Martina is a trans woman from rural Yorkshire who transitioned later in life, after marrying and having four daughters. She has been accepted by her family and local community, and has no regrets although life hasn't always been easy. Here Martina shares her story with Red as part of Unilever's United We Stand Campaign for Pride Month.
I recall having a feminine household and the family home was predominantly female. It was a loving home, and I had four sisters and one brother. My mum was a housewife and mother and did an amazing job of that, whilst my dad worked hard and longed to provide for the family. He was a role model to me.
I loved being around my mum and watching her cook, darn and knit, and just being around the house. I used to read my sisters' books and play with their toys, though whenever I was reading any of my books, I was never the hero…I was the pretend cabin boy or the girl pretending to be a boy. And on reflection, I can now begin to understand why that was.
It wasn’t an option to be different when I was growing up. I was assigned male at birth and that was the role I was destined to play, so I tried to do that. I knew from an early age that I could talk to my dog and ponies about how I was feeling, and I just couldn’t understand and equate that with the loving environment that I was brought up in. I have always tended to relate far more naturally to women than men. Deep down I knew this wasn’t quite right – I wanted to stay away from men as I thought I’d be attracted to them, so I stuck to women as it felt safer.
I went to a single sex boarding school, that was a challenge and I got into trouble a lot. Despite that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I worked really hard to get to college. I was blessed with a determination to follow a profession as a veterinary surgeon and was grateful that my registration with the Royal College was accepted, as it was important to my life. I was very committed to my work – I wanted to be a country vet with absolute compulsion and addiction and I was determined to do it. That kept me away from mixing with, as my father would say 'the wrong types of people'. I sometimes felt like I was living a double life…being a vet and then in the evening doing some personal exploring.
I then discovered myself looking at female clothes before I met this wonderful woman who I ended up marrying. I was convinced that this was true love, would change everything and I would automatically become the person that people thought I was meant to be. I married this wonderful lady to travel around the world, but at Christmas time she got pregnant, so we announced that we were no longer travelling and we were going to settle down instead. I worked long hours, taking my job seriously. A few years down the line, we had one daughter which became two, and then four.
We worked hard together to establish a veterinary practice. I probably worked too hard and eventually I lost the battle with the bottle. At times I ended up in a very drunken state to the point where I nearly killed myself.
In 1997 with four gorgeous daughters, and a wife that depended on me, I was ready to take my own life when the police arrived and arrested me. I was living a false life. Most of the external substances I took to help me deal with the deceit came from a bottle which obviously took its toll. I was completely oblivious to the concern and worry I caused my family and what I had put them through. I felt selfish when I realised.
I carried on working, and in 2003 I found myself in the same situation – and the police arrested me once more. In the back of the police car, something changed and I realised I couldn’t run from myself any longer. I went from wanting to die to wanting to live and it’s something I will never quite understand.
With the help from my dear wife, I ended up in a rehab at 54 years old. On arrival I was given a pad and pen and told to go 'write down your life story' and then when I had handed it in, I went into my first group session. One of the counsellors asked, ‘have you never considered gender realignment?’ I told him not to ask me such a stupid question, however that then allowed me to look at life from a different perspective.
In the same year, with the help of therapists I stopped taking substances, and in the process of searching for myself I found Martina inside me. It was a gradual process that slowly evolved. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had an enormous amount of fun exploring the new and real me. I knew I had to discover myself further and started exploring my cross-dressing fantasies – a big night out with two of my daughters dancing all night as Martina. It was all part of an experience that I didn’t know where it was going to lead.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me and to everyone that knew me, especially my ex-wife who kept me alive for all those years. We got divorced as I could no longer continue in that relationship after rehab. When I told her about Martina and that I had been living a lie with her for all these years, I had to start making amends which is an ongoing process.
Six years later in 2009, I went to my doctor to start the formal process of exploring the option of gender realignment. I don't think any of us really realised the full significance of what I was saying.
In 2012, on a flight back from Japan I knew that I was Martina – my true self and I vowed to myself that from this point forward, I was going to live the rest of my life as Martina. With or without surgery. That lead to me changing my name by deed poll in 2014. I was still a vet at this time.
In 2018, at 68 years old, I went to London for surgery. This was the end of one journey for me, but also the beginning of a new chapter. Walking down to surgery convinced that I was doing to the right thing was so reassuring. It’s been a gradual slow process.
I lived a life for 50 something years and I got used to that, and it took an enormous amount of unravelling. I had to really find myself with the help of friends, family and fellowship. It’s been so gradual, and such a wonderful and an amazing journey already and yet I know there is more to come. None of us know where our journeys will end.
I have no doubt that my daughters were very concerned at times and that this caused a lot of stress for them. They are, however, far more content to have a happy Martina as a parent than a dead or dying dad they would need to worry about.
Thankfully, I’ve had very few adverse comments, though my mum was the hardest person to tell. My sisters said ‘don’t tell mum’ but eventually I did. I went to her nursing home, she looked me up and down and said ‘you don’t look as bad as I thought you would’. She was upset that she was the last to know about Martina more than anything else. Before she died, she said 'I’m really glad I don’t have to worry about you anymore!'
Everyone in the local community has accepted me. There are still people that call me by my old name and I accept that and I understand that too, but the important thing is that everyone accepts me for who I am.
A friend of mine who is part of the LGBTQ+ community contacted me to say that one of her friends was making film for the Unilever ‘United We Stand’ campaign, and would I be interested. With my connection to the countryside and not living in a big city, I was happy to be part of it, as effectively I have been blessed with the joy of being comfortable in my own skin and not being over concerned with what others are thinking. I hope that sharing my story provides the insight that true happiness is being happy in your own skin. Living and getting on with life and not worrying about what people think.
I do wonder though, if I had been born 50 years later, would I have followed the same path? I probably wouldn’t, but I then wouldn’t have had four gorgeous kids and a wonderful wife. It wasn’t all misery by any means. There were both happy and good times and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on those. If I had my life over again, I would still follow the same path. I am blessed to still be alive.
My advice to anyone faced with any dysphoria over their gender would be: We don’t know our final destination, so enjoy the journey and explore the opportunities that are presented. Ask for help. We don’t have to deal with this by ourselves. There are so many switchboards and helplines out there now. I encourage people to use them.
Unilever and Superdrug have joined forces to support Switchboard, a LGBTQ+ helpline which provides a safe space for the community to discuss anything, including sexuality, gender identity, sexual health and emotional well-being, via the phone, by email and through Instant Messaging.
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