The New Girl: Rhyannon Styles On Being Accepted By Other Women

ELLE's Transgender Columnist discusses what it's like being welcomed into female-only spaces, starting with the women's toilets

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My relationship with other women is different to that of my male friends. Our bonds are emotional, tactile and nurturing. All of my female-identifying friends have embraced, supported and encouraged me to blossom over the last five years.

They invited me into their world, allowed me to make mistakes, empathised with my pain and celebrated my femininity, judgement free. And I'd be lost without them.

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In my last column I shared my feelings and experiences about how life felt being on the receiving end of a male gaze. Now I want to turn my attention around and share how other women reacted to my transition and related to me as Rhyannon, rather than Ryan.

Beyond my coven I would need to adjust to life by starting to access women-only spaces; from public toilets and gym changing rooms to fashion magazines. And I would have to learn how to relate to other women in public as a transgender woman.

At the beginning of a transition everything changes. Transitioning isn't just about changing your own physical body and appearance, your place within society will also shifts as will the way others respond to you.

It's been five years since I changed my name and began appearing in a female presentation full time, and I'm still re-evaluating my place in this world as The New Girl.

I spent the first thirty years of my life as one might expect, using male facilities. That decision wasn't a choice, my behaviour and actions were expected of somebody born with a penis who was frequently told to 'man' up and I was powerless to do things differently.

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When I was at school in my hometown of Stafford I really envied the girls toilets and changing rooms. The pink walls radiated warmth and kindness. It felt like a safe space. The tell-tale sound of collective laughter and the whiff of hairspray let me know that all my friends were in there; gossiping about boys, make up and periods. Because I was a boy, I couldn't enter that space, no matter how much I wanted to.

Fast forward to 2012, when I began transitioning from Ryan to Rhyannon, and in keeping with my new gender presentation I started to use female toilets and access many other women only spaces.

The first thing I observed was that women talk to each other; either when cueing for the cubicle, washing their hands or when looking in the mirror. Women compliment other women's style choices – clothes, hair and shoes, and ask 'Where did you get that top?'

Woman always acknowledge if children or dogs are present. Always.

Women offer you a tissue if you're crying, remind you when your handbag is left open and let you know if you have lipstick on your teeth.

I'm aware this might sound terribly clichéd, however, these are all situations I've experienced. And I know for a fact, that gent's loo's are so different - they might as well be on another planet.

As someone who was new to this space, I felt nervous and uncomfortable. I tried as best as I could to be invisible, and I didn't hang around. I was afraid that if somebody clocked that I was transgender then I would be asked to leave.

Once, when I was washing my hands a woman asked me if I knew the quickest way to the tube. Afraid that my deeper voice might unsettle her I just shook my head and blushed.

My biggest challenge came when I finally ventured into the female changing rooms at my local gym. It took months to summon that courage, knowing full well my identity as a trans woman wasn't hidden.

I remembering taking a deep breath and walking into the female changing room. I was immediately faced with naked bodies, conversations and the smell of Dove deodorant

You see, I'd been attending the same yoga class for months, slowly becoming chatty with the other regulars and slowly changing my appearance.

We never talked directly about my transition but we made light hearted small talk about the weather, the school run and the traffic on Stoke Newington High Street.

There came a point when I didn't feel comfortable using the men's changing rooms any longer. They didn't reflect how I felt about myself or how I looked. I'd started to wear padded bras, gym leggings, vest tops, subtle makeup and I tied my long hair up into a bun when I went to yoga – all in order to feel more like Rhyannon.

I was only slightly more feminine than masculine, but presenting in this way made me feel fantastic. I was so proud that I was finally on my journey.

I remembering taking a deep breath and walking into the female changing room.

I was immediately faced with naked bodies, conversations and the smell of Dove deodorant. I buried my head into my locker, hoping that because I couldn't see anyone else, no-one could see me. I quickly changed out of my t-shirt but kept my leggings on. And then quickly and quietly I left.

I was so happy that I'd made the first steps towards feeling comfortable in that space, and the more I did so, the more confident I became. I began to smile at other women and say hi. If I was asked 'How are you?' or 'What's your name again?' I replied with confidence and pride.

If the women I encountered in toilets and changing rooms knew that I was transgender then it was never spoken about. Sure, there have been some raised eyebrows, second glances and whispering in ears, but I've been treated with respect and not suspicion.

These same sentiments are echoed with the feedback I receive writing a column for ELLE. It's women who reach out to me on Instagram and Twitter supporting my writing, and women who celebrate the inclusion of a transgender woman's perspective within the magazine.

I'm pleased that my voice no longer goes unheard, I'm proud to visible and not invisible.

In doing so, I'm learning a new language, a new code of behaviour and new boundaries.

While also adding to the ongoing conversations around trans identities. I'm very grateful for this privilege.


The New Girl by Rhyannon Styles, is published on 1 June (Headline, RRP £14.99)

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