A gender transition journey that was a lifetime in the making

Karen discusses her gender transition journey and her new life living as a woman.

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A gender transition journey that was a lifetime in the making

This episode of Our Voices focuses on Karen’s long and challenging gender transition journey. Karen was born and raised in rural Scotland and she has always had an appreciation for outdoor sports, particularly sailing. From a very young age, however, she had sensed that something was not as it should be in her life. Karen was born a male but she knew that she should’ve been living as a woman.

The beginning of the gender transition journey

The first time Karen remembers being aware of her desire to become a female was when she was around 3 years old. She was at her grandparents’ house and they were watching wrestling on a Saturday afternoon. As Karen was sitting next to the fire, the thought suddenly came into her head:

 “I should have been a girl. But at the same time, it came into my head that this was wrong and I mustn’t say anything.” 

These dual sensations, one of a desire for change and the other of a strong sense of shame, stayed with Karen throughout her life. Although she always knew she should’ve been a girl, she felt it was “something that can never be said out loud … something that can never, never happen.”

Finding distractions

Afraid of rejection, Karen found a way of burying her feelings. She turned her attention to her hobbies. A hobby that she has always particularly enjoyed is sailing. “When I’m on a boat, I am completely in the moment. Nothing else matters. I don’t think about anything else.” But, although Karen could distract herself from her thoughts of living as a woman, they never went away completely. 

A lack of trans women role-models

One of the issues Karen faced in beginning her own gender transition journey was that there were so few trans women role-models to look up to. There were very few examples of people who had undergone the transition process. However, there was one story that struck a chord with Karen. Reading The Sunday Times one day, she came across an interview with Caroline Cossey, a trans Bond girl in the early ‘80s.

 “I kept that magazine for years. It was a cherished, cherished magazine… It was a story of somebody who had done it. And it just seemed to be everything that is possible.”

There was still a sense that gender transitioning was not for the likes of Karen, however. It was associated with glamour and fame and was not something that could actually happen in real life. “It was just something to be hidden, buried away and never, never to surface.”

gender transition journey and living as a woman

A powerful sensation

So Karen attempted to continue living a “normal” life. She got married and began working in the oil industry in Aberdeen. At the age of 40, she was offered a position in Abu Dhabi. She took it and prepared for a new chapter in her life to begin. But one day, as she was travelling to work beside a colleague, she had a particularly visceral experience. “I got a cramp in my stomach. 

And it just started getting tighter and tighter and tighter. And then I had this enormous feeling– this thought that became overpowering that I had to be a woman”. Karen describes this experience as coming “out of the blue”.She had never had a reaction that strong before. She was still able to carry on with her work but the sensations continued to occur.

 “It just got more and more intense. And I struggled to even look at women. I could not look at women at all without just feeling crushed.”

Reaching crisis point

In Christmas 2008, Karen was back in Scotland with her family and the situation was getting worse. She had started drinking more in order to try to bury the pain and had also lost interest in her greatest passion: sailing. She was crying in bed while next to her wife, who demanded to know what the problem was. Eventually, Karen said 

“I think I have to be a woman”. Karen’s fears regarding her wife’s reaction proved to be unfounded. “She was brilliant in understanding it.” 

She accompanied Karen to the doctor as soon as possible.

 “I think I was possibly her first patient of the new year. And I went in and explained everything and she was really helpful and gave me some drugs just to try and calm things down, mentally. I was really, really in a bad place.”

A no-win situation

Finally being open with her wife did not resolve the situation, however. The desire to transition remained and Karen continued to fight it. She felt that by becoming a woman, she risked losing everything that she had.

 “I was terrified of losing my family and the house and my job and I just thought everything would just completely fall apart.” But, by not living as a woman, she was forcing herself to continue living a lie. This was something which she could not bear to do for much longer. “I ended up pretty suicidal for quite a long time because I was stuck in this jam, in a no-win situation.”

Gender transitioning

Finally, Karen went to a gender clinic and they told her that she needed to transition. But, continuing to fear the impact it would have on her family, Karen was still not ready to take that step. It wouldn’t be until 2012 that Karen and her family took the joint decision that completing the gender transition journey was the only way forward. “It was the only way to make a move and keep me alive.”

An unexpected reaction to her transition story

Following her transition process, Karen decided to leave her job and seek employment somewhere new. She felt that it was the best way to gain acceptance for the choice that she’d made. She sent a message to her ex-work colleagues to explain why she had left. The response Karen received was very heartening.

 “I was expecting the worst. I was expecting to be laughed at and ridiculed and never to be taken seriously again, but what I actually got was an outpouring of support and love from all these people I used to work with. It was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever had. You expect the worst and actually it turns out to be not so bad.”

Living as a woman

Karen would return to her previous role within 6 months. She would also return to sailing. Today, Karen remains with her wife. Her 17-year-old son lives at home and her daughter is off at university. The family is still close-knit and Karen did not have to choose between living as a woman and being with the people she loves. 

Now that Karen is living life as her authentic self, she is much more at ease. “I am kind of who I always was, just a bit different. I’ve not changed fundamentally as a person. I’m still myself… but with different shoes, you might say.”

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Our Voices podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Our Voices podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

 

Experience in Industry: 3

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Favourite Food: Potatoes

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Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

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Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

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I’m the community manager at Our Voices. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests from all around the world. What I love most about working for Our Voices is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

 

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

 

Industry experience: 2.5 Years

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Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

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I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Our Voices podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

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Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Our Voices’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

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Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

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Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

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I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Our Voices podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

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Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

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Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live by.

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I am the host of Our Voices. I help to find the guests that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and many of these people had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Our Voices’ because I wanted to give these people a platform to share these stories with the world.

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Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.