My name is Sophie.
It hasn’t always been. Most people – all of my family, many of my friends – still call me something else: the name I was given at birth. But even if I haven’t got around to telling everyone yet, Sophie is my name.
I’m 30 now, but I knew something was “wrong” as early as five. The existential sadness when you first realise there’s a difference between boys and girls, and that you somehow ended up on the wrong side of the line; the burning teenage jealousy at seeing girls become women while you hurtle towards manhood; the encroaching dread of growing old in a male body. I spent years telling myself it would one day blow over, but it didn’t.
I started on the path to accepting myself almost three years ago. Drunk and inhibitionless, I stumbled onto an online transgender support group, where, desperate to put any notion of being transgender well and truly to bed, I bombarded people with questions. Could I really be trans? What were the odds that that word could describe me? Surely I was just a confused cis man with some stuff to work through?
They’d heard it all before. So, someone suggested an experiment: to try using a new name and pronouns. If I liked it, that probably meant something. And from the first name that walked into my head, Sophie came to life.
I quickly grew addicted to her. Each night I would spend hours furtively being her on the internet: typing her name into the box each time I logged on, responding as her when they greeted her and seeking support when she needed it. Meanwhile, I did everything I could to hide Sophie from the outside world. Even my partner had no idea I was cheating on her with another woman.
“The penny finally dropped. Were it not for the pandemic, the penny would probably still be suspended somewhere in mid-air.”
This spring, I started therapy with a specialist. He called me Sophie without batting an eyelid, and told me my experiences were the same as every trans patient he’d worked with, all of whom had gone on to transition. That’s when the penny finally dropped. Were it not for the pandemic, the penny would probably still be suspended somewhere in mid-air.
With life behind closed doors now, I wasn’t forced to spend years on a static NHS waiting list before I could darken the door of a gender therapist. A couple of clicks here, an email or two there, and I could set up gender therapy within hours. I quickly signed up to a private medical service popular among transgender people in the UK. Within two days I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria; within three I was prescribed oestrogen. I was transitioning.
I came out to my partner in the summer. We’re just friends now, or at least I hope we’ll be. She showed me nothing but love and patience until the very end, and for that I’ll always be grateful. She reassured me that I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t weird and that there was nothing “wrong” with me. Through gritted teeth, she put me first: she took an interest in who I really was, what I wanted to wear, what skin I wanted to live in. She treated me like a person – just not the one she’d planned a life with.
I got a scholarship to move to a new city and retrain for a new career. Finally I’d have space of my own while I figured out how I wanted to look, who I wanted to be. But then coronavirus moved teaching online, my scholarship was decimated by the financial repercussions of the crisis, and I was forced to move back in with my parents.
My parents don’t know who I am. Nor do I want them to, yet. I can’t risk rejection as long as I’m reliant on them to put a roof over my head while, every morning and every night, I knock back a cocktail of different hormones to finally bring my body in line with my mind.
“Until now I never realised that transition is more than just a set of hormone-induced physical changes – it’s about creating a whole identity that truly reflects you.”
I’m secretly transitioning in a home where I can’t be myself. I can’t try out new clothes. I can’t grow out my hair, or learn how to apply makeup. I can’t spend hours a week training my voice gradually upwards without alerting prying ears. Until now I never realised that transition is more than just a set of hormone-induced physical changes – it’s about creating a whole identity that truly reflects you.
Social gatherings are now conducted almost entirely on Zoom, and that means, three months into transition, I’m still forced to stare at my own face, in all its masculinity, hear my baritone reverberating around other people’s speakers, and spend my time among cis men who I wish I didn’t resemble and cis women I’ll never resemble quite enough. So I find myself back where I started, feeling like an impostor, my dysphoria no more assuaged than before I came out.
Going through transition in secret at home yet openly among my friends has left me with nothing material to pin my identity on. Sophie is currently nothing more than an online persona. She’s a username – she doesn’t yet exist in any material sense.
Transitioning in lockdown does mean I have the space to grow into my new identity, my real identity, without alerting anyone who I’d prefer didn’t know. Being Sophie without needing to change the way I present has helped me realise my identity is valid even without adding the cosmetic finishing touches. But as long as I’m locked away, unable to access the safe spaces in which I can hash out the details of my identity, Sophie will be a part of me that feels unreal and inauthentic.
Sophie is a trainee barrister, writing under first name only as she is not out
Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Useful websites and helplines:
- The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
- Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
- LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
- Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
- Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK