Mr Benn was a much-loved TV programme when I was a child. Our eponymous hero would visit a fancy dress shop, and the shop-keeper would find a costume for him; a short while later he would emerge into a different world and have adventures. I understand the magic of that transformation, but for me, it involves not just a change of clothes but a change of gender.
I have gender dysphoria, which means that I feel the need to identify as female, despite being born male. The reasons for this are rather complicated and mysterious. When I was growing up in the 1970’s, the world was a very different place, and people didn’t talk openly about such things. I was the only person I knew who had these urges, apart perhaps from Dick Emery on the TV (and I knew I didn’t want to be like that). So like a lot of trans folk of my generation, I experimented with dressing as a girl in secret.
As I grew up and wrestled with my peculiarity, I grew better at hiding the urge, and at one stage even persuaded myself I had been cured. But in my mid 30s there was a sudden explosion – as if the dam was about to burst. There was a period of rather frenzied experimentation with make-up and clothing, but all in private. It was another decade before I finally emerged into the wide world – like Mr Benn emerging from the fancy dress shop as Mrs Benn – to live a different life for a day. Not only did I experience adventure, but I discovered something very profound about myself – it wasn’t fancy dress at all. But life is complicated and for me, like Mr Benn, the transformation is occasional and irregular although nevertheless very necessary.