Of Lads, Labels and Lower portions

Yesterday, the boys at Exeter Academy made national news with their protest about the school uniform rules which forbade them from wearing shorts in the hot weather, being as they have to endure the equatorial conditions of the deep south of England. So they borrowed from their female classmates and wore the school approved skirts to school instead! Point made. But earlier this year Nicola Thorp hit the news when she was sacked for refusing to wear high heels. Wouldn't it have been great if the men at her work had followed the Exeter boys example and come in the next day wearing high heels? Why, oh why, do we have these rigid rules of dress codes defined by gender?

Clearly I am trying to challenge these rules in my own way. I have struggled for a label to attach to myself, because it seems that labels are in some way demanded in order to make sense of things. So Trans Fluid is the best I can come up with. Maybe Dress-Fluid would be better. The term 'Trans' has become so associated with Trans Sexual or Transvestite, and the connotations of changing, or imitating, the other gender. I'm not trying to do that, and my goatee beard helps to make that clear. Now, I like my goatee, but why should that be necessary to underline that I am not trying to imitate women?

The trouble is that men's rules on clothes are so rigid - but why? I have no problem with blue and grey suits per se, but when they become an entry ticket to being taken seriously, then women are inevitably consigned to becoming the odd ones out, not really in the club: Nicola Sturgeon's stylish dresses ( I would say that, as we do indeed share the same dressmaker), or Theresa May's leopard skin kitten heels, or even Ruth Davidson's suits which provoke inevitably snide remarks that she is echoing the style of Kim Jong-un. The trouble is that women will never get a break in regard to what they choose to wear, whilst men impose the rules of their prison uniform that denotes their inclusion in the Club of Power. 

So perhaps in time, more men in power will break free of these rules but I see two major barriers in the way: one is homophobia. Whilst homosexuality is not treated as it once was, there is still an assumption amongst many, if not most heterosexual men, that to wear more expressive and colourful, even overtly feminised clothes, is the domain of gay men. Most people assume I am gay when they see me dressed in my alternative attire. It seems to help explain why I do it. 'He must be gay', and that's me neatly interpreted and categorised. Because why would a heterosexual man want to dress in a gay manner out of choice?

My journey has been on the surface about appearances - clothes. I do feel a 'feminine side' and I know I have deep feelings that are different to my male friends. Quite often I feel estranged from male conversations and lonely inside as a result. But for many others it is much more fundamental than that. The male-to-female transexual  experience is all over the media with moving stories of gender reassignment struggles. Campaigns are afoot for passports and other proof of gender to be similarly changed for those who have made the transition. Understanding of the transexual experience is at an all time high - unthinkable even a few years ago. And this exposure has supported me enormously in my own particular coming out. 

Then last year Germaine Greer was barred by Cardiff University Student's Union from questioning the demands of reassigned male to female Trans women to be recognised as full women. This trend to silence views we feel uncomfortable with is, in my view deeply worrying. But more on that another day, perhaps. In an interview after the ban she said - "Apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women, I’m not to be allowed to talk. I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure. What I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman."

Strange as it may seem, coming from a Trans person, I initially thought she had a point. I am not saying that a male-to-female post operative transexual is not a woman. But I can't help feeling that a deep and genuine, quite possibly life long yearning, for female identity - with the long and painful genital surgery and hormone treatment to grow breasts, does not achieve a life experience equal to that of being a female from the womb onwards. Yes the result is a woman, and should be recognised as such. Trans-women will face the same societal judgements and prejudices all women face - and many more to boot. But the life journey is different, and like for all of us sadly, the clock cannot be turned back - no matter how much we wish it could be. But before I go any further I need to own up to my recent experiences that has affected my views on this question. 

In the last four weeks I have been caring and supporting a woman very close to me who has gone through a hysterectomy. Not the less intrusive key hole surgery, but of the most serious surgery possible. Another close female friend, at the same time had an ectopic pregnancy and lost one of her twins to be - and an unbelievable amount of blood. For both women their experiences were potentially life threatening. This has affected me deeply.

