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.

The Beaumont Society also has a smaller number of female members keen on crossing into men, whether in clothes or through the op. Says Sandra: "One straight lady who comes along wants a relationship with a man, but simply wants to do it in the male role - so she's not a lesbian."

The relatively smaller numbers of female-into-male TVs can doubtless be explained since - historically - it has been more socially acceptable for all women to wear traditionally male clothing, and since many lesbians make a point of doing so as part of their culture anyway. So there is simply less need for a female-to-male TV break-away group, whatever the sexualities of the ladies involved.

It's all the more ironic therefore that some lesbians have traditionally been seen as a little hostile to the TG community, notably TSs. According to Sandra: "Many of the lesbian community don't like us at all - especially the butcher ones. With the more femme ones we're made to feel more welcome. But we don't care, we'll talk to anybody."

So much for lesbians, what about gay men?

"Lots of us use gay venues because we feel welcome and accepted there, but only a few of us are gay," Sandra repeats with continuous vigour.

"Most gay drag acts - Lily Savage, Danny La Rue - are just show-biz. They're not living the role like us, they just dress for the act on stage, and it's always over the top. They are not part of the TG community and few would consider themselves to so be. Julian Clary isn't remotely a TV, he doesn't even dress like a woman."

"There are more TVs amongst straights," she again emphasises, "people like Eddie Izzard."

Most gay drag acts like Lily Savage are just
show-biz. They're not living the role.
"I know one or two guys who were out as gay first and then they started to dress," ponders Sandra. "That I find strange because a lot of what we do, it's the attraction to women that starts it. We're so attracted to women that you want to become the woman."

Right, so not just playing the female role so you can be fucked by a man? It's hard to get that old theory completely out of my little head.

"TV icons tend to be straight women - from Bet Lynch to Maggie Thatcher," proceeds Sandra regardless, who has herself had deportment lessons and owns a very full wardrobe but always has nothing to wear. "I haven't got an icon, there's nobody I base myself on at all."

The plot is about to thicken.

Enter Judith: a transsexual, 'pre-operative' since 1978, until the operation itself in 1983 on the good old NHS at Charing Cross Hospital. She's a woman and that's official: the law allows you - TV or TS - to change all of your IDs, except your birth certificate, much to the chagrin of many TSs.

"I'm mainly heterosexual now," says Judith within her long-standing female role. "I never considered myself to be gay before the operation - always transsexual - although I used to go around with gay guys before I really knew what was happening."

"I think I had a TS gene myself," she continues. "I started to grow breasts when I was sixteen, my hips were wider than my shoulders, my testicles didn't drop and I had a very tiny penis. I also never had any hairs on my body. The desire for sex with a man had nothing to do with me wanting the op."

Another dent in the old 'ill-at-ease-with sexuality' theory!

"The operation was very painful," winces Judith, who never felt like she was being treated as mentally ill at the hospital - despite her school sending her to see a psychiatrist from the age of eight. "They remove the testicles and take the insides of the penis out and turn it inside out into a vagina. They put you on very strong painkillers afterwards and you're stuck in bed for a week. Then you have to take hormones and wait a couple of years before you're ready to have sex, in case your body reverts."

"In my experience, gay men don't like TSs," complains Judith. "They like TVs better because they look upon it as a drag act, just a bit of fun" - which certainly isn't how TVs see it. "And the gay media don't seem to pay any interest or show much understanding."

Judith thinks TSs are less likely to encounter trouble in the street than TVs since their transformation is more complete and unnoticeable.

"Generally things are better now," butts in Sandra. "We've all got more legal rights than we used to have. TGs have roughly the same rights in law - or occasional lack of them - as a gay person. However, no matter what the law says, if someone decides they're going to make life hell, they're going to do it."

"Thankfully, the police have been better educated about TGs now," says Sandra, a smile creeping. "I got stopped in my car by a policewoman recently and she seemed more concerned about me having a hole in my tights than me rushing over to my party!"

Photo: Bikeworldtravel
So the main conclusions seem to be that there are a lot more TGs than you might think, you simply cannot generalise about them and they see themselves completely differently to how others - not least the gay community - see them. Furthermore, this way of life is not all about 'sexuality', but rather more about 'identity' and the refusal - inability in fact - to conform to gender stereotypes.

That all clear? Now pass me the rouge.

The Beaumont Society



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