Back Story: A blast from the past: transition, 1970’s style

So why didn’t i transition years back? How come i’ve lived the life i’ve lived: enjoyed, as some would have it, a life of privilege; and only now, with everything else done and dusted, come to a realisation that a large chunk of the past was built upon a mistake?

Because, of course, there are those – purists – within the great trans diaspora who take a very dim view of this late transitioning thing. Why, they argue: if you transition after you’ve been married, or had kids, you’re not proper. If you transition after teenhood, you’re not proper. If you didn’t know, aged 7 and three-quarters…

If you didn’t transition in your mother’s womb you’re not…

Oh. I think that could be roughly where we came in, in the first place.

The difficulty is one i observed, walking out with friends in Manchester’s Canal St area a year or so back: two young gay men accosted us, lectured us for some presumed failure of etiquette which, they reckoned, gave gaydom a bad name.

No matter that THEY were now taking a very establishment line… effectively rolling us back to a past when those in charge set rigid rules of what was proper or not (only now with gay as part of the establishment as opposed to on the outside). No matter that we, my friend and i, had been there a decade or more back, fighting some pretty brutal policing of the gay community, campaigning for change.

No. These young, free and gay men had no iea at all of what their lives might have been had they been born even twenty years earlier.

And so it goes. Its undoubtedly undesirable to transition late, for all manner of reasons. There’s the disruption (and emotional upset) to those around you. There’s the fact that you never transition as well as if you manageto do so at or around puberty. And with that, there is the view that you “let the side down” – by failing to “pass”.

I get that. I wish it were otherwise. But those young trans men and women nowadays – and it is mostly those who are young now – suffer the same handicap as those gay men who did not grow up in a world of legalised homophobia.

I was reminded of just what i had to cope with by this article from the Guardian archives. Trans through the eyes of a 1970 columnist. Oh, its sympathetic, in a “pity them” sort of way. Nowadays, we’d see it as patronising – its “more humane to treat this tiny minority who live in a sexual limbo with tolerance and understanding” – and take issue with some of the language.

But i think the author genuinely meant well – and for its time, it probably WAS very trans-positive.

Did i read this at the time? Probably not. My Guardian-reading habits came later.

I grew up in a household in which the daily paper was the Express.

Not, actually, quite as bad as that sounds. Another thing that has changed over the years: the Express was, once upon a time, a not bad right-wing rag. Oh, how are the mighty fallen!

At the weekend, my parents lived dangerously, adding the Mercury (a Midlands paper) and the Sunday People to their reading roster.

I rack my memory to wonder if transition was even mentioned in these publications. I suspect it was. Occasionally. But nowhere near as sympathetically as in this piece.

No. It was weird. Sexual. Perverted, even, and a topic for much hilarity.

If nothing else, that underlines just how necessary campaigning groups like Trans Media Watch are. As one of their leading lights, Sarah, once put it: she would like, in time, for every child to grow up aware that transition is an option.

Not encouraged. Not proselytised. Simply aware.

Because, in another world, another reality, that knowledge might have saved me a great deal of discomfort. And grief.



11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Mike said,

    Great blog Jane.
    It is a great shame that many young LGBT people are unaware of the history of their various communities, and the struggles that have gone before them.

  2. 2

    Jenniferbn2 said,

    Thanks Jane for another insightful blog. You hit the right notes.

  3. 3

    Michelle said,

    Since I was born in 1946 I would have been given shock therapy. Let these “purist” be in that environment.

  4. 4

    Don’t worry about it Jane. Canal St is just the Disneyland of the British gay scene. I have been a few times but after a visit to the freak show known as Spunkle (I think that’s how they spell it) have never been back. Just the preponderance of stag and hen parties are enough to make me wretch. If you don’t believe me go into Nap’s. Nowadays I’d probably have just smiled sweetly, maced the bastards and then done a ‘River Song’ on their genitalia 🙂

    This demonstrates precisely my issues regarding the LGBT and ‘trans gender’ groupings and their effective ghettoisation of gay and transsexual people who have nothing in common let alone actually liking each other. I was talking to a someone I greatly admire before christmas and she offered me the best piece of advice I have ever had. That advice was simple and to the point. It was ‘Don’t ever let them put that ‘T’ one you. Just get out there and be the woman that you are.’ Fabulous advice and words I will share with anyone who is fed up with the bleating of the ‘woe is me’ TMW gang or the ghastly big brother style reality TV dross like MTS as the arbiters of the public face of people with a transsexual history. Personally I don’t want to be represented by drag queens, shemales and pensioners in mini skirts. I’ll get out there into the real world and hopefully people will eventually get the idea.

