Being transgender is something I’ve been living with all of my life. It took a long time to realise and when I did, ‘transgender’ wasn’t a term in everyday use.
I remember early on, looking in the mirror and seeing a person and knowing it wasn’t me because it was a boy. I remember stealing a doll and getting into real trouble. I have no memory of it but my brother says I used to argue with my family because I wanted to play with girls’ toys. I was obviously very unhappy being a boy.
I was sent away to boarding school when I was eight. In those days it was considered wrong for boys to be too close to their mothers. At the time it was like what’s now known as reparative therapy [a controversial, pseudoscientific ‘treatment’ which aims to change sexual orientation].
It was probably when I was about 14 and in school plays that I began to realise I’d be happier as a girl. That terrified me and made me feel great shame. I began to associate being on stage with that fear and shame. I thought that if I continued to be so conspicuous, people would know I wanted to be a girl and they would hate me.
That was in the early 60s. There was no general awareness of transsexuals so the only option for me was to try to suppress it and try to live what was seen as a normal life.
Now I look back and think, that’s 40 years of my life that’s been lost because I now know that I can act, that I enjoy acting – but at the same time I’m thankful because that’s what made me a good playwright, that and being transsexual. It made me a good parent as well.
When I was 18 a lovely man called Mike fell in love with me. I really liked him but he feared for his job, and with reason. (Homosexuality was still against the law at the time.)
My wife was the first person I had a proper relationship with. Before I met her, I had come to realise that I’d probably never have a sexual relationship – but we fell in love with each other and she was the first person I told. We were at university. I was 21, and she was a bit older, 23.
When I told her she said, “Yes, I knew there was something feminine about you, that’s why I’m attracted to you.”
That was the beginning of the long journey of me coming to terms with who I am. I came out to her very quickly because it was tormenting me.
It was very wonderful to discover, after a lot of trying, that we could have sex. Establishing full sexual relations took a long time.
In January 1980, my wife became pregnant with our first child. We weren’t trying to have children. Our lives were very unsettled. I was trying to be a writer and she was an artist and journalist. We were living in a lot of poverty.
But a child loves you. They don’t pass judgement. That’s very liberating when you carry all the stigma of being a transsexual. When you are loved, that helps you to have the confidence to work.
What cripples us is internalised transphobia. By that I mean that from an early age I had this sense that I wasn’t quite right as a boy, that playing with girls’ toys was sick and shameful. I believed society’s view that I was a bad person, that I couldn’t be loved. From my conversations with other trans people I know that’s very common. It’s common in all oppressed groups.
My partner was a very strong feminist. We were determined that in bringing up our children, we would not follow traditional gender roles. For half the week, I did the things a mother would do, which was unheard of then. For the other half of the week I was writing.
In 1985 we had our second child. I would recommend anyone, transsexual or not, to be as involved in bringing up their children as they can be. Being a mother to mine was amazing for me, for them, for all of us. I loved looking after my daughters. It gave me huge happiness and pleasure.
I also remember pushing the pram and feeling that I was the only man in the world looking after their baby. That felt very isolating.
I was in the closet as far as the rest of the world was concerned. I so wanted to come out to my children from the very start but because of the prejudice that existed when they were young, I waited before telling them.
My eldest was bullied in her first school. She went to school with an Asterix the Gaul lunch box and she suffered because they told her it was a “boy’s lunchbox.” This made me very aware of bullying and gender issues.
I didn’t want my daughters to suffer because of my transsexuality. I didn’t want to expose them to any bullying or to be ostracised by their friends and I couldn’t come out to them and ask them to keep my identity a secret. So I didn’t tell them, dressed as a woman outside the home and would pick them and their friends up from school dressed as a man.
This became more and more unbearable, so when they were both in secondary school and firmly rooted in their friends, I came out to them. This was around 1998/99.
I told my eldest daughter first. We’d been to see a lovely film called ‘Ma Vie en Rose’ [a Belgian film about a child who was born male, who insists that she is supposed to be a girl]. I said to her, “You know, that could be my story.” It was very hard for her at first. She was very distressed. She’s great now.
