Transitioning in a Rural Community

Sue Robb

Gendys Conference, 2000


What I'm about to talk about is - How I transitioned, What pitfalls I found, Where I went wrong, What I did right, How I handled awkward situations, and How to put both size nines well and truly in it!

What I'm about to say to you is my own personal experiences, and no way am I saying to you this is how it should or should not be done. Everyone's situation and circumstances are different and there cannot be any hard and fast rules.

So first, I must tell you a bit about myself. I'm 45 years old, single, never been married, living on my own in a small village on the North West Coast of Scotland, 200 Miles North of Glasgow. The village is called Lochcarron and has a Population of 870. It's situated on the shore of the Loch and is surrounded by 3000 ft mountains. The nearest cinema or Tesco's is 65 Miles away in Inverness, lots of rain, millions of midges, and the leisure centre used to be a sheep stuck in a fence!

Now some of you will be saying 'She doesn't have a Scottish accent' and do you know what - you'd be right. I moved to Lochcarron 24 years ago from London. At that time I was working with Post Office/BT and got a transfer to the Highlands. I soon got into the Highland way of life and became an alcoholic. In 1992 I took voluntary redundancy from BT and with 20 years service they gave me 35,000 drinks vouchers (sorry I should have said 35,000 pounds).

Two years later, money spent, and weighing twenty three and a half stone, I was rushed into hospital with acute pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse! Surprise, surprise . . . if I drank again I'd be dead!

So I stopped drinking, lost ten and a half stone, and got myself another job, salmon farming . . . not that I had a particular urge to farm fish but it was steady employment, and it kept me out of the pub.

But, without alcohol my escape route was cut off. I could no longer hide my feelings in a bottle. In desperation I contacted the Samaritans and they suggested I see my doctor! No Way!

He's not just my doctor, he's a friend, I see him in the pub, I used to drink with him. How could I tell him?

In a Village there are no secrets. Could I trust him? How would he react? Well eventually I did, and he was great, and I was very quickly referred to a shrink on the NHS.

After a few months and several hours spent at the psychiatrist I was told "You're a case book transsexual"

Question? Do I want Gender Reassignment Surgery? The answer was Yes but could I do it in Lochcarron or would I have to move on back to a city where I could be anonymous.

People think moving to a small community is great - no one knows you, no one knows your past. You can hide, get away from it all - Wrong!

In a small community the postman knows what's in a letter before you've opened it! Everyone knows everyone else's business before it even happens. They know yours and you know theirs. This I believe makes most people think twice before being too antagonistic.

If you want to get away from it all, move to a city.

After a lot of soul searching I decided to stay and give it a try. If I moved it would always be at the back of my mind. Could it have worked in Lochcarron? So I decided to stay. If things didn't work out I could always move on but at least I would know I had tried.

And so my new life began. How does the saying go? Life begins at forty . . . well it certainly did for me.

Now that part of my life, I'm sure a lot of you, will find striking a chord with your own.

So I decided not to run and hide but to stay and see how things went.

As in most cases I told a few close friends and had a date planned when everyone would be told but one of my 'supposed' friends got in touch with the 'News of the World', and that was that - headlines - 'Fish & Snips', the whole country knew. In a funny sort of away they did me a favour. There was nothing to stop me now.

So besides the usual problems what additional obstacles would I be faced with?

Well believe it or not, in Lochcarron and the surrounding district there are no lesbians or gays. Everyone is, "Normal", "Straight" . It must be the healthy air or something in the water. Or maybe, perhaps, someone's not telling the truth.

So how would they react to a transsexual lesbian? Time would tell.

Now on the North West coast the Church still has a strong hold on the way of life. The Free Presbyterians still think they rule the roost. So how do I handle the religious bigots?

Do I ignore them, and hope they ignore me? Do I confront the minister, and end up with the whole of the congregation against me.

I read the Rev David Horton's booklet "Changing Channels" and decided to ignore them but, if anyone challenged me with quotes from the Bible, I could fire back at them with 'Ah, but it also says in Deuteronomy, Chapter so and so . . . ." This I found was the best way to deal with the religious side, except when I was told by one minister "You won't even go to Hell" to which I replied, "I'm sorry but I didn't realise it was also part of your Job Description to decide who goes where in the afterlife!"

Although I'm a practising Christian myself, I'm a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is seen by members of the Free Kirk as not being a real Christian. So in their eyes what ever I did I'd be wrong, and doomed! Sometimes you just can't win.

My next problem was the community as a whole. As I've already said the population of Lochcarron is approx. 870 and is the largest village for miles around. The total population of the Highland region is only 208,000. I used to be "the" BT engineer for the surrounding 300 square mile area. I was known to everyone. I was like the village Policeman - drunk! (No I didn't mean that). I was in a high profile job, there was hardly a house I hadn't been in. How could I change people's perspective of me, from being a macho, beer swilling, fat, bearded (piss head) to being a sober, feminine woman?

The way I went about this, was not to put on any airs and graces, but, at last, to be myself. People would now see the real me, not the fat slob hiding behind the alcohol and bad language. I was going to walk tall, shoulders back, boobs out, and face the sniggers and whispers .

Employment - Now as I've already said, I left BT, and after 2 years of boozing I started working as a salmon farmer. Not the most feminine of occupations, but there were other women already employed there and the company were very understanding when I told them about myself so there should have been no problems, but after a few months things got out of hand to a state where I decided it would be better if I resigned. The problem was a very butch girl who I personally believe was very jealous of what I was going through, and was secretly gender dysphoric herself! She very cleverly undermined me, and got the other members of staff on her side.