Secondly I should own up to my own feelings in the past as a transvestite of being envious of women at times. But I wasn't yearning for crippling period pains, ectopic pregnancies, the hormonal hell of PMS, hysterectomies, menopause, or the risk of dying during child birth.  I know the transvestite experience is very different to the transexual experience; but there are some overlaps. I can't help but feel that in banning Germain Greer's views from even being heard is in some ways quite insulting to women. In bypassing the impact of the gynaecological experience from puberty onwards, plus the lived experience of girlhood, for me gives the impression that womanhood is reduced to having the right curves in the right places, and not having a penis. And also I find it disrespectful to a pioneer of feminism to ban her from even saying so.

This wave of identity politics seems to be saying - if I feel so, therefore I am. It is indeed heartbreaking, and often suicidal, to feel trapped in a body that doesn't fit with how you feel emotionally. These days something can be done to ameliorate outward appearances; and that is good. I am also sure that many, probably most male-to-female transsexuals would have totally accepted the full female experience - PMT etc - and that they were genuinely born into the wrong gendered body. So I do fully support that right to a sex change, and I fully support that the NHS should be there to help. But until such time as surgery can deliver the full reality of the gynaecological hell endured by women, then the result cannot be the same as a female from birth. And what's so wrong with that. Sure, transexuals should be recognised as women, use the Ladies, be known as 'she', and have a passport that says so, but why do we have to be so binary in our approach to gender?

This has been a difficult blog for me to write. What I am saying could well be hurtful for people who are going through that long difficult transexual struggle and those who have come out the other side - finally find peace in who they have felt they should have been all along. No one wants their identity and experience to be questioned. I have met quite a few transexuals over the years: male-to-female and female-to-male, and I'm pretty sure many would find what I am saying difficult, if not downright offended but it. I don't mean to hurt, but my own experience has led me to ask deep questions of my own. I also know that my experience is quite different, but I feel it would be cowardly of me not to air my questioning as I have started a blog to talk about, amongst other things, Trans issues. But as with everything else I say, I m open to being challenged, and I hope I am big enough to admit when I am wrong.

As someone who is somewhere on the Trans spectrum, I have reached a stage in my life where I feel comfortable saying that I am male, yet I identify with a lot of aspects of the feminine. For myself, and for many others, clothes are intrinsic to my expression of my identity. I mix gender specific garments to create an appearance that is perhaps almost androgynous. But when my bones are dug up in a thousand years, the archeologists will bung a label on my fossilised remains - '21st century male'. 

That is a sad reality for those who have been trapped in the wrong body, but science is unforgiving sometimes. For others on the Trans spectrum, I do wonder whether the binary absolutism of one gender or the other is that helpful. Might it not make for a happier life if we could accept that there are those who identify so strongly with the other gender that they choose to live that way for much, or even all, of the time. Some choose the full gender re-alignment. Others go part of the way, and others simply self identify. Their's is clearly not a binary male experience. But it is not, and sadly for a great many, never will be the identical experience as having been a female from birth. Vive les differences!

Why I love Leith

Any day now I'm going to be on the front cover of The Leither magazine. Yes - in my Trans-ish self.

Since returning to Leith earlier this year - and since coming out as a kind of Trans - almost every day I've been stopped by someone wishing me well on my journey. I must confess though, to some jitters at the thought of imminent piles of the bloody magazine in outlets across the Port, but hey - I asked for it. 

Its difficult to put your finger on what is so special about Leith. I think of it sometimes as 'Edinburgh's Glasgow'. Because we are like Glaswegians. Last year when I was coming out gingerly in Bruntsfield on the city up the hill, in the main I was passed by people staring at their mobiles. But other than that it was that 'you'll have had your tea' polite invisibility. Yes necks would strain on passing buses and the odd white van nearly ran into the car in front. One much older man (being my age I need to be careful about my oldie descriptions) nearly lost his footing and needed to be calmed by his wife. But other than the odd smile, and an imagined 'tut', it was a bit of a non-event. 

But here in the Port, the roughest-as-fuck Leither has thrown their arms round me and showered me with compliments. Yes indeed, drink was often a not insignificant component, but the next day a big hungover smile would great me as I passed them in more traditional off-to-work clothing. I haven't been out in Glasgow yet, and the thought does scare me, triggering as it does my early 13 year old's story - (see my blog - My Journey). But one day, I'm sure. I'm certainly getting enough encouragement from friends out West.

