The Blog

How I Became Britain's First Trans Reporter, Got A Hug From Priscilla Presley And Caused An International Leg-Shaving Incident

Not so long ago I was living on social security, worrying if I had enough money left to buy enough food to see me through the week. A few months later I'm rubbing shouders with rock 'n' roll royalty, making headlines around the globe for simply doing my job and now have over 60,000 followers on Twitter. Bizarre - and all because I got a birth defect sorted out.

Funny how quickly life can change. Not so long ago I was living on social security, worrying if I had enough money left to buy enough food to see me through the week. A few months later I'm rubbing shouders with rock 'n' roll royalty, making headlines around the globe for simply doing my job and now have over 60,000 followers on Twitter. Bizarre - and all because I got a birth defect sorted out.

To borrow an Elvis tune, it was - for me - a Return to Gender. The gender I've always been, but up until recently, didn't have the body to match.Becoming Britain's first mainstream transgender reporter and presenter made news around the world. Which surprised me more than anyone else.

I'd quit my original job on telly five years earlier before I transitioned, because - at the time - I could never imagine a reporter who happened to be trans being accepted in the traditionally uber-macho atmosphere of a newsroom. How times change.

So this year, I left the run-of-the-mill office job I'd been doing while transitioning in a different city to the one where I was known, and set my sights on getting back into television. Which I've managed to do.

I'm under no illusions that, for the moment, I'm something of a novelty and curiousity. I've had all sorts of media offers in the last few months since returning to the telly. Book deals, newspaper columns, reality shows - the lot. Suddenly my world has opened up - all because I was honest about something that I always thought would hold me back. Namely, being trans.

A revelation which recently led me to a guest panelist's spot on one of Britain's biggest daytime show, Loose Women - watched by at least one million viewers a day. It made me the first guest trans 'Loose Woman' in the show's history and in fact the first trans woman to ever co host an all female television show anywhere in the world - no one realised it at the time though which made it it all the more of a surprise that my single appearance on the show has now gone down in television history books forever.

The particular episode was extra special to me as I've always been a big Elvis fan, and our star guest was Priscilla. Incredible. She was extremely open about her relationship with arguably the most famous man ever, and looked stunningly beautiful in the flesh and nothing like the strange pictures you see of her looking very plastic - in reality she's like a dainty little doll. I kept having to pinch myself that I was sat right alongside her and when she gave me a hug it really did feel surreal.

My fellow Loose Women on the day were equally fantastic to work with, and all treated me as just one of the gang. Exactly as it should be. Janet Street-Porter even went so far as to say live on the show that the reason I was there was for my brain and my long running career in journalism which was nice to hear when you are often referred to as a trans activist (which I'm not - I'm just a woman with an interesting past who tries to help raise awareness where I can but its not my career path)

The reaction to my appearance on the show from the viewers and press was incredibly positive and praising and while some die-hard dinosaurs still refuse to accept that trans people are normal, sane individuals who just happened to have been born in a body that didn't match their gender, the lack of criticism I received showed things ARE improving massively.

More people like me are finding the confidence to live as their true selves. Children are listened to. Parents offer support. We have come a long way very quickly, though there are still many misconceptions to put right.

I actually suffer from trans fatigue at the moment. At times I get sick to death hearing about it because awareness - powered by the internet, social and mainstream media - means it's everywhere. But then I realise that's a good thing. Being boring means we are becoming common place. Normal. 'So what' members of society. Trans people have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, in every corner of the globe, in all cultures. It's not something people follow as a fashion, or lifestyle. It's the first generation to start stepping from the shadows.

A friend said to me the other day: "It's as if you have re-booted." And that's exactly as I feel. Finally being in synch has given me a new thirst for life at the age of 50. Not all programmes have been as welcoming though.

On the back of my new found prominence, I was invited onto what you might describe as the 1950s version of Loose Women - BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. My reception there was very different. I turned up in a good mood and more than happy to chat about whatever topic the host, Jenni Murray, wanted. However, there was a definite chill in the air. Within a few minutes it was clear to everyone listening that she didn't really view someone like me as being a real woman.

"You're new to this" and "What was it like appearing on a WOMAN's show discussing WOMEN's issues?" were among just a few of the early exchanges, before quoting a well-known feminist who holds particularly odd (and totally incorrect) views on people who are transgender. And thats not to mention the researcher who asked me on the phone if i considered myself 'real woman' or a 'trans one').

We then moved on to a question about The Dorchester Hotel - an extremely posh five-star establishment, where rooms cost around £700 a night. The hotel recently introduced grooming guides for all staff (male and female), one of which was that staff should avoid having "excessive body hair" while on duty. Jenni though, only wanted to discuss hair on women's legs and asked for my view - which I was happy to give.

If I'm paying a lot of money to stay in a posh hotel, I would expect good grooming standards of the staff and no, I wouldn't want to be served by someone with obviously hairy legs which was just my personal preference - I didn't say leg shaving should be made compulsory by order of the law. But that set the cat among the pigeons.

While I've had a mountain of messages in support, I've had others suggesting I'm an oppressor. Not so much Herr Hitler, as Hair Hitler.That I'm supporting a regime that imposes expensive treatments on women, who are being forced to alter their bodies.

Really? A tin of shaving gel costs £1. A packet of disposable razors the same. It's hardly water-boarding. Deodorant? 50p. Saying I think the Dorchester staff shouldn't whiff hardly makes me an oppressor of womens rights. And what about the men that I said had to stay groomed in that environment ? They have to shave their faces every day. Wear ties which they probably hate, be smart like the girls, and keep their hands and nails clean. Any hate mail from them? Nope. Not one.

Women have always come under greater scrutiny about their looks, which isn't right, but I genuinely don't detect any attempt by The Dorchester to single out the girls for special treatment here. And in recent years, the pressures on men to look buff and polished have also increased.

The Dorchester isn't chasing sexiness, and it's hardly introducing anything that most people staying in a five star hotel wouldn't expect as a matter of course. It merely wants staff that fit in with its meticulous standards.

The more radical feminists - who mostly have the word 'angry' somewhere on their profile - should maybe go for a nice long soak with a bath bomb. Get some perspective and stop saying that I, as a 'trans' woman (their words) don't have the right comment on 'women's issues' - ask me a question and I'll answer it. It's ok to disagree with me, healthy debate is what the UK media world is known for.

Personally I couldn't give a shaved monkey's whether someone runs a razor over their legs in their personal lives. Their choice. My view is what they wanted, so that's what I gave them. It's part of what I do for a living. So if I'm working for Disneyland, and the boss wants me in a Goofy outfit, that's what I've got to do. Or, I can look for a job somewhere else, where no-one gives a Donald Duck how I look or if I used used to be Mickey before I was Minnie.