Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Interview with Jenny-Anne Bishop

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Jenny-Anne Bishop, a British lady, transgender activist and remarkable woman. Hello Jenny-Anne!
Jenny-Anne: Hello Monika, Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview, I feel quite humble to be included in your series of outstanding Trans People.
Monika: What are you doing for a living these days?
Jenny-Anne: Well I've been retired over 5 years now, so I am able to devout my time to trying to help and improve life for all our Trans* community.
I'm also an active member of the LGBT Church I attend in Manchester and lobby for LGBT Christian rights and acceptance. I guess it's about making every aspect of life Trans friendly, because being trains is pervasive, it affects every aspect and corner of your life.
Monika: You take part in many projects, including LGBT history in Wales (Welsh Pride), “Gender Fluidity” and the April Ashley project with Homotopia/Liverpool Museum. Could you share some information about these projects?
Jenny-Anne:I was very keen to be on the steering group of Welsh Pride as it sought out information about LGBT people in Wales over the last 3-400 years. When we started none of the Museums, Libraries, Information Centres etc., had anything documented on LGBT in Wales.
When we finished we had developed an LGBT time line for Wales, collected many artefacts, developed a tool kit on how to seek out and document Welsh LGBT History, and put together a Website on LGBT History in Wales with a vast amount of information and personnel stories and recollections.

The April Ashley project with Homotopia in Liverpool is to put together a display of the life of April Ashley (Who grew up in Liverpool) and will run for a year at the Liverpool Waterfront Museum. We think up to 0.5 million people will visit, so it's got to be right. In parallel to April's lifeline we will have 20 audio Trans stories showing how life has improved for Trans people during April's Lifetime. I taught the team about Trans History and helped them find the people to do the audio life stories.
We also developed artwork at our group TransForum to go in the display and I also facilitated the project having a workshop at Sparkle 2013 and link up with the Transgenderation Team (Fox & Lewis from MTS) and the Trans Photographer Sara Davidmann. It follows on work we did with Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) last year on the recent LGBT history of Manchester and it's social impact on LGBT people. We also trained many of the Museum staff in LGBT awareness and equality. 
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Jenny-Anne: I was born in what is now South West London in the mid 1940's and grew up in Surrey and Kent in South East England in the 1950's and early 1960's.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Jenny-Anne: Like so many Trans people, I knew that I was somehow different from around 3-4 years old. I didn't know the right words or understand the concept of gender diversity, but I did know I wanted to be a girl and that borrowing my mother's and later my sister's clothes just made me feel right and so much more confident in myself, whilst trying to fit into the identity my parents wanted me to be, was very uncomfortable as I was sure one day my body would change and I would then be allowed to be female.
I remember wearing some of my mother's clothes to school on the pretext that I was practising for when I would be a young woman. My parents sent me to see the schools psychiatrist at about six for what we would now call “gender inappropriate” behaviour, they called it being “ a very naughty child” The psychiatrist just put it down to a child exploring different roles in life.
Miss Golden Sparkle on the day
she had tea at the Ritz in London
as part of her prize Sept 2005.
Really quite liberated for the time (around 1952). What I learnt was I must hide my gender non-conformity from my parents and the rest of society as it was clearly wrong and as I grew up I also learnt it was “perverted” behaviour!
This lead to my early times as Jenny-Anne being in absolute secrecy. It also set my parents on a path of discouragement and strong disapproval of any gender diversity in me for the rest of their lives, and later (1980) they completely rejected the advice of the first gender specialists (John Randall ) who I saw at Charing Cross. He advised me that I was probably transsexual and would eventually transition. He even offered me a hormone prescription on that first appointment !
My childhood was not an unhappy one- far from it, just lots of time spent secretly learning about being female rather than male and this secrecy continued into adulthood. In fact I feel I had a very happy childhood, a good education and was able to go to University in the mid 1960's.
I also learnt to always be busy doing something to stop my mind worrying about my gender identity; which continued into adult life in a vain attempt to suppress any gender dysphoria in me.
Monika: For most of transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Jenny-Anne:I was discriminated against at school, but devised strategies to get around the problems, for a while I was the class clown, and then later organised all sorts of groups outside school and participated in Cross country running so I would get back to school on my own and no one would see what I thought was the wrong body in the showers. As I was tall I stood up to the class bully and was not troubled by him again, and it made others feel that shouldn’t challenge me.
