THE LOG BOOKS
Season 3 Episode 6 - “Needs support and reassurance”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Steph Fuller, Diana Janes, Finn Greig, Jay Stewart, Monty Moncrieff.
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW: This episode contains archaic language around transgender identities, transphobia and stories of negative medical experiences.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from June 25th, 1994:
A guy rang from Greenwich. She/he is TS: still male becoming female. His G.P has laughed at him. The practice staff have no understanding of his situation. She/he is terrified of upsetting the consultants at Charing Cross hospital. She can be removed from the T.S program for any minor reason. She’s been cut off by her family and has no friends. I told her about other G. P’s, which is at the start of the call, and she’s going to try and change her G.P. She said she will call back and let us know. I think she really needs to talk … there are so many other problems as well – a history of abuse by her grandfather, a lack of understanding, fear, and loneliness.
TW: I’m so fascinated by the change in the use of language throughout the log books. Here we have the volunteer writing “guy” and also mixing up the pronouns that they are using for the caller too – not quite sure which one is the right one to use. Vocabulary in general was so different in the 90s of course is much much better now. For example, today at Switchboard we would probably ask that caller what pronouns they wanted to be referred to by.
AZ: Yeah, the thing that stands out for me from this log book entry is that this person had such a shit experience in the hands of the medical profession. Thankfully that has improved a lot now but nowhere near enough - such as the super long waiting lists for gender identity clinics.
You're listening to The Log Books: stories from Britain's LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today. In partnership with Switchboard the LGBTQ+ helpline.
TW: In this season we're reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1992 and 2003. I’m Tash Walker.
AZ: And I'm Adam Zmith.
Episode 6: “Needs support and reassurance.”
TW: We're talking about gender identity and gender expression as these issues came up on calls from 1992 to 2003.
AZ: And we’re hearing from trans people about their experiences in the 90s including those who called Switchboard for help and the volunteers who took those calls.
TW: Just a word on language and our understanding of gender. Like I mentioned at the top in this episode you’ll hear log book entries and stories using words like TS which stands for transsexual and TV for transvestite. These are terms that people used about themselves in this time period … before and even after … and some people still use them today. But over the years our words and understandings have shifted and evolved with new words coming to explain many things people weren’t able to at this time. So, we just wanted to put all that in context, especially because of the period we are talking about – 1992 to 2003.
AZ: So, let’s get going. In the 90s, especially pre internet, it was so hard to find information about being trans.
SF: Hi, I’m Steph. I’m 51. I live in London … I’m originally from Kent but I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life. I would say it was gradual but would also say I kind of knew from very early on but ... you know … I can even go back to my sort of, kind of, teenage years. Pre-teen years actually. I remember really vividly, actually, a program being on the BBC – Panorama, I think it was. Back in the very, think it was probably, the early 80s. And it was called, rather clumsily of the day, “Sex Change” and it was about this guy that was changing into a woman, and I remember it being trailed on the news as a child and being very interested in this. And not knowing, really, anything about that. And, you know, growing up in a small town in Kent, I’ve got no vocabulary for this or any idea of who I could possibly talk to because it just felt so removed from the world that I knew. And so, I think that was probably the first time I thought ‘oh something can be done.’ And I remember really vividly, actually … this is how little resource there was actually… it always makes me laugh almost to think about this now. Erm, the only word I could find that resonated was transvestitism. And I could only find that word in a dictionary. So literally the nearest I could get to information was the dictionary with the word in it, which had a brief description underneath it. And I remember … I mean what child actually does this … without any intent, going through the dictionary and miraculously finding this word and trying to engage my mum in a conversation about it. And … I just think she wasn’t interested … I don’t think she saw anything particularly in it in what I was sort of saying or anything like that, but I often think back then and think: wow I was really trying to have a conversation then with no way of knowing how to have that conversation.
This a log book entry from November 12 1998:
I’ve just taken a call from a TS, Louise, who is living at home with parents in what seems to be an awful situation. Wants to find somewhere else to live or stay tonight. Has rung back several times but mother keeps cutting off the call. Has a speech impediment and will probably ring back again. Louise’s parents are stopping her from wearing women’s clothes and living as a woman which her G.P. has told her to do for 12 to 18 months. Parents are very abusive and not accepting of Louise’s choice – are screening calls for her.
DJ: And if you were in a not safe environment in your home because they might think you are queer or strange or ‘my kid’s -that didn’t come from my side of the family’ – are you then putting yourself in an unsafe position? These are all the things that we had to think about back then and we had so little knowledge. There wasn’t really books about it, there was no internet, there was no information, there was very little knowledge.
