From the age of maybe five, I had always been confounded by having a girl’s body. I managed to avoid it influencing me much up to around ten, when tiny breasts began to bud on my chest and Tim, my big brother, told me to put my t-shirt back on. From that instant, I was locked into femaleness. At eleven I went to an all-girls school. I started my periods, and grew hips and a contempt for myself that went so deep, in the end, I forgot it was there.
Magical events would happen when people called me a boy. Sometimes this would be embarrassing, for instance when I was about to take off my clothes in a female changing room, but still I would thrill at these little exchanges. I kept my hair short, grew muscles to throw the discus, developed a deep voice and began a very, very long journey of androgyny. At fourteen I realised I was gay.
Eddie tells Mia about the moment he realised he was transgender. Post continues…
I was at an athletics meeting, waiting for the discus event, and I caught myself staring at a girl hurdler and imagining kissing her. ‘Oh fuck. I’m fucking gay.’ I look forward to the day when young people will say to themselves, ‘Oh great—I’m gay! Woohoo! I can’t wait to tell my mum!’ Not in England in the early eighties. I managed to hide it for a while, but other girls at school began to sense something was different and kept their distance. I had my first kiss at sixteen. With a girl. Gentle lips. Perfume. Slight fingers on my cheek.
I went to music college at seventeen and felt somehow obliged to try sex with a man. Kissing a woman had been infinitely complex and tantalising; this was harsh, direct, unsubtle. I confirmed for myself that I was a lesbian and confessed to my mum. She ran from the room and didn’t talk to me for a day. The grim disappointment in her eyes slowly dissipated as I graduated from college, won a big scholarship and went to West Berlin to study. I then embarked on a serially monogamous love-life. Seven years was consistently the time limit, straight from one deeply loved woman to the next. There was always a point where I couldn’t give any more of myself. And then I left. If I’d met myself in a bar, I would have felt sorry for me.
From college to my job in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, that was how my twenties spun by. No Taliban limits for me. I drank and partied and ate and travelled myself away from any deeper self-knowledge, until I understood what needed to be done to escape the cycle of semi-pleasure/semi-misery.
I decided I needed to get out and about; in fact, to cycle from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong. I talk about that in another book, Cadence, so I won’t really go into much detail here, but it was on that trip that I had a profound realisation, one that would take fifteen years to actually do anything about.
I sat in a five-star hotel room in Multan, Pakistan, finally cool after constant fifty-degree days of cycling. I ordered a burger and Coke, and checked what was on the TV. A film, something called Boys Don’t Cry. Hilary Swank. Sure, seemed good enough for an afternoon away from Pakistan. I pressed play, and soon my life would switch from semi-pleasure/semi- misery to just plain misery.
Boys Don’t Cry tells the story of Brandon Teena, a transgender female to male who was raped and murdered by two men in 1993. Brandon had grown up in a trailer park and had tried to join the US Army but failed, because he refused to put down female as his gender. In his short life he never had treatment for gender reassignment, but he presented completely as a man, as the man he knew he was.
I watched this film and I was totally sideswiped. I was so sure of my homosexuality because I had never seen or imagined anything different. Unless a human is extraordinarily individualistic, we tend to mould ourselves roughly around what we see in others. When I was growing up, a woman realising she was really a man simply didn’t exist within my view. Very occasionally, I saw males transitioning to females, but they were nearly always the target of spite and ridicule. And there was never any subtlety of differentiation between transgender people, transvestites, homosexuals and drag queens. Quentin Crisp seemed to be enough to depict all of the above. Since society, culture and the media in England were so conservative, I never had the opportunity to see beyond being a lesbian. As far as I knew, there was nothing beyond that. I could go down the butch lesbian path, so that’s what I did, from when I was fourteen. To now be presented with this story and this possibility tore me apart. Because I knew it was me.
I fell around in a mist for the next few days. I had to tell someone, but I was alone. In Pakistan. I reached Lahore and decided I would write everything down in a letter to my sister, Liz. She wrote back (poste restante) and said simply that anything I needed to do, she would support me. When I realised I was transgender, it was a life-destroying moment: I knew from then on that I would never be happy until I did something about it. But to do something about it meant possibly losing everything.
It turned out that I lost everything because I didn’t do anything about it.
How do people have the bravery to go to a doctor, describe these feelings, have very confronting but beautifully liberating surgery, and take hormones that will completely change their sense of self? Even if everything goes well and works out, still, how does one even begin to do this?
I didn’t know, then. I put this knowledge away, very, very tidily, for fifteen years. It sat next to my self-contempt, slowly merging together to build a great depression.
Listen to the full episode of Mia's conversation with Eddie here:
Over the next few years, transgender urges would erupt out of me, and I would spend days looking at trans sites on the Internet. Then I would shove everything down again and tell myself it was not necessary to do this thing, that being a butch woman was fine and my girlfriend loves me now, but she had told me very clearly she would leave me if I transitioned, and besides, who would employ you and what would Mum think and everybody will see you as a freak and... no. It just wasn’t going to happen. I would stay a woman.