In University I was very interested in my course and spent much time in the Library and the lab so again was not troubled by others. I had a girl friend ( who became my wife) and a car , so tended to be seen as really ordinary and a small circle of friends which lasted until I graduated in 1969.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Jenny-Anne:Although I went to the Psychiatrist at 6 and again at 26, due to Family, Religious and Employment pressures I did not transition until I was 62 and was forced to retire for being Trans in my private life. I got to a point where there was no reason not to transition. I had lots of support from my friends and of course my Partner. Some of my family were supportive, but my children and my ex-wife are still cross with me and won't even talk to me.
In the end I had lived so much of my life outside of work and Family engagements as Jenny-Anne and had been preparing for the transition for almost 40 years that it was a simple decision not to be the other person any more. I had thought about it for over 50 years and was very sure of what I was doing. I couldn’t be happier being me, so it really was the absolutely right decision for me.
As I said as soon as I transition at work I was let go and was just too tired of fighting it, I'd been made redundant 5 times for being Trans, that I decided I would retire with Elen's support and work just for the community. I reckon that all in all transitioning cost me £250,000; my family, my home and my employment but it was still worth it to be truly me!
Having fun at a group belly-dancing
 session with a dress she got in
Egypt for Belly-Dancing 2007.
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow to transition even at late 50s or 60s. And you are a perfect example/ What kind of advice would you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Jenny-Anne: It's never too late to be yourself and you should always eventually transition if that is what you really want to do and you have already explored living full time so that you know you will enjoy it and can sustain full time in your true gender.
We have our community house where people can experience full time living remote from family and friends so they can trial it and establish if it is right and the right time to transition before telling everyone, because once told you cannot untell it, even if you decide not to go ahead or want to de-transition.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. How to overcome this fear of not passing as a woman?
Jenny-Anne: For me it's not a question of passing or not passing. I accept that I'm not a natal woman and I'm proud to be a Trans Woman, so I don't mind about passing or not passing. I feel it's about being accepted and respected for who I am, not what I am! I do of course negotiate my space in the world by presenting female as well as I can and I smile a lot. 
Then by not worrying about passing or being discovered I go about with confidence and often do pass (or at least I'm accepted without question or discrimination). There are still occasional instances when people are disrespectful, but the trick is not to let them see you are hurt by this (even if you are) and just carry on as if they have made an error of judgement.
Monika: On the other hand, there are some really deplorable situations like the one which happened in the UK some time ago when Suzanne Moore, a British controversial newspaper columnist, wrote in an article that biological women are angry with themselves for “not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” How would you respond to this?
Jenny-Anne:I think this is a case where we should have made a more measured and considered response. In the end it's about education and getting others to understand that we are just another natural variation. Of course there will always be some people who won't change, but it's still important to raise trans awareness on the basis that most sensible people will listen and make a real attempt to understand.
We are lobbying hard for Gender variance to be taught in the schools, so in a generation or so it will become a much more minor and less stigmatised issue. Eventually it will become as ordinary as being Gay or an Ethnic minority.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Jenny-Anne: All my life I've had people who I would regard as role models, in the 60's and 70's it was April Ashley and then in the 90's it was members of the Christian Transsexual group I belonged to.
By the time I was finally able to transition I had been “out” over 30 years and Jenny-Anne in most of my social life for over ten years with much of my documentation and living space already changed to female, so my transition and legal name change was relatively easy and almost an anti-climax.
There was a Monday morning when I woke up and just said to Elen, “From today I'm not ever going back to presenting the other gender”. She simply said “OK” and that was it, apart from all the paper work etc.
Elen and Jenny-Anne "So Happy together" on
their wedding day in Oct 2011.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jenny-Anne:My first coming out was in 1970, and telling my family was the hardest part, followed by negotiating transition at work when I was finally able to go full-time in 2007.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Jenny-Anne: Just the freedom to be truly myself and express my self as the woman I am. Like most woman I love shopping, enjoy improving my female image and love the freedom to be able to express my style in many different ways. I also love being Elen's wife and was absolutely thrilled to get married as a woman.
Monika: You were married as a man with children. What was your wife’s reaction to your transition?
