In the days before the Internet and television highlighted transgender issues, those who believed they were born the wrong gender didn’t even know there was a name for how they felt.
Today, as part of our series Trapped In The Wrong Body, AASMA DAY talks to Stef Holmes who became a woman almost 60 years after being bought her first pair of high heels as a boy.
“PEOPLE of my generation didn’t know there was a name for what they were feeling.
“It is only with the advent of the internet and greater information through the media and television that we have discovered what we are and who we are and that’s why we’re transitioning later in life.”
Steph Holmes sums up her tale and the plight of thousands of transgender people who transitioned later in life after decades of hiding their true selves and trying to conform to society’s expectations.
For Steph, being able to live as the woman she always knew she was has been a hard fought battle with many challenges along the way.
Thanks to an understanding mother who recognised Steph’s true feelings - although she never openly spoke of it - life was far simpler for Steph as a youngster.
Steph, now 63, who lives in Darwen and runs a support group in Preston, explains: “In my head, I was female from a very young age but didn’t know this.
“There were no TV programmes, internet or Youtube to give information.
“My mum didn’t voice that she thought I was trans but obviously accepted I was different from a very early age and was wonderful.
“Even though it was the 1950s, she was very open and accepting.
“When I was three, I told my mum I really liked these black wedge high heels and she didn’t bat an eyelid and bought them for me for Christmas.
“At the age of five, I saw a really nice skirt and asked her if I could have it. She counted her pennies and said okay. She was amazing.
“From the age of around two, I wandered round in skirts and dresses. But I thought that was ordinary and normal because she made me feel that way.”
Steph still has the photograph of herself at three clutching her treasured heels - as well as a photo of herself at 10 dressed in girl’s clothes walking along the Douglas front in the Isle of Man with her mother.
Revealing her wicked sense of humour, Steph laughingly says: “The funniest thing about that photograph is that I’m carrying a transistor radio - which they used to call ‘trannies’!”
“I’d go out with my mum in dresses in skirts and dresses. When I was younger, I went to school in trousers and came home and changed into a dress.
“My dad never really noticed the skirts and dresses.
“I didn’t get on well with him until I left home and then for the rest of his life, we got on like a house on fire.”
At primary school, Steph remembers feeling confused and distracted. She recalls: “I found myself drawn to girls rather than boys.
“My natural instinct was to behave like the girls. In those days, boys were boys and girls were girls - far more so than today.
“It was only just post war, so boys were at a premium.
“Instead of playing football, I preferred needlework and embroidery. In the playground, I the girls were happy to let me play with them.
“I couldn’t place myself in any box. All the people around me, I just didn’t fit what they were.”
At the age of 11, Steph won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Blackburn - an all-boys school.
It was then it really hit home with Steph that she was completely different to the other boys.
She remembers: “I felt totally out of place.
“My birth certificate stated I was a boy, but when I went to this school full of boys, I didn’t know what to do.
“I had to look at the other boys for clues and cues as to how to behave. I felt alien.
“At high school, I just hid away and kept my head down. I poured my whole life into music and played the organ and sang in a choir at Blackburn Cathedral.”
In a last ditch attempt to be a ‘macho male’, Steph joined the Army but describes it as a disaster.
She explains: “Everything I disliked about boys and being a boy was embodied in the Army.
“The macho drinking games, the male bonding, the roughhousing - I hated it all.
“I thought to myself I’d sooner be at home flower-arranging.
“I lasted four months in the Army. The first eight weeks were basic training which was so instense, you didn’t have time to think.
“Then I handed my notice in and waited to leave.
“The Army was a major turning point. I knew I’d given being a macho male my last shot.”
After leaving the Army, Steph wore androgynous clothes and at 18, began wearing eye shadow, mascara and lipstick. She recalls: “Fortunately, it was the 1970s and there were a lot of males wearing make-up so no one thought it was unusual.”
Steph began dating and around the age of 25, her girlfriend at the time decided to dress Steph up in her clothes as a laugh.
Steph says: “My girlfriend had a real job getting her clothes back!
