I have looked at life from both sides now…

Kirstie is an integrative therapist, a general member of the College Of Sex and Relationship Therapists (COSRT) and a registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Having spent 25 years working in commerce and achieving Director level in a medium-sized architectural practice, I found I could no longer live the lie that I had for so many years. In January 2010, at age 55, I had sex reassignment surgery, after completing the required two years’ living in my acquired gender as a woman. My aim is to be a positive role model for the transgender community and to provide therapeutic help to others thinking about, travelling or having completed the transition journey. I work from premises located in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Web: www.transgendercounselling.co.uk

I’ve looked at life from both sides now….

Perhaps a bit of a cliché but I was reminded of this when I recently attended a meeting for The College of Sex and Relationship Therapists (COSRT). The content of the meeting is not what is important here but rather the relationship between the twelve participants around the table, all of whom were female. I was one of those participants and, although I knew a few of the members, I was the new girl in respect of attending a formal meeting. It has been more than 8 years since I attended a similar meeting and back then it was under entirely different circumstances, as all participants had been male, including me!

I found myself reflecting, at this most recent meeting, on how the two meetings differed due to the genders of the participants. My earlier meetings were, more often than not, quite confrontational, dealing with progress on construction projects – someone had to take the blame!

The construction meetings which I attended always had the same format. They began with talk about sport over the pre-meeting coffee with perhaps a side chat about progress on site and who was in the firing line this week. As the client it was very rare for me to be the subject of the side negotiations but I was often involved in order that I was aware of what was going on. The topic of sport was never an interest and on that basis alone I was often the outsider and a bit different from the others. Part of my camouflage was to try to guess which match would be discussed and do a bit of homework. I was OK with it but never really felt a part of the ‘boys club’. The meetings could be heated and testosterone-induced aggression was often present particularly if a project was going badly and everyone was looking for someone else to blame. Even in calmer meetings there was often an air of one-upmanship, as participants tried to show just how good they and their companies were.

This most recent meeting was much calmer; it was a friendlier environment in which to work and certainly no rivalry was evident to me. Of course, it was not a commercial meeting but I somehow feel that, even had it been so, the whole ambience would have remained on a more feminine and friendlier basis. My one faux pas – when introduced to a new colleague I reached out and shook hands. She took it well but I suspect it is not a greeting she is used to. I was slightly worried by my return to a more masculine approach to the meeting environment but soon recovered and had a thoroughly enjoyable day – warmth, laughter and learning: quite a new experience after so long.

Of course there is also the interim period of transition when I became the only female within my usual male environment. I am not sure who was more ill at ease during the early encounters but my position as client certainly provided a great deal of protection. I was never openly challenged or ridiculed but of course I have no idea what was said about me in private. I had always been somewhat of an outsider and that isolation grew exponentially for the 12 months or so that I managed to stay the course. Eventually it became too much and I moved on. The experience however will always stay with me and I am sure colours my approach to meetings now that I approach them entirely as a woman. I will continue to learn but I certainly know which side of life I prefer.

Should you have concerns about your own gender awareness then it is recommended that you seek appropriate help from a professional such as a member of COSRT Information can be found at www.cosrt.org.uk