'I know who I want to be': Why I decided to undergo male-to-female gender reassignment

Rosalind Ryan talks to Vivienne Snowdon, who plans to have an operation to become a woman in October

"I have always associated myself with being female, and identified much more with girls when I was growing up. When I was little, I heard the alternative name my mother would have given me had I been born a girl and I thought 'Yes, that's who I should've been'," says Vivienne Snowdon.

Vivienne, 42, of Glasgow, is undergoing male-to-female gender reassignment. She has been receiving counselling and hormone treatment for 14 months under the NHS, and is planning to have the full operation in Thailand in October. The cost, including travel, will be £13,000, and she is raising the money herself. "It's something that I feel has to be done," she says. "For me, the process won't be complete until then."

It is hard for Vivienne – born Jim Sneddon – to say exactly when the process of her gender transition began. For many transsexuals, there is not a specific turning point, but a deep-seated knowledge that they were always meant to be somebody else. Vivienne agrees, but says it is one thing to recognise that fact and quite another to act upon it.

She says: "I was nine or 10 when I started cross-dressing. I could fit into my older sister's clothes and would 'girly it up' in front of the mirror! But there was always the guilt that comes with that, the knowledge that it was something I should keep private. However, it also felt like this wonderful thing that only I knew about. It was a wee secret to myself, and I liked that."

A difficult childhood in Glasgow made it even harder for Vivienne to express who she really was. "I used to have long hair and was always very feminine. But I was bullied terribly at school. I had a bad road accident when I was nine, and was off school for quite a while recuperating," she says. "Then I started at a new school, and because of the long hair and still being quite weak from the accident, I was bullied severely at least twice a day for a couple of years."

But as Vivienne grew stronger, she learnt to handle herself. "Soon I could turn on the bullies and gave them all a good hiding," she says. "It wasn't all at once, but over a period of time. There was seven of them and I managed to turn on all of them."

By the time Vivienne left school, she was looking and behaving much more like a male. "I just got on with being a dude, living the way society says a man should be. I wasn't so distracted by my gender disorder that I couldn't live my life," she says.

Part of her old life was being a dedicated Glasgow Rangers supporter and getting involved in that "very macho, masculine environment". As a man, she also had a number of relationships with women, but now recognises that they may have indicated something about her gender disorder. "They were always the most incredibly beautiful women. I was fascinated by how perfectly feminine they were," she explains.

She was married at 26 and spent her married life as a man, but when her marriage ended three years ago, Vivienne felt able to start being more feminine. "A lot of the responsibility of the roles of 'husband' and 'father' were taken away with the end of my marriage. I felt much freer after that and decided to indulge that side of my personality. I wasn't consciously saying 'I'm going to change gender', but I just wanted to express myself," she says. "Deciding to live your life as a woman isn't a sexual thing, or a perverted thing, it is actually quite a beautiful experience. To me, it felt like putting myself back in touch with a part of me that had been neglected."

Vivienne began buying women's clothes and make-up, but was only dressing in her own home. None of her friends or family knew about that side of her personality, but one day she introduced them to Vivienne in quite an unorthodox fashion.

Psychologists advise transsexuals to tell people about the transition first and then introduce themselves as a woman, but Vivienne threw caution to the wind. She says: "I was dressed at home and my nephew called and asked if I could go into town to meet him. I had the option of changing, or going into town dressed as Vivienne and saying: 'Deal with it'. He's quite a tolerant person and was actually cool with it. The guys he worked with were cool about it too, which made me feel incredibly liberated."

Vivienne expected her transition to be the hot topic of family conversation, but when she went to see her sister was surprised to discover her nephew had not told his mother. "She opened the door and was like, 'What?!', but was very understanding. Then my two other sisters arrived, so I was introduced to all the women in my family at once." Vivienne's transformation was so dramatic that one of her sisters failed to recognise her.

She says: "We were in the living room and my sister came in. I hadn't seen her for years as she was living out of the country. The others said to her, 'Who do you think this is?', and she replied: 'I'm really sorry, I don't know who you are'. When I said 'It's your brother!', the look on her face was hilarious. She was totally amazed."

Vivienne's parents both died before her transformation, but she says the rest of her close family and friends have now accepted her. She believes this may be because she is much more relaxed. "I think a lot of people prefer me as a femme. I'm just much happier as a person now" she says. "I know I still have some way to go, but in my head I know what I'm doing and who I want to be."

Unfortunately, not everyone reacted to her transition so well. "I have had some abuse shouted at me down the street, but you can't expect everybody to accept you. You have to allow some margin for arseholes," she says, good-naturedly.

As part of her new life, Vivienne is planning to visit Pride London for the first time. "It will be a great experience. For me, it symbolises trying to break down intolerance and barriers," she says. "Many people are marching for the right to live their life the way they want, which is great, but for me it's also a march for tolerance. A lot of macho guys may be looking at us thinking, 'What a load of... whatevers', but those people should look inside themselves and see if they can be more tolerant, see if they can change. I will be marching for a less macho, more tolerant world."

Though her own change is not yet complete, Vivienne is excited about the future. "I'm a musician and songwriter, but I never felt comfortable being on stage as a guy. I felt like a fish out of water. I'm not saying I could do that as Vivienne, but it would be a great hurdle to get over if I could.

"I think it's just a question of having more confidence, being able to say to the world: 'This is me and I'm happy. This is who I am.' Which, I guess, is the same for everybody really."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Buddy DeFranco
people
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

    Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

    £25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

    Day In a Page

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month