Patients' Voices

Embracing Authenticity: An In-Depth Interview with Lianne

One day I met with Lianne for lunch, a smiling long-haired English woman with a trans history. While sat on the terrace overlooking the mountains and the sea, she was enjoying a holiday in one of her favorite destinations, Marbella. She’d kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. 

Lianne is an engineer that works in information technologies, like so many of Facialteam’s patients. As we chat, I wonder why that is while also realizing we have a lot of trans people to thank for much of the software and tech we enjoy around the globe today!

I have conducted these interviews with former patients to raise awareness of the trans experience so we may learn from the multiple realities of a richly diverse humanity. 

So here is Lianne’s story.

Why did you decide to transition?

That question is actually wrong. She’s always been Lianne and remains the same personality essentially, with her interesting conversation, penchant for nice food, preference for science fiction and love of the Mediterranean seaside. She’s just asserted her true gender, which was suppressed due to the social construct pressure to play the role of “assigned male at birth.”  

“My sense of self has always been female. I’ve always seen other women as my own sex. From about the age of 8 I knew I wanted to be one of the girls.”  

However, it wasn’t until one day in the 1980s when she was 13 years old, upon reading a story in a tabloid about a trans woman, that it dawned on Lianne that there were others like her.  

She also remembers reading about the media exposé of the British model and Bond girl, Caroline Cossey, whose trans history was disclosed without her consent. This pushed the actress into the limelight as she held the torch for trans rights on 1980s UK television. “Tula was an important role model. I saw myself in her and thought, that’s me.” Lianne now jokes, “Just wish I had her hair and figure!”

Fast forward to Christmas 2007, over two decades later, Lianne began living as herself full-time in her thirties.  She’d actually initiated gender affirming hormone replacement therapy two years earlier, without any support from the UK Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) of the NHS at the time.

What did transition do for you?

“I am at peace. I waited so long for something I desperately wanted, living life to suit others. My gender transition enabled me to be the person who I have always been in my mind’s eye.”

Up until coming out, Lianne describes a sensation that is repeated by many trans and nonbinary people to gender affirming psychologists: “It felt like being trapped underwater and I finally made it to the surface and could get a gulp of air. The day I first came out as Lianne in public was a liberating moment, the beginning of my real life.”

Does regret exist? Sure, for a very tiny percentage of an already small segment of the population: surveys report around 1-2% of humans on the planet are transgender. In Lianne’s case, she only regrets waiting to transition so late in life.

Does your transition continue?

After 18 years of HRT, surgeries and lifestyle changes, she reflects on how massively her life has changed and how her closest ones bent over backwards to help. 

Many say it never ends, it’s a part of a personal realization that allows us to evolve and grow.

In Lianne’s case, she explains, “My transition is sort of on pause now. I feel there’s still a lot of things to do for my own personal happiness. For example, I believe my hairline causes me to be misgendered at times.”  Although she has long hair, Lianne is considering hair transplants to improve her hairline shape. 

Is Gender Transition an easy process?

Lianne laughs at this question, but it has to be asked. She knows about the unfounded arguments: that the misnamed “gender swap” is a guise that predatory people use to prey on women and girls or escape the law.  There may be exceptions, as with anything, but cases of this are few and far between. 

So, is transition easy?  Absolutely not. It’s the polar opposite. 

Gender transition is one of the hardest decisions and grueling processes that anyone can undergo in their lives.  Most people would not survive a gender affirming journey, with all its obstacles. In fact, we know an alarming number do not, so do not even attempt to. Lianne was lucky, but it was not easy.

Lianne’s transition was relatively fast as she was fortunate enough to be able to pay everything out-of-pocket. She was lucky to transition at a time when gender identity services were not under scrutiny on the political agenda. Luckily it happened in a more accepting climate, before public figures and media openly pushed transphobic discourse. 

Lucky she says that it was *only* “2 years after beginning hormones before I felt ready to live full-time as a woman. Lucky is relative, but it was nothing if not the hardest thing ever. Imagine struggling to be patient, after waiting her whole youth, while her body and soul slowly took their course towards an authentic self.  

Yet the real test of resilience was not in becoming herself: It was, and is, the world around her that make the process never-ending.  Imagine that feared, cold rejection from your dearest, while at your most vulnerable moment. Now that’s quite the drive of self-preservation, right up there with victims of the Holocaust in my opinion.  

What did your family and friends say?

Certain friends asked her to stay in “boy mode” at their social gatherings. She didn’t lose friends, she explains: “My relationships with a small number of them became somewhat ‘distant’ at the time. That’s all ‘water under the bridge’ now though.”

Lianne said that ironically, though her “old-fashioned” relatives worried her most, they’ve come round towards acceptance. She was lucky too with most of her family, although the move from tolerance to acceptance was far from automatic. 

“It was hard with my parents. Some family members used to deliberately use masculine pronouns. My sister-in-law helped a lot with that though. Now, after 16 years, my Dad is on board. There’s only one family member who probably never will be.”  

Her rock in it all was her friend Shelley, who encouraged Lianne to move forward in her thirties. “She metaphorically held my hand the first time I went out of the house as myself.”  Lianne remembers, she also stayed with me for two weeks to look after me when I had GRS. She and her husband even drove me to the hospital and back home again after the surgery, which were long journeys for them that took several hours. Truly wonderful friends.”

I used to avoid people where I live.

Transphobia and misgendering are evident in the UK and a growing number of countries unfortunately. 

Lianne knows that transitioning cannot totally eliminate incidents of misgendering, although it’s greatly improved her own self-perception and outlook, she can’t control the perspective of others who may occasionally “clock” her as trans.

She mentions moments out on the streets: hearing a passerby asking loudly, “Was that a geezer?”; or at a bus stop, snide kids saying “See that tranny!”

She has had to swallow microaggressions like a club doorman’s face of disgust and when a bouncer came to “inspect” the CCTV-monitored hall because she was waiting for a friend outside the women’s toilets.  Or when at night, feeling suddenly fearful when two drunk lads notice her walking alone, saying “That’s a man, that’s disgusting.”

Lianne says that she avoids allowing herself to become a victim, which would be a sign of failing to keep herself safe. This is part of the reason she is trained in martial arts, but the unfairness that she has to worry about her own safety does not escape me, a fellow human femme.

However, Lianne comments that currently things are better:  “To be honest, things seem to be OK these days, and I feel as if people just see me as a very tall woman now. The misgendering situations were many years ago (well before the pandemic) but are definitely worth mentioning still. During the last year or so I’ve started venturing out more and have felt like I only stand out for my height, more than anything else.” Lianne is 6-feet tall after all, higher than average for any gender in the UK.

Have you ever thought of detransitioning?

Lianne considers herself a woman. She’d not think of going back now, only forward. 

“I´ve been Lianne longest now,  I haven’t had any misgendering issues for a while now.” She has no regrets, although it wasn’t all clear, for career purposes, in the beginning.

“I actually had to revert to presenting as male publicly for job applications and as a contractor, although I continued the medical aspect of transition.” Thankfully she has almost always felt respected at work as a trans person—now it’s the typical struggle of being a woman in the man’s world of tech. 

We talk about the so-called ROD (rapid onset dysphoria) which claims the desire to transition due to gender identity is just a phase that young people go through. “It’s just not like that.” For her, she was absent for two decades of her youth, denying her authentic self. When asked about feeling of loss, it just about losing all those years pretending to be someone she wasn’t.