Hi, my name is Diana James and I’m 62 years old. I was a volunteer at Switchboard from about 88 to 94. Insight was incredibly hard, and the terminology was so damning. Even within our own community it was damning … especially, you would get trans man phone up and they could get really negative information because it was all ‘Oh no you are just a butch dyke don’t worry about it … lots of butch dykes have these feelings’. But their feelings … being a butch dyke is one thing … being a trans man is something completely different. And we know the two are separate. One might go through one to get to the other - because of lack of understanding, not knowing where they are going, or fear of who they might be and not knowing if they want to go there. So that can be like a through station for it but they are completely different entities. One is a woman who presents in a certain way, and one is a man - which is a completely different aspect. That’s to do with gender and not to do with sexuality. And they can get mixed. And back then they did.
FG: And so, I called Switchboard, I think it was in about 1997 and I would have been about 14 years old. So, hi, my name is Finn … Finn Greig, or ‘Finn the Human’ as my young people know me. I’m 37 years old. I’m a trans person first and foremost. So more identified as trans masculine person … less so as a man these days. Yeah, I work in a trans organisation, Gendered Intelligence, and have worked in the LGBT sector for around 15 years. How it felt to be me at 14? So, I grew up in East London … in Hackney. And I was living in Dalston at the time, but I was going to school in Parliament Hill because I got bullied in a school, I went to in Hackney at the time for being a girl in trousers - for being a queer basically. And I was having quite a hard time at that school and my mum moved me, so I started … by the time I called Switchboard … I started the school at Parliament Hill when I was 12 – in year 8. I was very arty … I did a lot of art. I did care about school – that lasted only about another year. Until that dropped off because I realised, they didn’t really care about me – especially my queer identity. So, before then … I don’t know … I was like starting to struggle with my gender identity … so… I knew there was something going on with my sexuality and I knew there was something going on with my gender. I knew there was something going on with my gender identity since I was very… very little – probably three or four or five years old. And so, growing up – under ten I thought I was a boy and everyone else didn’t really realise and that would sort of come to fruition a bit later in my life and that people would also realise. But didn’t know how that would happen and then when I was about eleven/twelve I started to think ‘Well I know I’m interested in girls, and I think there is this word or this identity ... called lesbian. So that must be me.’ But I struggled with it so there wasn’t any positive role modelling of lesbian identities – probably still isn’t enough. But I was really struggling with that, so I think … probably come about the age of 12 that’s when my real disconnection with my body and with my self-worth and stuff like that started really to kick in.
DJ: We actually got a lot of calls from …I’m going to use the language I would have used at the time … we got a lot of calls from men who said that they were transvestite. Many of them married. And they just wanted somewhere to go in peace and quiet to be able to cross dress. I remember selling my entire straight girl wardrobe, actually at one point, to somebody who said he was a transvestite. But actually, he was also a gay man, and I don’t know where he would have sat in today’s spectrum or definitions. But we used different language, and we had different explanations in those days so a lot of straight transvestites and we would refer a lot of people to something called the Beaumont Society, which was around. And there were a few small TV/TS groups -we would call them - because there obviously was a very permeable line between the two groups quite often. And people who were actually transgender were much fewer and far between. But then I think a lot of the people we talked to probably were transgender and didn’t have the vocabulary or – sometimes - the imagination to describe where they were heading.
JS: I’m Jay Stewart, I use he/him pronouns and I’m from Birmingham. When I graduated from my fine art degree … that was my black hole moment to be completely honest with you. So that would have been 1997 – you know you come out of doing a fine art degree and you’ve got no job prospects. You don’t know what career you are going to peruse and ... you know … you are kind of a queer person and you’ve probably had your heart broken a couple of times and maybe your gender identity – or at least my emerging sense of self – wasn’t necessarily being articulated. Not finding a way to articulate that. So, I would describe that period as quite dark probably. So yeah, I suppose, even though, there were kind of lesbian bars - gay bars -there wasn’t enough exposure to a trans experience at that point in my life. It wasn’t really until the early 2000s that kind of happened for me, I think.
This is a log book entry from January 20th, 1996:
Regarding the entry on transgender issues from January 19th. Yes, there are support groups for transgender people – both male to female and female to male. Firstly, the Gender Dysphoria Trust – listed in our TV/TS file – and also the Beaumont Trust: both have helpline numbers. Also, some good books are Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein (male to female TS), What Took You So Long?: A Girls Journey to Manhood by Ray Thompson. And the Pink Paper mentions a new book, from Scarlett Press, this week called Lesbians Talk Transgender Issues.
