'I learnt to change tyres, do all the boy things': Being born the 'wrong' sex can leave deep scars. Leonie Jameson reports and hears one woman's experience

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Indy Lifestyle Online
JULIA was registered as a boy: 'When I was born, the staff at the hospital were distracted by a big football match or something,' she says. She feels this early administrative error presaged the long shadow her sex cast over her childhood.

Meeting Julia now as an attractive, successful businesswoman in her forties who brought up two sons singlehandedly, it is hard to reconcile her with the picture she paints of herself as a gauche, insecure young woman. She has fought hard to overcome the pain of feeling unappreciated as a girl, owing to her family's overwhelming desire for a male heir to a famous name. It is to protect her children from such pressures that she does not wish to be identified.

Julia comes from a long line of military men. 'My uncle was killed in the Second World War and my father died abroad when I was 18 months old. From early on I was aware of whisperings and sighings in the background. My nanny was always saying, 'If only your father was still around, if only you'd been a boy'.' She remembers being shown her father's medals, which are still in her possession, and being haunted by a sense of letting the side down by being a girl.

She describes her mother, who featured on Second World War recruiting posters, as 'one of those pretty, vulnerable-looking women who underneath are tough as they come.'

Unconsciously, Julia adopted the role of her mother's protector, became the son she should have been. 'My mother was the sort of woman who, if the car broke down, thought you sat on the bonnet and crossed your legs. I learnt to change tyres, do all the boy things I would have done if I'd been born with one chromosome to the left or right.'

Julia was naturally inclined to be sporty. 'I pushed myself hard physically and became captain of every sport at school,' she says. 'Yet my mother, so feminine, found this maddening. She made me feel gawky, called me 'pony legs'.'

Julia was also clever and was accepted for Oxford, but her mother dissuaded her from becoming a 'dreary bluestocking'. Her main concern was that her daughter should learn to make conversation at dinner parties: 'The funny thing was physically and academically I would have been a very good man, but in my mother's eyes that made me a second-rate woman,' says Julia.

The result was that Julia spent her adolescence feeling inadequate as a woman. 'It was not until I met my husband when I was 21 that I gained confidence. He made me see I was attractive, that it didn't matter if I was clever.'

So does Julia approve of parents choosing the sex of their baby? 'I know it seems reactionary but I think you should leave it to nature,' she says. But she admits she felt enormous relief when her eldest son was born. And she would like at least one of her boys to adopt her family name. 'I know it's irrational, but this is the third time the name has nearly died out with a female.'