I was 16 years old, I’d recently moved to London to begin my transition
It was time for me to register with an NHS doctor. I’d been well settled into my new life for several weeks, and I was happier than I’d ever been. I felt confident enough to take the next step, so I found the nearest GP surgery and went along to register and book an appointment. It was a very simple process in those days. I just filled in a form with my name, address and National Insurance number, and I arranged an appointment for the following day, after work.
When I finished up at work the next day, I rushed home to change. I didn’t dress in full femme garb; I wanted my appearance to mirror my position on the transition path, namely part way down the road. I didn’t really appreciate at that time that subtlety wasn’t recognised by the medical profession; they preferred you to emphasise the point by portraying stereotypical behaviour and dress. I wore girls’ jeans and a neutral top, no make-up. but feminine jewellery: silver bangles, earrings etc.
I sat in the waiting room watching the board with the different doctors’ names embossed on it, next to corresponding lights. My new GP was male, Dr Moor. When the relevant light came on it would be time for me to go in. I tried to relax as I waited, but I couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t have been more nervous if I tried. I lit a cigarette – amazingly, this was normal in doctors’ waiting rooms in those days – and waited anxiously.
After a few minutes the light came on with a loud accompanying buzz; it was my turn. I walked along a short corridor and entered through a half-opened door. Dr Moor appeared quite elderly. With grey hair and a suit to match, he sat behind his desk looking at his paperwork.
“Have a seat, Mr McIntyre. What can I do for you today?” he said as he looked up at me.
“I want to have a sex change,” I replied.
Might as well get straight to the point. There was no visible reaction from Dr Moor, who looked at me but said nothing.
“I’ve felt like this all my life,” I continued. I’ve moved to London and got my own flat because I couldn’t transition at home in Scotland. My family would kill me if I told them.” Still nothing from Dr Moor. “I’ve read that it’s possible to have sex change surgery on the NHS. Can you help me?”
This might not seem like such a dramatic start to a conversation with a doctor today in these more enlightened times, but back in 1981 it was a bombshell. It was almost the equivalent of admitting that I was a dangerous sexual pervert. Looking back, I marvel at my own courage and naivety, not to mention the trust I placed in the NHS.
If Dr Moor was taken aback he hid it very well. He began by asking me why I thought it necessary to have surgery. Was I attracted to other men? I hadn’t really given this much thought before. Perhaps I would be attracted to men once I had a female body? In truth, I really didn’t know.
I was far more interested in my own physical appearance, than in who I was sexually attracted to. It was (and to some extent, still is) a common misconception that people went through sex change surgery in order to align their bodies towards having a sexual relationship with someone else, so that it would appear outwardly like a heterosexual relationship. Most people, including doctors, confused gender with sexual orientation. It remains the case today.
I remembered the phrase I’d read in books or newspaper stories.
“I think I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body.”
This statement seemed at least to move Dr Moor to start taking notes.
In truth, the statement made very little sense to me. How could I know what it felt like to be a woman? It’s like asking what it’s like to have green eyes compared to brown. There is no answer; no one knows how another feels.
But I knew, at least from what I’d read, that this was the trigger phrase.
Also, what I did know for certain – and I’ve never once changed my mind on this over the almost four decades since – is that I did not identify as being male. I’ve never felt comfortable looking male, nor being addressed as male. The whole idea of being a man was abhorrent to me, and still is. I think I just therefore assumed in that binary world of the 1980’s that I probably would be much more comfortable being female. I detested the physical characteristics of a man and wanted instead to have a female body, complete with wider hips, breasts, a narrow waist, smooth skin and a vagina. I desperately wanted to get as close to a female body shape as possible. I knew that if I couldn’t at least get rid of my male physical characteristics and live as female, then I didn’t want to live at all.
Is that how a woman feels? It’s impossible to tell, even for a cis woman..
So for all of my life, my personal position has always been that I simply never wanted to be a man, rather than ‘I felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body.’
I didn’t feel that this was the time or place to discuss such nuances with Dr Moor. What I needed was a referral to a specialist, and this appointment was the all-important first step. Dr Moor said he would need to look up the guidelines and explore what options were available. He would also need to have my medical records sent to him from my previous GP in Scotland.
Perhaps I could make another appointment to come and see him in four to six weeks’ time, he suggested. I said I would, and thanked him for taking me seriously.
As I stood up to leave, he cautioned me: “you’re very young to be considering this path. I’ll find out what I can, but it’s unlikely you would be accepted for treatment until you’re at least in your twenties.” For the first time he showed some emotion and smiled kindly. “I’ll see you in four weeks or so.”
I walked out on a high. He hadn’t laughed at me and seemed to take me seriously. It was only the first step, but it was the first time I’d actually had the courage to explain my situation to a doctor. I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I walked back to my flat with a spring in my step and a beaming smile. Little could I have anticipated that a major storm was approaching from a direction I’d thought was well behind me.