Personal Column: Trapped in the wrong body

Jenny Kirk, 27, almost felt jealous when she heard that a 12-year-old in Germany had been diagnosed as a transsexual and was receiving treatment
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The Independent Online

When I read about a 12-year-old being given hormone injections to stop her development as she had been born in a boy's body I almost had a pang of jealousy. I hadn't had the courage to speak out when I was that age. I knew there was something different about me from very early on. Even by the age of two I had more in common with girls than boys. Boys were much more aggressive and competitive. I would play with my sister's Barbie toys and imagine myself as a girl.

I went to an all-boys school when I was 11. I couldn't talk to other people about how I felt because it was a very aggressive, competitive environment. I was bullied. I used to get tripped up and was accused of being gay. I knew puberty was taking me the wrong way. It was hard to cope with getting body and facial hair and my voice breaking.

When I was about 13 or 14 I saw a documentary and learned about people being gender dysmorphic. It was a relief in a way to know that there was a condition for how I was feeling. The first person I told was a lesbian friend in the sixth form. People tend to view transsexuals almost as though they were freaks, so I was very careful in my choice of who I told. Thankfully she took it in her stride.

Almost as soon as I got to university I rang my parents to tell them. I said: "Look, Mum, I feel that I've more in common with women and I feel I'm in the wrong body." She said that it was just a passing phase. I was relieved that I had finally come clean about it, but I felt a sense of anticlimax that she seemed to be in denial about it. When I came back home at Christmas neither she nor my father even mentioned it.

I'd been attracted to girls since I was about 15 and had my first sexual experiences at university. I think I was seduced. I didn't enjoy them. They just re-emphasised my feelings of being in the wrong body. I never asked anybody out. It seemed that some women liked the idea of what they perceived to be a man dressing as a woman. Then they would get bored of this sexual fantasy and I'd get dumped.

I wore girlie tops and even skirts sometimes. I used to tone it down when I came home. My mum would say things like "That's a girl's top, you can't wear that."

Some people at university assumed I was gay and would give me hassle. Others were very understanding. I didn't tell people that I was a transsexual unless they asked.

After I had told my parents I went to see my GP and was referred to a gender identity clinic. I saw a psychiatrist for three years, but he had difficulty accepting the fact that I fancied women. I thought, "Have you never heard of lesbians?" I had two one-night stands with gay men to see whether I would like it. But I didn't.

I moved back home and started work as a freelance journalist. I was fearful that dressing in women's clothes would affect my ability to earn money, and my mother was still making comments about what I wore, so for two or three years I lived as a male. During that time I saw another psychiatrist who was also dismissive because of my preference for women. I became very badly depressed.

In 2004 I realised I had made a mistake in drifting away from gender treatment and went to see my GP and got another referral. There was a six-month waiting list to see someone so in the meantime I saw a private doctor who prescribed me HRT. He was recommend by my now fiancée Zoe, who is also a male to female transsexual. We met again on the internet, having known each other at university.

I had to live as a woman for 12 months before the doctors would consider me for surgery so I moved away and became Jennifer in March 2005. I started to look for work, but couldn't find anything. I was eventually offered a job in administration that I had applied for three months earlier when I was still Richard. Once I had signed the contract, I sent them a copy of my deed poll certificate showing my change of name. With my permission, my new colleagues were told that I was transsexual before I started. I still looked quite masculine at the time, as the drugs take a while to have an effect. After three months I left because of problems that arose and the matter is now the subject of an industrial tribunal.

I had the surgery in May 2006 on the NHS. I had full vaginoplasty, cliteroplasty, labiaplasty, penectomy and orchitectomy. I didn't have breast augmentation because the hormones I take are making my breasts grow. After the operation I felt that a huge weight had been lifted off my mind. It was like being reborn. I remember being in hospital thinking, "Gosh, this is what people who aren't transsexuals must feel like."

My family has been very supportive. My mother realised that while I was living as a woman before surgery I was no longer depressed. She did have difficulty calling me Jennifer at first. We'd have arguments when we'd be out because she would call me Richard and people would look. Then my father starting calling me J, and my mother found that easier. They accept me as their daughter.

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