Wednesday 24 July 2013

Interview with Jenny-Anne Bishop

Monika: Today I have invited Jenny-Anne Bishop, a British transgender activist and former sales and marketing manager in scientific instruments. She is a graduate in industrial chemistry and a staunch advocate of the Transgender and LGBT communities. Jenny-Anne is a lay pastoral leader and Board of Directors member of the Manchester Metropolitan Community Church, a member of the Westminster Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity, and a trustee for several LGBT organizations. Sie is also a member of many organizations and steering groups on reporting and reducing hate crime and on equality and diversity standards. She is living with her partner Elen in Rhyl, North Wales. Hello Jenny-Anne!
Jenny-Anne: Hello Monika, Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview, I feel quite humbled 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 for over 5 years now, so I am able to devote 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 timeline for Wales, collected many artifacts, 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 by 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 the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) last year on the recent LGBT history of Manchester and its 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-1940s and grew up in Surrey and Kent in South East England in the 1950s and early 1960s.
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 practicing for when I would be a young woman. My parents sent me to see the school's psychiatrist at about six for what we would now call “gender inappropriate” behavior, 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 learned 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 learned it was “perverted” behavior!
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-1960s.
I also learned 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 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 organized 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 girlfriend ( 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 a 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 anymore. 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 us to transition even in the 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 judgment.
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 stigmatized 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 '60s and 70's it was April Ashley and then in the 90's it was members of the Christian Transsexual group that 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 the 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 paperwork, 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 women, 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.


All the photos: courtesy of Jenny-Anne Bishop.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska and Jenny-Anne Bishop

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