I just got home to find an envelope on my doormat… It was my new passport. It’s been quite a journey to get it.
The first attempt
About three months ago I was travelling to New York on business and was worried about travelling under my old passport (with a picture of bearded man inside) so I began the application process.
Reassuringly the UK passport agency have a really good document specially for trans people. I got two letters confirming my diagnosis from qualified gender specialists via Dr Lorimer at Gendercare and Dr Curtis at Transhealth. I got a new photo and had it countersigned. I downloaded the form and filled it out. Because I was travelling within a few weeks I booked a 1 week service, that involves going to the Passport Office in person.
A few days later I arrived at the London Victoria office. I was wearing black high heels, a blue dress, tights, jewellry and a full face of make up; Whilst I may not always be 100% “passable” I was very clearly presenting as a woman. I had to go through airport style security. The three security men at the checkpoint (supplied by G4S) all sir’d me as did the ones up the stairs and in the waiting area. When I got called the Passport Office man was polite and professional. He seemed approving that I had two psychiatrists letters rather than the one letter required, he was satisfied with my deed poll and with my countersigned photos . I was relieved as I’d been worried about the process. At the last minute he spotted that it was the old form and he couldn’t accept it. He gave me the new form to fill out there and then. I asked what I could do about the countersigned picture. He said “Oh – you’ll have to go away and get it resigned”. I was really annoyed – I’d downloaded the form from the website and now I’d have to spend another £40 coming back to London and run the risk of not getting it back in time for my flight. He told me to go over to a yellow phone and call for an appointment.
I picked up the yellow phone:
Agent: “Hello. Can I take your surname?”
Me: “Yes – Collis”
Agent: “OK Mr Collis
Me: “It’s Ms, not Mr”
Agent: “Err OK… So can I take your first name?”
Agent: “That’s a really unusual name”
Me: “Err.. not really it’s a pretty common name”
Agent: “How are you spelling it?”
Me: “A… M… E… L… I… A”
Agent: “Hmmmm – I’ve never heard that name before – Can you spell it phonetically”
Me: “Okaay… Alpha… Mike… Echo… Lemur… Indigo… Alpha”
Agent: “Huuh….. OK… Can you give me your middle name?”
[I’ll spare you from the next bit, but it was exactly the same as the first name]
Agent: “OK – Thank you Mr Collis, now can I take your address”
Me : “Ms Collis” (now slightly testily)
Agent: “Err OK”
[I gave my address]
Agent: “OK – Thank you Mr Collis, now can I just confirm your appointment details”
Me: “It’s Ms. Not Mr.I’ve corrected you several times so far on this call. Please don’t call me that again.”
Agent: “So have I spelt something wrong? How are you spelling it?”
Me: “M… S…”
Agent: “OK – I’ll just update it on the system”
[The rest of the call was uneventful, but he didn’t apologise]
After I hung up – I felt pretty awful; really dysphoric; a man and that’s how the world perceived me. As I returned to the ground floor, the G4S man pointed me to the exit: “The way out is that way sir”.
I left in tears. I couldn’t summon the emotional courage to go back the next day for my appointment, so I just left it.
Continued in part 2: Travelling to the USA and in Europe on my old passport
I’m feeling pretty jubilant at having made it through the first year, so I thought I’d reflect on what were the best bits:
- Getting my brows done for the first time
This comes across as slightly frivolous… and it is. But it’s a placeholder for all those things you can’t do as an in the closet trans girl. Every hair salon or nail bar I used to walk past and feel a pang of jealousy at all the aspects of female culture that were sealed off from me.Ironically when I first went to get my brows done – I was presenting as male. I was super nervous, but after I croaked “I want my brows doing” they were instantly warm and friendly. She said “oh, you’ve plucked an arch into them… We’ll have to let them grow into a more masculine line”. I hesitated and thought ‘go for it’ “err actually I’m transgender… I err don’t look like this most of the time… here let me show you” and showed her a pic of me. She then got it and gave me beautifully defined, feminine brows.I got a similar thrill from getting my ears pierced, getting my nails done for the first time, from my first hair appointment and from my makeup lesson at the Mac store.
