by Stephenie Robinson
So if you think that I got to look like I do in this photograph easily you can forget that, it is not true, it took dedication, work, tenacity and all the things we have to do to get a result in any given situation. It was over hell and high water to reach a stage of public acceptability. You might well ask why go to so much trouble? Well, here’s the thing: Back in the old days around 1979 Dr. John Randall (A psychiatrist at the Charing Cross Hospital Gender Identity Clinic in London) was a stickler for detail not to mention a God-like control over his patients. My first meeting with John Randall in 1979 was a culmination of seeking help due to extremes of testosterone-driven violence and mental disruption.
It was very difficult for me to make friends in my former role, even harder to enjoy being at a party with girls in my teenage years. My social skills were zero and my male driven sex drive was completely out of control, made worse by the constraints of being Christian. Man-made rules and regulations stifled my opportunity to play the field and bed every attractive young female that I could find, but even if I could, it was sex-driven that did not satiate me like most males but would cause frustration and violence as well as self harm. Falling in love was not a possibility in my early teens. The hate of being controlled by a male sex drive that had completely gone awry lead to a deep desire to kill myself. Several attempts were made but even drinking three bottles of ‘Nightnurse cold relief’ with handfuls of Paracetamol tablets only put me to sleep – get this there were no ill side affects duh? That should have been impossible as biologically there should have internal organ damage, but nothing happened?
Cold comforters like anger and hate were my only close friends, and blaming God for the mess did not seem to help. As life moved toward leaving school and having to work for a living every opportunity was seized upon to find ways to kill myself and make it look natural using drugs and tablets but the attempts consistently failed. These attempts were punctuated by visits to leading psychiatrists located at a number of teaching hospitals, all concluding that they did not know how to help me. One after another, after another, each psychiatrist, unable to shed light on my condition left me numb and disillusioned. It was a terrible position to be in. It was isolating and very unnerving – I was just a knife-edge away from doing something really stupid that potentially would harm not just me, but others that got in my way.
I married at 21, and for a while it seemed to solve the sex drive problem, but it became apparent that it was completely out of control. In 1978 my wife, amazed at my lack of body hair and very smooth skin decided enough was enough and covertly met with our Family Doctor in order to procure a future meeting of all three of us. That fateful Saturday whilst walking to the town centre to buy the weekly groceries, she announces that she made an appointment for me to see the doctor without my consent – in taking that meeting events took over. Under threat of being sectioned under the mental health act I was coerced into having to spend time in psychiatric care – what care? Care – now that interesting word. Prison would be a more accurate description. The drug therapies were only designed to block androgens in my bloodstream and to keep me in a mild state of sedation. It went on for weeks until two patients (known to me only by sight) were asked to remain where they sat whilst the nurse consulted with a doctor. These two patients then arrived at the same realisation that had crossed my mind a week earlier – we were not being helped or really treated we were just being kept quiet through drug therapy and held in stasis until the condition blows over.
The discovery of a broken latch on one of the ward’s ground floor windows was my escape route, and on a warm summer’s night I broke out of the building and made a run for it. Several hours later the police found me, arrested me, and took me back to the hospital under escort. As expected I got a real telling off. Then the drug therapy became much heavier with the capacity to disconnect my brain from my muscles. Even quite simple tasks took hours of hard concentration, and going to the loo was a marathon of self-control and copious amounts of sweat. What no one had expected or observed, apart from my Mother (God Bless Her), was the development of fatty tissues going to my hips. I was developing feminine hips huh?
The chance for being saved from my fate came when Mum offered my partner and the family a break, and the Essex hospital based in Colchester allowed me to go to Mum’s under the supervision of my wife. There was nothing left for me, so the aim to commit suicide grew stronger, and Mum, in utter concern for everyone’s welfare, marched me up to Guys Hospital, a major London-based teaching hospital. Assessed by their psychiatric team (6 doctors) who were absolutely horrified at the drug regime this Essex hospital had put me on, recommended complete drug withdrawal to get me off the treatment. One week of cold turkey, and God, did I know the meaning of extreme pain! Every muscle had a sharp penetrating knife sensation in it. My speech centre was completely shot by now, so it was impossible to explain to the doctors what was happening to me. Regaining my freedom and self determination came at a very high price: my electronics career was shattered, and the Human Resources people at University College London, where I worked, withdrew funding for further day release – the college claiming that I was unstable. My colleagues no longer trusted me near machinery. There was nothing left of value in my life, and hate barriers grew within me once again. All this struck me as odd, as to how or even why God could allow such a thing to happen to one of His own?
