Realisation of my gender difference came very late, in mid-life, but has been a constant part of me ever since. I would not have been able to accept myself and make progress without the solid testimony, worship and community of Quakers.
I have gradually adapted my life to reflect my feminine nature and sense of myself, letting masculine behaviours go, and re-adjusting relationships and activities I feel most happy with. I have not transitioned in the usual sense, but changed the balance of my life, normalizing what is right, living as a woman. It has been troubling and disruptive, but has really been a liberation.
I had always felt different, self-conscious, out of place, but did not know why. As a child, I identified as an artist and was absorbed in art and making. I was not pressured into boyish activity, but I worked to be the man I was supposed to be. I was brought up in a highly sheltered, suburban, Christian, Methodist family and church, where assumptions and expectations were conservative, and prayer was the answer to all concerns.
The thought I might be gay scared me in my teens (within my strict Methodist upbringing), but I realised I wasn’t gay. But as heterosexual, to be honest, there was something not-quite-right about my relationships, and this also made me wonder. But any sense of girlishness I swept away in horror.
After following social conventions through my 20s and 30s, including being married to a woman, I finally faced up to myself without fear in my early 40s. Allowing myself to seek deeply and encountering my feminine reality was like a huge penny dropping – something fell into place, made complete sense of me. I was surprised by the certainty and the joy I felt. It was a spiritual unfolding. But I had no language for it. I did not see it as transgender, the word did not occur to me. This reality has remained constant ever since.
I spent years trying to understand it. My experience did not completely match anyone else I met or read about, though some things I read chimed with me. What I grew to understand is that my gender difference cannot be explained. As I understood more I made notes to myself of small insights, but none of this translated easily into communication to others. I felt weighed down by the image of trans, the assumptions, suspicions and prejudice, and this made me constantly doubt and question my own certainty.
Eventually I told my partner. How could I talk of something that was so incomprehensible, and so transgressive? It was a very difficult time. We grew apart, but remain friends.
Accepting my gender identity went hand in hand with becoming a member of my Quaker meeting in 2005. While I could not explain it logically in words, I knew my self-realisation was a spiritual experience, an opening, a truth. So against a troubled mind, impossible practical issues, and remaining closeted, I valued times of stillness and waiting in the light. In Quakers, we know we can bring our whole selves to worship. There is no need to tell anyone, I could feel honest with myself, open to God, have no shame or guilt, and wait for leadings.
Growing to know myself opened me and brought me closer to God, I found myself more naturally inclined to prayer. I felt for the first time an ability to give myself deeply. Worship helped me strip away the baggage surrounding both gender and God – the words, myths, prejudices which were as much an impediment as a help in both cases. I felt I could see my strange reality as a gift.
Yet I was still a closeted, embarrassed trans person.
After becoming a member of my meeting, but before I had fully come to terms with myself, and before coming out to anyone at my meeting, I was asked to take part in a Quaker Quest (outreach event) on ‘letting my life speak’. I did this with my gender identity in mind but could not find a way to make it explicit. The next day I drove to Swarthmore (Quaker space in Cumbria) for a workshop on Experiment with Light and drove there dressed, intending to change before arriving. I decided to phone them to let them know I would be arriving appearing female and did so joyfully, feeling much more true to myself and my faith. I did not participate as Yvonne in the weekend, but was able to speak about it during introductions and informal conversations. It was a step on my path and I felt I had let my life speak a little.
I found Sibyls, a Christian trans group. That was helpful. In 2012, tentatively coming out, I began to look for signs of trans activity within Quakers. I found no trans links at all. I found a welcoming community in the lesbian and gay fellowship, but initially did not feel I belonged. I wrote a letter to the committee about gender identity and quickly found myself in the committee. I wrote an article for The Friend. I then became very involved with organizing gatherings with trans voices.
In my local Quaker meeting, I told a number of individual Friends one by one. First, I was an overseer and I told my fellow overseers individually. I told others in my worship group as the opportunities arose. I didn’t come out more generally to my own meeting until 2017; I just couldn’t find the right opening. But a business meeting agenda item provided an opening to tell that group about me. That led to a workshop in my meeting and an article in the newsletter. I felt so much more at home in my meeting having said something, but without making it an issue and continuing to be how Friends knew me.
It was so helpful when the term ‘non-binary’ came along – I could acknowledge my mix of male-ness and feminine-ness. I am realistic and content to be seen as a trans person. The annoyance of being addressed as male is outweighed by the lightness of being true.
Quakers has helped me so much. First the idea of convincement – my convincement that Quakers provided the right spiritual path for me was parallel to my convincement about the deep truth of my gender identity, however crazy it seemed. Secondly the testimony to truth and integrity – in the context of worship and living in the world, knowing the essence of personal truth shaped relationships and service. I love the idea of the T in LGBT standing for ‘true gender’. Thirdly, the testimony to simplicity – just be, don’t dress it up, don’t corrupt something delicate and real. The more I live my gender identity, the more unimportant and simple my outward presentation.