AZ: This log book entry is a classic example of Switchboard giving resources and referrals and trying hard to support people and meet them where they are.
TW: It’s all about listening to the caller, right? Giving them space to explore what they need to. So many people at Switchboard contact us to talk things through – not always to look for a definitive answer. So, it’s really helpful to give people referrals or ask them questions too. And as we receive more and more of these types of calls Switchboard started to look at its own understanding of gender identity and language and pushed to grow its awareness. Like in this logbook entry that we found, Adam.
AZ: Yeah, this is a log book entry that is entitled ‘AGM morning workshops’, it’s from September 1997. And it’s about a sequence of workshops that are gonna take place at the University of London union for Switchboard volunteers. And top of the agenda – number one ‘TV/TS: Why they are not just the same.’ And the description says ‘this workshop will allow volunteers to discuss how they feel about the increasing amount of TV/TS calls we receive at Switchboard. Why do we get these calls? How do the callers feel about calling us? Three trainers – experienced in this field – will facilitate this interactive and frank discussion on an increasingly relevant phone topic.’
This is a log book entry from 17th of April 1998:
Male caller. Asian transexual undertaking gender realignment program in London. Selling sex and in a relationship with his/her pimp who is totally controlling their life. Suffering physical abuse from boyfriend when he gets drunk. Caller feeling very isolated and unaware of what to do. Totally losing his confidence and out of control of his life. Gender realignment is also most important. Caller referred by Samaritan who he considered unsympathetic. Asked if he could call again for support. I assured him he could call and talk anytime.
SF: Perhaps the indication is the TV/TS file going. I would hazard a guess about 94/95. For years there was the transvestite/transexual file in Switchboard. It went. And it was rewritten, and things changed. And it went because of the people who were working with us – our volunteers. It went because our understanding changed. We still talk to people with a huge range of trans experience. And, at that point, we only had the section on the transvestite experience and the transexual experience. The bits in between weren’t there. And our learning was filling those spaces – by people coming to work with us, joining us, and pointing out where we were wrong. I don’t remember calls deliberately. When callers call back – and because I do a fairly regular shift callers often get me again – they can choose not to talk to me and that’s why they hang up or they get me again. The callers I remember are the dramatic ones – they are generally things I talk to Switchboard internal support about – because occasionally there are those dramatic callers. Working with trans people has always been part of life with Switchboard. Same as … although we had issues ... I think in this period, just about, with accepting bisexual volunteers. We’ve always had bisexual people in Switchboard – if you look at behaviour, identity - behaviour, are not the same. And we know that has always been the case. Going forward with talking to trans folk has always been what Switchboard has done. At this point … the referrals were different because there were so few of them. The Beaumont Society was there – and still is. The rest were often places to dress up and - the quite sexualised part of the spectrum that is very difficult to get people to talk about in terms of how we train people. But it comes often a lot on the phones. And one of the ways of dealing with sexually aroused callers talking about wearing clothes – which is something that happens quite a lot and happened quite a lot then – is to remind them that if they are wearing their mum’s clothes they might stretch them, be sure to wash them before they put them back!
DJ: There was a confusion, especially for a lot of young male to female, around the drag going around at the time. They would be accused of being transvestites who would dress in the opposite sex’s clothing for sexual pleasure or for relaxation but not because that’s who they were. And being drag artists. So, there was a lot of confusion around that time and around that as well … you know… around what am I, who am I? But we would get the same as well from female to male. There was a lot of misunderstanding around that. There was a lot of ‘well transgender is only one way. It’s only male to female. You don’t get the other. You’re just a very butch dyke. You’re not a trans man.’ So, we had to deal with a lot of that – a lot of that was around self-education and me then going back as the first, openly at that time, transgender volunteer that Switchboard had at that time. A lot of the calls and information and that came over to me – as a member of the training group at that time as well – that was a part of what I did too. We bought that into our training – the more the calls increased the more we brought that into the training and the more involved in that I got.
This is a log book entry from December 12th 1999:
Transvestite info. A guy rang who said charity shops can be very helpful regarding clothes if you ring in advance and ask if you can come in for half an hour after the shop officially closes.
