Friday, 24 February 2017

Interview with Kirsty Jayne Crow

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Kirsty Jayne Crow, an aviation consultant, teacher and author of the memoir “Three Weddings and a Sex Change” (2016). Hello Kirsty!
Kirsty: Hi Monika, I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to speak to you. You have interviewed some truly remarkable women so I’m amongst exalted company.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kirsty: I grew up on the beautiful island of Jersey and shared a happy childhood with two sisters with whom I remain close. I first begun to question my gender identity when I was about eight years old, jealous of siblings who could wear gorgeous clothes and sport long silky hair. My teenage years were a time of particular angst and I sort refuge in cross-dressing, my sisters’ wardrobes providing a ready source of feminine attire.
From about the age of 12 I became fascinated with aviation and as soon as I was old enough I learnt to fly. A career as a pilot beckoned, but unfortunately when I was 22 I was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes, putting pay to any such ambitions. I instead pursued a long and successful career in airline operations, working for a number of major airlines.
Meanwhile gender dysphoria had continued to blight my life and in the words of Jennifer Finney Boylan; I clung to the belief that “I could be cured by love”. Sadly this mantra was to prove futile, the consequence being two disastrous marriages. Finally in 1989 I met Julia and entered into one of the happiest periods of my life.
My feminine alter-ego, however, was not to be denied and as we entered the new millennium, I finally faced the truth and sort the professional help I so badly needed. I underwent Gender Reassignment Surgery and Breast Augmentation with Dr Sanguan in Phuket in May 2007 and just over 18 months later returned to Thailand for Facial Feminization Surgery with Dr Chettawut in Bangkok.
Unfortunately severe prejudice put pay to my aviation career and after working for several years as a Driving Instructor, I began a new life in Bangkok as a TESOL Teacher. During the most trying period of my life I was blessed to receive the loving support of my third wife Julia and my wonderful daughter. Without their care and wise counsel, I don’t think I could have survived.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Kirsty: It was something that I had been toying with for a number of years. People used to ask me why I had followed the path I had and I felt that if I could explain the situation frankly and honestly, it might just lead to a greater understanding of girls like us.
I was finally galvanized into action when I took part in “Your Call”;a phone-in on BBC Five Live hosted by Nicky Campbell. That day the programme was examining the decision of Frank Maloney to henceforth live as Kellie. It was a subject on which I felt qualified to speak and I found myself afforded generous airtime. When later I listened back to the interview I considered that there was so much more I could have said and thus I took up my pen.
In the event it turned out to be a cathartic experience as it was only when I had completed the memoir that I truly understood everything myself. My third wife Julia, on reading the manuscript commented that the question that people should really have been asking was “Why wouldn’t I have transitioned?”
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Kirsty: Obviously everyone follows a unique path, but there are certainly many problems that we all share. When I first became a regular member of the Manchester scene I used to hear countless myths about various aspects of the transition process. I was warned that electrolysis was unbearable and that the pain experienced during SRS was more than the average person could endure.
There were all kinds of conflicting advice about how best to approach a Gender Specialist, obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate or, most challenging of all; pass seamlessly in public. Sorting the wheat from the chaff became almost as mind boggling as the process itself. In candidly setting out my own experiences I hope that I have laid most of these fallacies to rest and have provided a step-by-step guide to how most of these obstacles can be overcome.
The book available via Amazon.
I was lucky; I was able to raise the money to seek private treatment and in so doing was able to retain control over much of the process. Not everyone is that fortunate but it is important not to let the experience start controlling you. No matter what route you take, the journey will be difficult and you will come up against a lot of negative reaction. If my story does nothing else, it will show that if you are true to your aims, then you can prevail.
Monika: You are living in Thailand now; the Mecca of transwomen from the whole world. Does Thailand really deserve this title?
Kirsty: Living and working here as I do, I don’t really regard it in those terms. Thailand is indeed one of the most tolerant countries in Asia, but the LGBT community still faces huge discrimination, especially in the workplace.
I myself have been knocked back from several teaching jobs because I am transgendered. An editorial in the Bangkok Post in 2013 pointed out that there are very few transsexuals to be found “as high-ranking officials, doctors, lawyers, scientists, or teachers in state-run schools and colleges nor as executives in the corporate world.
In short, the doors of government agencies and large corporations are still closed to transgender women. It is why they must be self-employed or work as free-lancers. Thai law does not give post-operative Male to Female transsexual people, who are government employees, the right to wear female uniforms to work”. A further article in the same newspaper in 2014 pointed out that transgender people "cannot change identity papers, and male-to-female transgender people still have to perform military service.” So as you can see, many of the rights that have long been enshrined in European law do not apply in Thailand.