Through an odd chain of events a lecturer in the department of psychiatry had met with me at a third year leaving party for degree students. He was impressed with my knowledge of hormone therapy (working in a university provided access to learning materials where I studied on my own to learn as much as possible about the use of hormones to control prisoners). He arranged a meeting with some of his friends who were marriage guidance counsellors, but at the end of the course they stated they could no longer help me due to my anger. My life now veered heavily off track, as I was exhibiting the cross dressing syndrome and wanting to act and behave in a feminine manner. Such activity (although odd at the time) did seem to quell the aggression for a few hours. Once again my wife reported this ‘odd’, ‘never-been-seen-before’ behaviour to the marriage guidance counsellors, and via them an appointment to see Dr Randall at Charring Cross Hospital’s Gender Identity Clinic was arranged.
Meeting John Randall was an uncomfortable experience. He was a very forthright man with a powerful ambience about him. He diagnosed ‘classic transsexualism’. Dr. Randall was surprised at my lack of knowledge of transsexuals, and who and what they are! He explained the options available to me: 1 ) Aversion therapy, 2 ) remove part of the brain or 3 ) female hormone therapy. His diagnosis was shocking and also unbelievable – something from the twighlight zone to my mind. When the diagnosis was announced to my family, and then eventually to my new employers (it was necessary to change jobs due to being in a psychiatric hospital) they either laughed at me or looked down at the floor in disbelief. This was the start of an incredible journey where both Christian (with few exceptions) and society as a whole, would see me as a social outcast. If not for those golden people that supported me morally, and in some cases financially, and the beauty of a loving mother and family, it is likely this potted history would not have been written.
The NHS (UK’s Health system) viewed people like me as a time-waster, a drain on their resources. Work colleagues saw me as simply an ‘attention-seeking’ male, and the world at large would have preferred to see me curl up and die. My body never had hair on it and now my developed hips caused problems when trying to buy male clothes. Whatever had happened to me before hormone therapy was proving to have a deep and lasting impact. When eventually Dr Randall agreed to trial small doses of oestrogen therapy my character transition was so marked that it was undeniable. Rather than people and friends run away from me they were attracted to my new open character. It was a 180-degree shift in my aggressive demeanour. There was a side benefit in taking hormone therapy. My skin could now tolerate sunlight and bath water without reacting violently to the exposure – this was a wonderful release.
But in 1979 toward the mid 80’s there was little in the way of information, and even less in terms of support groups. These days we have moved on and there is loads of information, but it always amazes me even today how so many transsexuals do not work at their new role in life. It’s like an athlete who wants to win a big race by sitting in an armchair watching TV and guzzling beer – hey Guys and Girls, it does not work that way! You need to work with the hormone therapy.
So where to now? Our family doctor asked me to stay in the family unit, not fully understanding the implications that oestrogen taking would have. It was clear that my life had to change. For the next two years the marriage settled and in relative terms we were happy. With the hormone therapy now in place, things seemed relatively smooth. Odd though I used to get regular bouts of cystitis – a painful complaint normally associated with women. It confused everybody around me that a pre-operative transsexual should suffer a typically feminine complaint – it puzzled me as well. The family harmony was soon to be disturbed as an accident happened in communication between the gender clinic and my GP. I had been over-dosed for a year on a potentially lethal dose of oestrogen therapy. My kidneys and liver were working overtime to rid my body of the excess hormone, which gave rise to enormous pain and discomfort. In the end the pain got so bad I decided to go to hospital to seek medical attention.
Arriving at the emergency department at Guy’s Hospital the doctors did not know how to treat my condition, and sent me to Charing Cross Hospital’s Emergency Department under my own steam. No ambulance, no NHS transport, basically no help. To my utter amazement the doctors at Charing Cross Hospital took the same view. They chucked me out as well, stating that they did not know what to do and told me go back to the clinic. For crying out loud the Gender Clinic is in the same damn hospital!
My life now hung in the balance! Either it would be a sudden death from blood clots or survive to see Dr. Randall for an opinion. I survived and John Randall eventually told me that I should have been dead due to the quantity of hormone in my bloodstream. Randall then re-prescribed a much lower dosage, a safer dosage and a different type of oestrogen – this was serious decision time. Perhaps the time is now to become my own best doctor and forget the rest of the medical profession. If there was to be one single chance at survival I had to take the responsibility for myself and for my preservation. Randall died in 1983 and the clinic lost contact with me for a while. When Caroline Cossey’s story featured in the media ‘Bond Girl was a Boy’ around 1982 (Caroline appeared briefly in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” as a medical woman), my heart sank and felt really dejected and angry as no one had provided enough time for me to get a grip on my new life. One night, alone in my London flat in a terrible state of tears, suffering the hardships and rejection, and idea struck me as though God’s angel popped down to say “Hey Steph, try this!”
In the bible the story goes that God created Adam from dust and Eve from Adam, so why not become like clay to myself and be moulded? And being an engineer we always tested theories by building rigs to test the theory – gotcha. So if my body can shift toward those women in magazines then perhaps the acceptance can be won, not by demanding others to simply accept me as Stephenie (Mum chose my feminine name) but by the fact that success in how I look, backed by my new demeanour, would turn the situation around.
