
The project that we chose to work on was how to deal with the known phenomenon of people who were previously “out”, going back in the closet when they come to work at your company. This is a real issue. When you come into a new working environment, it’s like you have to come out all over again, and because you haven’t got history with these new colleagues, how can you know how they will react? There is real and anecdotal evidence to suggest that people avoid the subject, don’t mention where they were, who they were with etc. How can a business ensure that that doesn’t happen, that new staff can know that their relationships and gender identities are valued as much as everyone else’s? Our solution was to introduce mandatory online diversity training for all staff in the company, to be completed annually and to be completed as part of a new employee’s induction. Existing staff would know how they are expected to include everyone equally, and new staff would know that everyone was expected to act in this way. We were able to identify a supplier of suitable training (thanks to my connections in my own company’s HR department), a supplier who already made an off-the-shelf product that fitted the bill, and we submitted a costed proposal for introducing this programme.
This whole thing wasn’t done on the day, we batted it around on email for several weeks after the course, submitting our final entry at the end of May. In early July, we were informed that the judging panel had decided that ours was the best, and that we would be receiving an exciting prize, details to follow. Cool!
The 2018 OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Models lists were announced a couple of days ago, on Thursday 25th October. Their release coincided with the annual OUTstanding Gala Dinner in Central London, where the achievements of the LGBT+ community in business could be celebrated. I was there. This was my prize. It was one of the most inspiring evenings I have ever experienced.
We discovered in late August that we were going to be going to this event. Unfortunately, the other two women on our team had prior engagements and would be unable to attend, so there would be a contingent of 3 from our “Dream Team”; myself and two gay guys from Dublin – John, who works for a tech company, and Neil, who works for a financial services company. Flights and accommodation were booked a few weeks ago, then on Monday I emailed the two guys to check they were all set, and assuming we were all in the same hotel we could share a cab to the venue and maybe get a drink first in our hotel. They were all for that.
I was flying from Belfast to Stansted on Thursday morning, and after a fairly uneventful flight and train into London, I arrived in the hotel around 3pm. My two teammates were on the same flight from Dublin, and after I texted them that I had arrived at the hotel the confirmed that they were on the Gatwick Express and should be there in an hour. As we were due to arrive at the venue for 6.30, we agreed to meet for a drink in the hotel bar at 5.30 before getting a cab. I went for a quick walk around Covent Garden to pass the time, but got back to the hotel reasonably soon to start making myself beautiful / more beautiful / less repulsive (delete according to taste). I had been a bit unsure about the dress code. The invitation said “Dress to celebrate”, so in the end I went for party wear rather than formal wear. I think it was probably the right call considering where we ended up, but I’m getting ahead of myself. By 5.30, I was ready to meet my public.
I must admit to some more apprehension now. I didn’t really know these two men. I hoped we would get on ok. I hoped we would gel. I hoped that there would be some craic. I needn’t have worried. The three of us really did get on like a house on fire. As soon as they saw me it was big hugs and pecks on the cheek, and we all sat down to enjoy a gin before calling a cab.
The venue for the Gala Dinner was so posh it had no name other than its address. 8 Northumberland Avenue. It was amazing, from the second we walked in we felt like we were in another world. As soon as we arrived in the first function room we were handed glasses of champagne, then waiting staff began circulating with nibbles. And not just any nibbles, lobster nibbles. I’m a Belfast girl, I would have been happy with a sausage roll (or a sassidge roll, as we call them). And those waiting staff were very attentive with their champagne top-ups. After the gin, I was mildly sozzled by the time we entered the main function room for the actual dinner.
We were sharing our table with five people who were the team who had won the same project on the British Emerging Leaders Programme – we were of course on the Irish version of the same programme. They were good fun and we stuck together most of the night.
The speeches started fairly soon and they were excellent. They were peppered throughout the evening and were without exception courageous, emotional, inspiring, strident and encouraging. The number one person on each of the four lists was there in person and made a speech. For me in particular it was hugely encouraging that three out of the four made a particular point of standing full square behind the trans community, calling on all LGBT+ persons to stand up to these TERFs (or as I call them, FARTs – feminism appropriating repellent transphobes) for what they are – bigots. I am not going to go into the detail here, but there is an anti-trans backlash happening in the UK and even more so in the US. We cannot roll back the protections that have been so hard won and we cannot ever stop pushing for full equality of opportunity and equality of respect.