That said, if you are considering the country as a destination for gender surgery, then I cannot recommend it more highly. Thailand boasts some of the most renowned hospitals in the world and there is no question that it’s leading Gender Reassignment Surgeons; Dr Sanguan Kunaporn, Dr Suporn Watanyusakui and Dr Chettawut Tulayaphanich are world leaders in their field.
The after-care that I received during my 16 day stay in Phuket International Hospital for my SRS was second to none. Dr Sanguan visited me every day and all the staff treated me like a Princess. Later that year, when I sustained bad facial injuries in a moped accident, Dr Sanguan lovingly repaired the damage and would accept no payment for his expert work. The care that I received in Phuket whilst undergoing SRS turned what could have been a totally traumatic experience into one that I now recall with great fondness.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Kirsty: I wish I’d had the wherewithal and courage to transition in the 1980s. I scrubbed up quite well in those days and would have thoroughly enjoyed being a naughty girl for several years. In the event it was the spring of 2006 before I finally took the plunge. Prejudice had forced me out of the aviation industry and I had elected to retrain as a Driving Instructor. Whilst still a male I was invited to attend an interview with BSM which went very well.
Towards the end of the process I was asked if I had any questions and instinctively feeling that the time was right I enquired, “Can I do this as a woman?” The female interviewer didn’t bat an eyelid merely stating that if that was my intention then I should do it now as it would be unfair to expect my students to adjust to my changing circumstances. So the die was cast, I legally changed my name and from early May henceforth lived as Kirsty.
To begin with it was quite challenging both physically and mentally. Hitherto my life as Kirsty had consisted of one or two outings per week, usually to the Manchester village. On returning home I would change back into male mode, my feminine soul disappearing down the drain as I showered off the makeup.
Now it was no longer a dressing up game and I was going to have to do it for real, all day, every day. I had commenced feminizing hormones the previous autumn and they had had a positive effect, both reducing my body hair and giving me a slight bust. I had also had my ears pierced and begun electrolysis, but I was a long way off feeling comfortable as a 24/7 woman.
Kirsty in 2000.
Physically, the first big decision I took was to begin growing my hair, having hitherto relied on a wig as my shield against humanity. This worked out quite well and after about six months it had grown sufficiently for me to take the previously unthought-of step to ditch the wig altogether. I felt totally nude the first few times I went out, but pretty soon I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
By far the hardest part of my transition was the effect that it had on my immediate family, especially my daughter. She had long been aware of my desire to transition, but all the time Kirsty had not been on show she could blot it out and cling to the image of a father she dearly loved. Remarkably we were able to survive this episode with our deep bonds intact, but I will always stand accused of the despair that it inflicted on her. There is no one as selfish as a transgendered parent on a mission and I will bear this guilt for the rest of my life.
Away from the home I also had to learn to interact with countless people who had only ever known me as male. We lived in a small friendly cul-de-sac and thus I had no choice but to troop round to each of my neighbours and tell them my darkest secret. By and large they were accepting, but there was more than the odd awkward moment. It was a similar story with the many acquaintances and shop-keepers in the small Cheshire village where I lived. Remarkably this all went better than hoped and as I grew in confidence and started to relax, I seemed to attract scant attention.
I had always been warned that the real-life test would be a nightmare experience, but in actual fact I adjusted to my changed circumstances pretty quickly. After a short time it was hard to imagine it being any other way.
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Kirsty: An obvious choice for me, despite her stated disapproval of those with XY chromosomes undergoing male to female gender reassignment, was Roberta Cowell. With her service as a Spitfire pilot during World War II she was always going to garner my respect, even if she hadn’t been the first known British transsexual to undergo gender reassignment surgery. And then there was Jan Morris, famed as the journalist that had accompanied the British Mount Everest Expedition when Hilary and Tenzing had become the first to scale the world’s highest mountain. If this alone did not make her deserving of my respect, it’s her skill as a writer that truly captured my imagination.
But if there is one girl that truly demonstrated the art of what is possible, then it has to be Caroline Cossey. I read her autobiography “My Story” several times over and was always impressed by her sheer class and fortitude in the face of so much adversity. I have read countless transgender autobiographies, but have frequently been disappointed by the lack of emotion in the prose. Yes, but what were you thinking about at the time? - How did this make you feel? I would find myself demanding. Caroline had the ability to tell her story and to let you in to her mind sense and I admired her for that. There was also a bound in that she had lost her father to a condition that my own father suffered although, thankfully with Dad, it was detected before it became fatal.
