Transgender: This Is Just The Beginning

'There was more at stake than just me wearing a dress on TV'

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Alex Collins, 29, is a London-based hairstylist and part-time model. You might recognise her from cult Channel 4 TV programme First Dates, where she became the first transgender person to take part.

Here, she writes an exclusive essay for ELLE about her own story, why that Bruce Jenner interview matters and how the cultural shift towards the acceptance of transpeople is only just beginning.

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Watching Bruce Jenner's interview on Diane Sawyer was like being on an emotional rollercoaster and I was right there with him. At the end, I wanted to hi-five him. Listening to his story, I'm sure, rings true with many transwomen - it certainly did with me.

Alex is my actual name. 

Growing up I always was mistaken for being female. I identified with everything female, from clothes to toys to friendship groups. I remember wanting to play female roles in school plays, not understanding why I wasn't allowed to. My fellow pupils would call me 'gay' and 'queer', but in my mind and heart I was not gay. My soul is female; my shell is male. 

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Between the ages of 18 and 21 I lived as a homosexual man in a homosexual relationship. I wanted to fit in and that felt easier than telling people that actually, I'm female. To most of the world, boys who are attracted to boys are gay and girls who are attracted to girls are lesbians. 

Still, I wanted to dress more feminine and grow my hair long. My boyfriend wasn't so keen - he was a homosexual man and wanted to be with a boy. So I ended that relationship and started going out on my own on London's dress-up scene. From there, I gained the confidence to carry dressing-up into my everyday working life.

I watched all of the First Dates series, hoping that a transwoman or transman would bring a good example to the table and show the difference between scene entertainers and being a transwoman or a lesbian and a transman. But no one stepped up, and I thought: 'Well, if you want people to be enlightened and understand, then you are going to have to do this yourself.' 

I very rarely get nervous but, when it came to my date with Jsky, I was; there was more at stake than just me wearing a dress on TV. I felt like I was bringing this almost-taboo topic to the British public, and wanted to represent transwomen well - not only to help people understand but give others confidence that they too can come out and be who they want to be, meet new people, make friends and have support. 

Watch a clip of Alex's date with Jsky
 
The reaction I got on social media was amazing. I would say 95% not only said it was so good to see a confident transwoman on our screens but also that I was beautiful person in and out. Some even said they didn't know until I mentioned I was trans. That made me feel like I was floating on air. The few negative reactions I got were all from men.

To an outsider, a cultural shift is happening, but it's only just begun. We need to stop seeing gender as what is between someone's legs and more of what energy or aura someone gives off, how that person feels. Looking convincing as a woman for transwomen is only just the tip of the iceberg in being who we truly are. Passports, driving licenses and other forms of ID are a constant reminder that we are not recognised as a female, or even a transperson, by law. I worry, for example, about being pulled over in my car because my insurance is under 'Mr'. Going through passport control means a level of stress that is impossible to put into words.

I am speaking out as a transwoman because I don't want people to be misunderstood about who we are, and to hopefully create a safer place for women like me to be just that: a woman. By speaking out, I hope to give confidence to others to be who they truly are.

Tweet Alex: @Supremeinchanel

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