The IDENTITY Project

Stella, Brighton, UK

stella michaels

I knew there was something ‘up’ with me, way back when I was a toddler in the early 1950’s! It drifted dimly in and out through my childhood, and then exploded into being a very significant – and deeply hidden – part of me at puberty. I also learned that I was not alone – discovering there was a ‘trans’ word meant there had to be others like me! The problem was that society’s rules were very different then, and I was too terrified to go outside in female mode other than (dangerously!) late at night, maybe once or twice a month. I decided that my parents would never find out about me, and they never did – there was no way they would have understood. I tried to stop being trans. Throwing out my girl clothes didn’t fix me. Getting married didn’t fix me. Getting divorced didn’t fix me. Only living alone for a couple of years in my mid 20’s started to fix me, as at last, I could live some of the time as “me” – the female me, and I started to come to terms with it. But I still had a long journey in front of me. Finding a support group in the mid 1980’s was absolutely pivotal. I was no longer alone, which was amazing – but still the media and society perceived trans people as being some sort of sex criminal, so we lived very covert existences. I limited my ‘transness’ to being in company with other trans people, until I met – and married – my amazing hetero partner in the late 80’s. She was curious, but totally unfazed – and very supportive. I gradually started to get out a little more into the world as a female, but it remained fraught until around 2010, when something seriously changed in the public’s perception of trans people. One of the most formative things that ever happened to me was having my life’s dream come true at the age of 65 – I finally went to work, in female mode, in the office of a local community college, where I was simply treated as an ordinary woman. Bliss! It afforded me a space to adjust, and relax, and to develop enormously into my female self. So much fear simply evaporated! Of late, and although I now tend to move almost entirely in ‘straight’ circles, I no longer really need a support group – however I shall never turn my back on them, because I know what they did for me, and sometimes I can return the favour. Most of all, I feel so lucky and honoured to have lived at a time when, in this country at least, it is finally possible for people to freely live, work, and love in a changed gender.

What does your identity mean to you?

Less than the rest of my life priorities. It’s just a format to live in – but I didn’t much like the male one I was given, so I moved toward female territory, which I find I relate to, and is an infinitely warmer place to be. Men live in such a bleak place – I couldn’t really bear it.


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