FG: Fourteen was just the moment before that … you know they say it gets worse before it gets better so I think it was probably quite a tough year. And that’s when this play came into my secondary school called Free Willy, hilariously, and it was a piece of forum theatre. And there were some actors who were friends, they were sort of, being teenagers in the play. And one of the characters was a gay boy and it was about him coming out to his two friends. And I don’t remember loads more about it other than ‘holy shit this is about me in some way, shape or form’ – scuse my swear words! But this is some kind of telling of my experience and when we came into the hall to see the play ... I don’t know if I knew what it was going to be about … but there was little flyers on the chair. Each chair had about two or three postcards or flyers just left on the chair, and I remember, like, eyeing up as I was walking down the aisle to sit on my seat what those were. And I realised they were about, sort of, LGBT support at the time so spent the entire duration of the play trying to shuffle the flyers into my back pocket without anyone else noticing that I was trying to take this information away with me, you know.
Somehow, as kids do, I managed to get these support fliers into my pocket during the play and that was where … yeah, I was able to start to know that someone could see me or see my experience and that there was help somewhere to be found and support to navigate what I was thinking and feeling. So, seeing that play was really … really a turning point for me.
Yeah, so one of the flyers that was on that chair was a Lesbian and Gay Switchboard flyer at the time, in the mid 90s. and I was like ‘ok’, so it has a piece of text on it that must have said phone us if you think this is how you’re feeling and we’ll support you or something. I don’t know what it said, but I was, like, ‘ok, when am I going to do that?’ – considering there was no mobile phones, so I didn’t have a mobile until I was 18. We had those phones in my house – in my family home – that were cordless. You know, those old-school house phones that were cordless. So, I remember, me and my sister could use those if we wanted to phone friends or whatever. So, I remember thinking well: ok, I’ll do it a bit later in the evening so there’s less chance of my mum or dad coming upstairs or something. I don’t even know if it was that night – it was probably took me a few days probably – but I got the phone, went upstairs, made sure it was charged, and then I sat at the furthest away point from my bedroom door under my desk as I possibly could be. I sat under the desk and dialled the number and I’ve got this memory of my hands sweating so much because I was so nervous, and the phone kept slipping out of my hand. It was that really shiny old phone and I remember it like slipping down and I had to change hands and dry my hand off and then change hands and then dry my hand off. There was a kind of deeper voice … I don’t know if it was a guy’s voice … on the phone and just being really gentle with me and saying, you know, ‘well done for calling’ and ‘we don’t have to talk if you don’t want to’ and ‘you can take your time’. And it definitely felt like the longest period of my life of not knowing what to say.
And then eventually, I think, he said something like ‘would it be easier if I asked you questions or said some things that might be how you’re feeling and then you can say yes or no, and you don’t have to say too much?’ And I was like ‘yes, yes please. Saying it myself would be really hard – I’ve not said it out loud before. That would be great.’ And I just did that in my head and the word that came out of my mouth was ‘yes!’ and then I think he asked … erm … I don’t really remember; I just remember it feeling easier after that. I think he was asking, like, is it, you know, that you are feeling like you are attracted to other girls or is there someone you like at the moment who might be a girl. At the time I was a girl identifying as a girl, so I was like ‘yeah...’ I think at one point he might have said ‘is there anyone else you can tell? Is there a friend you’ve got that would understand or can you talk to your parents?’ And at the time – although they’ve been brilliant ever since – I didn’t really feel like I could talk to them at the time. And then, so I said, I think there is probably one friend that I could share it with. And she recalls that I told … I came out when I was fourteen … so it must have been shortly after or within the same year, roughly, that I came out to her – and I think a couple of other people in my year group.
JS: I’m just wondering about the barriers that may be people who don’t even know how to reach out for help. It’s a barrier that is, probably, quite internalized. But I just think as, kind of, a working-class person from Birmingham it would never have occurred to me to do that. And what a shame! I got referred to a local mental health centre and there was a lesbian who was the manager of that centre in southeast London. And I was kind of saying ‘Look I don’t know about my gender; I don’t know who I am – I’m really struggling.’ And they were just didn’t really know what to do with me and I think the lesbian manager person said ‘I’ll meet this person’ so I met with her and she was … she was … a butch dyke, you know, she was really representing down there in South East London. And she was just really kind to me and really, although it was a mental health provider that I had gone to, she was kind of approaching it from more of a LGBT perspective, I think. And she put me in touch with the Metro, which was also a charity down in southeast London and I went there. And I thought I was going to access some kind of mental health services there but … I guess I was kind of quite articulate … and becoming articulate about my identity- about queerness and they were like ‘do you want to join our board?’ So, I actually ended up becoming a board of trustee and… it kind of went from there … and then I was referred to … well not referred to … but I found out about an organisation called FTM London, which was a trans male, trans masculine support group and that was the -you’ve got a seat, own it.! Walking into a room and there was about forty other people around me – looking really diverse in terms of their gender expression – in terms of their masculinity and I just thought ‘actually – I can be me’ I can be the man I feel myself to be not a version of what a man is out there because I was kind of looking around me and I am not impressed with the men I see on the streets these days … you know … and it’s like is that what I’m supposed to be if I feel like a man?, so, it was really nice …. actually… to see trans masculinity kind of there in front of me. And that – to answer your question – that was what pulled me out of the … sort of … the darkness to a large degree. It was a big kind of moment.
