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'I hated being trans almost as much as I hated myself... Until now'

David Thomas wearing 'the wrong trousers'
David Thomas wearing 'the wrong trousers' Credit: Kate Peters

Author David Thomas still lives as a man, but has begun the male-to-female gender transition that will eventually result in becoming a woman. Each week he chronicles his progress. This week, on the great gender divide​

A friend asked me an interesting question the other day: ‘Is there anything good about being trans?’

For most of my life, I would have said, ‘No.’ I regarded the nagging sense of wrongness, which defied all my attempts to will it away, as an unmitigated curse. It was the Achilles heel that undermined me from within. And the unintended consequences of my desperate attempts to deny and ‘cure’ it ended up costing me my marriage, my family and my home.

I hated being trans almost as much as I hated myself. But then two people showed me that there was another way. The first was Juno Roche. She is the author of Queer Sex, a guide to sex and relationships for trans people that has opened eyes and minds in the same way that The Joy of Sex did for straight folk, many years ago. She’s also a passionate, effective advocate for transgender rights, while remaining reasonable, coherent and thoroughly likeable.

Now, Juno and I are as different as can be. She comes from a working-class background in Peckham, south-east London, land of Del Boy and Rodney Trotter. And I’m an Old Etonian, raised in Moscow, Lisbon, Lima and Kew Gardens. She’s staunchly Labour and Remain, I’m Tory and Leave. She’s blonde and petite, I’m tall and dark. She loves dogs, I’m more of a cat person. As friends go, we’re definitely an odd couple. And yet…

I went to stay with Juno a few years ago at her small, idyllic village house in the hills of Andalusia and we yakked like fishwives non-stop for 72 hours. She was funny, full of life and absolutely at ease with being a transwoman. Much of her life had been tough. But now she seemed fulfilled in a way she had clearly not been before she transitioned. Juno made me think, ‘Maybe I could do this…’ Her view was more, ‘You must do this.’

Sitting at her kitchen table, she pointed up at a cupboard and said, ‘I’ve got a box filled with hormone patches in there, and if you don’t promise me you’re going to transition, I’m going to come into your room while you’re asleep and stick them all over your bum.’

When, just recently, I put the ‘Is there anything good…?’ question to Juno, she of course replied, ‘Yes,’ and then added, ‘People often don’t believe me when I say that if I had a choice, I’d always choose to be trans. But it’s the only identity that ever made sense to me. It feels aspirational. It allows me to cross borders towards a better, happier, more authentic version of me. I’m doing the best I can, to be the best I can. My trans identity enables me to do just that.’

The other person who gave me the confidence to see a positive side to being trans was the inimitable artist, cartoonist and author Steven Appleby. Steve and I first met almost 30 years ago, when I was editor of Punch magazine and commissioned work from him. Neither of us had any idea of the other’s trans identity. Back then, we might not have admitted it even to ourselves.

Unlike Juno and I, Steve sees no need to transition. He enjoys having both male and female aspects to his identity. But he has a female alter ego, Nancy, and presents as female almost all the time.

Nancy has a very cool, goth-chick look, carried off with tremendous style and self-assurance. Being with Steve in Nancy mode, I really understood that if you are at ease with yourself, then others will be at ease with you too.

Steve’s answer to That Question was, ‘I can’t remember when I started thinking that being trans was something special, and fun, rather than a cross to bear. But I do remember that it struck me as a magical, through-the-wardrobe kind of thing. It sounds pretentious, but you transform into something mythical, like a centaur, or a mermaid. But instead of being part-man/part-horse, or partgirl/part-fish, you’re part-boy/part-girl.’

I too relish the idea of being a changeling. We trans people know something that the rest of the world doesn’t: what it is like to be on both sides of the great gender divide.

Of course, I don’t know it all about being female. Maybe we never knew quite what it was to be male. But we do get glimpses that others cannot.

For me as a novelist, being able to identify so strongly with both male and female characters is a huge help. But Steve and I have both found that the act of fashioning a new identity can be such a fascinating, all-consuming, creative endeavour that it drains some of the energy we need for our work.

Even so, my answer to that original question is now a confident, ‘Yes.’

Read David Thomas's latest column on telegraph.co.uk every Thursday from 11am