Sunday, 7 March 2021

Interview with Siân Longthorpe


Monika: Today I am going to interview Siân Longthorpe, a British 40-something runner, fitness enthusiast, and lover of the outdoors. Hello Siân!
Siân: Hi Monika, thanks for getting in touch.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Siân: Sure. Your introduction does a good job, but I'm happy to expand on that a little further. My transition began following the breakdown of my marriage in 2016. I remember feeling completely trapped, not being able to see a way forward; it was a grim time and I had some very dark thoughts. I was finally being honest with myself but the thought of making my true feelings public seemed too much. I was also still very ashamed of my true feelings, having kept them hidden for so many years, and I feared how coming out would impact on my two young children and my job.
But I plucked up the courage to tell a few of my closest friends and was surprised by their positive reaction. However, there still seemed too many hurdles and I became a shadow of my former self. In 2017, I decided that I needed to raise this issue with my doctor and requested a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic. Given the long wait for treatment I opted to start HRT privately later that year and also start growing-out my hair. These were statements of intent but it still seemed too hard.
"Being trans has come
at a very high cost, but
(as vain as it sounds) I still
smile every time I look
in the mirror."
Ultimately, it was the death by suicide of a school friend in early 2018 that was the catalyst; I witnessed the out-pouring of grief at his passing and realised that I couldn't put my friends and family through that anguish. The very next day I confided in HR at work, followed shortly thereafter with my boss. By that time, the shame I had felt was shifting towards pride.
Monika: When did you come out?
Siân: With momentum gathering, I came out fully at Easter 2019, advising my children, my colleagues and others that I was transgender and that, at some unknown point in the future, I intended to present fulltime as a woman. And so it was, in August 2019, I began living fulltime as a woman, and those 18 months have flown-by!
I was made redundant last year and faced the agonising process of trying to find work as a transwoman in the construction industry. But I did it, and started my new job just before Christmas. And at long last, I am finally being treated by the GIC, so feel as though my life is hopefully settling down after a turbulent few years.
I have been blessed with some incredibly supportive friends and, having initially struggled, my family members are now fully supportive. I think that for them, when I went full time, they realised that was it and they had to get on board. I don’t think I fully respected how difficult the journey has been for them.
Being trans has come at a very high cost, but (as vain as it sounds) I still smile every time I look in the mirror. For me it was about being able to do (largely) the same things I had always done, but as a woman; I have always loved the outdoors - running, walking, skiing - and that hasn't changed.
Monika: Siân is not a common name. Why did you choose it?
Siân: It results from a mistype of my former name. I found when I used to type my former name, I would often (accidentally) miss out the m, giving Sion. From there, it wasn't a huge leap to Siân. I do like that it is a fairly uncommon name, although I am in a team of three at work and there are two Siâns - cue much confusion!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Siân: If I'm honest, in the beginning, my drivers were somewhat selfish: I was looking for compliments and validation. But over time, I have opted to share my story and have been surprised at the reception I have received. I guess I'm living the life that many others aspire to, but (sadly) will never achieve (due to a variety of reasons) so they live vicariously through me. But I've always tried to be honest, noting that my life isn't all rainbows and butterflies; there are terribly painful times too, and I share those, as that's real life.
In addition, for me, visibility is key. Regrettably, the trans community still has negative connotations in parts of society and I’m keen to show that many trans people simply want to get on with their lives, without attracting unwanted attention. It also allows me to help others in much the same way as I have found someone, further on with their journey that I am, who has helped me in recent times.

"I'm living the life that many others aspire to, but
(sadly) will never achieve (due to a variety of
reasons) so they live vicariously through me."

Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Siân: It is interesting that my followers are split into two distinct categories: those interested in my running, and those interested in my trans status.
I have my fair share of questions, but sadly a lot of the time, this amounts to a little more than ‘Hey, how u doing?’ I am genuinely surprised that they believe that warrants a reply. That said, I do get the occasional email from a trans girl, seeking advice, which I’m generally happy to oblige, but always stress that each of our journeys is unique and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for them.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfilment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Siân: Sadly, my transition has come at a high price, but if I’m honest, it hasn’t been as painful as I feared. Despite their initial concerns and confusion, my family members are now very much on board, and I don’t feel as though I’ve lost any friends as a consequence of transitioning. I think it’s only natural that friends come and go through one’s life and mine is no different. Fortunately I haven’t had to face losing a friendship as a consequence of coming out, and I have met some amazing people since, who have only ever known me as Siân. 
Since coming out I have been made redundant and that was tough. Really tough! I’d been with the same company for over 16 years so the prospect of finding a new job as a transwoman in the construction industry was very daunting. And I’m delighted to say that I did it, and I started my new job at the end of last year.
Financially it has been painful, but I try not to gauge success or otherwise by pound notes.
The hardest thing about coming out was the fear of the unknown. I recall when I first came out to a friend; I was petrified of his response. I simply couldn’t find the right words to say. But I eventually blurted out that I was transgender and shared some photos of me as Siân. He was shocked, no doubt about it, but he later confessed that he thought I was going to tell him I was terminally ill, given how emotional I was, he was actually somewhat relieved!
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Siân: In answering this, I must caution that I am somewhat of a perfectionist. I’ve been on hormones for more than 3 years now (since October 2017) and I haven’t seen the changes I’d hoped for, if I’m honest. My biggest issue is my hips – I long for an hourglass figure, but it’s just not happening. I suspect it’s a combination of genetics and age, and the fact that there isn’t an awful lot of me to re-profile anyway.
"It seems as though society is
slowly becoming more
accepting of transgender people
in general, but there
remains a great deal still to do."
That said, my breast growth is reasonable and there’s definitely been a general rounding off of my body and facial features. My defined muscles – a consequence of years of active sport – are starting to disappear, but the changes are all so glacial, so I’m also trying to focus more on diet than I ever have before in the hope that that will result in me achieving my desired results.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Siân: As with most things, I think it’s largely down to mindset. Even as recently as three years ago, there were occasions when I couldn’t leave my house for fear of being ‘made’ and the reprisals that might flow from that. With time, however, each outing became a little bit easier until the point that it was a non-issue. I’d suggest it’s a confidence thing, a feeling that you do belong and that you have every right to live your life as you wish.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Siân: Not really. I do follow a number of trans people on Instagram but I wouldn’t necessarily say they were role models for me; as great as trans visibility is, I think everyone’s life is individual and therefore one needs to do what’s right for them.
One thing I’ve been acutely aware of during my transition is the lack of help and support. Whilst I have recently found someone who can help me (having transitioned herself already), almost all of my decisions were taken based on what felt right at the time. I didn’t necessarily have a formal plan, it just evolved over time.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Siân: I’ll answer a slightly different question if I may. I grew up in a rather rural part of the UK, in a traditional (conservative) family, and I remember, aged about 10 (so late 1980’s), hearing that a DJ on the local radio station was transitioning from male to female. I remember being absolutely astounded that this could happen. Although I never saw that being the route I would eventually take, I recall thinking how brave she was.
I grew-up pre-Internet days and I simply didn’t have access to information that people do today. I do wonder if I’d have made different life decisions if I’d have had access to a broader range of information.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Siân: It seems as though society is slowly becoming more accepting of transgender people in general, but there remains a great deal still to do. The biggest issue is access to medical help in a timely manner. Personally, I had to wait about 3.5 years to start being assessed by the NHS, and others endure a longer wait again. As many do, I resorted to private HRT treatment whilst waiting, which is costly, and those that can’t afford to do this professionally resort to self-medding, which brings a raft of potential health issues. Regrettably, despite society becoming more accepting, transgender care is still well down the priority list for many and so additional funding is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Siân: I LOVE fashion!
Developing a whole new wardrobe from scratch has definitely been one of the highlights of my transition journey. For many years, I looked on with envy at cis women, admiring their outfits, and wondering how they'd look on me. It’s been interesting to discover what works and what doesn’t. I am relatively petite, which helps, but due to my lack of curves, certain outfits / styles simply don’t work.
I do have days when it’s simply leggings and a rugby jersey, but generally I do like to make an effort. I like bright colours and take pride in getting the colour co-ordination right. I also make an effort to dress appropriately for my age. I’m 43 now so I need to be mindful of how much skin I show. Probably my favourite clothing brand is Closet – they have a fabulous range and I have a few too many of their dresses!!
And I love shoes – not just heels, I have some fabulous flats as well – and they are often central to my outfit choices. Many of my shoes are from Dune; again, I probably have too many… In fact, I definitely do!!
"For many years, I looked
on with envy at cis women,
admiring their outfits,
and wondering how
they'd look on me."
Monika: I am crazy about shoes too! Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Siân: Not really. I opt for minimal makeup and have found a look that seems to work for me. For me, less is more, and I’m reluctant to experiment for fear of having looked like I’ve tried too hard.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Siân: I do love it. For me, it’s a confidence thing and it’s still lovely to receive positive feedback. In addition, more so than relating solely to looks, I really appreciate receiving compliments about how I present, as I believe that deals with more than just looks – it’s also mannerisms and, crucially, the voice.
My voice has been a source of constant worry for many years now. For quite a diminutive person, I always had quite a deep voice and I am still worried that my voice is my biggest tell. I have had some coaching but it is hard to unpick four decades of muscle memory and old habits are hard to shift. However, what I have realised is that there is a vast range of natal feminine voices, so although mine isn’t of a quality I’d like, I hope it is adequate to not be an instant giveaway.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Siân: It really wasn’t that long ago; from memory, it was July of last year, and at the time, I was on notice that my current job was at risk of redundancy. Although I was fighting hard to keep my job, in my heart of hearts I suspected it was a battle I would ultimately lose, so I started looking for other work.
Fortunately, the company I applied to had a very strong Diversity & Inclusivity Strategy, so that helped to calm my nerves, but I was still very apprehensive ahead of the interview. During the interview, I felt that I built a strong rapport with the interviewers and I remember coming away feeling pleased with what I’d said, but not how I’d said it. In a pressure situation, I was so focused on getting the detail of what I wanted to say right that I forgot all of the tips and adaptations that I need to make to my voice to sound feminine. Consequently, I suspect I sounded very male.
I received positive feedback that I had come across well, but I didn’t make it through to the next round. That was a real confidence knock. Interviews can be horrible anyway, but when you add in one’s trans status to the mix it can be paralysing. I didn’t get the next job I went for either – the feedback I received was that I was over-qualified – and I found myself starting to read into things that possibly weren’t even there.
Needless to say, with the third job I was interviewed for, I was really cranking-up the pressure on myself. One of the interviewers was a lovely guy who I’d met many years previously, way before transitioning. He started the interview by saying, “Hi, Siân, we have met before, haven’t we?”. I acknowledged that we had by saying, “Yes, many years ago,” and then the interview began properly. I felt it was a wonderfully appropriate way of acknowledging my past without making an issue of it.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: courtesy of Siân Longthorpe.

© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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