TW: I’m just thinking back to Finn talking about finding and calling Switchboard … well phoning what was called London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard at that time. A name clearly omitting bisexual, trans and others. But if someone called and wanted to talk about gender identity then Switchboard supported them - as best they could at that time – which also makes me think about J’s point about barriers to reaching out for help – which I don’t think is spoken about nearly enough. And his example of being working class – feeling like you should be strong enough to not need or to even reach out for help. It being a failing to do so.
AZ: Yeah and thinking about barriers to calling. One barrier is because it was called Lesbian and Gay. You know it was clear in the 90s - as you can see in these log book entries – that Switchboard supported people with questions on sexuality and gender identity but it wasn’t until 2014 that Switchboard rebranded to become Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. Any volunteer led organisation always has such a slow timeline of change.
TW: Definitely. Throughout this time period, it’s clear that Switchboard is on a journey of how best to support people trying to understand their gender identity. And as was often the case with calls to Switchboard, the medical profession was also on the same journey. And just like in the early 80s, with HIV and AIDS, it’s often through the lack of support from the medical profession that people end up reaching out to Switchboard. As you can hear in this next log book entry.
This is a log book entry from January 19th 1996:
19-year-old woman from Cardiff who has just had an operation to turn her into a woman after living as a man for eighteen years with both sets of genitals. Working out his sexuality because she’s still attracted to women. I am angered that she was turned into a female because that was the easiest medical option. That she had all the female internals was only just realised so trying to come to terms with dramatic changes. But are there any support orgs for such a situation? Not much gender awareness by the medical world.
This is a log book entry from September 3rd 1994:
Amanda phoned again. Things seem to have gone from bad to worse. Charing Cross will not go ahead with treatment because of her depression and anger. Also, she has had her disabled allowance stopped. She had taken four of her hormone tablets which were making her feel sick and achy. She would not let me phone for an ambulance for her. Long periods of silence during the call with her crying on the other end of the phone and making me feel completely unable to help and useless.
Another volunteer writes: ‘You are not useless – you are fab. Love.’
This is a log book entry from 18th September 2001:
Just spent one hour on the phone to Alex, who’s in his thirties. He suffers from a condition called Kleinfelters, which is a form of gender disorder. Means that he developed breasts at puberty and has a female build. He's had his breasts removed a long time ago and is due to have another operation soon on his hips. Anyway, he's had a lot of crap to put up with over the years and not a lot of support from his family. There's very little information out there on Kleinfelter either. And he would desperately like to meet others like him. He may call back sometime. If he does – be nice – he’s a lovely guy.
MM: The TV calls, to use the terminology of the time, were always interesting cases. It felt like you could always guarantee that at some point in the call the caller would steer the topic into a discussion about what they were wearing. And, so, you became aware that actually for many people this was a lifeline to be able to talk about something which was very personal to them. For which they had no other outlet. That wasn’t the purpose of Switchboard – we weren’t there to, you know, necessarily listen, or indulge with that. But I did find if you let people say… you know… a little bit about that and then move the topic back on to ‘was there any other questions you had, any support, any questions you had about safe sex etc.’ You could kind of steer away from that. But it did feel as though, you know, that it was an important reason for that person to be calling – even if it wasn’t necessarily what we would call the legitimate support call. The calls that were far more interesting to me, though, were the calls from people that there was an issue around … you know… their trans status or where they wanted to, you know, make a gender change. And at first … I hadn’t really had any experience of that but the number of calls that came through and my desire to answer those and support as best I can prompt me to go off and read a whole load of information about trans issues and … I guess I kind of became a very early advocate of trans issues as a result of being at Switchboard. I just understood - you know - the issues that people were experiencing from the number of calls that came through. And that prompted me to want to be trans inclusive in the work I’ve done since then. So, the LGBT services I’ve been involved in and the LGBT drug and alcohol service that I set up in 2002 was essentially borne from a lesbian, gay, bisexual, alcohol counselling project. And so, it was really important for me to make that service trans inclusive.
