Stephanie Hirst: Announcing my transition from male to female means that I am finally free, at last

After finding the strength to 'come out' about being a woman, the response has been incredible

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The Independent Online

It’s strange how much can change so fast. Just one week ago I drove from London from Barnsley to spend the evening with my friends Chris and Megan. But this was to be no regular Saturday evening of food, drinks and X-Factor. This particular evening was life-changing, because by the end of the night, the friend they’d known as Simon would be publicly known as Stephanie.

An interview that I had recorded with BBC 5live was going to be aired, during which I openly revealed to the public that I am transgender, and have now commenced the gender change from male to female.

My close circle of friends had known about my decision to change gender for a number of years, but announcing it on national radio was nerve-racking for all of us. My phone and social networks were red hot during the run up to 10pm when the interview was aired, with every message showing unconditional support. But once the moment had passed, my life suddenly became better in ways I couldn’t even have imagined.

I woke up the next morning with a baby hangover after drinking a little too much champagne. Memories of the previous evening came flooding back: my Dad on the phone crying tears of joy for his new daughter; the hugs of support from Chris and Megan; the hundreds of texts from close friends as well as amazing messages from the public on Facebook and Twitter. Eddie Izzard even phoned me from New York to congratulate me on my transition. It was an evening that I will never forget.

But one thing struck me more than anything else that morning: the feeling of elation and freedom that I could finally just be me. For the first time in my life I understood what was meant by the word "alive", and one week later that feeling hasn’t left me.

You see, I feel like I finally fit in this world after decades of feeling like something wasn’t right. The whole "square peg/round hole" emotion might be a cliché, but that was my life. The feeling of knowing that I was truly female was a destructive daily thought process.

From an early age two things were clear to me. The first was that I had a niggling feeling I was a girl, and the second was that I knew I wanted to work on the radio. Radio is my first love, and I adore it now as much as I did when I was a child.

I was lucky enough to climb the ranks of the industry to a great level, ending up hosting the biggest commercial radio breakfast show outside of London for over a decade, on Capital FM Yorkshire. I won 14 industry awards and went on to host the national radio chart show (Hit40UK) on Sunday afternoon, to millions of listeners.

 

But while all that professional success can help suppress the feelings of gender dysphoria – a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity — it’s a bit like putting a plaster over a huge cut. Eventually the plaster falls off, dirt gets into the wound and help is needed to for it to heal.

I finally found the strength three years ago to ask my GP for the help, which led me to the moment i had dreamed about last Wednesday, when I headed to Salford’s Media City to be interviewed about my experiences in front of delegates at this year’s Radio Festival.

I was at last able to sit in front of my peers, my heroes, and my past and future employers and explain to them that I was still the same person, that my creative thought process and ability to generate material to connect with audiences hadn’t and wouldn’t change. Sure, the exterior might look a little different, but fundamentally I am the same person I always was.

The reception from the audience was mind-blowing, with almost a minute of applause before I even took my seat to chat with BBC 5 live’s Phil Williams. I can’t put into words how amazing that felt, to have true and honest confirmation from my industry that I was accepted as me, something that for decades I feared would never happen.

The help I’ve received over my lifetime – from those early confessions about how I felt with my first girlfriend and close friends, to countless psychotherapy sessions – is amazing. I’m so grateful to the public since "coming out" too.

This afternoon, back in my hometown of Barnsley, I was stopped more than ten times by people to say how proud they were of me and how much of an inspiration I am to others who want to change their lives, but are in fear of doing so. If doing what I've done helps people to gain strength and make changes to their lives, no matter what the situation is, that makes me very happy. Anything is achievable, just a little focus and determination and true happiness can be yours.

As I was leaving my local supermarket last week, a man in his mid-40s stopped me. At first, I wasn’t sure that he was going to have kind words for me. But to my surprise he just said: "Well done". "Really?" I replied. "Yes, we are all proud of you," he said – and with that, we high-fived. Moments like this are surreal, but beautiful, and to me the world is now finally in HD colour.

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