This was originally published in the Lincolnshire Echo.
February is Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender History Month. Here Luke Botham speaks to Tricia, who spent 50 years living as a man in Lincolnshire before finally finding the courage to ‘come out’ as transgender. She now visits schools in the county to share her experiences…
As a young man who had spent his adolescence battling with what he believed was a mental illness, the 18-year-old joined the Territorial Army in a desperate bid to “knock the feelings” out of himself.
He hoped that immersing himself in such a male-dominated environment would somehow help to combat the overwhelming sense that something inside was wrong.
But the young man knew he was not the same as his comrades. The nagging feeling – which he can remember experiencing from the age of six – remained.
Shortly after signing up, the electrical engineer left the military due to a persistent knee injury. But it was not until years later, and the dawn of the internet age, that he was able to establish what was ‘wrong’.
He was transgender. He was, he believed, born into the wrong gender.
He was, in fact, a woman.
Tricia, now 71 and from Sleaford, eventually came out 20 years ago. While she is still physically male – having chosen not to undergo surgery – she lives and dresses as a woman.
She now spends much of her time visiting schools and community groups to raise awareness of LGBT issues.
She talks about how she began feeling confused and started trying on her sister’s clothes as a young boy but how it was still illegal to be LGBT in Britain.
“I had to keep everything very secret,” said Tricia, who says she is not gay.
“There is no question. I wouldn’t have dared to say anything. It was regarded as a mental illness and I could have been locked up for it.
“You wake up in the morning and it is like looking through a mask. What you see in the mirror is not how you feel inside.
“It always makes you feel different. Believe me it is horrendous.”
“I was jealous of the females. The 50s and 60s were a fantastic fashion era. It used to hurt. I wanted to be like them.
“In my 20s, if things had been legal and the same treatments were available then as they are now, I would have changed, no two ways about it.”
Tricia’s decision to join the military was an attempt to combat her gender identity disorder. “I thought it would knock the feelings out of me at one stage,” she said.
“I volunteered in the local group of paratroopers, but it didn’t help one bit. My knee injuries flared up and they decided I was wrong for the paratrooper regiment.”
After leaving, Tricia worked as an engineer, working at a number of county firms.
For much of her adult years, Tricia continued to battle with the feelings that she was different.
She had already began experimenting with cross-dressing, but she still felt there was something ‘wrong’.
And it was during a period of time off work that those feelings reached their peak.
“I was convalescing at home for quite a while and the pressure got to me,” she said.
“You are laid on your own for hours upon end, your thoughts get the better of you.”
However, in the 1990s internet access became more widely available. After getting a computer at home, she began to research the feelings she had.
“I was able to research and find out about myself,” she said.
“I knew how I felt, but I just thought that I was mentally ill for many, many years.
“I thought I was the only one. Suddenly, I found out there were others like me.”
While living as a man, Tricia married at the age of 38 and had two children.
The couple remained married for 22 years but the relationship broke down in 2002.
She says the pressure of her decision to cross-dress contributed to the breakdown.
While Tricia no longer sees her ex-wife or son, she still has regular contact with her grown-up daughter.
Tricia’s parents had passed away by the time she came out but she did tell her sister, who she said was very supportive.
“She played hell with me at first and said ‘why couldn’t you have told me when we were kids?’
“If she’d have known, I could have had the clothes, it doesn’t bother her at all. She’s very supportive and we’re very close.”
A crucial turning point came when Lincoln held its first gay pride event.
At the time, Tricia was working at Siemens in Firth Road, Lincoln. Tricia decided she wanted to go but knew there was a chance she would be seen by her colleagues.
She decided to come out to her managers.
“I had to explain myself to management,” Tricia said.
“They said if there’s any problems with engineers, there would be trouble for them. With the way my colleagues discussed females in the canteen, I thought I was going to get problems.
“All I got was questions, they were great.”
These days Tricia is happy living in her Sleaford bungalow. She is in a relationship with a woman, who is accepting of her lifestyle.
When she is out and about, Tricia uses female public toilets, saying it would be ‘suicidal’ to use the men’s.
She is also male on her passport, meaning she has to dress as a man if she wants to leave the country.
Tricia said that she won’t undergo full gender altering surgery because of her age.
And while she has fitted into the local community well, she said she fears how other elderly transgender people might be dealt with should they fall ill.
Tricia said: “My only fear is not so much how things are now, but the future. Should the unfortunate demise come that I’m going to need a nursing home or something, am I going to be treated with respect and be allowed to be myself?”