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What age did I know I was transgender? That depends what you mean by 'know'

I spent my teenage years and young adulthood feeling different in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. I was constantly at war with myself.

Deirdre O'Byrne

AT WHAT AGE did I know I was transgender? It depends on what you mean by “know”. My first time looking at clothes in a different way was at age nine. I spent my teenage years and young adulthood feeling different in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.

My first time cross-dressing wasn’t until I left home, and I was dreadfully conflicted about it. I had some strange innate need to express femininity, but I also knew it was wrong. So I would engage in what I now know to be typical transgender behaviour – cross-dressing for a while, getting it out of my system, and then getting rid of my clothes and waiting until this strange innate need sought expression again.

I discovered why I seemed to constantly be at war with myself

That cycle continued until I was 39, when I decided “enough is enough, I’m going to have to find a healthier way of expressing what is clearly an innate part of me, namely that I’m a transvestite”. So I started socialising on the transgender scene in Dublin, and very quickly, and very much to my shock and horror, I discovered I had more in common with those who were transitioning than with those who were transvestites and cross-dressers.

It took another six months of extreme soul-searching, and much therapy, before I could finally say “I’m transgender, and I need to transition”. I had found out why I was so depressed and suicidal, why I seemed to constantly be at war with myself, why I had never been able to express love in relationship, why I could never get the hang of this thing called “gender”. I discovered I had, in fact, been born transgender female, and that I had spent my life in drag presenting as male.

Transitioning

And thus began the biggest project of my life – transition. There are three broad types of transition, namely social, medical and legal. I had started social transition with the help of my transgender friends in the club. It’s a process which will last the rest of my life, though most of the work was done in the first few years.

Engaging with the medical profession is a challenge to say the least. I first had to be diagnosed with a mental condition called “gender identity disorder” – the first of many tests I had to pass with them. I passed it with flying colours, though it stings that a core part of my identity is seen as pathological by many in the medical profession. Thankfully the move to depathologise transgender identity means that the current diagnosis is called “gender dysphoria” – a condition which is considered treatable by transitioning.

Hormones

So these days, I take my little blue pills of estrogen every day, and will be doing so for the rest of my life. Being on estrogen is a very different experience than being on testosterone, and certainly estrogen suits me better. And female-to-male transgender people will tell you that testosterone feels better for them. As one male-to-female transgender person said, “putting testosterone into my body is like putting diesel into a petrol car – it just doesn’t work”.

Strangely, every time I mention transgender medical interventions, everyone seems to want to know about my genitals. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s none of your business. Unless, of course, you want to date me, in which case we’ll discuss it over dinner. For me, the main benefit of that surgical intervention – one of many that transgender people can have – is that post-operatively my body stops producing that dreadful hormone called testosterone.

Changing my name

Legal transition is, relatively speaking, a breeze, and can be a lot of fun when approached with a quirky sense of humour. The big step is, of course, the change of name by deed poll. My parents had blessed me with an androgynous name, though to me it was a male name, and so I changed it.

Changing your name by deed poll means that you must then inform everyone you do business with that your name has changed, lest they ask you to sign something in your old name. So I had to come out to everyone from the bank to the credit union to the TV licence people to Dublin Bikes.

Most organisations were fine, though I was asked by my bank to close down my account and open up a new one. I took them to the Equality Authority, who said that if a married woman doesn’t have to do that, then neither should I. And I had a bit of craic with the TV licence person, who made the mistake of asking me if I wouldn’t mind telling him why I was changing my name.

My new birth certificate 

I now even have a passport which has “Gender: F” on it, and I’m looking forward to changing my birth cert when gender recognition legislation is enacted. My original cert will continue to exist, which is actually a good thing, as there are a lot of things “he” created (like tax returns and exam results) that I need to be able to access. But this business of having to “out” myself every time I use my birth cert will end.

I’ve been extremely lucky in many ways. I have people in my life who held my hand through dark days of fear, of uncertainty, of knowing that I needed to do something and not knowing how I was going to do it or even if I could do it. The most important people in my life have all accepted what I’ve told them about me, and often apparently without even blinking an eye. In particular, I’ve been accepted by my family and my employer. They have all treated me the same as they treat anyone else who was born female, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Deirdre is a 46-year-old transgender woman, who has been in transition for nearly six years. In 2014 she won an equality case against AIB over the bank’s refusal to change the name on her account. She has been involved in transgender activism, has co-hosted two LGBT radio shows, has written occasionally in the LGBT media, and is an amateur film-maker. This article is an adaptation of an “AMA – ask me anything” she did on boards.ie, which is available to read here.

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About the author:

Deirdre O'Byrne

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