TW: What Monty is talking about there is running LGBT+ Mental Friend, a health and wellbeing charity based in London. I love hearing from so many past volunteers about their time at Switchboard.
AZ: Yeah, and how the calls they’ve taken influenced their future work and ways of supporting LGBTQI+ people.
This is a log book entry from January 4th 2001:
Took a call from Carly a TS on a psychic ward wanting information on taking legal advice from us on mental health illness issues and taking the hospital to court. I advise that this needs specialist advice. Carly was writing everything down for court action. She will ring again.
Another volunteer adds: ‘Adviser to call Mind info line on database regarding mental health tribunals.’
JS: Yeah, the nineties were … they were a confusing place for me to be honest. Not unlike the 80s in many respects. But I think there were a time where I was really still trying to work out where I fitted in the world and who I was. And that’s not some kind of identity crisis ‘like who am I?’ but actually… you know … how do I, kind of, plug into this world and be me – comfortably. And I think the 90s was a lot of that. Trying to work out a way of solving that. The late 90s was probably the time I was really starting to try and explore this in a more meaningful way. I reached out for help because I needed to understand to some extent what my rights were. There were a lot of things going on - that I probably won’t go into - but I needed to understand, you know, my sort of legal position on some things. Because I felt there was a lot that could be taken from me. I’m not talking about financial things here: I’m talking about things way more important. And so, I need that. But I also needed confidence about, you know, that I had a right to be in the workplace the way I was and things like that as well.
This is a log book entry from 14th March 1994:
Please could we have a list in London entertainment of places recommended for TV/TS men? I can't think of anywhere else to get this information at Switchboard and I do think it's important for us to be able to tell callers ourselves rather than having to refer to another helpline.
Another volunteer writes underneath: ‘The Way Out bar, behind Selfridges, every Saturday night.’
AZ: Time and time again in this podcast and in calls to Switchboard we see the importance of spaces - and places where you can meet people like you. Whether it’s to do with your sexuality or another part of who you are or your expression or your gender identity.
TW: Yeah, whether it’s online or in person – it’s about creating welcoming environments that are accessible.
AZ: Yeah, and this is something that the community has long tried to do. And it’s something … almost… something that we have to keep pushing for all the time.
TW: Yeah, totally, I think that we always see this historically in the log books and we will see it in the conversations that we have today. And we will see it in the future because it is something really that we will never, fully, be able to achieve because all the parameters are constantly changing as our understanding is constantly changing around what accessibility means, around what welcoming means. It’s something that we should always continually strive for.
AZ: And we are going to be looking more about accessibility in this time period in the next episode.
FG: Yeah, I think it was a turning point calling Switchboard and being validated in that moment – that I wasn’t alone and that there were lots and lots of other people who identified as lesbian and gay. And, at the time that was the language that was useful to me and was being used by the call handler. And, so once I’d told a couple of friends – after having that call and being sort of given some confidence as well really – permission and confidence to come out. I told a few friends and then … from about 15 and a half …. I was quite formidable. I remember I was in … and I was like -hey that’s me now I’m like a gay activist! I was like super passionate. We were doing Hamlet – this is another good story I remember from my year ten and I must have been 15. We were doing Hamlet and I so bored out of my brain, and I was like this is ridiculous, I’m really bored. But I’d heard about or read about in the newspapers – Section 28 – and I was outraged and angry and hurt and upset and pissed off and all the … all the feelings and so I decided that I was going to use my English class. Instead of writing Hamlet I was going to write a newspaper, pamphlet, style thing – talking about why we should abolish Section 28. So, I started them drawing … like a kind of classic looking front cover of a newspaper in my English class. Writing ‘Abolish Section 28’ at the top and drew a little picture in that little bit where you put a picture in the front page of a newspaper and wrote some stuff down the side. And my English teacher came over to me and she was like ‘What are you doing?’ and I was like ‘Miss, have you heard about this thing? Like, Section 28 …. It’s terrible. We’ve got to think about it.’ And she goes … ‘Can I … erm …talk to you outside of the classroom please?’ So obviously looking back at it she obviously wasn’t allowed to promote … or she thought she wasn’t allowed to promote …homosexuality and there’s this kid, like, writing this newspaper about abolishing Section 28. It was so multi-layered it was brilliant. And, so anyway, we went outside the classroom, and she said ‘Ok, … erm … so you can’t do that in school …’ And I was just like ‘Ok … oh yeah because of it … I can’t do it because of it, right?’ And she’s like ‘Yeah’ and I could tell she was like onboard and she could see through the fact that I was like getting it and she was like ‘Right, so what I could do, if you’re really keen to, like, write some stuff is you could bring it into school – if you’ve done it at home – and I could have a look at it outside of my school teaching hours and I could give you feedback on it and we can improve it.’ So, I understood in that moment that she, you know, was supportive but she couldn’t be and therefore instead of taking her up on her offer and going back and doing my English assignment, Hamlet, I was like ‘Screw this’, she understands and she’s not inhuman enough to know that this is what’s going on. I need this … more motivation… more fuel for me to go and do this project. So, I was like ‘Thanks Miss!’ and basically from that day on I was like -school, ain’t the place for me, its not the place where I am going to get to do me or what I care about or change the world in the way I want to change it. I made quite a … I remember this quite conscious decision – at the age of nearly 16 to say I’m going to go find the places where I can be more useful than wasting my time doing their assignments in school. So, I skimmed through my GCSEs because obviously by that point I had done enough and whatever … and I got my GCSEs. But as soon as I hit 16 going to sixth form and seeing more of the hypocrisy of ‘come and do the things we want you but don’t do you’ … and Section 28 was still in place and all this … and I was well fuelled, by then, to be changing the world so I was like ‘See ‘ya!’
This is a log book entry from the 26th January 1996:
Re: transgender caller, 24th January. I took a call from this woman on the 19th of January and took her quite seriously although her voice is disconcertingly male. I spent an hour with her and my understanding from her is that she was comfortable with her new, female, self. Even though it was a rapid – and unexpected – transformation and her issue was sexuality. She is still attracted to women, so we discussed her being a lesbian and lesbian sex. The story she told the other volunteer matches the story I heard. I feel this caller needs support and reassurance. I was angered that her sex change sounded more like the convenience of doctors than a well thought out decision she was supported to make in her best interests.
Re: the constructive comments regarding transgender issues – I asked her about the desire to meet other transexuals or find support in this way, but she was not interested. This is an unusual case, so I think she needs respect and support in coming to terms with her new sexuality.
FG: And then when I was about 19 … 20 maybe … it came back into my life and someone talked about drag kings and women dressing up as men and I was like -Well, that’s normal for me. That’s not a dress up weekend one off thing … that’s me. And I went to a workshop in Scotland when I was in Glasgow Arts School, and I found out you could do drag king stuff. And then the guy that was doing … sorry I’m rambling on … the guy that was doing the makeup for the weekend course which was run by this lesbian drag king artist called Diane Torr. And then she’d got this trans guy to do the facial makeup for the people doing the course – there was about 12 or 10 of us. And I remember him saying to me at the end of the weekend, he said … everyone was saying goodbye – giving each other big hugs- and I was a bit anxious, a bit like masc and a bit stand offish and then he was like, just shook my hand instead of hugging me and he said ‘Try this website – it’s called ftm.network.org’ or something. And I went, ‘Ok’. And I didn’t’ even know what FTM stood for. Anyway, off I went to my art school library at the time and waited four hours for the computer to turn on and another two for the internet to turn on and then I typed in the website that I remembered – which was emblazoned into my mind – and then the home page came up and I was like -Aha, ok so that’s my life story! So when I was 19 I discovered that trans guys could exist and then that embarked a different journey.
Yeah, so now I’m 37 – which happens a lot quicker than you expect it to, right? One minute I was like 25 and then I was 37. And so I think since I transitioned to what … I wanted to be male at the time or a man. I don’t think I ever wanted to aspire to full biological maleness – that was never on my cards I didn’t want to have certain types of surgery only other types and hormones and stuff. But between about the age of 21 socially and about 23 surgically and then that really worked for a really long time for me. That fitted really well for me in my 20s and I was really enjoying it and then I started to … I got into my early 30s and started to think about, like, slightly more philosophical health perspective … bodily perspective of what I needed testosterone for, or did I need it? I was also curious about what my body might feel like again without it. Not taking away my trans identity or necessarily my trans masc identity and I still, often, use the pronoun he - but not all the time.
TW: Finn's story really resonates because the older we get the more I think we realize that gender identity and sexuality are an ever-changing experience.
AZ: Yeah, and I love the way that Finn talks about that - they've got such a great model of reflection and openness.