But we in Leith are not Edinburgh's anything. We are Leith. A burgh, who in 1920 had its own MP, its own trams system (a sore point these days), its own police force, town hall, theatre, school board, hospital, water board. In fact, debatably, more power in the Port than the present day Scottish parliament has over the whole of the country. All that independence until the infamous and rigged plebiscite incorporated us into Edinburgh's imperial ambitions. But more of that another day, as the centenary of that fateful event looms. 

They say that history is written by the victors. Well I don't know about that. Not here in Leith anyway. About 10 days ago an event happened in the history of Leith that needs to be told. It was the closing down weekend of the iconic, eccentric and purely Leith phenomenon of the Port of Leith bar on Constitution Street; soon to become yet another venison burger wine bar. Two nights of partying, with a trip to Hampden in between, where sadly we played and sang Aberdeen off the park - but lost. But that didn't damper the other worldly momentus-ness of those wild and tearful two nights in the Port. 

On the Friday night I teetered along the cobbled streets in my kilty Totty Rocks outfit to the Palace. Yes the home of Mary Moriarty; Queen of Leith. Although she has not run the pub for some years now, she is for the Port the pure class that turned that wee haven of a pub into the heartbeat of Leith. So once she had donned her fur coat (hoping people would assume it is fake - which it most certainly isn't), I escorted her down the road, each of us watching our balance in very different foot attire - and Mary reminiscing of the times when she too could enjoy a killer heel to show off her fine pins. 

The paparazzi were waiting. A young photographer, Ryan Buchanan, shot some beauties that will form an exhibition in our own Leith Festival in June. One gobsmaking pic will stay in the memory of all who were there. Mary sitting on a 'throne' at the doorway with black clad bouncers standing threateningly either side, as Mary crossed her legs, pulled down her shades, and took a long pouted drag on her ciggie. The Godmother had arrived. 

The next night was even busier. After a quick costume change after my Hampden day out - a skimpy leapord skin number this time - I arrived to a long queue of eager would be revellers. My heart sunk as the line 'do you know who I am' seemed to cut no ice with the change of guard outside from the previous night. But thanks to Jill, the magnificent successor to Mary, I was bustled inside to a chorus of Edinburgh tuts in the background.

Amongst numerous other things, it's the music and the dancing that make the Port. Alex, the dj for the last 20 years has such an intuitive feel for the right song. After the dual anthems of Sunshine on Leith and Always look on the bright side of life, and five more choruses of 'one more tune', she brought the tear drenched night to an end with Hey Jude. Not a dry eye in the house, not a person left un-hugged, and not a seat left without someone dancing their heart outtop of it. I looked around and the ceiling seemed to have shrunk. Flailing arms and heads nearly bouncing off it, and all the men (nearly literally) stripped to the waiste. Or I think that's where they were stripped to. 

And so the Port is now closed. The next night I went for a walk with my dog and passed the door. It was such a poingent moment. All lit up in its scarlet glory, but the doors were padlocked. Like a flood lit memorial to a by gone age, less that 24 hours after so many people had lost their haven. Leith needs yet another quinoa, duck confit, cappuccino and spritzer bar for Edinburghers on a night out on the colourful side of town, like it needs a poke in the eye with a Jambo. Uncharacteristicly for me, I don't wish the new owners well. 

How my coming out is unfolding - 7 weeks on

It was just seven weeks ago when I stood up on a stage in front of a hundred strangers in my new dress style and spoke about my 60 year journey. So much has happened since. The main thing being my discovering how to live with my new feeling of being 'out'. 

Interesting how I still put Out in inverted commas. That in itself is a bit of a mystery to me. It's as if I don't feel I have a right to claim Out as being relevant to me. I'm still in awe of the Gay and Lesbian community. And, if the truth be told, I don't really feel that Trans is part of the movement. I think I have always felt that the 'BT' bit of LGBT were hangers-on. Trying to have it both ways. A statement that is shocking to some I'm sure, but that's something this 61 year old still struggles with.

But on the other hand I do feel an experience that my gay and lesbian friends can relate to. I feel the anxiety of stepping out the door. I feel the fear of judgement; of exclusion. The denial of equality and acceptance. Probably more so in some sense, because being Trans is instantly visible. Particularly my way of being Trans. And I am forever alert to the unpredictable possibility of violence - from other men.  

