I’ve been reluctant until now to reveal my past, because of the potential for type-casting. But yesterday, I decided to announce my identity as a transgender woman.
Since being selected in November 2013 by Labour in Sutton and Cheam, I’ve struggled to juggle my public and private life. Ideally, I would not have "come out" with revelations about being transgender, especially as there is really no precedent for such a move in British politics. However, the political class and the media can be cruel at times, and there was a serious risk that others might disclose my previous gender identity in a negative way.
Fortunately I’ve been successful transitioning, so in many ways it would have been easy to keep my head down. However, as my profile has increased, it has been harder to out-run that shadow.
But on balance, I feel it's now time to embrace my difference, and use my personal experience positively. Owning my past means that I’m better able to shape and control my future, and the impact I'm able to have on others. This might sound simple, but it is actually very scary. It is another step into the unknown – how people might react or treat me in the future.
My decision to be open is hardly likely to be career-making, but it may very well be career-breaking. That’s why making the announcement has been so daunting. It feels like a serious risk, but something that I need to do to gain peace of mind. The alternative would be to quietly slip away and toddle along, but that simply isn’t my style.
There is currently a serious problem with trust in politicians. I’ve been worried that people would consider a lack of candour as just more dishonesty on the part of another politician. Trust is at the core of leadership and that requires courage at times, even if it goes against having an easy time of it.
As an advocate for equality, I have more credibility by speaking from personal experience. Speaking about my blindness or hearing loss has more strength than somebody who hasn’t walked that walk. That’s why I can add value to the great work being done by LBGT groups, as a politician who can draw on personal experience.
However, what I really want people to know is that there are so many other issues on which I hope to make a difference. I’m a mainstream politician, seeking to represent the entire diversity of my prospective constituents. This means tackling the impact of austerity for so many groups across my community, securing economic recovery that is fair and protecting our health services.
I’ve discovered a huge amount over the last year as a candidate. But now I'm able to think more clearly and confidently means that I'll be able to pursue a broader agenda alongside my areas of personal experience. It's a new journey, and I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can from it.
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