Friday, 24 February 2017

Interview with Kirsty Jayne Crow

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 began 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 learned 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 program 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.

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 reactions. 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 freelancers. The 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.
Monika: Many ladies go to Thailand to have gender surgeries there. Do you recommend it?
Kirsty: 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 its 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 inquired, “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 the 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.

Monika: What did you decide first?
Kirsty: 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 the 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 neighbors 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 shopkeepers 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 into her mind sense and I admired her for that. There was also abound 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.
Monika: How about other ladies?
Kirsty: 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 a 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 online 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.
Monika: Did you start living in the closet?
Kirsty: Yes, indeed. 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.


All the photos: courtesy of Kirsty Jayne Crow.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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