Going back 20 years ago when I made my first attempt at coming out - beardless - I knew I could 'pass' as a woman from a distance. That made the fear all the greater. Late at night, after the pubs and clubs had chucked out, those lads on the early morning deserted streets, who from a distance were attracted to the shapeliness of my legs, would likely be deeply embarrassed - angry and shamed in fact - on discovering up close that what they had been drawn to sexually was in fact a Tranny - a guy! Tricked even. What would happen next? My heart pounded, yet at the same time I knew that I would go through this danger again and again, because I had no alternative. This state of being was - and is - me.

I came close to a good beating a number of times. Luckily, or perhaps because of the courage I had to build up to step out of the door in the first place, I learned the skill of assertively talking my way out of dangerous situations. And here is the ultimate irony. It's as if I discovered a new 'in your face' confidence in facing down those kind of lads in those situations. Sometimes I feel that being Trans made be more of a 'man' - in that stereotyped 'stand up for yourself' kind of way. And of course, theoretically, the next day I could emerge from that same front door as a traditional everyday hetro guy. Hardly comparable to being a woman 'full-time' or being known as openly gay.  

So fast forward to the last seven weeks since my dear friend Lauren Currie invited me to speak at her UpFront event in London all dressed up. I have been on a journey. Not one I could have predicted; but then none of this has been predicable. So here are my reflections, and perhaps lessons, on a seven week journey into the unknown, with, hopefully, many more weeks, months, years - and lessons, to come...

Step 1 - Don't rush it. My speaking event in London on 2nd February was so overwhelming, followed quickly by my coming out on Facebook (note the absence of inverted commas this time). I felt a parallel urge to both step things up rapidly,  dramatically, and to slow down. I wasn't quite sure what to do next, yet at the same time, deep down inside, I knew exactly what to do.

Step 2 - Attend to what else is important in the rest of your life. For me that meant, first and foremost, moving house. I was coming coming home to Leith - the community I have felt most at home at in my life. The home of my Scottish Cup winning football team - Hibs; the head office of my charity - WorkingRite; the coolest neighbourhood you can think of - Trainspotting, the Proclaimers. The friendliest, quirkiest, most un-Edinburgh part of the east coast of Scotland you can imagine. Leaving dear friends up in Edinburgh behind, with genuine tears in my eyes, for a necessary and innevitable return to a place where I knew I truly belonged.

Step 3 - Seek the support of old friends. Two weekends in a row I have had good old friends to stay. Both from out of town - England in fact. Both know about my journey, and both are interested in it and want to support it.

On the first weekend my good friend from Sheffield, Clive, told me about how the news of my coming out as Trans has sparked a discussion amongst a wider group of people who don't know me. It was a bit of a wake up call. If I understand their debate accurately, they questioned whether men who are obviously men (like I am - in a goaty beard) are actually parodying women by 'dressing up'. In my mind that his exactly what I am eagerly trying not to do. I am not trying to pass. If I was, I would shave my beard off. Yet I think I understand what they were getting at. I don't like the Stag Do style of dressing up as a woman. The characture of women such men portray also disturbs me. A pair of fish-net stockings for a drunken night out feels akin to 'blacking up'; it's cheap and disrespectful. Maybe such men mean it as 'just a bit of fun' - but that's not what I'm trying to do. My journey is six decades in the making and stems from a genuine attempt to integrate all the parts of me after years of isolation and loneliness. 

Last weekend my close friend from Brighton, Caroline, came. I stayed with her last summer for two weeks when I first explored my new way of being, coinciding with Brighton's Trans Pride weekend. So this weekend we continued the journey. Two whole days of dressing differently - shopping, showing her the wonders of Leith - during the daylight and at night. And finishing up on Saturday night at the famous Port of Leith bar where I was greeted with such acceptance and friendliness that I was overcome with a sense of belonging that I will remember for the rest of my days. So much so that it has given me a new courage to step out in the days since emboldened in my new (old) neighbourhood. 

Step 4 - Take small integrational steps. And they are small - yet for me significant. Like wearing eye liner and mascara most days, and at work. Donning the occasional blouse instead of a boring blue shirt, and going about my everyday business in a modest heeled boot - whilst maintaining a professional business look. Of course I dream of radically changing the culture of men's dress styles, but I know that the prison of men's dress rules are so absolute that you don't need to do that much to challenge the status quo. So step by step that's what I'm doing. I'm sure I'll go further given time - but it's only seven weeks..... So watch this space.

Coming out as Trans - is it brave?

