This is the story of me, Ella-Morgan.
When I was born my mum and dad called me Evan. They were the proud parents of a new son – their third – and a few years later, another son made the family complete.
But by the time I was 7 years old, I knew something really wasn’t right. I was different.
Outwardly I appeared to be a boy and had a stereotypical male haircut, clothing and a boy’s body. I didn’t feel, think or act like any other boy I knew, though. The person I appeared to be to others wasn’t the true me.
I didn’t understand why. I couldn’t articulate exactly what was wrong. I felt very different to the boys in my class, and I was just much more comfortable doing the things that girls of my age did. I simply fitted in better with the girls, and naturally gravitated towards any conversation which was ‘for girls’. And I’d follow my mum around everywhere. I was envious of her - her clothing, her hair, how she was a strong woman, a wife and a mother. I was curious, too, and fascinated by how women lived their lives.
Being so young, I didn’t know anything about transgender or LGBTQ+ people. As one of three brothers, I was expected to conform to male stereotypes, because it was assumed I was just the same as them.
Pink is for girls, blue is for boys, boys do this and girls do that…it’s what most kids’ childhoods are built around. From the minute you’re born, everything is instantly mapped out. As a boy, you’ll play sports, wear blue, and become a successful man. Without even realising it, your whole life is based on the gender you’re identified as at birth.
It was taboo to mention anything that wasn’t associated with your gender role, and I didn’t want people questioning me. So for a long time I hid behind many different personas I’d created, trying to please everybody and make sure they didn’t sense anything was wrong. I even tried to convince myself that I liked ‘male’ things.
It wasn’t until I was in a sex education class as a young teenager that I had my lightbulb moment. When I heard the name ‘transgender’ and was told what it meant, I knew it described me.
‘Transgender – denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.’
I’d never liked anything about my body, and it was like a switch had been flicked. I realised I was female. It wasn’t that I wanted to be female, or that I should be female - I was a woman. Finally, I knew who I was.
It felt so good – it was uplifting to know that my feelings, thoughts and struggles now made sense. Those struggles were because I was never a boy, although I may have appeared, outwardly, to be one.
No one knew about the demons in my head because I rarely let them out, though sometimes when it got too much when I was a child I’d act up and get angry with my parents. Now, suddenly I felt I fitted in somewhere - there was a community I could and would be part of one day, because other people like me were out there. I suddenly had self-worth and an identity.
Now in my teens, I went through puberty, which was horrible as I knew girls of my age were having a completely different experience to me. In a way, I think I believed that suddenly, miraculously, I would change into a female at this point, but of course that didn’t happen. I looked like a boy, but now I knew I was a transgender female inside, I started to express myself more. I started to experiment with makeup and acted how I felt I wanted to.
My family knew that something was wrong, just not what it was. I have three brothers, two of whom are straight and one who is gay. They thought that I was maybe gay too.
Perhaps now is the best time for me to clarify that being transgender, which is your feelings about your identity, who you are and who you should be, means that you are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is your sexual orientation, and it’s about who you’re attracted to, not anything to do with struggling with gender. They’re two completely different things which can be real challenges in their own way. I am a straight female, but part of this one big community - minorities who have one another’s backs. But gender identity issues and sexuality are two different things and shouldn’t be confused.
Around 14 or 15 years of age, I started Googling for information on transgender surgery, and realised that this is what I’d have to do to become the person I needed to be. I kept this all to myself, and it was a big secret to keep. At times I did feel suicidal, and I tried to take my own life twice.
I decided to keep my head down, get my qualifications at school, then leave home and start a new life as the real me, away from family and friends. I’d read up on trans experiences and lives, but there wasn’t much positivity around it. No one’s experiences seemed joyful, and from what I read, it seemed that being trans wasn’t something that people understood or could empathise with.
I assumed my life would be tough. To survive and live my life as me, I would have to make hard choices. I could do what I had to do to be happy or try to conform to make others happy.
In July 2012, at the age of 17, I visited my GP, who was really helpful and gave me information on how everything would work if I wanted to transition. I left with lots of booklets, and I knew that this was what I would have to do to so that the person I was inside was reflected in my body on the outside.
I kept all of this a secret, because I knew my parents would find it very hard to come to terms with the changes I was going to make. I learned to drive and decided to start afresh by finding a career, then I could move away to start my new life. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt I had to in order to be the real me, and so I went away to college to take a cabin crew course.
However, in August 2012 my mum found the GP leaflets under my bed, so my secret was out. Although she was a bit shocked at first, she was very supportive. Dad was another matter, though - he wouldn’t look at me for 3 months, which was awful, but he wasn’t as educated about it then.
My brothers started to realise what was going on and, being 3 males, they weren’t overjoyed at the idea of a transgender sibling. They didn’t seem on board with my change, but when my dad saw that the rest of the family had negative opinions, he started to come around and we began to talk. He realised I was his child, whether daughter or son, and he didn’t want to lose me. He could see it was what I needed to do in order to be truly happy, no matter what others thought.
The only people I told were my parents, brothers and grandparents, and they spread the word to other family members, but I never really took the time to sit and explain why I was doing this. Even to this day, some people in the family still don’t understand me or my decisions, which I regret, but if they hadn’t been so hurtful about me to my parents my dad would never have changed his views.
Being transgender isn’t a choice. You don’t wake up one day wanting to change your life and body. Some realise they’re trans sooner than others, some hide how they feel, others become open and tell their story. Hopefully, one day being trans will be seen as a celebration of being your true self.
Being transgender is also a medical condition. I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria when I saw my GP in July 2012, and surgery and hormones are the treatment, just like with many other medical diagnoses. I knew from day one that having gender reassignment surgery was my goal – I felt I needed it to be the person I was meant to be, even though the thought of it was scary.
There’s a process to follow, and 9 years ago, at the age of 18, I started the long journey to my physical change. I knew I couldn’t live in the body I had any longer. A big part of transitioning is psychological.
I became an airline check in agent at Bristol Airport after college and was still presenting as a male. 6 months in, after passing my probation, I decided I needed to be me and present myself as the girl I had always been. Legally you have to have 2 years real-life experience living as a woman before you have surgery, which is one of the hardest parts to deal with, but I wanted to start this as quickly as I could and do my best to look like a woman straight away. I told my employer and they agreed I could change, but they weren’t supportive. I had to change from Evan to Ella in one day, because they didn’t understand, but it was October 2012, and I was now presenting as a female.
Having been referred to a psychiatrist as part of my gender reassignment journey, I was passed mentally fit and well and so was referred to the gender clinic in Exeter, where I had my first counselling session in January 2013. I went every month and started hormones in the March, changing my name legally in the April.
Fortunately, I went to work in Duty Free at the airport beauty counters in the August and they were very supportive, re-jigging my rota to allow me to attend appointments for my gender change. I trained as a makeup artist while working there.
Legally, I wasn’t be able to have surgery until I was 21, so I was put on the waiting list. I felt that everything was in place for me to start my real transformation.
Read Part 2 - Becoming Ella here.
Read Part 3 - Being Ella here.