‘What can I tell others?’

I am a woman who has the word “boy” on my birth certificate. I
really could not do anything about this until nearly four years ago
when, for the first time in my life, I went into hospital. I had
gender reconstructive surgery.

From my earliest recollections I had experienced a constant drive
to change. I remember reading about April Ashley, the first person
to undergo gender transition in the UK, in a Sunday newspaper when
I was about 12 or 13. I knew then what change meant for me. Who
could I tell? No one, I was terrified. So I hid for a while.
Occasionally I would emerge when it was safe, such as late at night
when I could dress up. Nobody knew though and I certainly could not
talk about it.

During the 1960s I joined the Christian church. When I read “The
badge of Christianity is suffering” I knew what it meant. It was in
the 1970s as I embarked upon a masters degree in a theological
college in America that I slowly began to come out. Not because it
felt safe but because it seemed as if my life was crumbling around
me. I just didn’t have the energy to hold on any more. But I only
came out as far as was safe, such as dyeing my hair, piercing my
ears or shaping my eyebrows. I remember disclosing my situation to
a professor, who suggested I take it to the Lord.

When I began clinical pastoral education training in Kansas City my
supervisor instructed me to inform the manager of the programme
about my personal life at the interview. Of course I did this. I
felt like there was something wrong with me, something that other
people needed to be protected from.

In 1984 when I returned to the UK I began a social work post in a
local hospital. The principal officer was disturbed when I bleached
my hair. By 1991, I was employed at a trust in a residential mental
health project and worked with a group of fabulous people. They
were very aware and we delivered a service with integrity. The
trust had a commitment to equal opportunities. I felt safe in its
culture and began to venture out a bit more. I began hormone
therapy while in the job.

Five years later and a month before my surgery I resigned from the

I am now in my fifties and determined it will be my most creative
decade yet. I am a poet but I need to earn money so I signed up
with a social care recruitment agency. My experiences of the past
three years of working in large organisations underlie my reasons
for writing this column. To say it has been a revelation is an

I still find myself asking who, when and what to tell others about
myself? I have been in the desert of silenced voices but continue
to pour water on my burning rage. I have felt the sharp edge of
discrimination but even as I write this I do not feel safe.
Disclosing this about myself goes against all I have worked towards
and achieved. I know that when challenging oppression it can never,
ever feel safe. I have said too much, yet I haven’t even begun.

Diana Ford is a gay woman and a mental health

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