I have always thought of myself as fairly unshockable thanks to a group of friends who between them have covered most dramas. So when a year ago in October 2014 an email letter arrived from my brother, who is living in Australia, entitled “something to tell you” and whose first line was “what’s this, a letter from your brother – it must be serious”. I had all sort of thoughts: divorce, cancer, death… but if I had been asked to list 100 things that that letter might have contained, its actual contents would not have been on the list. I read the two page letter with tears rolling down my face and a big “NO” building inside me – my 41 year old brother is transgender.
He has known since he was 10. Can any of us imagine keeping a secret like that for three decades.
What does that mean?
Well for the family, first of all, it means shock and disbelief. I cried on and off for four days it came in waves. I felt like I was living in a parallel world. I spent the day reading the letter in a meeting, periodically thinking to myself “no, it can’t be”.
Over time the mind realigns itself and acceptance creeps in from the edges. Distance helped me because I was able to adjust in my own time. I describe what’s happening as a long bus journey: he has been on the bus for a long time; I only got on for one stop, more than half way through. By the time he was telling his sister and parents he was prepared for rejection which didn’t come. Fundamentally he/she is still the same person only happier in herself.
Mum struggled/is struggling. How can she not? She gave birth 40 years ago to a beautiful baby boy who now 40 years on wants to be a beautiful girl. Then there is his wife and daughter. I don’t know if they will ever find peace with it. I am not going to guess how they feel but for his wife a sense of shame is always close. What will his daughter make of it as she grows up (she is 8)? She didn’t choose any of this, she just wants her daddy. We do not currently live in a very tolerant society. Like many, he thought maybe marriage and children might make “it” go away. It didn’t. The marriage is over and 12,000 miles now separates father and daughter, heartbreaking for them both.
So we set up healthewomen to look after all women’s health no matter what shape, size, colour of gender (maleness and femaleness are a continuum, not absolute) and we mean it. We have a section for transgender women. This is deeply personal for me. I watch the shock and judgement when I tell people my brother is transgender. It’s not comfortable for anyone.
I said goodbye to my brother in March 2015 when he made his last trip to the UK as a man and I look forward to welcoming my new sister to the UK in October as she makes her first visit as a woman.
Our vision is all about providing high quality information and the latest research along with product information to women aged 16-66. Transgender have very specific challenges and there is little support out there for spouses, children or family members, I know. So let’s see whether we can help build understanding and, from there, tolerance as well as providing products that help with this incredible transformation from Man to Woman.