Undoubtedly the people who had the biggest influence on me, however, were the fellow sufferers that I met on the Manchester scene. I regularly attended the Wednesday night Northern Concord meetings (subsequently reconstituted as Manchester Concord) and although predominately the preserve of transvestites and cross-dressers, at that time there was a number of transsexual girls in the group.
Almost the first that I met was a striking looking girl named Maya. She had already commenced hormone treatment then and was on the treadmill of bi-annual visits to the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic. Maya was blighted by severe OCD that unfortunately controlled much of her life, but she could be great company and I learned a great deal from her. I’ve sadly lost touch with her, but despite enduring some difficult times, I really miss her.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Kirsty: Having undergone GRS ten years ago and been living and working as Kirsty for so long, I’m less inclined to seek out role models than I once was. Whilst I continue to follow happenings in the media and am full of admiration for everyone that follows our difficult path, it takes someone extra special to really capture my attention.
Just such a person is Adele Anderson, one third of the riotously funny Fascinating Aida. Our lives are never going to be easy and there are times when the only way to get through the day is to find something that really makes you laugh. Fascinating Aida satisfies this requirement in spades and much of their success is due in no small part to Adele. A gifted lyricist, talented actress, great singer and every bit a woman, she is a perfect role model for anyone.
1980's night in Manchester, July 2010.
In 2015 came the devastating news that Fascinating Aida had had to cancel their appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe because Adele had been diagnosed with cancer. Mercifully she beat the dreadful disease and it was perhaps no surprise when Fascinating Aida added the new song “Big C” to their repertoire. I long to get a job back home and should I succeed in this quest, I will make it a top priority to see Adele with Fascinating Aida in one of their shows. 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kirsty: Without doubt the hardest thing was having to confess all to my beautiful wife Julia. After two disastrous marriages I had finally found solace with a girl that truly loved me. She had given me a wonderful daughter and I had enjoyed the happiest period of my life.
Yet despite this, the nagging doubts about my gender identity, which had persisted since childhood, had refused to go away. Never brave enough to discuss my anxieties with a doctor, I had finally stumbled upon the truth via the internet. As I read the outpourings of various transsexuals on-line I realized that I was actually reading about myself. The truth was both a relief and a body blow. Relief that maybe I wasn’t so strange and that there were other girls out there just like me and a body blow as I appreciated all too clearly the devastating toll such revelations were likely to have on a family I loved above all else. 
Working opposite shifts to Julia, I started to lead a double life, accumulating a clandestine feminine wardrobe and venturing out on shopping trips as Kirsty. I hated the subterfuge and the situation weighed heavily on my mind. More than once I consigned my feminine attire to the bin and resolved to “mend my ways”, but it was no use. I was in too deep and it became inevitable that I would have to confide in Julia, or else risk a complete emotional breakdown. Feeling increasingly isolated, I resolved to join a TV/TS support group.
At that time I was living in Essex and not wanting to risk anything too close to home, I chose the Northern Concord who met regularly every Wednesday in the Manchester Village. Attending these meetings was out of the question, but once a year they held the “Le Big Un weekend”, a three day extravaganza that was held in a hotel in Bollington. Seeing this as an opportunity to finally meet some like-minded girls, I duly booked my place. But I also resolved that there could be no more deceit. If I was to disappear off for three days, then I would have to come clean and tell Julia what was going on.
Unfortunately I did not choose the best way to tell her. Rather than say that I was transgendered and believed myself to have been born in the wrong body, I lied and stated that I was a cross-dresser and enjoyed dressing up in female attire. I now know that if I had been honest with her from the off, things would have been so much better and we could have talked through the situation as we had always done with all our problems.
As it is the issue became the elephant in the room and almost seven years elapsed before we finally had a proper conversation on the subject. I withdrew into myself and became even more clandestine on my path to transition. Having questioned myself as to why I wasn’t more upfront, I can only say that at that time even I was struggling to cope with the truth.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Kirsty: I have to admit that lumping everything together as LGBTQ does make me wince and can be fodder to some of our more extreme opponents. I remember being at a Pride event when a less than sympathetic member of the audience yelled out “LGBT - all the fucking weirdoes together!” I understand the reason for the bond as it does provide strength in numbers but it can have the effect of diluting the unique problems of each individual group. There is nothing more galling than when you listen to some “concerned politician” on the radio glibly belting out the phrase LGBT every other sentence, in a bid to show that “they’re down with the kids” and clearly having absolutely no concept of the issues they’re discussing.