- Coming out at work
I spent years reading people’s transition journals and stories. The one thing that seemed insurmountable was the whole going to work in a dress thing (figuratively rather than literally – although FYI I do mostly wear dresses). I had read about going full time as being a barrier to progressing thorough the medical journey. I always imagined that eventually some nasty doctor in a gender clinic would force me to tell my employer to access the next stage. I would then be absolutely ridiculed and then drummed out of the company and chased out of the town by angry villagers with pitch forks and burning torches.
The reality was so different; Coming out was such a joyous experience. I remember telling the HR manager. Before I uttered the words “I am transgender” it felt like I was about to jump off a bridge to bungee – I’d mentally lean forward and prepare to go, then pull back and snatch for the railing. She was amazing. So were management. So were all of my colleagues. I received nearly 200 messages of support from my peers.I cannot believe that the fear of coming out held me back for so many years.
- Sharing it with my children
I am so lucky that my children are a big part of my life. They have both adapted remarkably well to the change. I prepared them for about six months before I eventually told them with probably 40 smaller conversations about gender variance. Eventually I told them and it was a complete non event. We do all the same old stuff that any parent would do with their children – cooking, movies, eating, cycling, climbing trees, going to attractions. Our life together is wonderful.
- Getting my bank cards
My bank were extremely high friction to deal with. It took many hours of phone calls, long emails and eventually taking to twitter to get them to do something.
I cannot overstate how utterly bureaucratic they were (and later admitted to having no processes for Trans people). Eventually I got to someone sufficiently senior and with enough freedom of thought to help me. When I eventually received my cards I had the strangest feeling of happiness. Every time I used them for the next few weeks – I felt happy, validated, legitimate. I still get a little tingle a few months later.
Visiting Santa Claus
For about a month to six weeks after facial surgery I’d not been feeling good about my appearance for a bunch of reasons (mostly post surgery blues and cognitive dissonance of new face). That “you’re just a man in a dress” voice had been quite loud some mornings. But, in parallel, I’ve been vaguely aware that I was passing quite a lot better. The eyes were not just sliding off me rather than culminating in an intrusive stare.I took my daughters to see Father Christmas. The helpers referred to me as mummy a few times. My youngest daughter corrected one of them: “we’re here with our daddy” (which she sometimes explains me as to 3rd parties). The elf looked bewildered and looked to the left and right of me and then returned to referring to me as mummy. This is stark contrast to before, where I’d get that knowing look and possibly a smirk.
They took a picture of us. When I saw it, I was genuinely shocked at how I look now. Somehow the person I’d been seeing was a reflection of how I was feeling and not physical reality (actually kind of obvious now I think about it). I know you’re not supposed to say this, but: I look great. I just wasn’t expecting it. To my eye there is no doubt that the person in the pic is a woman with her children… And she looks pretty too. Amazingly I actually see more family resemblance now than before.
Taking hormones has been incredible. The new emotions, the calmness, the new super powers (my newly acquired ability to cry at almost anything and super human sense of smell), and the physical changes. I find it incredible that you can take these little blue pills and your body slowly reconfigures itself. Very slowly. There’s so much waiting… But I have little boobs now. They’re just 36As, but they’re mine and they’re real. It’s hard to explain what it means to suddenly have a body part that I’ve wanted for so many years. It’s magical. As a bonus, I also put on a pair of jeans that I used to wear with a bit of padding, I could barely get them closed – without the padding – and that’s not because of my tummy – it’s because I’m developing thighs and a bum. This is a truly amazing journey. I’m probably less than half way through my second puberty so there’s more to come.
I suppose the big take away for me is that it’s been wonderful, fun & exciting. Completely different to my expectations in so many ways. I was afraid of so may imagined negative consequences of following my dreams. My life is better in almost every conceivable way; 2015 was, without a doubt, the best year of my life. Don’t sit idly by as your life counts down to death out of apathy or fear at what might happen. Don’t settle. Whatever leap you’re longing to make – make it happen and start today.
