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Transition Stories: Zoe Kirk-Robinson

This article was originally written at the time that I was preparing to travel down to Brighton to undergo gender reassignment. The article was never completed. It has been converted from the old T-Vox Wiki format to the new T-Vox site “as is”. — Zoë

Because, at the time of writing this, I am preparing for gender reassignment and thus have now effectively completed my own transition I feel I’m in a position to relate my own experiences for others to read and gain experience from.

Introduction

I’m Zoë Kirk-Robinson. I was born on 20 September 1980 and apparently I was late, so I started as meant to go on. I first learned I was transsexual in the mid 1990s but I didn’t transition until April 2005. I would have transitioned earlier and did in fact come out to my parents in 1999, after a year of preparation. However, the local Gender Identity Clinic totally screwed me over and I didn’t receive any medical help until 2004.

Preparation for transition

In preparation for my transition, I informed my workplace well in advance and had a sort of plan of action for everything I needed to do. I think both of these are important as this can’t be done peacemeal and attempting to do this without knowing exactly what needs to be done (and when!) will usually result in you forgetting something really important.

I split my list of things to do into four sections: coming out, name changes, wardrobe and then speech therapy. I’ll discuss each in turn.

Coming out

When I started preparing to come out at work in June 2004, I has only just contacted Dr Reid for the first time. I didn’t feel I had a chance of ever passing because I looked just as I look in the picture to the right but I knew I had to transition if I was to be happy.

As I had two jobs, I wrote an e-mail to manager for my day job and decided to use his reaction to determine how I discussed the matter with my evening job manager. This worked out really well but if you manager doesn’t have an e-mail address (or if you don’t know it) a letter or discussing things face-to-face works just as well. I chose to e-mail because I knew I’d either clam up or find some way of avoiding telling my manager if I tried to do it face-to-face for my main job.

In the e-mail I informed my manager that I was transsexual, what transsexuality actually is (instead of what the media says it is), that I was about to make my first appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss my condition and what to do about it, then outlined what the likely treatment process would be, what effects I could foresee for me and my work, and what I wanted my employer to do.

It’s important that you put in this last part as well as the part telling them what transsexuality actually is, as the majority of employers will not know what to do and will only have what the media tells them to go on, which usually isn’t good.

I had already come out to my parents in 1999 so informing them that I was about to transition was easier than informing my workplace had been. I spoke to my mother and explained the situation. She spoke to my father and they were both very understanding, if (rather understandably) worried.

Name changes

When I first decided to change my name I had no idea what I was doing so I spent several hours researching name changes on the Internet with Jenny Kirk. We both had several whiskies to bolster our nerves and we eventually decided that Deed Poll was the best way to go about it, as we could do it there and then over the Internet instead of having to draft a Statutory Declaration then work up the nerve to go to a solicitor or magistrate, explain the situation and have them validate the change.

After filling in the details over the Internet, our documents arrived a couple of days later. We had our change of names witnessed by a couple of friends, in a pub, on 01 April 2005. With hindsight, this was not the best move we ever made as every time I have had to show my Deed Poll I’ve been asked if it’s a joke. If I were to do this again, I’d have had the document dated 31 March or maybe just waited until the day after. Deed Polls signed on April Fool’s Day are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth.

Speech and language therapy

It doesn’t matter how gorgeous you look, if you don’t work on your voice and your mannerisms – including the way you walk and how you hold yourself – you won’t pass. This is one of the first things I learned when I got onto the Internet and found some support groups. As a consequence I’ve been practising with my voice since I first bought a microphone for my computer, some time in 1998.

Speech therapy can be a long, hard process and if you’re anything like me, you will find the first few months demoralising. I was close to tears on more than one occasion when I heard how I sounded and found it was nothing like how I sounded in my head. The trick is to be able to to listen to how you really sound and to work out what you need to do to improve. With me it was learning to speak with the whole of my tongue and form sounds using the whole of my mouth. Before I managed that, I had a whiny, nasal voice produced by straining my vocal chords and forming words only at the back of the throat. I sounded okay in my head but awful to everyone else. A good speech therapist will be able to help you out with the techniques you need to learn and a lot of practice will help those techniques become second nature.

