For the last three months, I've been roller skating around the Barbican’s Curve gallery wearing a sheer leotard for an exhibition by the artist Eddie Peake. This is the first time I've ever been naked in public. And what has been very interesting to witness is the public reaction to a naked trans body. Some people look very surprised when they see my genitalia doesn’t match up with the rest of my body. I have heard many teenagers passing through whisper, ‘Is that a boy or a girl?’, ‘Why does that girl have a penis?’ or ‘It’s a man!’ Even though 2015 saw a rise in trans visibility and more people decided to use the pro-nouns ‘They’ or ‘We’ to describe themselves, we still live in an era when someone's gender is pre-determined at birth by their physical anatomy.
You see, I’m in a very fortunate position. When clothed I would say I more or less always pass as female, which means no one suspects I was ever born with male genitalia, unless you know me. It can be very difficult for trans women who can't easily pass as female (they tend to face more discrimination and harassment), but why should everyone need or have to pass? We're not transitioning to reinforce the gender binary. If someone looks like a man in a dress, and that's what they want, then more power to them. It's about doing what suits you. Any presentation which a person puts forward should be accepted in society.
One of the reasons I applied for this roller-skating job was because I was also interested in how I would feel about being naked in public and revealing my genitalia for all to see. I don’t dislike the fact I was born as male, and often people ask me ‘If you could be born again, would you want to be a girl?’ and my answer is always no. I wouldn’t want to erase that history of growing up as ‘Ryan’ because it's helped shape and form the woman I am today.
In 2012 when I decided the only way forward for me in life was as Rhyannon, a doctor referred me to the Gender Identity Clinic, which after two consultations prescribed me female hormones. If you want to feminise your body you have to take the female hormone oestrogen. I was also prescribed regular injections of a drug called ‘Goserelin’ which is used to suppress testosterone. So at the age of 32, I began female puberty.
Slowly but surely I started to notice changes, not just in the way I was feeling inside my head (I was evidently much calmer and happier!) but in my body too.
Within weeks the skin all over my body became softer and felt, frankly, wonderful. My nipples started to get sore and sure enough became enlarged; I was beginning to grow breasts. My bum, hips and thighs became curvier, whilst my waist got smaller as the fat was redistributed around my body. And my face softened overall. My skin got clearer (gone is the acne caused by testosterone) and my features became less defined and ‘masculine’ looking. Two years of painful laser hair removal took care of the facial hair. My face would blister and be sore for days. I’m not complaining though. When I look in the mirror now, I am happier with my reflection. But this isn’t just down to aesthetics. Presenting as female, changing my name and living as Rhyannon has brought my life into alignment.
I remember sitting outside in my garden one day last spring and feeling absolutely relaxed, knowing that I was at the beginning of the process in which I would become who I envisaged myself to be. It was comforting to know my body was changing. A lot of friends of mine in the trans community told me to be prepared for emotional ups and downs, because you never know how your body could react to the hormones. But I didn't feel any moodswings, just happiness.
I can't really remember what my puberty was like as Ryan. But as Rhyannon, I'm much more aware of what my body is going through now.
I don’t think of myself as someone who is transitioning between two opposites. I don’t think male and female genders are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Rather, I look at my transition as my 'male' and 'female' self becoming one, like a spiral of two equal parts circling around a central point of love and acceptance.