Yesterday was a transformative day for me. I was invited to speak at an amazing event - the #upfront confidence celebration and diversity party hosted by its amazing founder - my dearest friend, Lauren Currie aka Redjotter. And so I did. I stepped up front for the first time in my new look. Most of the speakers were also taking a similar big step to go on stage to speak about something they feel passionate about - also for the first time. 

In many ways you could say that #upfront is about bravery. I saw people take one first step after another to becoming something they want to be. Someone with the power and confidence to speak out in front of an audience. Building that belief in themselves that what they have to say is worthwhile, and feeling that confidence grow in themselves to know that others will want to listen to them. 

When I was first invited by Lauren I felt a bit of a fraud. I have no trouble with public speaking, ever since I won the public speaking prize at school. I have had lots of practice ever since. Most recently championing the case of my charity, WorkingRite, for the needs of late teenagers to have the chance to get to get a job, even if they haven't done well at school, or don't want to go down the path of more qualifications and classrooms into their mid 20's. Oh dear. Don't get me started. As a society we have we got the educational needs of our young people so wrong. Endless tests from early childhood onwards, and as I heard recently from my good friend and colleague, Mags - homework each night for six year olds! WTF

The first speaker at the #upfront party was Leila Willingham - 17 years old. What a gifted young woman. But afterwards she told me that she and her friends feel under so much pressure to study for countless exams in order to secure that perfect career path. Anyone reading this over 40 - answer me this question: are you doing now what you wanted to do when you were 16? So far almost none have answered yes. Most didn't have clue at that age. So what are we doing as a society inflicting this fear in young people that if they don't pass their exams with the perfect grades, their future is ruined? When in truth if the follow the route the education establishment wishes for them, they have a high likelihood ending up with a degree that employers are less than impressed with, without the work experience that employers would be impressed with, and a debt around their shoulders for decades to come. 

But back to 'bravery'. One the most common responses I have received in my journey this last year is to applaud my bravery. On one level they are right. There have been many times when I have felt scared to face the world in my new look. But I question - what am I afraid of? In truth I recognise that fear from my childhood and my early experiences of being bullied. In the process of turning that around I learned in my teenage years how to fit in. Many men have learned to do that. We are an intolerant gender in our boyhoods. The human need to belong, coupled with the narrow acceptance rules fiercely policed by the 'gang' are enough to make any boy scared of the consequences of standing out from their peer group. 

And stand out I most certainly do; choosing as I did last year, to be out as a goaty bearded cross dresser at 60. And therein is the clue that makes me question whether it is actually brave. Did I choose? Did I really have any choice? You could say that I had the choice to choose to not be myself; something I had in fact been doing for decades. But in the last few years that choice became no longer available to me. I believe that the search for 'the truth' is part of the human condition, coupled with curiosity, inquiry, and the drive to use our intelligence to solve the worlds ills through science and discovery.

For me it has been a search for my own truth. While many parts of me were thriving, there was this other part which stubbornly refused to be suppressed. Once I had committed myself to a personal integration; to bring all my facets into one whole, the option of choice became narrower and narrower. Once on the path, did I really have the choice to go backward; to unlearn what I had learned? So maybe what I am saying is that I had no choice but to be brave. Or perhaps, to paraphrase the famous words of Frankin D Roosevelt - The only thing I had to fear, was fear itself. But throughout my recent journey some words of a wise man I was once close to have been my companion along my path: my guiding star. When you are truly free, there is only one thing you can do. 

My Journey

I am Trans, and this is the story of my journey. Last year, at the age of 60 I came out. As anyone who has come out will know, it's not an overnight event. It is a process that is still going on, but as I write my story I realise it has actually been unfolding all of my life.

I am choosing to be quite public about it. Partly because the version of Trans that I am, stands out. There is no blending in option for me. When last summer a smiling woman in Brighton greeted me with the words - "A silver fox in a frock. I love it"' I realised there and then that I was going to attract attention.

