I have been reading, dipping into, Trans Britain Our Journey from the Shadows edited by Christine Burns. Apart from the fact I agree with the comment “one of the most interesting books I read this year: Guardian Best Books of 2018” on the front cover, it is a eye opening book.
I am a mature trans woman who transitioned late in life. My first efforts at coming to grip with being transgender was pre internet. My lightbulb moment came from reading Jan Morris’ Conundrum. Yet the material available to expand on that knowledge was really limited. Reading this book it brought back all the magazines which, with hindsight, were essentially fetish magazines for Transvestites. Nothing wrong with that but not really relating to gender dysphoria.
It brought back the seemingly impossibility of doing anything about changing your gender. In one chapter written by Christine Burns “ is there anyone else like me” she describes that “it was quite possible to think back then that transition was a thing undertaken by a different more exotic kind of person” going on to say that “the rich and poetic language of Morris’ account underlines that this maybe not something for more common mortals”. it is true that I felt like that. I toyed with venturing to Morocco as Jan Morris had done for her surgery. In reality it seemed too difficult to contemplate, for a mere mortal rather an erudite much travelled journalist.
I was completely unaware that there was treatment available from the mid 60s in England. It was not until later in the early noughties that I read about and came across Dr Russell Reid and determined to make an appointment only to find that he had been censured by the General Medical Council and that was no longer a possibility.
What I have also found really well portrayed is how with no attempt of hiding various contributors are quite open about their ignorance of the real trans situation. Dr Lynne Jones, a former MP, describes how she was approached by a trans woman’s partner ( as they were too worried about privacy and confidentiality originally ) and herself remarks that “if I am honest what little thought I had given to trans people would have been unthinkingly dismiss them as rather weird in wanting to change sex. The idea that people would actually choose to go through such a mutilating process meant they must be disordered or seeking some kind of sexual gratification. I had never even considered how cruel such a view was or understood that like being gay it was not a matter of choice”. To read that was powerful. To see that in writing and to see it expressed in a way that shows it was frankly the main stream view somehow validated my feelings fears and concerns I had had all those years ago. Dr Jones became an ardent activist and supporter for trans people bringing about change.
What is also good about the book is that it brings it up to date with current topics around activism and how it has developed. A book no trans person should miss. Watch this space as I dip into it some more.