It’s almost a year since I posted anything on this blog. Just a case of real life taking over I suppose. During all the years when I was desperately hoping and wondering and panicking about if I really could or should actually do this thing and embark on a transition, well it occupied my every thought and writing a blog about it was a good way of getting it all out of me rather than keeping things bottled up inside. And I made a few good friends through blogging, with whom I still keep in touch (and two of whom I have met in person this year, one just two days ago). But as I write this now I have reached what some might see as the end of the journey. Others may see it as the beginning. Because I am typing this in my hospital room as I recover from Gender Affirmation Surgery which was performed 6 days ago. But let’s back up a bit and go through a few headlines from the last year, because the last year has been far from uneventful.
I began taking female hormones in August 2018. They have been having some effect, and in early 2019 I was finally able to cast aside my breast forms and actually get a bra to contain my own actual breasts. The confidence that this step has given me is remarkable. It’s just one less layer of artifice, something that never gets cast aside and is always part of me.
In November last year, during trans awareness week, my employers featured an interview with me on their public blog, speaking about my transition. It’s still there, and if you want to read it, here’s the link.
In February 2019 I got my appointment for an assessment with the surgeon at the hospital in Brighton where I am now sitting post-op. My sister Hilary accompanied me to the appointment, which went very well, despite some schoolgirlish sniggers when Hilary asked me the surgeon’s name
“Fnarr… Sounds like what he’s going to be removing. Is his first name John?”
The main purpose of the assessment appointment was so Mr Thomas could ascertain if I would need any hair removal before he operated, and thankfully I got the right answer. Genital hair removal would have been additional expense and delays, and I was very pleased to avoid it. I asked for surgery date in October in order to fit in with my domestic situation best, although I was told December 2019 or January 2020 was more likely. Obviously I did get October in the end!
In this post from last year I wrote about having been nominated by my employer to go on the OUTstanding “Emerging Leaders” programme for 2018, something which lead to the events described in my last post at the OUTstanding Gala Dinner 2018. Last year’s programme featured an “Inspiring Leaders Panel”, with senior LGBT+ business executives talking about their own experiences. Read the post if you’re interested, I’m not regurgitating it again. Around the start of March this year I received an invitation from OUTstanding to take part in the Emerging Leaders Programme 2019 and my initial thought was to go back to them and say no, I already did that last year. Then I re-read the invitation and realised that I wasn’t being asked to go as a delegate. They wanted me to be one of the “Inspiring Leaders”! That was a bit of a shock, although very gratifying.
I went down to Dublin in early April for that event, and I took part in a 45-minute Q&A alongside the head of HR for Amazon Ireland (a gay man) and a senior partner in one of Dublin’s largest law firms (and also the straight/cis mother of an 11 year old trans boy). I loved every second of it. And when the Q&A was over, we 3 panellists each went to one of three tables of delegates, where we had 20 minutes each in an open discussion with the delegates, then swapping tables twice for two further 20-minute sessions. It was quite draining but it felt amazing to be speaking with people form all sorts of other businesses giving them the benefit of the fabulous experience that I have had in my own workplace, in the hope that I can shape the treatment of trans people in other organisations. They even had someone assigned to me during these discussions, taking note of what I said so none of my many pearls of wisdom were lost. Felt faintly ridiculous.
It wasn’t the only time OUTstanding called upon me either. Just 3 weeks ago I was down in Dublin again, this time giving a presentation at a breakfast seminar specifically on the topic of trans inclusion. I was again speaking alongside the woman from the law firm with the trans son, and this time the audience was not future leaders, but current ones. Senior executives, board members and HR directors of banks, law firms, airlines, listening to me tell them about my workplace transition and help them think how to make their own organisations more trans-inclusive. Thinking back to the scared bundle of nerves that I was less than 3 years ago when I came out to my line manager, it’s hard to believe that I would end up doing things like this. I love it.
I represent my employer on an organisation called “Working With Pride”, a loose network of LGBT+ networks from all sorts of businesses, public sector, voluntary etc. In June this year I was approached by the Chair of Working With Pride to see if I would be interested in telling my story at a Tenx9 event – she had seen my story on my employer’s blog and thought it would be worth telling to an audience. Tenx9 (pronounced “ten by nine”) is a storytelling evening where nine people have up to ten minutes each to tell a true story about themselves to an audience. Each event usually has a theme. This is something that began in Belfast but has spread round the world including the US, Australia and South Africa. There is a regular monthly Tenx9 at one of Belfast’s best known cabaret venues The Black Box, but the one I was being asked to speak at was at a smaller pub called the Dark Horse, and was a special event for Working With Pride members only, not open to the public. I agreed, wrote my story and sent it off to the Tenx9 people for approval. All they said was to delete the first paragraph of preamble, it didn’t need it, but otherwise no changes needed. So with much nerves, the night came and I stood on the stage and told the tale of my transition in work. At the end, I received a standing ovation. I was completely overwhelmed. Then Mr Tenx9 approached me and asked if I would be willing to tell my story again at the main Tenx9 event on 31st July as part of Belfast Pride Festival, in front of a much bigger, open-to-the-public audience, at the Black Box. Honestly I jumped at the chance.
On 31st July I was sixth out of nine in a packed-to-the-gills Black Box. There were a lot of people there that I knew from Belfast’s LGBT+ community, and a few who had come specifically to support me; an old friend, someone from work, three people from a support group, and 12 (yes twelve!) people from my book group, which is more than we get to talk about books in an average month. I got up in front of the microphone and told my story again. At the end, the place erupted. It seems my story strikes a chord with people. The place was so crowded I had to return to my seat by a very circuitous route, and people were still clapping and cheering by the time I sat down.
Just as the applause died down, Mr Tenx9 tapped me on the shoulder.
“Kirsty? Would you be ok with being interviewed by the BBC?”
Wait what? Yes, the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation. It seems that the “big” Tenx9 events are recorded by the BBC and the best stories are selected for broadcast on BBC local radio in Northern Ireland (called BBC Radio Ulster) in a show called “Tell Tales”. So I ended up standing outside the changing room at the Black Box waiting to be interviewed by the producer of Tell Tales, accompanied by a BBC production assistant. He told me that my story had got the biggest audience response he had ever heard. This was becoming surreal. People walked past us on their way to the toilets, and many stopped to tell me how much they loved my story, how inspiring they thought it was, how brave I was etc. All complete strangers. This was all lovely, but my favourite compliment was the woman who came up to me and just told me I should tell more stories because my delivery was so good. That actually meant the most.
I eventually popped into the changing room, answered a few fairly superficial questions and got my picture taken (“for promotional purposes”). I listened to Tell Tales the following Saturday morning. I wasn’t on it. Or the next week. Or the week after that. I thought that on reflection they had decided not to bother. Then I got an email from the producer saying that my story had been selected and asking for my personal details so they could pay me for my contribution. So I now have a BBC contributor contract in the princely sum of £100. An edited version of my story was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster on 24th August. It was also available to stream on BBC iPlayer for a month, but has now been taken down.
However, if you would like to hear my Tenx9 in my own dulcet tones, the full unexpurgated version is recorded for posterity on the Tenx9 podcast, which you can stream or download from here. My bit starts at around 16:35. Happy listening!
Notwithstanding my new found career as a media whore, the biggest news of all is that I am now six days post-op. Although I still have five more laser hair removal sessions coming up, this is really the end point of the medical transition and the start of a new life. However there is so much to write about my very recent surgical experience, that it’s going to have to be another post. It might be my last one ever.