by Rachel Oliver
My name is Rachel Oliver. I’m a mature trans woman, I’m a dual national Anglo-Australian and I commenced my transition in my early to mid 50s In Perth, Western Australia. I moved to the UK about three years ago following my divorce, after a 34 year marriage with two children.
I worked for many years as a surgical scrub nurse in operating theatres. I’ve also been a military nurse working, a dental nurse, a sales assistant, a medical administrator. I’ve been a journalist and subeditor for a nursing magazine, have acted as a technical advisor on a TV show and so many more things besides. I have even been a freefall parachutist, but that’s a different blog post all together.
However, my proudest and most rewarding life experience has been to transition. It’s an experience like no other; this self-exploration which has taken me to the deep dark depths of despair and the exhilarating heights of self-actualization and it’s led me along twisted paths I never could have imagined in my former life.
One of the unanticipated roads that it’s taken me along is the path into the world of broadcast media and television. I always imagined that to work in radio you had to possess certain attributes and skills. Such qualities as the gift of the gab, a fast tongue and a quick mind spring to mind. Yes, these skills are often necessary for smooth presentation and can be learned, but one of the attributes which is essential to radio broadcast work is an expert knowledge and experience in the area in which you’re broadcasting. It exudes confidence, makes for great conversations and attracts an audience interested to hear what you’ve got to say.
I’ve always enjoyed writing and was a nursing magazine sub-editor in the 1980s contributing to a professional specialist theatre nursing magazine as a journalist. It was easy to write from a position of authority about the politics and the technicalities of theatre nursing and it’s easy to write now about the subject of trans healthcare and experience, having gone through the gender transition process in two countries with differing medical services, political attitudes and personal experiences. This has allowed me an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about our community, which is worthy of sharing to a wider audience.
Local Radio broadcasting is a perfect venue to share that knowledge and experience. My programme, ‘The Rachel Oliver Show’, on Sonder Radio Manchester is firmly aimed at the transgender community and specifically with our allies and friends in mind. It’s a station essentially for the mature population of over 50s and is enjoyed by people of all ages.
Each episode is usually based on a theme which could be a music genre, a specific year or decade, a subject, or an anniversary. So, themes can vary and that allows exploration of a wide selection of issues and interests, all are from personal experience and knowledge. This year I’ve presented some general programmes and also specials for International Women’s Day, World War Two VE Day, Australia Day and Pride. Each episode contains a myth busting section in which I briefly explore a common transgender myth, supposition, misconception or assumption. Breaking it down and busting the myth with explanation and honest truth without complexity. Common myths explored have been about gender and sexuality; gender socialising as young adults; gender stereotyping and a whole host of interesting misconceptions, biased ignorance, half truths and deliberate fabrications.
In each edition I also include a transgender icon, that’s a physical person who has contributed significantly to our community’s historical narrative. These people may be living or dead, may be trans women, trans men, non-binary people, or significant allies. Many are already well known historical trans people like Lili Elbe, April Ashley, Roberta Cowell and Cait Jenner, but there are plenty of others to discover who deserve a place. I’ve even thrown in some non-human icons as a curveball. I won’t reveal those, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, but they are significant and will bring a smile of recognition as to why they are iconic.
Each episode is packed with loads of handpicked pop music from the 1940s through to contemporary times with the main emphasis on the 60s, 70s and 80s in line with our target age audience, all of the tracks are carefully chosen to form an interwoven narrative to compliment the subject of the episode and also to entertain with some subtle humour and interesting observational information on each track and artiste. I maintain a strict no repeat policy on tracks included, meaning you can listen to back-to-back episodes without hearing a track repeated. The show is designed to educate, inform and entertain within our community and wider to our allies and friends and also to those who are genuinely interested in what makes us tick, and from all accounts it is successful in its aims with a regular audience to podcasts on our host carrier at Mixcloud from as far as Australia, USA and Europe.
As well my own programme, I have contributed to other programmes and projects with our sister station Reform Radio in Manchester. This has included the very successful ‘Buddyline’ programmes, which have broadcast through a number of NW Regional stations over the lockdown period. These have served to disseminate a personal narrative from a trans woman to an audience which may have never heard a trans person speak honestly before. This serves to break down assumptions and illustrate that we are just ordinary people leading extraordinary lives complicated by a society which doesn’t understand and consequently is easily influenced by agendas which may not be positive towards our community which only seeks to exist in peace to get on with our lives. Our rights don’t take others’ rights away. We simply want the safety and protections which are enjoyed by the majority of society.
You can listen to The Rachel Oliver Show here.