Conversations with… Angie Brewer (Subject: Transitioning)

It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be born into a body that you don’t recognise as your own. It’s hard to imagine having gender stereotypes forced upon you, feeling the need to comply and fit in with ideologies that are directly opposed to how you think and feel, wearing clothes you don’t want to and feeling like you are quite literally trapped inside your own body. For most people, it is unimaginable. For Angie and other transgender people, it is reality.

When I messaged Angie to ask if she would like to be interviewed, I was blown away by her enthusiasm, her outlook on life and her desire to do this interview. She is someone who really embodies the idea of finding the good in every day and someone who the label ‘inspirational’ almost doesn’t seem a good enough word to describe. Angie is a woman at peace and a woman who wants to spread that feeling to the lives of other’s like her. She wants to help someone else, to show them that things get better and explain that to be happy you should live your life as your true self. By the end of this interview, I’m sure you’ll agree that she has done just that and so much more.

When did you first notice that you didn’t identify with the male gender?

I realised at an early age that something wasn’t right. I would have been 3 or 4 years old and knew there was something but because I was so young I didn’t understand.

It got even harder when I started going through puberty. It was so confusing and there were times when I didn’t understand what was happening to my body – it was the complete opposite to what it should have been. I had hair growing on my legs and arms and my voice was changing, but not in a good way. Being at school, I noticed how girls were growing into women and changing in ways that I felt I should be changing in. The same questions kept popping up in my head – why am I not changing in the same way as the girls at school? Why me?

I felt more uncomfortable with my body than ever before which just made teenage years even harder. I was going through so many different emotions and didn’t know who I could talk to, but I also didn’t know what I would say if someone tried to talk to me about what I was going through.

I spent the next 20 years trying to fit in to the male role. No matter how much I tried, I just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t do it. I had a male body but it never matched how I truly felt inside. I was at odds with my body, my thoughts and feelings. I was so uncomfortable because everything was wrong. I struggled to be a male and never got on with other males, yet when I was around women it felt right comfortable and I was truly myself. I didn’t have to put on a mask or pretend to be someone I wasn’t.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like growing up and feeling so different to everything you were told you were supposed to be. In your own words, can you describe your transitioning journey.

When I was younger, I tried to talk to a doctor about how I felt with no luck. Doctors offered me counselling to change how I was thinking or just brushed me off. It was the mid 90’s and most doctors hadn’t come across anything like this before and the idea of being transgender was little was known, so for another 10 years I just tried my best to cope. In 2006 I finally talked to my dad about how I felt and he was amazing. He understood what I was saying – my dad’s reaction was a surprise, but in the best way.

Losing my dad in 2008 knocked me back. It took me another couple years until I felt able to go see another doctor and push for the help that I needed. I was seen at The Gender Service in 2010 and it seemed like finally the pieces were coming together, but I wasn’t in the right place because I was still getting over the loss of my dad. It took me another 5 years to accept my true self, but I got there.

I legally changed my name in April 2016 and on the 3rd of May I officially started my transition. I marked the occasion with a tattoo of the yin and yang symbol – one side coloured and one side plain, one for my new life one for my old life. Just over a couple of weeks later I started hormone therapy and slowly started my second puberty, the one I should have gone through in my teenage years.

My transition has been one of surprises. The best part has to be the hormone therapy and developing into a woman. The testosterone blockers have really made a difference. Body hair and growth has started to slow down and the hair on my head has even started to grow back. Slowly the oestrogen patches are helping me to grow breasts. My skin is softer and I get told that I look even younger than I am now. I have had laser hair removal and I am now on electrolysis to get rid of my facial hair. I treat myself to a whole new wardrobe and threw everything else away – my old life was dead and gone. Now I only think about the present and the future.

The last three years have flown by and I have grown in many ways.

You talk about how in the past when you went to see a doctor that the idea of someone being transgender was uncommon, whereas nowadays it seems to be something most people have at least heard of. Have you noticed a change in the way transgender people are now being treated and represented in society?

Attitudes are changing and being transgender is more accepted now due to there being more knowledge about it but there is still so much more that we could do, from more funding to gender services to supporting doctors with treatment of trans patients. Something like a buddy system in place at initial doctors appointments would really help, as would educating children at school about transitioning and having someone who could come in to talk to students about being transgender and what that means.

In my opinion, it’s not just about changing attitudes in society but it’s also about changing our attitude too. I believe that if we approach the transition in the right way then we will find more people will see us in a different way. Personally, I have been very open, honest and friendly when out and about. I’m more than willing to answer any questions I’m asked. I have an open mind and find having a sense of humour can help. Yes it can be scary going out in public, or in my case driving buses, but being friendly and not taking things too seriously can set a positive example. Sometimes passengers get on the bus and say ‘thank you sir’ or ‘thank you mate’. If I correct them in a humorous way really does make a difference and puts people at ease. I’ve been lucky so far and had nothing but positivity from people that I’ve met through work or and when have been out.

Have you been surprised by the reactions of people once you told them that you were transgender?

My transition has gone better than I would have ever thought. With the help of some great friends and strangers I met through my work as a bus driver, when I came out I mostly received support from passengers to staff to other drivers. I received some very encouraging messages. Now, everyone just knows me as Angie. My neighbours have been brilliant, even stopping me, asking me questions and being interested in things that are to come

My first day at work as Angie was one of the best days of my life. I wasn’t nervous at all but very confident and got more messages of support. It was kind of strange at work to take it slowly and take baby steps so that everyone could get used to the real me. It took less than two months from my first day as Angie to be living as Angie full time.

For anyone going through such a life changing experience, it is vital that they get support and are made to feel that they aren’t alone on this journey. What support systems have you had to help you out along the way?

I have been with The Gender Service for the last two years and have now been put on the waiting list for gender reassignment surgery. The support system is good – there is always someone to talk to and thanks to the internet there are so many groups on Facebook or other social media sites, blogs and vlogs. Their support has really helped. I also write a blog where I describe my transition journey to help others and to talk through my experiences.

For the most part there are highs and lows and times where you might think about giving up but for with the help and support out there it gives you the belief and confidence to never give up. I have received negative comments like being called a freak and overheard comments like how big my hands are, but I don’t let them get to me. I just brush the negative comments off.

Negative comments are something that a lot of transgender people unfortunately experience, and arguably a lot of that is due to ignorance and other people simply not being educated on what it is to be transgender. What do you wish you could say to the people who don’t believe that to be transgender is a ‘thing’?

I would say to people to see for themselves the life change in someone who identifies as transgender. It is very real, from being suicidal to living a full, happy life. We need to stop using labels to define who we are.

What would you say to someone who identifies themselves as transgender but is afraid of speaking out about who they really are?

Be true to yourself and never be afraid to ask for help or advice from someone else – you won’t say anything that we all haven’t thought or felt before.

After years of living as a male, how does it feel to now be living life as your true self?

It feels amazing – my life has changed in ways I never thought of as possible. I am finally the real, true me. I am happier than I have ever been because I am no longer hiding or pretending to be someone that I was never meant to be.

To speak out about this is incredibly brave because unfortunately there is still ignorance in this world. Why did you feel the need to do this interview and to share your experience?

If I can help someone who is going through the same things that I went through growing up, then I am happy to speak out. If it changes one persons attitude or promotes understanding then sharing my experience with others is well worth it. We need to make time in our lives to have these kinds of conversations.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Be true to yourself, take it one day at a time and never give up – it will all be worth it in the end.

To read Angie’s personal blog about her transitioning experience, click here

To watch a documentary about transitioning that features Angie, click here

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