After the speeches we were ushered back into the first room where we were served dessert as we stood about and mingled. I had the most remarkable thing I have ever eaten. I’m not even sure what it was. It looked like a macaron, but it was very very cold, like it had been in liquid nitrogen and dry ice, and when I ate it, vapour came out my nose, out my mouth, out of every available orifice for a good 30 seconds or more. Everyone was at it, it looked like we had all taken up vaping, but it was hilarious.
Around 3 or 4 years ago my friend Ruth sent me a link to a BBC radio interview with a genderfluid person called Pips Bunce, who worked in Credit Suisse. At the time they were the first person I had encountered in a professional role in financial services on the trans* spectrum, and I remember them distinctly. They definitely played a part in laying the groundwork for me believing that transition was possible for me – albeit they are not in transition, instead presenting either male or female as the mood takes them. I mention all this because if you look at those OUTstanding 2018 lists, Pips is on there at No 34 in the LGBT+ executives list, and they were there in person. I recognised them, so went up and introduced myself and told them that they had provided some initial inspiration in my own transition. Pips was really lovely, and then pointed me towards the man standing beside her and asked me to tell him what I had told them. So I did. Turns out this man is the editor of Gay Times.
Another person of note on the executives list is a woman called Margot Slattery, at No 9 on the list. Margot was one of the executives who spoke to us at the Emerging Leaders Programme (as was Josh Graff, no 25 and Catherine Vaughan, no 77). I had also met Margot again at an event run by my employers in the run-up to Dublin Pride in late June, and so along with Neil and John we went up to introduce ourselves again. Before we had even joined the circle she welcomed us in, instantly knowing that we were the Irish contingent.
The official end of the Gala Dinner was 11pm, and as we were ushered out, we were handed goody bags. These bags were quite large, and contained a Harrys shaving set, a copy of Gay Times, and some alcohol. Neil, John and I weren’t sure what to do with them. We were all flying hand luggage only, and with the restriction on liquids in hand luggage, we couldn’t really carry a bottle of Budweiser, a bottle of Stella Artois and a can of gin & tonic. You can probably guess where this is going…
We went into the public bar area at 8 Northumberland Avenue, took a table, and made a 3-side wall with our goody bags. Each table had 4 wine glasses set up at it. We all surreptitiously opened our cans of G&T and sat in the corner of the bar sipping this illicit booze behind a goody bag wall. Once that was drunk, we next discovered that the bottles of Bud actually had a screw top, so it was lukewarm beer all round. We couldn’t manage to get the Stella open, so it was time to leave.
Pips had suggested going to a club in Soho called Freedom, so at nearly midnight the three of us got a cab to Soho and found Freedom. It was not our scene – thankfully we all seemed to share a distaste for the type of music and atmosphere in there, so we collectively decided to make like George Michael and say that “I don’t want your Freedom”. Instead we emerged and quickly saw a bar called Village, which we decided must be ok because there was a rainbow flag on the door. It was really good, felt a lot more fun and less seedy than Freedom. So John, Neil and I sat in there till 3am (yes 3am!) drinking more gin and talking what can only be described as a load of crap. Then finally we got thrown out and taxi back the our hotel. All in all it was a fabulous night and all the better for being so well earned.
I’ll not go into detail on the next day. Suffice to say I missed John in the morning, managed to bump into Neil for a goodbye hug, then I spent a few hours in the Natural History Museum before getting the flight home that evening.
One final thing. Nearly a year ago I wrote a (now deleted) post about an awards dinner that I went to through work. I had nominated my line manager and HR manager for an award called “Inspiring Partnership” for their work on preparing for my transition, as part of a corporate awards process. Because one of them was unavailable on the day of the ceremony, I went to the awards in London in her place, and when they were announced as winners, I ended up accepting the award on her behalf. As I was sitting in the departure lounge at Belfast International Airport on Thursday morning I received an email to let me know that I have been nominated in my own right for the same award this year. Just nominated, not yet shortlisted never mind winning, but nominated is enough.