I have always had a bit of a showman side to me. Call it egotism if you like. I'll hold my hands up to that. But it's more than that. Attitudes to Trans-ness are changing rapidly, but it can't all be left to the young. I am a great believer in the power of role models. So it is for this reason that I feel I have a certain duty to be public about my own journey. Over the years I have met many unhappy people struggling with their gender identity. I just hope that my path will provide some with a glimpse of another way of achieving peace and an integration of who they truly are. As Oscar Wilde said - "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

Most of my life I've accepted the description of 'transvestite' as the best label going. I never felt truly comfortable with the term, or rather I knew it wasn't the full explanation as to who I am. There are some new descriptions out there now - gender fluid, gender queer, trans gender, gender non-binary. The closest for me is perhaps gender queer. If I were to invent one for me, it would be Trans Fluid. But in some ways the whole point in this explosion of understanding of Trans people, is that there are both multiple labels, and none that will ever suffice to explain our differences. Boy, how the world has changed.

As a boy I didn't think that I should have been born a girl, even though my curiosity and dressing started very early - about 9 or 10. But the signs of some kind of mixed gender identity were much earlier than that really. I remember myself at two. I have the cutest photo of me with a girls summer straw hat on. I remember my mum telling me that I would steal the dolls from the girls' prams as we passed each other in the streets of late 50’s Edinburgh. But I also remember needing soft textures to touch. I loved dressing up. I wore a kilt for a whole year at the age of 9, and I was always the ‘Red Indian’ in boyhood games (very un-PC these days I know) and dressed up accordingly. Cowboys had no appeal.

As an only child I remember being curious about my mums earlier miscarriage and whether I might have had an elder sister, and I remember wondering what they would have called me if I had been a girl. My mum said they always knew I would be a boy and hadn't settled on a girls name. Susan and Jane being the only contenders apparently. The fact that my mother supposedly 'knew' I was going to be a boy, stuck. If Trans sexuality was ever going to be the easy explanation, it didn't fit with the narrative of myself I was building up.

Then on an evening in November 1969, watching the telly with my parents, Monty Python sang their Lumberjack song for the first time. In that moment this 13 year old boy now knew that there was a word for him - transvestite - and it was to be laughed at. I remember reading every dictionary definition I could find in my desperation to find out more. I remember the fear in my belly as I went to school the next day. All the boys were singing it and laughing. Who were they laughing at? Could they tell?

That was the moment when I realised I had to make a choice. I could stay with the path I'd started that summer on holiday with my mum and dad in London, or I could join the rest of the boys and fit in.

It had been just a few months earlier in the summer of 1969. Carnaby street, Hyde Park Corner, flares and beads - on the young men. I returned to Edinburgh with a shiny black pvc coat, mustard coloured flares, Beetle boots, a bright yellow cravat, and a leather revolutionary cap emblazoned with a Mao-tse-Tung badge. I remember going to Glasgow with my mum that Autumn. She was attending a conference and I had the chance to explore Glasgow. Somehow I found myself joining a procession of men - Celtic fans. They were off to a game (a semi final against Dundee I remember) and I joined them walking along, in all my gear. They were friendly and jokey, and then one of them said to the man giving me most attention - "you know that's a boy don't you". The man's eyes ran me up and down and then he leapt back as if he'd been altered to a bomb. I drifted away from them and found myself very alone in this suddenly scary crowd. Scotland of the late sixties, let alone this young 13 year old boy, wasn't quite ready for this.

I knew what bullying was like. The only kids in the street where I grew up were three or four years older. When I was about three they stripped me naked and threw me out onto the street. In my panic I tried to run home, but went the wrong way, and was quickly lost and afraid. I didn’t want that again, and as puberty kicked in all around me In my early teens I saw a future of either daily humiliation and beatings, or run with the gang - so speak.

It was soon the early 70’s. In Edinburgh the Bay City Rollers had hit the big time. My mum sewed tartan onto my Levi jacket (albeit under protest). I bought my first Ben Sherman shirt, went to Hibs games, discovered girls, and turned my need to express my difference outwards towards activism, and what were for me, the important issues of the day: fighting for Scottish independence, protesting against the Vietnam war, and battling to reform the strict rules of our school uniform. (A battle that I won by the way).

Then out of nowhere, when I was 16, Ziggy Stardust burst into my life. Males could be publicly different after all. Edinburgh wasn’t Brixton back then, but nevertheless I sometimes wonder - what would my life have been like if I’d followed David Bowie’s example instead?  But I didn’t, and was even a bit ashamed of my secret connection to Bowie. I chose to stick with the fitting-in path I'd chosen and I survived my teens, in a country where homosexuality, and therefore any acceptance of sexual difference, would still illegal until I was 35.