Thankfully there have been vast improvements in the way our communities are now perceived, but there is still a long way to go. Being cynical, if you look at the acronym LGBTQ, the transgendered community is probably only forth in the level of acceptance we have seen.
As a transgendered person there is nowhere to hide. Unless you are one of the few who blends seamlessly you are open to be identified and chastised. That is probably more unique to our group than any of the others. People generally do not understand what it is to be transgendered and this can only be achieved if we are prepared to individually speak up for our own unique concerns. This was one of the key factors in persuading me to write my memoir. If only a few ill-informed people read it then it will have served some purpose.
At school in 2016.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Kirsty: My earliest memory of a transgender girl in the media was when the BBC screened the ground-breaking trilogy “A Change of Sex” in 1980. The story told of George’s bid to become Julia and featured the infamous scene where Julia was given a brutal reception by John Randell at the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic.
The screening coincided with my diagnosis as a Type One Diabetic and thus my mind was already heavily occupied. Had I been able to come at it with a clear head I am certain that the programme would have greatly enhanced my understanding of my own condition. I’ve yet to meet Julia Grant, but our paths have frequently crossed as for a number of years she ran The Hollywood Showbar, for a long time the Wednesday night venue for The Northern Concord.
A succession of characters, both real and fictional, has helped to enhance the public’s understanding of transgender issues. In 1998 the BBC began screening Paddington Green which explored the lives of the residents of Paddington, London. Amongst those featured was Jackie McAuliffe, a young transgendered girl who was forced to work as a prostitute in order to finance breast augmentation surgery. Jackie, a sympathetic character, was a gifted pianist and went on to record a successful album with Decca. Jackie’s story had a profound impact on me at a time when my own issues were very much coming to a head. 
Undoubtedly the highest-profile transgender character to feature on British TV was Hayley Cropper who appeared in Coronation Street between 1998- 2014. Probably no single character has done more to bring transgendered issues to the attention of the British public than the kind-hearted Hayley who was cleverly portrayed by actress Julie Hesmondhaigh.
I had reservations about the choice of actor who being cisgendered initially came across as less than convincing. But there is no doubt that Julie grew into the role and was able to address many of the issues faced by our community with grace and dignity. The character got people talking and did much to highlight and enhance our cause.
Probably the film that has done most to promote an understanding of transgender issues in recent times has been The Danish Girl, with the character of Lilli Elbe so beautifully portrayed by Eddie Redmayne. My daughter went to an early screening and cried profusely as she felt she was watching her own life up on screen. There were also moments in the film that had a similar effect on me and I found myself crying “yes, that is how it is”. Realizing that the film was likely to have an emotional impact on me, I took the precaution of watching it in my own home.
Sadly the written media has frequently been less kind to our cause and many will be aware of the appalling way The News of the World so cruelly outed Caroline Cossey for no more reason than a grubby headline. Many newspaper features in the 1980s and 1990s which tackled transgender stories were all too frequently dressed up with “Little Britain” type language and imagery which only served to increase the misunderstanding and hatred of our cause.
I like to think that this situation has finally improved and that lazy journalists are now less inclined to go for cheap headlines by poking fun at a group of which they have no understanding.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kirsty: Living in Thailand currently puts me a bit out of the loop for being involved in lobbying campaigns. Obviously I follow the media with interest and have signed many petitions over the years. I also frequently comment on news stories presented in the British media, the most recent being the appalling attack on a young transgender girl in a Manchester school who was shot by another student with an air rifle.
I have also taken part in several phone-ins the most obvious being the Your Call programme with Nicky Campbell. As to transgender women in politics, yes they can make a difference, but it must be for what they believe in and not for the fact that they are transgendered.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Kirsty: When I first transitioned I assembled a huge wardrobe and committed some dreadful fashion faux-pas. Thankfully my daughter took a hand and convinced me of the merits of dressing appropriately for a person of my age. It was wise advise and it is a mantra that I have followed religiously ever since with positive results. I am now more than content to let my daughter pick my wardrobe and she has not let me down.
Here in Thailand the weather is baking hot most of the year and so one is forced to wear light weight clothing appropriate to the conditions. Skirt lengths are dictated by a strict school dress code which not unreasonably expects teachers to be appropriately dressed. 