“They were just ordinary girl’s clothes but I felt this tremendous sense of relief and felt right dressed in them.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of coming home and finding my place in society.”
At that time Steph had heard of transvestites - men who crossdress - so thought this was what she must be.
She began wearing women’s clothes in secret, but instead of making her feel better, she felt worse.
Steph explains: “I was living the life of a transvestite even though I wasn’t; I was a transexual.
“The cross dressing wasn’t fulfilling. It felt like a stopgap. “I wanted to do it all the time rather than just part-time.
“I wasn’t addressing the real issue which was that I felt female.”
Steph felt disgusted by her male body and couldn’t bear to see herself naked.
She says: “Dressing as a woman but still physically being a man left me very depressed and disgusted. I had a complete feeling of dysphoria.
“I went through some real dark and nasty times.”
Steph was 45 when she met her wife who she was married to for 18 years. Steph told her all about dressing in women’s clothes as soon as they met and she was very accepting - until Steph fully transitioned as a woman.
Steph found out about transexualism online by accident 12 years ago - four years before leaving the marital home.
Steph recalls: “I read it and thought: ‘That’s me!’ Suddenly my whole life fell into place. There was a name for what I was. It was an incredible moment.”
Steph soon realised she couldn’t carry on living a lie.
Steph explains: “Transexualism is such that at some point, you are going to have to transition - it is transition or suicide as you can’t live a lie forever.
“I managed to live a lie for longer than most as I kept myself so active and busy, I didn’t have time to think.
“I was a scuba diver, raced motorcycles, went caving and was a skydiver and rally driver as well as being actively involved with a number of organisations.
“But I felt I was living a lie and told my wife I wanted to be a woman.
“Although she had been accepting about me dressing in women’s clothes, I don’t think she expected this. I think she thought I’d get better. She told me she felt betrayed.
“When I got my gender certificate, the same sex marriage laws hadn’t happened so when my birth certificate changed, our marriage was suddenly against the law. We had the marriage annulled.”
After leaving the marital home, Steph transitioned to living and dressing as a woman. She realised there were basically three types of transexuals: pre-op, post-op and non-op.
Steph says: “Some people don’t feel the need for the operation or are unable to have it for medical reasons.
“Some find taking hormones is enough of a change to make them happy.
“In any case, you are legally a woman from the moment you describe yourself as such, not because of any operation.
“But for me, surgery was the ultimate goal.
“I became very frustrated and depressed and often cried myself to sleep at night.”
Steph eventually went to the doctors and was referred to Leeds Gender Identity Service and began assessment and counselling.
Steph, who was already self-medicating with hormones bought over the internet, was referred for surgery and last year she underwent the six-hour operation to become the woman she always knew she was.
Steph, who is in a steady relationship and engaged, says: “My fiancee tells me as I was wheeled out of surgery, I was cheering.
“The best moment was a few days after the op. I caught sight of myself in a mirror and burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying.
“But they were tears of joy as I felt complete.”
Steph now runs Chrysalis Transexual Support Groups in Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool and has many voluntary roles involving trans support.
Steph says: “Many transexuals, once they pass as the gender they want to be, don’t want to tell people.
“I can understand that. But unless we talk to people, they are never going to know what we’re about.
“I go out with my head held high proud to be a transexual.
“Yes, I get verbally abused occasionally. Yes, I get things thrown at me.
“I have had people try to beat me up 17 times to date, but not for the last three years.
“I wish I had a choice. I’d choose anything over this. But I haven’t of course.”
Steph says with increased awareness and understanding, people are now transitioning earlier in life.
“With younger transition, the puberty blockers are very good. I’ve never seen a transgender person who transitioned early who isn’t drop dead gorgeous. The younger people start the hormones, the more effective it is.
“When you start hormones later in life like myself and many of my friends, it is not as effective. I often joke I’m mutton dressed as lizard!
“But I’ve always been a woman. My physical brain is completely female and my entire being is female encased in a body that’s changed with medication and some bits I was glad to see reassigned.
“I am now what my mum recognised at an early age. I just wish she was around to see me like this, but she passed away a few years ago.”