I’ve always thought it’s important to try my best to answer questions if people have them. I think that’s mainly because I’m aware that, as a trans person, my story is quite unusual; I have very loving, supportive parents, a good support network and I’ve never really had the fear of being rejected by anyone because I am trans.
Sadly, my experiences are quite unique for a trans person.
I was born in Staffordshire, and I grew up around there, too. It’s not a very exciting place! It’s your typical, white, middle-class area in the countryside. About ten years ago, I came to Manchester for university and I’ve stayed here ever since, although I did spend a nine-month stint in Sydney, where I worked in a shop that sells surfboards, skateboards and clothes.
I still skateboard to work now actually, but I can’t do any tricks. I remember I tried to olly a couple of years ago and fell flat on my face – it didn’t go so well!
Throughout my life, I’ve always tried different things; I’ve studied a few subjects at university, and I actually did a Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Culture. Imagine – I literally did a Masters in Gender but didn’t realise that I was trans until afterwards!
"I always found
my body really jarring,
but when I was growing up,
transgender wasn’t really
I always found my body really jarring, but when I was growing up, transgender wasn’t really a ‘thing’. All I saw in the media were examples of people who had transitioned to female, and even they were often deeply depressed. I never related to that – I was always happy with myself. Even though I never felt like I should have had a feminine body, I felt lucky to have the body that I do, so it wasn’t something I considered.
I got my first girlfriend at fifteen years old and just identified as a lesbian from that point onwards, because I knew that people would find it comparatively easy to accept that I was just a lesbian who dressed like a boy. I don’t think people have as much of a problem with masculine-presenting women as they do with feminine-presenting men – but that’s another story!
It was when I started studying that I started working in nightlife; I think, for me, it’s kind of ingrained, because my dad always worked in hospitality, so I would spend my summers following him around pubs and playing in beer gardens. It’s the kind of environment I’ve always felt comfortable in. Especially if you’re queer, or trans, I think it’s natural to spend a lot of time going out, seeing friends and just immersing yourself in that diversity you really find in nightlife, especially in big cities.
It’s funny, I find that being a minority makes it easier to understand other people’s experiences. As a trans guy, for example, I find that I have a better understanding of the way that women are treated, especially when they’re out and about in a bar situation. My workplace is very liberal anyway – I can’t think of anyone I work with that wouldn’t agree that feminism is a great idea – but I definitely think I make an effort to be more respectful when I speak to women.
"I find that being
a minority makes it
easier to understand
I think that stems from the fact that I know what it feels like to be alienated, or treated like the ‘other’ in a public setting. That makes you understand how upsetting it can be for people, so you don’t want anyone else to have that experience when they’re in your bar. That’s what’s important to me: that people feel comfortable and have a nice time. It’s a really brilliant feeling to know that my work plays a part in making that happen.
I’ve worked in the same place for two and a half years now, and since I’ve started presenting more masculine– I have facial hair and I’ve been going to the gym, so I’ve put on some timber recently – I definitely find that lads, especially of my age, will say, “Alright, mate?” at the bar to me more often.
I tend to get the comment: “Oh, you look really good!” I can tell that what they actually mean is, “You’re closer to your goal!” I sometimes get hit on by women as well, although it’s often quite flirty and nuanced, like they’re testing the water. I can obviously only speak to my own experiences, but I tend to find it’s a different vibe than it was when I presented as a cisgender woman and men would hit on me.
People do ask questions when the time feels right, too. It’s not like I walk around saying: “Hi, I’m trans!” But I do discuss my transition when it’s relevant to the conversation, because I feel like, as someone who is lucky to have had the support network that I have, I should step up and be visible for the transpeople that can’t afford to be.
The most frequent questions I get are about transitioning, because I think it’s just natural that people are interested in our bodies and our experiences. I tend to talk more about hormones, because I think those gradual changes are way more interesting than surgery.
There is that whole misconception that trans people have ‘the op’. It isn’t just one; I’ve had my top surgery, but I still need to have a nipple reduction, and lower surgery is at least a three-step process depending on how things go.
"I’m just here
living my life
People really do think it’s just one operation, though. They think that we all just go through one process and then emerge a shiny new person!
I also always have to remind people that I’m on testosterone for the rest of my life, because my body doesn’t naturally produce it. I think being transgender is treated as quite a zeitgeist issue, but the reality is that now we have more trans representation in the media, people are becoming more aware of it. I actually realised that I was trans when I saw that picture of [trans model] Aydian Dowling recreating the Adam Levine naked photo, the one with the model’s hands covering his junk. I looked and knew that I could relate, and that I wanted my chest to look like his – like the chest of a trans man. I just thought, ‘That’s what’s really going on here!’
On the whole, people are lovely to me, although there was one well-intentioned guy who asked me if I was ‘sad’ that I would ‘never grow a penis’! I explained that not all trans men want one, and that there are things we can do, which kept him quiet for awhile, but after ten minutes he turned and said: “You know what? If I die, you can have mine.” What a nice guy, right?!
Normally people ask me questions and they’re really sweet about it, because they don’t want to overstep a boundary or offend me. I find that heartwarming, but the reality is that I talk about this a lot because it’s my life, so as long you have the right attitude, I don’t mind answering questions.
I mostly just get those people that get really drunk and sway over tome, shouting: “I’m so proud of you!” I’m just like, “Alright mate, come on!” It’s weird in a way that people are proud. The sentiment is there, but ultimately I’m just here existing and living my life like everybody else.
Additional images by Sarah Jenny Johnson.