TW: Yeah, and Finns talking about when they were 25 and it's like if you think about when I was 25 and that was when I first walked into Switchboard and, you know, how much my life has changed since then and how much Switchboard’s has too. We're still seeing an increase in calls about gender identity and still supporting people making those calls. So, I went to Switchboard to speak to the general manager of the charity today.
AZ: Whose voice you might recognize from earlier in this episode.
SF: I'm Steph Fuller and I'm the general manager at Switchboard. Being the general manager at Switchboard today is … is incredible to me. Not least because I know calls that come into Switchboard today that very easily could have been calls made by me to Switchboard in the 1980s. And, you know, I feel a tremendous privilege and responsibility to make sure that, you know, we are there to help answer those calls. So, you know, what we are seeing at Switchboard now is an increase in calls and, you know, that’s perhaps not a shock because there is a pandemic going on and that is pretty unusual for all of us. But we are seeing within that a significant increase in calls from trans and people with non binary identities reaching out to Switchboard for conversations across telephone, and email and instant messenger. And that really is increasing at quite a rate, and I think it has been increasing for quite a while to tell you the truth but we were looking at our 2020 stats quite recently and 26% of our callers describe their identity as being different to their assigned at birth. And when you put that into the context of the fact, we are an organisation that took over 18,000 conversations last year that’s a significant number of people. And that’s just the ones that we definitely communicated with – there are probably others that maybe put the phone down before they got through because they just felt that they couldn’t. So, we are seeing an awful lot of those conversations and it is also reflecting through our Instant Messaging which is increasing and, you know, we’ve got a fairly good understanding that that is actually because trans and non binary people actually prefer to use instant messaging because it removes the chances of being misgendered which, I know from personal experience, is not nice. So, if you can find a way of negating that and getting the help that you need then it is a good platform. But we are seeing a big increase. Yeah, trans and non binary people are reaching out to Switchboard for a variety of reasons – depending on, perhaps, where they are with their lives. Some people are just exploring their identity, some people have almost been trying to run away from their identity and have kind of reached their day of reckoning if you like. And they are really trying to find routes forward now about how they can live their lives authentically and what sort of support there might be for them. But in many cases, it's a very difficult conversation to have in the first place and so Switchboard is very often the first place they have that conversation because being able to verbalize how you feel is really, really important. And when you know you can't do that, maybe, to your family or your friends - then having a platform like Switchboard where you can and you know that person at the end of the phone is going to be there for you and they will hear you out for, essentially, as long as you need - is really, really important. And that’s a big step – saying out loud that you are something for the first time is really key and we are definitely enabling people to do that and then start to think about -you know - how they are going to navigate the next phase of their life – or perhaps just give them resources that will enable them to find some groups that will be useful for them or maybe some advice from … health care advice as well. Being general manager for Switchboard, for me … you can probably tell from the smile on my face… it is the job of my life. I promise you it absolutely is. It’s not a job - this is beyond a vocation. It’s so important.
So, when we look at our stats from 2020 one of the things that really jumps out to me is that at its height people that would express their gender as being different to that assigned at birth was 42% of our calls which is an incredible figure. And I think that speaks to a) the pandemic and also the climate - more broadly in the world around the …. I’m not wishing to get particularly political about this … but actually, you know, trans people and non binary people are having their identities debated in public - almost in their absence – and we see that in our calls. You know, we see the kind of pressure that brings on people - manifest itself in the calls to Switchboard. Those calls don’t come to us unless somebody is feeling it, picks up a phone, and makes that call. And unfortunately, you know, with all these kinds of conversations that are going on – and I’m very aware that a lot of stuff on social media is very extreme in both directions if you like – but equally there are casualties to this. And, very often, they are in the form of phone calls that come to Switchboard. So, for me it’s very important that we are there and able to take those calls but to see 42% of the calls in its height in 2020 being from people that would describe their gender as being different to that assigned at birth- it’s pretty startling I have to say.
TW: Such a huge shift in understanding and awareness of gender identity in the 90s.
AZ: Yeah, and we saw lots more calls to Switchboard in the log books than in previous years about the intersections of living with a disability and questions around sexuality and gender identity.
TW: So, our next episode is on disability.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s details.
AZ: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Tash Walker and Adam Zmith in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to email@example.com or join the conversation on social media with #thelogbooks
AZ: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to
AZ: Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute. The folks at Acast, Content is Queen, David Pie, the staff and volunteers at Switchboard and everyone who shared their stories with us.
Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.