At 17 I left school and home to seek work in England - and to escape the claustrophobic grip of my mum. Sheffield became my home for the next 25 years. The framework of my public identity was established by then; at least on the surface.

Sheffield was good to me though. I still have lots of friend there. In my new English home I continued to be publicly 'active'. A trade union shop steward, a spell in the Communist Party, and in the 80's, endless protests against the Thatcher government. Then gradually in the 90’s, my political activism turned to what we now call ‘social entrepreneurialism’. Ultimately, on my return to Scotland, that drive found its fullest and most satisfying expression, in the creation of my charity that helps young people into work - Working Rite. My proudest achievement.

But one's sexuality cannot remain repressed for ever. I told my first human being when I was 24; my girlfriend at the time. She was good about it but assumed that it meant I was gay (if only). Then I told my two best male fiends at the time. They were shocked but accepting. I learned the meaning of friendship that day. Over the years since, all my friends have leaned about this other side of me, but its expression remained private - except for the occasional visits to transvestite events in Sheffield, Manchester, and even more occasionally, London.

I turned to therapy in my 30’s with mixed results. I was searching for an explanation and, if the truth be told, a cure. In the main I am a supporter of therapy and how it can help us to make sense of our past difficulties and traumas. But I also see people getting stuck in their past; locked in blaming their parents for all their inability to live their lives. I have a particular beef with the 'person centred' approach with its principle of 'unconditional positive regard', which I think can leave people swimming in their stuck-ness for years and years with only victimhood for company. Or at the other extreme Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A short sharp sticking plaster that keeps the NHS budgets under control. Both have their successes of course, but not for me, and I suspect many other trans people. My trans-ness is not a pathology, an addiction or a destructive bad habit ; neither was it my mum's 'fault'. Only in my late 50's did I find the robust and interactive therapy that helped. More than 'helped'; it was the kind of support that made this breakthrough possible. A more psycho-analytical approach coupled with the right person - (thank you Judith).

But trans-ness is difficult for people to understand, including therapists. Most of my male friends of my own age still find it difficult to make sense of. My female friends are much more accepting, finding it fun and even exciting. Maybe it's their surprise and even relief in seeing a man of my age ripping up the straight jacket of men's narrow and strict clothes rules - where the only window of tolerated expression is a colourful tie or a jazzy pair of socks.

I sometimes fantasise about a future where the photo shoots of world leaders are not a sea of blue suits peppered by the occasional burst of colour from the Nicola Sturgeons or Theresa Mays of the future. Imagine if the gossip columnists cast their mean judgements on Francois Hollande's choice of nail varnish or that Vladimir Putin's leather skirt was just that bit too short for the occasion. And I'll leave it to your own imaginations for the frock that Donald Trump might pull out of his wardrobe.

But I digress. I will leave my ideas for how men's clothes could be liberated (and therefore how the judgemental spotlight can be taken off women and their looks) to future blogs.

This is not my first attempt at coming out. In my mid 30's I wondered if I could find release and expression through my life long passion for art. So I reduced my hours at work and embarked on a part-time fine art degree at Sheffield Hallam art college. Again I will leave how their post-modernist fundamentalism nearly destroyed my love of painting to another day. But in my wrestling with their dogma I drew on a skill I had learned by then: how to use what you oppose to your own advantage. So I put my paint brushes to one side and laid on an interactive final degree show that required all visitors to change their footwear - yes into stilettos, from a feast of choice ranging from size 3 to size 12. Inside the stone floored room a recording of police horses hooves on the Sheffield streets looped continuously. Clip-pity clop echoed round the room with the combined heels and hooves. 'What does it really feel like to be shod?' I posed in true post-modernist style. The visitors were invited to view a display of me transitioning from beard and pretty full body hair, to a smooth androgynous form. On the evening of the opening, I was of course clad in all my glory - a sixties style black and white vertically halved dress symbolising my two sides, and an auburn bob of a wig.

On my return to Edinburgh in 1998 I continued in the same vein, winning third prize at a Miss Alternative Edinburgh competition hosted by Nicolas Parsons. But where could I go from here? There was this a problem I could not resolve - my beard. Transitioning, (which feels now like a transvestite word) was only possible by becoming clean shaven. But I liked my goaty beard, and still do, and enjoy how it looks combined with what some call my rather ‘dapper’ mens clothes. It felt like the only way to be out, (meaning in fellow human company dressed), was to shave off my beard - and I hated losing it. So then followed a long period of repression and keeping my dressing indoors. Instead I threw my energies into my activism again. Back in Scotland once more, I stood once for the SNP - and lost, got fully involved in my new community of Leith, its festival and other community activities, and threw my my heart and soul into starting my charity.

