I've not had the usual life story; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes girl, girl takes over the universe.
Though that's kind of a misnomer, I was never a boy, though I was born with a penis, which makes people go "you were born a man!" No, I wasn't. No one was. I was born a baby. If I'd have been born a man that would have ripped my mum into two parts. I was born female, and by that I mean my gender identity, which often gets talked about as a "female brain" Which then means people go making gender stereotypes like "so you only think about shopping and jealousy and hating other women then?" No, it's far far more complicated than that. So I was born female and it took me until my late teens to tell anyone such was the fear.
See, growing up as I did I never knew there was anyone else in the world like me, and as I got older and saw that there were people like me, their stories were sensationalised, they were people who had come out and lost their jobs, their homes, their families. The narrative was clear. If you are trans, then you will be lonely, no one will want to know you and you will be bullied, attacked and threatened, a narrative that you still see today, 20 years later in the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, reading that note was like reading one of the many suicide notes 17 year-old me wrote. Another country, 20 years later and it's still happening. I believed I would be unloveable and unwanted, broken.
That seemed like such an awful life that I knew to tell anyone would result in me losing everything. So it took until I was at breaking point to come out. If you're trapped in a burning building you don't jump until the fear of the flames is greater than the fear of the fall. This came when I was 20 and after a failed relationship that I'd built up almost as a disguise to the world, faking it to make it, playing a role, I finally snapped. After a few failed suicide attempts and my mental health in tatters, the local authority sent a psychiatrist and a social worker round to visit, to decide whether to section me under the mental health act. This was the tipping point, there were two options, live and risk losing everything, or lie to them and end it all.
At this point, I was so convinced that my family would be ashamed of me that I thought they'd have preferred me dead with this secret than alive without it.
I told them the truth, I told them who I was and they were great. I got help, and I came out to my family and friends and didn't lose a single friend, or family member over it. I know I'm incredibly lucky and that isn't what happens to most people. But by the end of the 90s things were starting to change. Queer as Folk had been on telly and people were more receptive to gay issues. Meanwhile over on Corrie Julie Hesmondhalgh was doing a magnificent job playing Hayley Cropper, in a role that meant at the time that me being trans too wasn't so alien that I would get disowned by family.
Anyway life got better from that point on, I've faced a lot of stuff, I'm a recovering drug addict and recovering alcoholic, eight years sober and nearly six years clean. I'm quite a successful stand-up comic but then about two years ago I broke my leg and ended up unable to work for a long time, then due to complications I ended up unable to walk too. Things spiralled out of control and debts piled up and by May this year I was considering giving it all up and retraining as an undertaker.
I reached the point I was trying to get together the £700 it costs to declare bankruptcy, though that one is a difficult one ask people for help with. On the morning I realised I was going to have to do this I logged in to Facebook and there were a bunch of direct messages, all of them saying the same thing; "have you seen this? You should go for it" and a tweet from Casting Director Andy Pryor, a name I recognised from Doctor Who amongst many other things, which said "looking for a trans woman from Manchester between the ages of 20-40 who's confident and outspoken for Russell T Davies new drama Banana. No acting experience necessary."
Normally I'd not go for these things, I'd let other people do it and then hate them when they got it, but for some reason this one made me think for a second and so I emailed them. The last thing I acted in was an A-level production of The Importance of Being Earnest at Blackburn College in the mid 90's.
So, I emailed them on the Tuesday, got an audition on the Thursday, got told on the Saturday I'd got a call back on Tuesday, got given the job on Wednesday, had a read through on Friday and then started filming on the Sunday.
The readthrough was the first time it started to sink in, as I walked into Red Production's offices and Russell came bounding out of his office going "There she is! Hello Beth, marvellous to meet you" and gave me a big hug, it's difficult not to have a quick sniff of your hero in that circumstance, he smelled great.
After the read through I went off to a gig and as I was leaving my phone beeped with a text, "Hi it's Russell from the readthrough today, well done, you were great, looking forward to working with you" . There are few moments in life where you sit in your car screaming at the top of your lungs with joy because you can't believe that in less than a week you've gone from being on the bread line to receiving a text from a hero and knowing you've suddenly got the job of your dreams.
Following on from that there was the sudden panic on the night before our first day of filming. This was major. In the UK there's never been a trans woman playing a trans woman in a recurring role in a TV series. Whenever there is a trans character before they're played by Cisgender women. What was going to happen, how would people react, would I be hated?
I thought back to how I felt growing up, that there was no one like me out there. I also thought back to when I came out and how much things have changed since then, the responsibility. Lewis Arnold the director sent me a text asking how I felt and was I ready. I replied "sure, let's make history."
Halfway through shooting the episode I was told they loved what I was doing and asked would I like to be in more episodes of Cucumber. Like I even had to think about it?
My first scene in Cucumber was with Julie Hesmondhalgh, possibly the nicest human being on the planet, I finally got a chance to meet her and tell her how important she'd been in my story, she was humble "if I'd not done it someone else would have."
As a trans woman you find that your stories are rarely told, and when they are they're told without us and about us. Which leads to trans people feeling alienated and unrepresented. To anyone out there who is trans and doubting themselves; your feelings are legitimate, you are worthwhile and you are worthy of love. This is why I'm so proud of this show and my work on it, it's time for that to change and thanks to Russell, and to Julie it feels like a torch is being passed, and where we go from here is where it really gets interesting.