With regards to mannerisms and body language, your speech therapist may also be able to help here (mine did a little) but your best bet is to watch other people of your age and gender to see how they act, then try to copy them (although don’t do it in front of them, of course!) I spent a lot of time hanging out in the local cafés and talking to women at work as well as just making mental notes of how people moved and acted while I was out in town. Be observant, keep in mind how you’re acting when you’re doing pretty much everything, and after a while it will all just fall into place. Above all else: don’t overdo it because acting too camp or too macho will get you read very quickly.

Wardrobe

I cannot stress enough that the major problem I see again and again with transsexual people – especially transwomen – is that they dress too young when they’re first starting out. While this isn’t so much of a problem for young transitioners (i.e. people up to their mid twenties) for the rest of us, you might as well wave a flag saying Look at me, I’m out of place! While it’s harsh, it’s true and I’m sorry to say that some of us missed the chance to be young and daft-looking (sorry to any kids out there but some of you dress weird! That’s youth fashion, I suppose) and we’ve just got to deal with that and move on.
Once again, the trick is to look to what other people of your age and gender are wearing. This will not only show you what’s out there but also what should work for your body shape. There’s a chance to customise the look to suit your personality (for example, I tend to go for layers and denim with pretty much anything I’m wearing and I stay away from anything too ‘floaty’ because it’s just not me) but if you stick to clothes for your own age group, you won’t go far wrong. As with everything else, you’ll soon find what works well for you and shopping will probably become more fun than it ever was in your old gender role.

Transition

After six months on hormones I felt ready to transition. I was starting to pass most of the time (the picture to the left should demonstrate that I had changed quite drastically from when I first sought help) and I didn’t want to put it off any longer in case I ended up too comfortable in the ‘safety zone’. Besides, people at work were starting to notice I looked and sounded different and it was getting harder to hide the fact that I had breasts. Transition can be forced on you that way so it’s important to plan ahead. Basically, you need to be able to say “right, I’m transitioning now” and have everything in place to just go with it.

I was terrified for a long time about the idea of actually taking the plunge and transitioning but because I planned everything carefully and I knew what was going to happen, when the actual day came it was pretty much a non-event. I went to bed one night as me in all ways except when at work, then I got up the next day as me in every way. The only real change, at the end of the day, was that I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else at work and because I’d planned out everything about the transition, even that did not present a problem.

Reactions at work

My work colleagues responded very well to my transition. Only one member of staff reacted badly, and avoided using the toilets while I was in there. However this particular woman had been unpleasant toward me since the day I’d first started and had become even less friendly when I was temporarily promoted above her so I get the feeling that her reaction to my transition was more because she was generally not a nice person than through any innate transphobia.

Some staff members asked a few personal questions regarding transition and gender reassignment during the first few months after the changeover but this was not an issue for me and, in fact, part of the managerial speech (which I had approved and helped write) invited such questions because I’m well aware that not everyone knows a lot about transsexuality and the processes surrounding its treatment. I was more than happy to discuss the topic rather than have people dwell in ignorance and perhaps come to the wrong conclusions.

Overall, the experience of transition at work was a good one and because I had prepared the ground well in advance (and because I had managerial support for the transition – I believe this is very important) everything went smoothly. I know some people have had bad experiences of transition at work but that does not mean everyone will. Indeed having read several accounts of bad workplace transitions I was prepared for the worst but I’m glad I had nothing to worry about at the start.

However, I fell ill and ended up taking a significant amount of time off work. Immediately on my return from one period of sickness absence (which, at four weeks, was the longest I have ever been absent from work ill) I was summoned to a disciplinary meeting to discuss my sickness absence. I was referred to a work-appointed medical advisor, who was not only told in advance of our meeting that I was transsexual but that I had “recently undergone a gender reassignment” (which was untrue – I would not have reassignment surgery for over a year after this meeting). This was the start of a year of harassment and discrimination against me by my employer, which involved numerous breaches of my privacy with regard to informing doctors that I was transsexual, and culminated in the termination of my employment on 23 December 2006.

Given the way I was treated, it seems clear to me now that my employer was happy to have a transperson on their staff provided I kept my head down and caused no trouble for them. That is no way for anyone to be treated, and I’m happy to say that when I appealed my firing with the civil service appeal board, I won and the employer was found to be wholly responsible for the termination of my contract.

Jobseeking

Preparation for surgery

Life After Surgery

See also

  • Transition – For more information on what you need to know for transition, plus links to other people’s personal accounts.