Life has a funny way of unfolding the right time for changes to happen. Looking back, if I had come out as a clean shaven transvestite in my early 40’s, it would have been another case of me squeezing myself into a different, albeit tempting, peer group. But it would have been someone else’s group; not mine. Something in me knew this was not my true path.

Looking back, I can see it was how it was meant to be. If I had squeezed myself into that traditional transvestite shape in my early 40's then I wouldn't have started my charity. If I hadn’t stayed with my memory of my adolescent struggles, I doubt I would have felt the passion to create a charity that sticks up for late teenagers as they wrestle with the changes unfolding in themselves at such a pace. And I do believe that what I have started does matter and is making a difference. Together, all of us in our small charity, support each very different young young person through their transition into their own individual adulthood - shaking off the limiting and often terrifying need to fit in to the tight disciplines of their peer group. To help give them a new individuality and self-assuredness in the adult world of work, rather than the echo chambers of classroom environments and campus politics. And so strangely, I have no regrets about leaving it so late in life to make this statement about my true self. In so many ways, now is just the right time for me.

But back to the beard. I've never been one to accept convenient solutions to difficult challenges when they don't feel absolutely right. And the thing that has bothered me throughout this journey has been the 'passing' thing that occupies many transvestites. Close up in daylight I knew I could never pass as a woman. I don't want to try and fool anyone. I want to be me. Not only do I know I'm a man, there are many aspects of my male-ness that I like. I am privileged to have many close male friends who I can open up to, and who are open to me. I love their company and have experienced the best of male friendships over the years. In my latter years I have also formed some wonderful female friendships too, and yes, sometimes, I do feel a bit like one of the girls. But I know I never will be fully.

So with the support of my last, and very positive experience of therapy these last three years,  I set out on the quest for the holy grail of integrating my different parts into one. At first I couldn't see any way of achieving it. The beard was one seemingly insurmountable obstacle. But there was also my professional position. As the leader of a charity I had responsibilities. The thought of myself as a bearded tranny approaching pension age brought back all my fears of childhood bullying and humiliation, let alone the potential humiliation of the charity and how it might affect our young people.

But the times they are a changing - and fast. Bit by bit trans seemed to be everywhere. For years there had only been Eddie Izzard, who has been, and still is, a major hero of mine (despite his views on Scottish independence). He too seemed to like his goaty beard. But he is show-biz; I am a leader of a charity. A different world, or so I thought. Then events started to unfold from all directions, and with each small step I experienced such kindness and encouragement along the way.

I had often fantasised that our national 'skirt' could provide a key. The paintings of one of our national heroes, Bonnie Prince Charlie, look so trans as if they were designed to be a parody of the macho Scottish male stereotype. The Scottish regiments in full Highland dress with their feathers and furs are a site to behold. As decorative as they are, they are still unquestionably male. Then in the summer of 2015 I plucked up the courage to cross the threshold of a small dressmakers shop in Edinburgh I had been eyeing up for some months. There I met Holly, the proprietor of Totty Rocks - the dressmaker for Nicola Sturgeon. "Are you up for a challenge?" I said. Over the next weeks we co-designed an Alexander McQueen style feminised kilt look with a difference. Since then I have experimented with different looks, different wigs, and sometimes no wig - but the beard proudly remains.

Meeting Jordan Gray (the Trans winner of The Voice) at an LGBT event I was mysteriously invited to last July, followed by a summer holiday in Brighton with the morale support of one of my special female friends, built up my confidence and courage. Yet still now, when dressed in my own personalised style I actually feel quite young, emotionally. I think it's because I am actually picking up where I left off at age 13. Perhaps I am rediscovering the world with the body of a pensioner and the feelings of an adolescent.

But I am growing up fast. By coming out to all by colleagues at work I had the best Christmas staff night out ever  - in a special Christmas outfit! And now I prepare for the next big step. My first public speaking engagement as the new Trans me in London, proudly made possible by my special friend, Lauren, at her #UpFront celebration of diversity on Thursday night. Finally it feels good to be me; all of me.