Gen­der dys­pho­ria is the dis­tress trans­gen­der peo­ple can feel in a body that doesn’t match their iden­tity. Here, Char­lie Craggs shares her ex­pe­ri­ence

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - il­lus­tra­tion ELISA MA­CEL­LARI Char­lie Craggs, 25, ac­tivist and au­thor of To My Trans Sis­ters (£12.99, Jes­sica Kings­ley Publishers)

The story of a woman born in the wrong body

Pic­tures cov­er­ing one mir­ror, a blan­ket over the other, lights dimmed to their low­est, I spent my early twen­ties go­ing to great lengths to avoid look­ing at the face and body that sick­ened me. I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing gen­der dys­pho­ria and, in my male body, I didn’t just feel ugly, I felt wrong. I was four years old when I first told my mum I wanted to be a girl. My par­ents al­ways let me be who I wanted to be and, as I grew older, I be­friended girls and started wear­ing make-up. Ev­ery­one, my­self in­cluded, as­sumed I was gay. Sure, I had to shoul­der some in­sults on the West Lon­don coun­cil es­tate where I grew up but, for the most part, I could han­dle it. That is, un­til pu­berty set in. Con­fronted with the re­al­ity of my adult male body, I be­gan to hate my­self. At the boys’ school I at­tended, I had no friends – whole days would go by when no­body would speak to me, ex­cept to de­liver ho­mo­pho­bic abuse. I slipped into a de­pres­sion so se­vere that, de­spite mul­ti­ple stints on med­i­ca­tion, by 16, I was con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide. When I left school to go to art col­lege in Lon­don, my men­tal health only de­te­ri­o­rated fur­ther. Sud­denly sur­rounded by gay peo­ple, I quickly re­alised that I wasn’t one of them. In­stead, I grav­i­tated to­wards the thriv­ing drag scene. I had no in­ter­est in wear­ing full drag make-up and per­form­ing, but it gave me per­mis­sion to wear foun­da­tion and a Top­shop dress and grow my hair – and per­mis­sion was what I needed. The louder the trans thoughts be­came, the harder I fought them. As far as so­ci­ety was con­cerned, trans peo­ple were mur­dered pros­ti­tutes on CSI or ‘freaks’ to be pa­raded on The Jerry Springer Show. If ho­mo­pho­bic bul­ly­ing had al­most driven me to sui­cide, I rea­soned, I could never cope with the abuse lev­elled at trans peo­ple. Then, one night, while shav­ing my beard, I turned the clip­pers on my hair. I hoped that once it was all gone, I’d see my­self as a man. But all I saw in the mir­ror was a sad, scared lit­tle girl. I saw for the first time how sick I’d made my soul from try­ing to be some­one I wasn’t. Tran­si­tion­ing would be hard, but it couldn’t be harder than liv­ing like this. In that mo­ment, noth­ing and every­thing changed. I still had a man’s body but, for the first time in my life, I’d ac­cepted my­self. It was a mo­ment so pro­found that, shortly af­ter­wards, I came off an­tide­pres­sants and haven’t needed them since. That’s not to say life was easy. Two years passed be­fore I could get an ap­point­ment at a gen­der iden­tity clinic to start taking fe­male hor­mones. That pe­riod of liv­ing an­drog­y­nously was one of the tough­est of my life. Strangers would laugh, take pic­tures of me or even ap­proach me on pub­lic trans­port to ask me out­right what gen­der I was. The trans com­mu­nity was mis­un­der­stood and I was de­ter­mined to rem­edy that. In 2014, I cre­ated Nail Trans­pho­bia, a pop-up nail bar where vis­i­tors could talk to a trans per­son, while get­ting a free man­i­cure. I also learned that I could do lit­tle things for my­self. Be­fore a doc­tor could al­ter my bio­chem­istry, I could fix my hair; when fe­male hor­mones made me gain weight, I could take plea­sure in mois­tur­is­ing my stretch marks. I didn’t have to wait to start car­ing for my­self. The sad re­al­ity is that 48%† of young trans peo­ple have at­tempted sui­cide. It breaks my heart to think that any died be­cause they couldn’t see a way to ex­ist in our so­ci­ety. That’s why I pub­lished a book of let­ters by over 80 trans women – to show that we can live boldly and beau­ti­fully in this world as any­thing we choose: as politi­cians, as en­ter­tain­ers, as busi­ness­women – and most im­por­tantly, as our­selves.

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