This would be bad enough in a normal working environment but in a rural situation you work and socialise with the same people it becomes an impossible situation.

Somehow I had to break her power over me. I tried several methods suggested by my psychologist but I couldn't break the vicious circle. In the end she got to me that much that I couldn't take any more So reluctantly I left the company.

Was this the start of me failing? Would this go against me in the 'real life test'? It was up to me to pick myself up and show I could make a success of my life, but who would give me a job now? I picked up some odd jobs at the local hotel but I was always kept out of view of the public. This, I didn't realise at the time was having a marked effect on my confidence. I felt I was being hidden away. I began to feel like a leper. I must admit this feeling is still somewhat there today .

Luckily by now I had a good, solid circle of friends, and I soon started picking up gardening and decorating jobs. So I set myself up as a self employed gardener/girl Friday.

Over the last 3 years business has taken off and I now employ a part timer. I now have a over 90 customers on my books and have contracts with the Highland Regional Council and the Local Education Authority.

All I can say is a big Thankyou to the girl who forced me to resign, for it was her who gave me the determination to show the community I could succeed.

Another problem I faced and still do, is that of having no anonymity. Everywhere I go for miles around, everyone knows I'm the 'sex change'. I see people in the shops nudging each other, and saying to their visitors "See her, she used to be a bloke". And, yes, it does hurt but I just say to myself, at least I've had the guts to do what I've done, and to stay and face the music.

Oh the price of fame ! If it's good enough for Posh Spice, it's good enough for me. But in saying that, it is good to get away and be anonymous.

So you ask, "Does transitioning in a rural community have any advantages?"

Yes, it does. In a town or city it can be very lonely. You can shut yourself away, you don't need to know your neighbours.

But in a rural community you've nowhere to hide - you've got to get on with life. If you want a pint of milk you've jolly well got to walk into the village store - you're not going to drive 65 miles to Tesco's before you can have your corn flakes.

Also, I found great support from the medical profession, from my GP, to the shrinks and nursing staff, for the two years of the "real life test" My appointments with my psychiatrist were every 6 weeks and lasted a full hour each time, not just a quick 10 min chat every 6 months. He even gave me his home phone number - I felt he genuinely cared. My GP also saw me on a regular basis.

You're not just a number, you're treated as a person. They see you going about your daily business, unknowingly to you they're watching you. They care. You know them on first name terms, you're part of them.

In my case I was the first TS the Health Authority put through surgery, just 20 months ago, shortly followed by another two girls, plus others not quite 'cooked' yet! It's been a joint learning curve for the professionals as well as us, with input coming from all sides.

Another point, and in a funny sort of way I think it is an advantage, is that I'm the only TS that I know of for 65 miles. There aren't any local support groups, gay pubs or clubs, you just have to get your finger out and get on with life in a real world. I have to work and socialise with ordinary folk, and not be cocooned in a gay, lesbian or TS society. Please don't take that the wrong way. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that.

Of course there are times when I feel I don't stand up for myself enough, but I have to remind myself that I am in the minority, and to fall out with one person I could end up falling out with the lot!

Sometimes it's better to just bite your tongue and get on with life.

One thing I do very much regret was, I decided to save the embarrassment of other people by resigning from various committees I was on.

I thought at the time this would be the best for them and me, but with hindsight I should have stayed actively involved in the community, then people can judge you on what you are and not the way you look or what they think you're like.

But by resigning, all it did was to show my lack of confidence, add fuel to the fire of the Doubting Thomases. I was subconsciously showing people that I wasn't confident, and therefore I was hiding from day to day life.

Now as I begin to wind up I would strongly advise you to encourage people to ask questions.

In a small village everyone knows everyone, people do a lot of chatting and gossiping, and that's how rumours start. If they don't know the answer they'll soon make one up! Usually not to your benefit.

Some people are shy, and others are scared. They do want to know and help but they don't know how to handle the situation. They do care, but are afraid to show it.

So be open, encourage them to ask you things, try the odd joke against yourself. This is something I learnt from a young lad in the village who lost both arms in a motorbike accident . All he has left is two small stumps.

He goes around wearing a 'T' shirt printed with "I'm an Iraqi Shoplifter" It puts people at ease, makes them see you as a person and not something to be scared of . It's amazing the difference it makes!

Now as I said at the beginning, this how I felt, and how I coped with my situation. We're all individuals, and all our circumstances are different, so please don't go away from here thinking, I'm doing this wrongly, or Sue said I should . . . I'm only giving you my experiences.

Finally I would like to say, it doesn't matter where you live. Basically at the end of the day it's all up to you. Don't erect barriers that aren't even there. Try to be diplomatic and try and see other's points of view. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, but when necessary stand your ground, and remember, normal people fall out with normal people, so don't always think it's because you're TS that makes someone hostile towards you. It might be because you've bad breath.

Remember the people who shout the most and say the cruellest things are often the ones hiding something of their own life.

So does transitioning in a rural community have benefits over that of a town or city, well generally I would say yes, but how would I know, I haven't tried any where else.

At the end of the day, be honest with yourself, be honest with others and, as they say, 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'

Good luck to you all and thanks for listening.


Citation: Robb, S., (2000), Transitioning in a Rural Community, GENDYS 2k, The Sixth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.

Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 04.07.06