So here I was with a seed of a seemingly impossible idea, yet rejected by religion, friends and some family members, the world or rather those in my world, expected me to live up the this beautiful woman called Caroline Cossey (she is indeed very beautiful!). How does one get such a high standard when you are only two years in on the programme? It would have been so easy to carry a big chip on the shoulder for all the hurt, yet forgiving them for their transgressions against me gave me a spiritual and emotional release to completely focus on my own requirements. In the end, if this was the path, then it must be made as perfect as possible. I gave up social life and holidays to save cash for surgeries, and trained to improve the emerging shape of my body through exercise and diet, yet by some miracle most of the work on my body shape had already taken place during my time in psychiatric care.
When I arrived at the point for the Gender Re-assignment Surgery or GRS (which was performed by the surgeon from hell), I cried buckets of joy and relief when it was finally over. Obviously my tears of relief masked the not knowing about how much damage the surgeon had left me in. The post surgery pain was terrible and I had to release the funds from my pension plan to pay for the procedure. Still the NHS with a few exceptional people remained steadfast in not offering any real support or help. In 1990 the GRS failed and it was pitch battle with a health insurer and the NHS to get the treatment that I needed. The problem was that in the Gender Clinic’s eyes I just wanted a colovaginaplasty procedure, purely for a deeper vagina (are they crazy!). A four-year battle ensued between powerful institutions and me and my humble computer. As a marketer I debunked all the advertising put out by these organisations, and eventually the colovaginaplasty was performed in 1994 but I had become terribly ill and weak by all of the fighting.
For every inch of ground here in the UK I had to fight tooth and nail – this is not everyone’s experience, just mine. Two days in recovery from the colovaginaplasty operation my heart started to give trouble which then sent me off on another path. Being too sick to work, I studied for a Business Degree at London South Bank University. Rated by their careers department as one of the worst academic students they could take on, my presence rose to fame through winning a number of business competitions, which put me leagues ahead of other students, and by my second academic year I had a seat on the board of governors.
As time unfolded, I became a fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing and an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and growing in stature with each passing year. My progress to womanhood was heavily supported by Alex Munden, a photographer who worked with me over the years, not just to sell the photographs, but also to help me chart progress year on year. Alex was instrumental in my growth toward a new existence as we worked out from the pictures as to what cosmetic surgery would be needed to make me that much more acceptable to the outside world. Also there were Trans support groups that were vying for my support trying to pull me to one side or another. In the end I trod the middle ground, working hard to keep neutral on my incredible journey.
A Light In the Dark by Stephenie RobinsonMy life so far has been very intense and there is so much more to tell that my experiences are now in a book called “A Light In The Dark”. Click here to read more about it on Amazon.
On the fun side I became a member of Starfleet, the worlds largest Star Trek fan club, or so I am lead to believe. And hey, if it’s of any comfort, the last time a doctor gave me a full examination he could see no indication of maleness anywhere on my body. Hormone tests showed no male hormones in my body. He was amazed at my physique, as indeed most of my new friends are.
In the end I gave up trying to make any kind of sense of it all. I just took it on trust that for whatever reason something radical had changed in my biological makeup, triggered by the drugs in the psychiatric hospital, and that is enough for me. Trying to make sense of it all just drives me crazy.
Here are a few websites of interest:
Cheryl Frampton is my co-author who wrote a book called ‘For Crying Out Loud’. Cheryl’s book details her experiences of domestic violence and how she coped.
For Alex Munden see http://www.imagineation.co.uk
Now I leave you with this one thought. When it seems to be going pear-shaped remember – “The Impossible is Only Impossible if you think it is Impossible’
Some ideas about how to make the transition work for you:
If you are in transition from a male role to a female role do not force others to accept you because you say so. Work quietly to better yourself first. Then attain a standard that makes it conflicting for others to call you in a male name. Be patient and if you centre your mind on a power greater than you (in my case that is Jesus) it is possible to have an internal peace about you that will make others want to know your secret and keep you safe in mind from the trials of our lives.
My second piece of advice is to not carry hate with you. It is so easy and it eats up your emotional resources making you impotent about your own immediate needs. Focus only on what you have to do, and be gracious with critics and supporters. To be humble and brought low gives you insight to make you a much better person.
I recently met with one very powerful Christian minister who considered me to be presenting an illusion to the outside world. Of course he does not agree about gender transition and thinks it is of the devil’s making. Sitting there quietly and listening, smiling to myself, I answered quietly and with authority, “Whatever you may think, I do not need to justify myself to anyone. I am who I am, and this is where God has put me.” He was amazed at my quiet respectful confidence. Such a confidence speaks volumes.
Finally, and this is only my opinion, but please forget hawking around the photos of yourself, take more interest in others and their needs, and in so doing they will come to love being with you, and you will find a deeper meaning to who you are, and tremendous respect from others.