Back at home I do like to dress classily and have always favoured the smart business look with a nice black skirt suit, white blouse, heels and barely black tights.
Teacher Kirsty, 2016.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Kirsty: I did attend several of these when a member of Transliving and found them to be quite good fun. It was at one of these that I actually met Russell Reid who was to play such a significant role in my transition so from that point of view I am quite grateful to them.
Provided they are conducted with some grace and don’t throw up too many comparisons to “Little Britain” then I see no harm in them, but it is not something I would go in for myself. Quite frankly I’m a bit long in the tooth for all that now – leave it to the young girls.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kirsty: Love is very important to me and before transition I was always in a relationship. My last strong bond was with my third wife Julia and I will love her until my dying day, but now in a different way, as true friends.
I am a heterosexual woman and am certain that there is a man out there who can love me for who I truly am. I have had one steady relationship since my transition but unfortunately the guy turned out to be a bit of a shit. You live and learn.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Kirsty: I have just started working on my first novel which will be entitled “Lobster Bisque at 10,000 feet”. The narrative draws on my experiences working for a small airline company in Jersey in the 1970s. I am still in the very early stages but have fleshed out most of the main characters, the leading protagonist being Captain Bruce McPherson.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kirsty: Seek help, speak to your friends, and share your difficulties. You are not alone, there are thousands out there just like you, suffering the same anguishes and doubts that you are. When you first begin down this path the whole process can seem totally overwhelming. The secret is take things step by step and not try to run before you can walk.
Listen to advice but don’t be ruled by it. The most important person in this process is you so don’t be forced into actions you don’t like. Keep control. Get as many viewpoints as you can and make informed decisions which will work for you and your circumstances. This all sounds so obvious, but it is so easy to get forced down a path that you don’t want to take. When I first came out as transgendered I was overwhelmed with advice and much of it, had I acted on it, would have proved disastrous. Yes you want to get there, yes you can’t wait to get on the operating table, but do think everything through and always think several steps ahead of where you are. Yes I want the surgery, but what then. Can I support myself, can I get a job?
I came from an airline operations background and thus was a logistics expert. As cold as it may seem, I used this skill set to address my transition. I looked at it as a purely logistical exercise setting out what the end task was and then the steps that would be needed to reach that goal. It sounds dispassionate, but it worked and I was able to get through the entire minefield relatively unscathed. The emotional side is a different matter, but then we all face that.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Kirsty: Regardless of who we are, the old mantra that life is what you make it is very true. I have met too many people who hide behind one reason or another for not achieving their goals in life. “How can you expect me to succeed, I’m a tranny and things are always gonna be rough for me”. By taking this attitude they are effectively consigning themselves to failure. There is no question that as a transgendered person one will have to deal with far greater prejudices than most and one will have to try far harder to succeed. But it can be done.
1st year in Thailand 2011.
At the time of my transition I had just been forced out of the airline industry. It was an industry that I loved and it was all I ever wanted to do, but it was made clear that because of the path I had chosen, there was no longer any place for me. It was a devastating blow, as if my family had not already had to contend with enough, I now had no way of making a contribution to the family income. It would have been easy to have cracked up altogether and thrown in the towel. But I couldn’t, I had responsibilities so I had to find another way. 
I duly retrained as a Driving Instructor. In the UK all driving instructors are self-employed, many taking out a franchise with one of the big companies. Thus one is not beholden to a disapproving boss and can focus all their energies on providing a quality service to their customers. After serving with BSM for about a year I managed to join an all-girl school in Stockport before starting my own business “As the Crow Drives”.
This served me well for a while, but I still had ambitions to do something else and had always fancied the idea of moving abroad. Thus in 2010 I signed up for a TESOL course and duly got a job in Thailand as an English Language teacher. That first day when I walked into the classroom I was absolutely terrified, but the strong believe that had carried me through all the traumas of my transition was by my side and I made it work.
In an ideal world I would be back in the UK working for an airline and I have never surrendered the belief that I can still make this happen. I do continue to work on the fringes of the industry being the American General Aviation editor for a major aircraft data base. And I continue to believe. Yes life has dealt me a tough hand; I’m a type one diabetic and I’m transgendered. But so what, life is bloody tough these days for everyone and all we can do is our best. So I would say to anyone, it doesn’t matter who you are, believe in yourself and then the world will believe in you.
Monika: Kirsty, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Kirsty Jayne Crow.
Done on 24 February 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

1 comment:

  1. A lovely person and a great book. I am still reading it, but it is well written and fascinating.


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