Some estimates say one in twenty men in the UK - that's one and a half million guys, the great bulk in the closet - have what are known as transgender tendencies, ranging from trying on their mum's undies when a teen to craving a full medical procedure to change their sex. OutUK's Adrian Gillan has been talking to transvestite Sandra and transsexual Judith about how they see themselves in relation to the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities.

From the odd night out in stilettos to that full-blown sex-change, the term transgender (TG) covers both those men and women who cross-dress - transvestites (TVs), and those who go the whole hog and seek the 'op'- transsexuals (TSs) whether pre- or post-operative. Relating it to ourselves, surely most gay men have felt the urge, at least occasionally, to be humped by a gorgeous straight stud - jealous of his oh-so-happy girlfriend perhaps - and not just up the arse, but in that imagined woman's role. As Madonna sings, we secretly want to know what it feels like for a girl.

Meet Sandra: a sixty-one year old bisexual TV, married for the last thirty years with a son aged twenty three, and London regional co-ordinator of the Beaumont Society, the UK's largest support group for TG people.

"I've been out as TV for four years but have been cross-dressing since I was four years old," begins Sandra. "They say you're born into it. The girl next door: I used to nick her knickers. It's with you all your life - you can repress it for long periods but it's there. But once you try to hold it back, it becomes worse. Usually in adolescence, it comes back. You pinch your sister's stuff to see how it feels."

Transvestite Icon Bet Lynch
Transvestite icons tend to be straight women like Bet Lynch
"Anyway, I finally met this girl and got married and the marriage lasted six weeks," Sandra continues. "In the next three years during the divorce, things really came to a head. I so needed to become 'the woman myself', though no one else knew anything about it."

"Then," explains Sandra, "I met my current wife, and for seven years - just as before when women had come into my life - 'it' went away. 'It' was gone until my son was born, when 'it' started to creep back and I'd dress in the bedroom privately again. But I was in the closet right though to the mid-nineties and I couldn't stand it any longer. This was more important - it had taken over."

"So I told my wife," she continues, "and she said, 'Where are your clothes then?' I said they were in two suitcases in the garage. She said, 'Well you can't leave them out there, they'll get damp.'"

"It was harder telling my son than my wife," confides Sandra. "I went into his bedroom and said 'You know I always tell you that you can tell me anything, well - I've got something to tell you.' He just fell on the bed laughing and called me a 'pillock'."

"I still thought I was completely alone," she says. "But the Beaumont Society put me in touch with another TV and I started to go round and dress there, going back and forth, changing and unchanging, and after a while I thought, 'This is daft - why don't I go home dressed?' Now I do it all the time. I'd like to be completely full-time but I can't, my situation stops me because of my work - gardening in this stuff just isn't practical. And at home - my wife doesn't really like it. You occasionally get bother with kids if you dress out and about," admits Sandra. "The other day there was this lady and her two teenage daughters, one of whom started to titter and then the other joined in. So I turned round and said, 'It's almost as funny as you walking around in those trousers.'" Sandra at a Beaumont Society meeting
at The George Music Bar in Isleworth
"I'm only 'bi' when I'm dressed, otherwise I'm straight. That's quite common," Sandra suddenly gushes.

Ah ha! So might that indeed suggest that many TVs are repressed gay or bisexual men, ill at ease with their sexualities, who need to don the mantle of a woman before they can then go with a man? And ditto the straight men who get turned on by TVs in a way they can't allow themselves when confronted with plain men?

"You might be right for some TVs," Sandra speculates. "There are a lot more bi ones than will actually admit it. But I'm not attracted to very many men and certainly wouldn't approach a man when dressed as a woman. I don't dress like this to attract men."

So the ill-at-ease with sexuality theory may far from cover all known cases. It does indeed seem to be more to do with basic gender identity than raw sexuality - transgender like it says on the label.

"Of course," agrees Sandra, "You get so-called 'TV admirers' - or 'trannie fuckers' - who think they're straight men and they come after us, when they wouldn't have anything to do with a non-TV gay man. Indeed there's quite a sex market for TV rental. But such men just want sex and then disappear fast because of their guilt. However, most TVs want the same a woman wants - the affection, the romance."

"And a lot of us are attracted to each other," Sandra continues, "though it's on a more female, emotional level - feelings, not sex. There was one particular girl here, I won't mention her name, who I got quite involved with, but it never came to anything."

So, is mere cross-dressing enough then for dear Sandra? Don't all TV's secretly want the snip 'n tuck?

"I did come to the conclusion that I needed the operation," relates Sandra. "Mind you we all say that! But really, I'm too old now. First, if you're married like I am and you decide you want to go TS, your wife has to give permission and my wife would not. So it would mean a divorce and that takes time."

"Then," continues Sandra, "to get it on the NHS, you've got to live in the role of a woman full-time for two years to qualify. Then there are psychiatrists and waiting lists. So I'd be ancient by the time I could have the op, probably dead!"

Photo: PFMphotostock
"Naturally, if you can afford to go private you can do it much quicker," dreams Sandra. "That said, even if money wasn't an issue, I think I'd still go for the full-time role, not the op - I've got too many family responsibilities. And I can just about live with my male side, thought I'm not happy with it."



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