By Alex Lloyd, as told to April Ryan.
Before I transitioned, I felt very sad – even when I was smiling.
When I was little, mum and dad used to call me a name I really didn’t like. Whenever I heard it – I must have been about five or six – I would shout at the top of my lungs: “My name’s not *****! My name’s Thomas!”
I would shout that everywhere; on walks in the countryside, up the stairs in the house. Everywhere I went, I told them I was Thomas, after Thomas The Tank Engine, of course.
This is my earliest memory of being a boy. But my name is not Thomas now. I am called Alex, and I am a 36-year-old trans man with learning disabilities.
I didn’t always realise I was trans, but I knew something was different about me. I didn’t even know what the word meant. All I knew was that I had the world’s biggest collection of Action Man toys, cars and toy garages. When my mum used to put me in a dress, the ones my little sister used to wear, I’d used to scream in a big voice: “I’m not wearing that!”
Of course, being trans is more than liking boys’ clothes or playing with certain toys. But I have always been a boy.
For example, when I went to a special school for my disabilities, I hated going into the girls’ changing rooms. Using the shower after P.E. made me feel uncomfortable because I didn’t like people seeing me as someone I was not. I didn’t particularly appreciate showing off my chest, or other people spotting I had one.
I disliked sex education lessons as well. One thing I used to tell the teacher was that I felt really poorly. She believed me, and let me off the hook. But the reason why I did this was that it felt embarrassing. I had so many strange questions like, why was I different down below? Why was my chest growing? Why was I bleeding all the time, when that didn’t happen to other boys?
My school didn’t teach me about transgender people, or what the word meant. When it was mentioned in books, it was a single line, and I didn’t understand. People in class joked about men wearing dresses, and it made me feel terrified in case they found out and tried to hurt me. I tried to hide my chest by not eating, and I didn’t know how to talk to people about how I was feeling.
When I left school, I went to college. They gave me a counsellor to talk to, but it didn’t really work. They asked me why I dressed like a boy, but I didn’t have an answer. I just told them “I feel comfy”, and that was that. I dated girls at the time, and they thought I was just depressed.
When I was 28 years old, Jeanette asked me if I was transgender. Jeanette was my care worker, and she asked this because I was always upset — but I didn’t know why. Now I know it’s because people kept treating me like a girl. I had finally had enough.
I didn’t understand what being trans meant. So, Jeanette showed me some pictures. Seeing this made me feel relieved because now I knew I wasn’t the only one.
Still, I wish people had taught me about this sooner.
After we talked, I kept thinking about it. I came out to my family and friends. They were upset, but I told them that I had been thinking about it for a long time. I hadn’t changed who I was really; they didn’t realise I was Alex, not the other person.
In the end, mum and dad wanted me to be happy and safe. We spoke to the leader of my LGBT group, a trans man like me. He talked to me about how to transition safely. I was their first transgender member with a learning disability, and I was ready to live as a man.
It felt so good to dress like the man I am. When I heard people calling me by my real name, it felt so good. It made me smile.
But when I started to transition medically, it took a lot longer than other transgender people. When I asked for treatment, I had to wait a long time. They asked me loads of questions, like “you have a learning disability, so do you understand what transgender means?” Someone told me I couldn’t possibly be trans, because it was “too complicated for me.”
Sometimes I felt people were trying to stop me in case I didn’t understand when, in fact, I did.
It took me two years to begin hormone treatment. I learned I was getting hormone treatment a week before my first holiday abroad with my partner, April. Reading this made me so happy, and I was over the moon!
Still, I had a lot of questions. Most of my family and friends were calling me Alex now, but all my letters and certificates had my old name. I wanted to change this. We changed my name by deed poll, and we tried to sort out my wedding plans, but it was stressful because there was no information in EasyRead. In the end, my friends and family created those documents for me, so I could understand.
Another thing I found difficult was surgery. We first talked about this when I was 32, and it took some time for them to make Easy Read documents to help me understand what would happen during different types of surgery. I decided to have upper surgery because I never felt happy about having a chest.
Mum, dad and April explained it might be painful. Still, I knew it would be worth it in the end. They said that was okay, that it was my decision, and that my happiness was the most important thing to them.
They all came with me when I finally had my surgery in 2019. We stayed in a hotel overnight, then we woke up at 5 am to go to the hospital. The doctors walked with me to the ward, and I was by myself. It was scary, but I was incredibly excited that I was finally going to be me. A nurse held my hand and talked to me while I was there.
Now, I am much more confident and self-assured. I don’t feel frightened about correcting people anymore if they call me the old name I don’t like. I write and publish stories with TranScripts, a trans writing group, and I am even growing my beard! Still, it frustrated me that people thought I didn’t understand what being transgender meant because I have a learning disability.
Having a learning disability doesn’t make me any less of a transgender person. I am finally the person I was meant to be. I just wish it had been more straightforward.
I feel much happier now, and I am very excited. Before the pandemic, we arranged to get married, and they told me I was going to be married as a man. The future is so exciting for me – but maybe if I knew sooner, I wouldn’t have struggled so much.
My name is Alex Lloyd. I am 36 years old. I will always be me.