Paris Lees

Kellie Maloney has always been female

The ex-promoter’s revelation has challenged us all to readdress our attitudes, and language is a good place to start

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Kellie Maloney has always been a woman. She isn’t becoming a woman or pretending to be one. She doesn’t “think” she is a woman. Nor is she magically transforming into a woman via some alchemical trickery.

She says she’s always felt different inside, but just couldn’t explain it to anyone. Including herself. Who can blame her? How was she supposed to know that it would be possible for her to be a woman if no one else believed she could?

Up until recent decades, gender has – for hundreds of years in the West – been pretty immutable. So was sexuality. You were either a man or a woman and you were either heterosexual or “an invert”. Those were your options.

We’ve come a long way over the past few years, but you’d be surprised how clueless the vast majority of people are when discussing a person who has just transitioned.

I’ve had a number of researchers, producers and fellow journalists calling me over the past few days, asking what I think about Frank Maloney and “his” decision to “live as a woman”. Pretty much every news outlet has fallen into this trap of continuing to see Kellie as a man.

I understand. Sort of. People know Kellie as Frank, so it takes some getting used to. But we’re not talking about old friends here, are we? We’re talking about people who work in the media; who really should know better. When you refer to Kellie Maloney with male pronouns, you’re telling me something about yourself and how you view people who change their gender.

There’s a false idea out there that “men” just wake up one day and “decide” to become women. It’s not really like that, to be honest. I find it really bizarre when people preface questions with: “When you were a man” or ask me what it was like when I “was a bloke”. For a start I transitioned in my teens, so we’re hardly talking bloke territory, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you what it felt like when I “was a man” as I’ve never been one, inside.

I can tell you what it felt like before I was able to express myself the way that makes me feel happiest.

I can tell you what it felt like when I was depressed and ashamed of who I really was. And I can tell you what it felt like, being me; the me I have always been, but made to walk around in boys’ clothes and referred to with male pronouns. Awful, in a word. Precisely because I wasn’t a boy.

Being trans is about who you are inside, not what operations you’ve had or how “good” you look “for a woman”. Kellie isn’t “living as” a woman. She identifies as a woman now. She isn’t “becoming a woman”. She is transitioning. And for the first 61 years of her life, she wasn’t “a man”. She was a transgender woman too frightened and confused to tell the world.

For goodness sake, she wanted to kill herself because she felt so low. This isn’t a joke. It’s a profound conviction that defies explanation. It just is what it is. Some people are trans and Kellie is one of them. I remember the first time that someone I knew told me they planned to transition. I was walking down the street and my pal Selina called me.

“You know how we dress up sometimes?” she said.

“Well it’s not really dressing up for me. I’m going to go all the way, babe.”

She didn’t even have to tell me that, going forwards, I should refer to her as she. She just became she in my mind.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to expect people who are not trans to understand as quickly as I did – after all, I’m trans myself – but I definitely think the media, as a whole, could make a teensy bit more of an effort. Show Kellie some respect. Just refer to her as “she”. I’ve done it in this article. It’s not hard. She’s wasted enough time humouring everyone else and accepting the term “he” to describe her – now let her enjoy her she-dom. She’s always been a woman. She just couldn’t tell us before.

Paris Lees is a journalist, campaigner and presenter

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