Many years ago, when I was about nine, I read a book called Conundrum by Jan Morris. It gave me hope. It gave me a feeling that I could belong. The book was about a strong woman who had climbed Everest with Hilary, reported on the Suez Canal Crisis and had reported on the trial of Adolph Eichman. During all of these events she had been struggling with a gender identity that wasn’t her’s.
I’d started reading that book several years after the start of my own struggle with gender identity. Mine had begun around four years old. I know people will say “you can’t possibly remember that” but, unless they had been living in my head since that time, how can they?
As I have said above, I have been living with this since aged four, the first time I can remember feeling wrong. I grew up with a loving family: My father was in the army, my mother looking after my brother and myself. Despite his Army career my father was never a disciplinarian, never forced us into any required boxes and never punished us, (athough he did smack me with his belt when I tried to steal someone’s car jack). So, as a child, despite our constant moves every two years due to Dad’s Army career, nothing was ever wrong.
Please note, there is a point to this diatribe and I’m not going too deep into my childhood and the point started in the first paragraph.
Over the years, I grew up and went to school. I was bullied, spat on and even had copper sulphate thrown in my eyes, all for being “different”, “effeminate”, “queer”, “fag”. My fear of walking home got to such a point that my father had to drive and pick me up inside the school gates each night. No-one would do anything about it. Teachers would laugh on Parent’s Night and tell my parents to “toughen me up”. I arrived at a point where I found I could almost hang myself using the back of a plastic chair, but it never worked. You can compress the back of the neck on the top of the chair until you pass out but then the chair would give away.
I tried sucking on a gas tube in the science lab, but one of the teachers caught me before I’d passed out.
I tried hiding in a snowdrift on a cross country run, hoping to die, but our sports teacher noticed I was missing and found me.
A friend of mine lined up tables in the maths room, pushed one upside down through a window and I ran after it. Our maths teacher caught me before I reached the window.
After that, I was sent to a mixed boarding school. To be honest, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Mr Braithwaite, one of the housemasters of my first house, caught me trying to jump out of one of the upper floor windows on my first night. He grabbed me and made me promise that if I didn’t do it again then he would have a surprise for me the next day.
Oh, and what a surprise it was. Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds”. I had never heard such wonderful music. Such rhythm, such storytelling. Such an anthem.
It became the music of my life. And it always has been. Thankfully. It also inspired me to go into electronics and computers, along with a love of science fiction.
You may be wondering why Jan Morris’ story fits in here?
I read her book when I was nine. It gave me an understanding of who I was, what I was.
She became the first reporter to climb Everest with Hilary, the first to report on Suez and Eichman yet, if you read her book, she was the same as me, the same as every trans child: bullied, reviled, hated, because no-one tried to look, see and understand.
Why do people hate us? Because they don’t understand us. They don’t understand how we feel. Nearly fifty years later after reading Jan’s book and listening to “War of the Worlds” I’ve come to one conclusion:
They don’t even try.