Interview with Kirsty Jayne Crow - Part 2

Monika: How did you tell her?
Kirsty: Unfortunately, I did not choose the best way to tell her. Rather than say that I was transgender 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 fourth in the level of acceptance we have seen.
As a transgender person, there is nowhere to hide. Unless you are one of the few who blends seamlessly you are open to being 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 program 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.
Monika: I remember one character in Coronation Street ...
Kirsty: Yes, 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 transgender 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 cisgender 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 the 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 program 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, colors, 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 advice 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 lightweight 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 favored 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 to 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 that 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 belief 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 database. 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.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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