Throughout my research on gender identity I’ve come across countless documentaries and stories about young trans individuals. And I wondered: what about those individuals who transition come later in life? What is it really like for them? For me the older generation of transsexuals quickly became my main area of interest and subject I was most intrigued by. I find it astounding how in some cases the individuals don’t do anything about their conflict for centuries! Those who have successfully established their gender role within society who have good jobs, friends, have become parents and formed life long partners through marriage, all very convincingly. Suddenly, for whatever reason, they can no longer deny or repress whom they really are for any longer and decide to take action.
In some respects I think this delay in sex realignment or ‘coming out’ could be due to the period of time these older individuals were born and raised in. They may have come from a time where there was not much information on being transgender. As a result, they were forced to believe it was only a phase and maybe something every person has felt at some stage. In modern society being transgender and SRS has become more understood and accepted so maybe this has impacted on the older generations decision to change. Either way, deciding to transition at a later stage in life is inevitably more challenging and difficult as opposed to those who are younger. The identity, physicality and gender role of these individuals have already been cemented within every aspect of their life, thus the individual risks losing and impacting on everything in their life. They must be ready and willing to rebuild their entire life, learn how to be the gender they have always felt they were, begin to tell others, all in order to become the person they really are. I find it completely admirable and inspiring but envy them I do not! Transsexuals feel their assigned sex at birth is wrong and their correct sex is one that matches their internal feelings. The media and society have a strange stereotyped image of what a transsexual person is which doesn’t reflect their reality. They are people like everybody else, all trying to find their place in the world.
I wanted to speak to these individuals first hand to help broaden my knowledge on gender identity issues and the difficulties, triumphs but what’s more the realities of being a transsexual living in the U.K, particularly an older transsexual as I feel they are less represented. Over the last few weeks I have spoken with *Kate a 52 year old male to female transsexual. Through this process I have come to learn a lot more about the process an individual has to go through when re-aligning their sex and life thereafter. Kate made it quite clear from the get go that she does not want to be seen as transsexual. Kate has mentally always been female and now her physical body aligns with that. As a male, Kate tried to become as masculine as possible, played rugby, got married and became a father. As young as 5 years old, Kate knew that she did not quite fit into her gender or any other box society set out for her. She was “playing a role” a role she thought was expected of her within society. Eventually, living a lie became too much, “It was either suicide, or the other option…I just go for it”. At 49, Kate embarked on the journey to find happiness and become who she really is.
I decided to conduct an interview with Kate, which she was happy for me to do as we had been speaking with one another for quite some time about her journey and life as a transsexual. I prepared some interview type questions, which I emailed through to Kate first to allow her to process and think of what she would like to say before actually conducting the interview. I went to visit her in her home alongside her son and partner. I wanted to ensure she felt as comfortable as possible as this is a deeply sensitive issue to speak only about. Whilst I had prepared questions and formulated a structure, the interview became increasingly informal and more like a conversation. Below is a recording of our full conversation, where Kate shares her entire story from being a male, to transitioning to her today. Its deeply moving and I’m incredible grateful and thankful she was willing to share her story.
The interview became exceedingly casual and relaxed, more like a conversation as opposed to a formal question and answer type interview. However, given the topic and how personal this sharing of information was I feel that if it had been more formal it would have taken away that sense of humility and honesty. I feel I could have interacted more and asked more questions during the conversation. However, I wanted to giver Kate plenty of time to communicate her story, take breathers, allow her to breakdown, rebuild herself and than return to the conversation when she was ready as opposed to firing questions at her over and over again. This interview made me realise the turmoil and difficulties trans* individuals have to encounter on a nearly daily basis.
These individuals have to conquer so much, it’s really admirable and has encouraged me to continue to interview trans* individuals and continue to show them in a positive but what’s more accurate light. I feel recording our conversation as opposed to conducting an interview via email, made Kate’s story all the more personal and candid. These are her words; this is her story uninterrupted and unedited. Some technical errors were made during the recording process however as I had to change memory cards, which meant I had to stop and restart recording. Nonetheless, it was a really inspiring and elating experience and has spurred me to interview more non-conforming individuals to ensure that their voices and stories continue to be heard. Speaking with Kate has taught me more about gender identity issues and reminded me that my focus should always be on my subjects, as them as individuals and not myself.