I think my younger daughter found it easier. She took it in her stride. I remember performing a show about being transgendered in 2003. She and her friends all came along to see the show and were so supportive of it, fiercely protecting me against a journalist they perceived as hostile.
If I was starting a family again now, I would be open with them from the outset. I think my eldest daughter found it hurtful because I’d concealed it from her for so long.
I wanted to fully transition when my wife was still alive but she said if I did, it would mean the end of our relationship. So I put it off. Soon after, she contracted her brain tumour and died, so I am so glad I did what I did and waited.
After her death in 2005, it simply became unbearable for me to continue living as a man. So I told my daughters. Everyone has to find their own way to do it but when I decided to transition, I told them, “Whatever happens, I love you profoundly.” I said that however much I might physically change, I would always continue to love them and be their dad. And that’s how it’s been. We remain a happy and united and loving family. I have a new partner and my daughters are very fond of her.
Obviously, I couldn’t come out to my friends before coming out to my daughters, that would have been wrong. By that stage I’d also started going to support groups. I’d met all sorts of people who lived double lives, keeping it from their families and I thought, ‘That’s no way to live.’
The good friends were absolutely fine and not at all surprised. It was the same when I transitioned. The bad friends just stopped seeing me.
I wish I’d been able to come out to my mum. I think she would have understood. She died in 1962, when I was 12. My dad died in 1986.
I have three big brothers. One of them was very upset about it. He’s Christian and couldn’t accept it for a while. I also have a step mother, a half-brother and a half-sister. I am not in touch with them anymore but in a sense I think I’d separated myself from them before I transitioned.
Both my daughters have grown up to be well adjusted, successful and happy individuals in stable and loving heterosexual relationships. My being transsexual caused us all suffering and difficulties but this came from the prejudices in the world around us. I feel my daughters have benefited from my being a transwoman, and from my willingness and delight in being able to play a ‘motherly’ role with them as well as being their dad.
When my eldest daughter told me she was expecting a baby, she said, “Dad, you’re going to be a grandma.” It’s been wonderful, having a grandchild and it’s been lovely, the way my daughter sees it. I am her dad but I am her son’s grandma. She was very clear about that when she got married and when she registered the birth. It’s very touching. I love it, actually.
My grandson is growing up in a completely different society and culture from the one I grew up in. The world is transformed. Back then, there was a profoundly transphobic feminist writer, Janice Raymond, who was forceful and eloquent. I didn’t have the confidence to cope with the kind of hostility we encountered in those days. I didn’t come out to my friends until I was 50. Now, it’s possible for me to be the person I am in a way which wasn’t possible when I was young or when my children were small.
I hope that when my grandchild grows up, he’s free to express himself however he wants, that society is more open and forgiving and generous. I hope the work I do, the being open in public, helps that come about. Even now, girls grow up in a different environment from boys. There’s not the same visceral fear if a girl is a tomboy for a bit too long, that there is if a boy wants to plays with girls’ toys.
It’s very important to me that I’ve had the children with me at key points in my artistic career. It wasn’t until my first child was born that I discovered I was a playwright. It just happened. I had a translation of a Spanish play put on at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I would go to performances with my eldest daughter in a sling and hear people laughing at jokes I’d written and that’s when I knew I was going to be a playwright.
It happened again with my younger child. I had a big hit with a play at the Traverse Theatre and again, I had my baby daughter with me in a sling at the theatre. Now, I’ve just had my first grandchild and another play is about to go to the West End and Channel 4 is interested in a short film.
I think my writing has helped me and changed me enormously, mostly because I have written about being transgender directly, partly because success has helped me to cope, to see things in a different way and not always take the negativity on board.
I can remember being laughed at by a group of girls when one of my plays was being performed at the Lyceum. I thought, ‘You’re laughing but I am entertaining 250 people every night – what are you doing?’