Jenny-Anne:I told my wife about my Trans status very early in our marriage, and in return for NOT transitioning whilst we were still married, I had reserved time to be Jenny-Anne each week.
After my marriage ended in 2002 after 31 years being married I did feel free to plot my own course and transitioned fully in 2007. My ex-wife is still cross with me almost 15 years since we stopped living together which means she does not recognise my now legal status as a woman.
I'm very sad and feel a lot of sympathy for her as it is not her fault in any way that she married a Transsexual woman, nor did my children expect to have a Transsexual parent. So although I am devastated that they won't talk to me any more, I do have some understanding for their position.
Monika: Then you met Elen, your current partner, also a transgender woman. Was it the proverbial love at first sight?
Jenny-Anne: We were certainly immediately attracted to each other and fast became firm friends as we were both in other relationships. After about a year of corresponding and regularly meeting as friends, we finally both became free to start a relationship and pretty well became an instant couple. That was approaching 9 years ago and following my attaining my gender recognition certificate in early 2011 we got married the following October and are still blissfully happy as a couple.
Developing her own style
in the 1990's (1998).
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in the United Kingdom?
Jenny-Anne: In the UK, the situation for Trans* women is much better than when I first presented as female in 1970, and there is much less discrimination and much stronger legal protection in most areas of daily life. 
However, the campaign to win hearts and minds and end all discrimination and Transphobia goes on. Only when we can educate the children at school as part of their equality and diversity learning will we really minimise these problems.
Monika: In USA there are more and more transgender ladies coming out. Unlike in the previous years some of them have status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in the United Kingdom?
Jenny-Anne: Oh yes we have far more people coming out and being “out and proud”. Quite a few have had cross hormone treatment and Gender Conformation Surgery in their teenage years and so are much better assimilated by society. We are also just starting to see people who have had the benefit of puberty blocking hormones who are often undetectable as Trans even by other Trans people.
We also have similar people, Jackie Green who had her surgery at 16 and is now a model and was a runner-up in the Miss England Competition last year, Kate Woods who is a professional high profile woman in IT, Paris Lees who is a journalist and broadcaster, Sarah Brown who is a local politician and former lord mayor of Cambridge, several members of the Television Programme My Transsexual Summer, Professors Steven Whittle and Alexandra Sharpe in Academic life.
Christian Burns the Trans Activist, Leah True the model, April Ashley who is still active in the campaigns for full inclusion of Trans People Luke Anderson and Nadia who both won “Big Brother Shows. Greyson Perry the potter, Lily Savage the entertainer and Fay Presto the magician.
Monika: Could you tell me why there is much hatred toward transgender women? I have a feeling that this hatred is stronger towards transgender women then transgender men. Any reason why?
Jenny-Anne:That's a very difficult question. I think over the 40+ years I've been out as a Trans Woman acceptance has improved out of all recognition and the incidence of bad discrimination and violence have in my experience decreased, that's not to say it doesn’t still exist far too frequently, but that it is improving.
I think that it happens because we challenge the average person's understanding of what it is to be Male or Female, we make people feel uncomfortable and scared of something they don't understand. To relieve the discomfort it's easier to attack us than to try and understand.
In my experience Woman are often more accepting as they tend to see the person and value them for who they are, not what they are. Men on the other hand often seem less accepting and just see women in particular as potential sex partners and so are bitterly disappointed if the woman they are interacting with turns out to be trans.
This can lead to aggressive anger and physical assault, which in the worst cases can result in dreadful violence or even murders of unbelievable ferocity. For example, a Trans Woman Stabbed over 70 times, or beaten to death with a Fire Extinguisher and then de-decapitated. Sometimes even more violent than ethnic cleansing I think it's also because it raises other people's own understanding of their gender identity and sexuality which they don't want to face up to!
Her favourite summer dress for
the Miss Golden Sparkle Photo Shoot 2005.
On Average I think Trans Women suffer more and for longer than Trans men as the men often transition well and just disappear to be undetectable by the average person and so are not seen as Trans. Also women have greater freedom of dress and presentation, and are often admired for aspiring to male dress and values.
Also in general being seen as a butch lesbian is much more acceptable than being seen as a “Man in a Dress” there is not really public perception of a female transvestite or cross-dresser as such.
