From The Guardian UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/22/voices-from-trans-community-prejudice
It’s more than 50 years since the UK’s first trans person was outed in the press. So how do members of the community think life has changed for them since?
In 1961, a beautiful model who graced the pages of Vogue appeared in the Sunday People under the headline: “Her” Secret is Out. April Ashley, then 25, was the first person in Britain to be outed as a transsexual, not long after she had travelled to Casablanca and survived difficult genital surgery. In subsequent decades, Ashley led the most extraordinary existence, getting up to mischief with aristocrats and actors as well as becoming an informal agony aunt for thousands of people struggling to understand their gender. Since her outing, however, she has never again worked as a model in Britain.
Ashley’s exceptional experiences are typical of many trans people in Britain. “It was a very schizophrenic life,” she says, referring not to switching gender but the combination of glamour and poverty, acclaim and abuse, she has encountered. Following Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore’s spat with trans activists on Twitter, the vitriol directed at trans people by Julie Burchill in the Observer has caused many to wonder how much has changed.
Ashley, who is 78, penniless and last month collected her MBE from Prince Charles, is airily dismissive of Burchill, who called trans people “bed-wetters in bad wigs”, among other insults. “I don’t know where Miss Burchill goes to see people with crappy wigs on their heads. All the transsexuals I know are very smart looking and have good jobs,” she says. “I do not wear a wig, by the way.”
The transformation for trans people over the course of Ashley’s life is astonishing. It is less surprising how little most people understand of trans lives. If gay activists traditionally asserted their right to be “different”, most trans people have tried to “pass” for their new gender. There is no data on how many people are living as a different gender from their birth but activists estimate that 10,000 people in Britain have undertaken gender reassignment surgery, which was pioneered by German doctors on Lili Elbe, a Danish painter, in 1930. Elbe died from complications in 1931 and, although modern surgery is much safer, plenty quietly live their acquired gender without operations, particularly women “transitioning” to men, for whom genital surgery is more complicated.
Continue reading at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/22/voices-from-trans-community-prejudice