Martine Shakerley-Bennet had a sex change at the age of 67. Now 70, she is a playwright, director, lecturer and therapist. Here, she talks about her journey to finally having her gender re-assignment surgery.
Did you always feel that you were in the wrong body?
When I was about 3, I knew that I was a girl.
I can remember distinctly knowing that I was a girl, very strong feelings. And I can remember being given ‘boys’ toys, which wasn’t odd because I was in a boy’s body. But I used to give them away because I didn’t want them.
All my whole life, I knew that I was a woman, but I thought I was a monster, a freak.
I think the biggest shock came to me when I was about 13. I used to take days off school and dress up in my sister’s clothes. One day there was a knock at the door, and without thinking, I went to it and there was a post boy there and he started flirting with me.
He called me ‘Miss’ and I went into my room and looked in the mirror and there was a girl there, and that was me. And I thought, ‘No, no, this is so confusing. I’m a guy, I’m a guy.’
I thought I was odd. I was frightened about what my family would say; I was terrified about what my friends would say; I thought I’d be kicked out of work; I thought people would isolate me, think I was a freak, and that I’d have no friends. It was a terribly lonely, lonely feeling.
It was a long journey to fulfil who I really am. You shouldn’t have to do that. The greatest thing that happened was the internet. On the internet you can begin to find out that there are other people like you.
You had a sex change at the age of 67. What prompted you to finally take that step?
For years I had wanted to take hormones, I wanted to change. I’ve got pictures of when I was in my 20s. I was dressed up and I looked stunning. I’ve got pictures, so I know I looked good!
But I had to live this lie in this dual world. I was running into the bedroom, putting on makeup and dressing up, and then there would be a knock at the door and I had to rush to take it all off again. It was a really mad world.
When my wife left me, the first thing I did was get my ears pierced and I wore earrings. I thought, 'Here I am at my age - what do I care what people think? Why should I care what anybody thinks?' And I felt free and really liberated.
I went to the doctor and I went to see two psychiatrists and they both said to me, ‘You’re a woman,’ just like that. And everyone said, 'You’re a woman, so what’s the problem?' And I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s the fears and the way I’ve been brought up, my working class roots, and being scared of being a freak.’
But I took the hormones and saved the money, and eventually I went over to Thailand and had the operation. For the first time in my life I really felt wonderful. I felt so nice and I still feel lovely to this day.
How did people react to you after the operation?
There were many different reactions. Friends, except one friend who has cut me off, were very supportive. My friends have been absolutely fantastic.
Two people in the family were very negative - very upset and angry - and they sent me very hostile letters. But I can understand that, and instead of being hostile I wrote them nice letters that said, ‘Look, this is who I am, this is what I’ve been through.’ And later on I sent them my autobiography and they’ve all come round, so I’m very happy about that. My children have both been fantastic.
I wouldn’t go back for anything, though. In public, I do sometimes get made an object of. But if someone is saying something nasty about me, I just go straight up to them and ask if there’s something they want to talk to me about, and they back off.
What are the biggest misconceptions of someone who has had a sex change?
Lots of people are interested in how you are sexually. I’m trans-lesbian. I knew I was a lesbian when I got to puberty. I was about 13, and I saw two women kissing in St Johns station and I thought, ‘That’s me’. I identified immediately. So being a lesbian has also complicated it, because a lot of transgender people are heterosexual; but I’m not – I’m gay.
A lot of people are very interested in what I look like now, they’re dying to have a look and see the job that the surgeon has done. But that’s very obvious, I would probably be interested too, if I were them.
I see the world so differently now – there are a lot of problems that women have – like always having to queue for the toilet! As a bloke, you can go wherever you like. Also, I have to be careful where I go at night; beforehand I would just wander anywhere. But now when I go out clubbing – because I still like to go clubbing! – I have to think about how I’m going to get back and think about taxis and things. I wouldn’t walk home on my own any more.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge was myself: to accept who I was and just say, ‘Look, you’ll never be the most beautiful woman in the world’. I have to accept that some people will be curious about me, and as long as people don’t make negative comments, I don’t mind. If people want to talk to me, I’ll talk to them.
Words: Laura Grigg
Listen to Martine talking about her experiences below: