Transgender community speak out on their personal experiences
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 February 2016
Taking the first steps to become who you really are is a challenge. Reporter Hayley Anderson has spoken to people from the transgender community about their experiences
“You’ll grow out of it”, were a psychologist’s words to 10-year-old “Keith” after his parents found him dressing up in his sister’s clothes.
After years of trying to “grow out of it” and be somebody else, in 2011 “Keith” made the life-changing decision to have gender reassignment surgery (GRS) so her appearance would match who she really was.
Collier Row-born Karen Gale, 57, spent her childhood hiding bin bags filled with women’s clothing in the loft, taking them down whenever she had a moment alone.
“I wanted to wear them but every now and again I would feel disgusted with myself for doing it,” she said.
“After throwing them away I would regret it and either get them back or buy some more.
“I couldn’t stop myself.
“When my parents found out what I was doing, they took me to see a psychologist in Western Road and his conclusion was that all boys go through this and I’d grow out of it but I never did.
“It’s unbelievable to think that was the opinion of a professional but I guess this was a long time ago now.”
Karen, who lives in Stanford-le Hope, continued to live as Keith, getting married, becoming a Romford police officer in 1981 and then having a daughter.
It was only when her ex-wife discovered her trying on women’s clothes four years later that everything changed.
Karen said: “We broke up pretty much straight away and I wanted to live my life as me from then on so I told my inspector at work. He just said ‘you know you can’t stay here’ and that was it.”
For two decades, Karen continued to live as Keith until she could take no more.
“I was drinking quite a lot at this point and knew I had to do something so I booked an appointment with my GP and got the ball rolling for the surgery.
“I hate the words sex change.
“You’re not changing your sex, you’re just making the outside the same as the inside.
“After the surgery, I felt absolutely fantastic.
“The makers of the Channel 4 show My Transsexual Summer were filming me having the surgery at the time and when I started waking up, I remember the producer of the show telling me I looked amazing.”
Karen wants to encourage others to be themselves and to avoid becoming isolated.
She said: “Talk to someone.
“It can be really confusing and the worse thing you can do is not speak to anyone about how you’re feeling.
“People are a lot more accepting nowadays so don’t be scared of opening up.”
Life as a teenager is never easy balancing studying, homework and a social life on top of figuring out who you are.
This was no different for 15-year-old Kai Whittaker, formally Georgia, who came out as transgender last year.
“I didn’t necessarily always know I was meant to be a boy,” he said. “From a very young age I knew something wasn’t exactly right.
“When we are five and six, we are not introduced to words like transgender and all you know is gay and lesbian. I would draw myself male in pictures when I was little but I didn’t know what transgender was.”
The Hall Mead School pupil said he has been pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions.
“Everything has been really positive,” he said.
“I spoke to a few of my friends at first because I didn’t think my parents would take it too well but when I did they were fine with it and told the rest of my family.”
Teachers at the school in, Marlborough Gardens, Upminster, have supported Kai, installing a gender neutral toilet, allowing him to switch uniforms and referring to him as male.
Assistant head Joe Hales said: “Kai has been with us for five years and when he spoke to me about it, there was no question that we would not support him. We had meetings with senior leaders and spoke about ways to make this as easy as possible for him. We consider ourselves a big family here.”
Kai has visited a gender clinic and is on the waiting list to discuss his options. He said: “If you’re thinking about making the transition do not panic – you are not alone.”