  5. 5

    Oh, I forgot to mention/ask. I have been trying to find an obscure documentary short entitled simply ‘Sheila’. It documents the life of an Irish woman with a transsexual background living rough in London at the time when treatment was denied to those of us that monsters like Don Montgomery deemed couldn’t pass. Although I haven’t seen it the film sounds harrowing, depicting a time when many of us died lonely and destitute at the end of a needle. Perhaps those little shits in Manchester should be made to watch it Clockwork Orange style. Could possibly stir a little glimmer of understanding?

    I did find the film for here but am reluctant to pay to join a website for just one 14 minute long film as I’m not really interested in speeches by John Money and Dressing up, An overview of cross dressing.

    I’d be very grateful if I could beg, steal or borrow a copy.

  6. 8

    annierose55 said,

    Question nicely dodged and well sequeyed into an LGBT political rant. But again,,,,if you KNEW you were SEXED wrong, why did you not just FIX IT, THEN?

    Oh, I forgot. It was just too difficult and there were soooo many other things that needed doing.

  7. 9

    K said,

    The article from The Graun is very interesting as it is contemporaneous with April Ashley’s 1969/1970 divorce case which, of course, led to everyone losing the right to change their birth certificate for 35 years. It is pretty sympathetic to the social and psychological consequences of that legal decision.

    Later in the 1970s, (1974?) Jan Morris’s “Conundrum” was serialised in The Sunday Times. I was told a few years ago by a doctor that Morris was “given a hard time” at Charing Cross; fortunately for her she had the means to evade them by going to “foreign parts beyond the law”.

    I remember hearing a discussion of the controversy about Renee Richards playing at Wimbledon on the radio in 1975 – and realising that it was possible to do something about the situation.

    Then, in 1980, the BBC screened “A Change of Sex” with the following infamous scenes at Charing Cross with John Randall abusing Julia Grant:

    In 1982, Caroline “Tula” Cossey was outed in The Screws and then wrote a book…. etc etc

    I always find it surprising when people say that they were unaware that transition was an option back then as there was plenty of media coverage and that continues to be the case.

  8. 10

    Paula TransPanther said,

    I guess it’s a matter of having access to that media, and living somewhere large enough to see somebody transitioning. Try a tiny village in mid Herefordshire with a school of 20 kids between 4 and 11.. a village hall, one pub and one post office/shop.

    Of course we were “unaware transition was an option” because there was no information anywhere in the public domain except that filtered through parents who had complete say. I only found out it was a possibility in 1980 after moving to Bolton.. and then it was advisable not to talk to doctors about it unless you had a good job or independent means. I made the mistake of talking and as a result was put through hell for it.

    It’s very easy to forget how scarce any information was in the pre-internet days, and the difference between a small country town doctors knowledge and a large city doctors awareness and knowledge of our existence. Even now it is rare to come across a GP with any knowledge of the problems we face. I’m the first trans woman my GP has ever met in 22 years and she is enjoying learning all about everything. I quite like it too as it does give me a certain advantage as the “professional expert” in our discussions.

    I have one photo of me in “girl mode” from the early 80’s. Class year official school picture, September 1981. I guess that makes me one of the ground breaking trans women because being out back then was hazardous to health and wellbeing.

  9. 11

    K said,


    “I only found out it was a possibility in 1980 after moving to Bolton.. and then it was advisable not to talk to doctors about it unless you had a good job or independent means. I made the mistake of talking and as a result was put through hell for it.”

    Even if you had a good job there was every chance that you would lose it if your situation became known about and this remains the case today.

    If you were naive and spoke to your GP then you might find yourself being subjected to aversion “therapy” (ie torture) by shrinks without consent.

    This has only been declared unethical by WPATH in the last few months.

    It’s ironic that Professor Michael King has been researching the negative effects of trying to change gay sexuality and was also to be the chair of the ill- fated Royal College of Shrinkage conference “Transgender: Time to Change” starring Julie Bindel and Az Hakeem.

    The sixth interview by King on the following website is particularly interesting as Neil Phelps was sent to John Randall who confessed his particular socially stigmatised “hobby” to him:

    It is widely rumoured that Randall liked to dress up …

    Those up North might have had the privilege of being sent to Michael Haslam, the transvestite and convicted sex offender:

    Or if in America in the seventies, you might have found yourself enrolled in Richard Green’s “feminine boy project” brainwashing project. He was still recommending “extinction” and “positive role modelling” in 1987….

    When the suicide of the posterboy for this treatment ,Kirk Murphy, was exposed last year after George “rent -boy” Rekers had in turn been outed, they could only find four survivors according to Murphy’s sister -they think the rest are dead..

    Of course, Green then became clinical lead at Charing Cross GIC which was always infamous for abusive treatment in the 80s and 90s and judging by Jane’s experiences recorded earlier in this blog hasn’t changed quite as much as sometimes claimed….

    It was definitely dangerous to heath and wellbeing back then to be “out” and, although things have improved, there is still a very long way to go.

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