Given that it’s the first of January, it seems like I should either write something about looking back at the first year of transition or ahead at the sequel. I decided to be forward looking, so here are nine things that I’m looking forward to in 2016, the second year of my transition:
- Voice Therapy
Feeling confident when speaking would make a huge difference to my happiness. I feel like I’ve reached a bit of an impasse with my voice – On the phone it’s hopeless however hard I try, but on the other hand, face to face people tell me it’s not so bad. I take this as being that they have the visual cue to tell them that they’re talking to a woman. I’ve got a few sessions booked with a brilliant voice therapist starting in a couple of weeks. Right now I think this is one of the two things that would make the most difference to my day to day life. After FFS (facial feminisation surgery) I think I now pass visually a lot of the time, but when I open my mouth not so much. I’m going to work hard at this in 2016 and maybe if I don’t make enough progress then I’d consider voice surgery further down the road.
- Massive Professional Challenges
My work at the moment is probably as challenging and stressful as it’s ever been in my career so far. I’m responsible for facilitating & coming up with compelling ideas and ways of shaping and presenting those ideas that are just very difficult & the stakes are high for us right now. Perhaps not a conducive environment for a successful transition and finding my femininity you might say, but it is really exciting. Overcoming the major challenges in the first half of this year will be a really hard work, but super rewarding if I can do what needs to be done.
- Restarting Laser Hair Removal
I had to stop laser hair removal for FFS, 6 weeks before through to 6 weeks after. I have been a little shocked by how much it recovered in this time. I now realise hitting it with laser every four weeks meant that it could never quite regrow and this period of abstinence has let me see how much there is still left. It’s just a horrible daily task that most women don’t have to deal with and I can’t wait until the day when I just wakeup and am not greeted by it. It’s going to be a long road ahead – another year – maybe two, but it will be so worth it. I really hope I can make some progress before September (you’ll see why in a minute when you read number 7).
- Longer Hair
This one’s the fluffy one in the list. I am loving having long(ish) hair. I am loving taking care of it. I am loving trying new things with it. But it’s still kinda half way. I’m really envious of women with long hair. I can imagine how nice it will be to feel it on my neck and have ‘proper girl’s hair’. Reading this – it sounds juvenile, but who cares? Six months will make all the difference – all I have to do is wait.
- Running & Fitness
Because of number 7, which you’ll read about in a minute, I need to get fit this year. Running is a passion of my close friend and they entered the two of us in a 10K race in July. I’m still embargoed from exercise after my last surgery, but should be able to get out there in a month… Which will give me six months to get into shape for the race.I’m also looking into joining a local Trans Swimming group. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to swim and the thought of being able to do it again is really exciting, though I am a little apprehensive.
- Getting my affairs in order
This is kind of a big bucket of sub goals, plans & ideas. It’s partly driven by the big thing below (yes number 7 again) and partly because it’s just good stuff to do. I left a bunch of people behind last year: Some family members and some friends. I needed stability and so I couldn’t focus on building bridges. Now is the time to work on that. But not just people, I need to be more fiscally responsible and sort some stuff out there and also just simplify my life.
This is the big one – I’m currently planning to have GRS with Dr Suporn in Thailand in September 2016; Just over 250 days away. I’m utterly terrified about what a mountain this is going to be, but excited to imagine a time before the end of the year where I take a shower and look down at myself and feel happy with what I see. I know the recovery will be painful and hard, but the sooner I start, the sooner it will be over and I will get there.
- Being the best parent I can be
My Ex and I have negotiated better access for my daughters, which means that we will get to spend more time together. Many people in my position don’t have this. Either they didn’t get to have children before they transitioned or their family situation has become difficult since transition; I am so lucky to have these incredible, intelligent, funny and beautiful people in my life.
- Developing my new relationships
I’ve made some really special new relationships in the first year of my transition. People whom I hope will be an ongoing part of my new life. I can’t wait to develop these friendships further in 2016. You know who you are. 😉 x
I’ve got lots more that I need to write about (most notably my Facial Feminisation Surgery) and I’m going to try and make this a month of writing again.