In many cases Trans Women are much more visible, often for the whole of their lives. I am also sensitive to the fact that in the early days of transition Transmen can get awful discrimination and bullying, and are assaulted and murdered for being Trans too.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to the day when a transgender lady could become the UK Prime Minister?
Jenny-Anne:In the current political climate I think it's possible we will see a few Trans Members of Parliament's in the next few years, but I don't envisage a Trans Female Prime Minister within the next 20-30 years. We are more likely to see a Gay Prime minister and then possibly a Trans Male Prime minister.
Monika: What is the role of religion in your life?
Jenny-Anne: I was raised as a strict Roman Catholic, but found them unaccepting of me as a Transsexual woman. My Christian faith is very important to me, so I was delighted to find the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in late 1998, which simply accepts me as the person I am.
I had been quite active in the Catholic Church and so feel really blessed that I've been able to become a pastoral leader in our church, regularly leading the service or celebrating communion. I'm also on the church governing board and responsible for our ministry to Trans people. It was the church which helped me found our support group TransForum Manchester
Opening the very first Trans Memorial Garden  in the UK
(and probably in the world) at Sparkle 2013 in Manchester.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jenny-Anne: I think that both Trans women and Trans men can play vital roles in politics to engender change and better understanding of trans* and our specific needs.
We lobbied the Government equalities office with the Trans* Statement of needs which partially fed the first British cross government Transgender Equality Action Plan in December 2011.
I was very proud to be the convenor for several of the workshops to form the statement and continue to lobby for progress on both the Government plan and those parts of the needs statement not yet included in the plan. I also try to have at least one campaign highlighted for action on my Facebook page and tweeted every day to raise awareness and try to get others involved. Many are not trans related, but just show we are part of the wider community.
As a member of the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity and part of the consultation team to NHS England and The Department of Health I get the opportunity to ask senior civil servants some very awkward questions, which our chair can raise in the legislature (House of Lords) if we are not happy with the government response! In the past Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns and others were key in politics to make change happen, including the Gender Reassignment Act in 2004.
More recently Sarah Brown, Helen Belcher and others have taken up the baton at the Leverson enquiry into Press misdemeanour's in the UK and the recent Same Sex Marriage Act 2013, which has enacted additional discrimination against UK Transsexual people, especially those with or trying to obtain a gender recognition certificate.
We will continue to fight this and especially fight the court decisions that have convicted 3 trans people of obtaining sex by deception for not telling their partner they were Trans prior to intimacy, even though that intimacy was consensual. All 3 have been sent to prison and have had to sign the sex offenders register for life !! We are raising this with the Ministry of Justice in England and Scotland. I think the big change in politics will be when we have an openly Trans MP. Perhaps Sarah Brown might be the first!!
Photo shoot in our Community
 House Garden Dec 2011 wearing
her favourite Astrakhan Winter Coat.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Jenny-Anne:My own view is it's entirely up to the participants to take part or not as they feel comfortable. There are pageants which are exploitative and should be avoided.
I can't be against them as I was Miss Golden Sparkle in 2005 and have taken part in other pageants when I was younger and sometimes act as a judge for the current Miss Sparkle and Miss Golden Sparkle competitions.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Jenny-Anne:Yes, like my most women I love fashion and making a special effort to look good for Weddings, parties etc. My style is smart casual for everyday wear and I usually wear long skirts and loose tops at home, Smart slacks and tailored tops when I do presentations, workshops or consultation meetings.
I also enjoy dressing-up for parties and community social events. I think it's very important to develop you own style and not copy others, though of course you can learn from others example.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jenny-Anne:Yes, I think everyone has that thought, but I'm so busy I don't get time to write outside of my community work. I think if I ever did write a book, it would be for my own amusement and as a way of documenting my past life.
I don't imagine my life is interesting enough to publish it and bore other people with it, as the Transitioning story for Trans Woman has been well told so many times already! We could do with the Trans male story being told more often, and the experiences of those who are gender Queer or non-gendered.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Jenny-Anne: Oh yes, Since transitioning, I'm happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Monika: Jenny-Anne, Thank you very much for your answers!
Jenny-Anne: Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this interview.

All the photos: courtesy of Jenny-Anne Bishop.
Done on 24 July 2013
© 2013 - Monika & Jenny-Anne Bishop. 

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