September 26, 2016

Jess Copeland who is transitioning from male to female
Jess Copeland
transitioning from male to female

By Brónach Ní Thuama A BELFAST woman has spoken of making the brave decision to transition from male to female and the support she has received from her family.

Jessica had always felt that she was female and remembers when being very young she went to bed every night wishing that when she woke up the following morning that she would be a different sex. In an interview, Jessica says she is speaking about her experiences now as she wants to help other people who may find themselves in the same position as she once did.

“When I was in Primary Three we had to dress up for Halloween,” recalls the 23-year-old. “I could either be Superman or a ballerina, so of course I was a ballerina. I was warned by my parents that I would probably be teased, but that ultimately that it was my decision. I am so lucky to have my family, I know some people who have tragic stories about coming out and transitioning. I’m so lucky that I’ve never had to go through that.

“It wasn’t a sad childhood at all, I was able to express myself with clothing all the time and no-one ever said anything. On the rare occasions when something was said my family would immediately stick up for me.”

Jessica’s dad Damien recalled that when Jessica went to Knockbracken Health Care Park in Belfast for the start of the transitioning process there were people there his age going through what Jessica was going through.

“Imagine having to start transitioning at that age,” he said. “Some of them lost their friends and families, they were cut adrift. There’s no way we were going to allow that to happen to Jessica. We have been by her side since day one.”

Damien added: “It was a no-brainer, it’s all about her happiness. My wife and I are so proud of our baby and that’s just the way it is. She could have come in and told us she had been diagnosed with an illness or some other bad news, she didn’t. She was able to tell her mummy and me what she wanted out of life – isn’t that wonderful?”

Jessica said that although the initial process was very slow to get going, once she got her consultation in Brighton things moved quickly.

“At first I went to my GP who referred me to Knockbracken, that took a good seven months. From then it was another eight months before I got hormones. It took almost the guts of two years before I was put on hormones, they really drew it out.

“I had to take testosterone blockers every three months and hormones. I had to go through vocal coaching. I thought my voice would change with the hormones but that’s a myth. I had around five sessions with the vocal coach which was awesome. After that myself and my mum went to Brighton for my surgery and I was there for about a week.

“Initially, when I got my surgery I thought I was going to be a completely different person, but I’m not. It’s the physical that changes, you don’t change on the inside.”

Although the major surgery is over for Jessica there is still one procedure that she hasn’t quite made her mind up about.

“I could go for facial feminisation surgery (FFS), it is down to preference. There are days when I feel I want it. Sometimes I go through a sense of dysphoria where I think I look manly – some days aren’t as bad. However, some days are severe and I can’t get out of bed, but those days are few and far between. I go through phases.”

Growing up in West Belfast and being caught in the wrong gender would be daunting for most people. Jessica, however, seems to have taken it in her stride. She puts that down to one thing.

“My family are awesome. Even from a young age when I was dressing up in female clothes there would be very little said, and that goes for our neighbours as well. Everyone in my class in school (CBS) knew, it was never a problem. You get the few odd shouts, but that’s just ignorant people.

“At the start my youngest sister just accepted it, my older sister struggled a bit but she came round. It took my twin brother the longest to come round. We shared a room at the time as well and that was difficult for him.

“At Christmas 2011 we went to a family party and I went as full-scale Jessica, I sent out a few texts beforehand to prepare my family. A few of them were a bit wary, but they soon came round and it just became the norm.

“In Sixth Form I transferred to a different school and I changed my name. There was one teacher in particular who refused point-blank to call me Jessica. All my class mates called me Jessica no problem. I was told that on one occasion that when I left the room to get a book the teacher shouted at the entire class and said, ‘That’s not his name, that’s not the name I have on this register.’

“We argued every day, then one non-uniform day I came in as me and she called me out and asked me to tone myself down. I told her no, and we had it out, she said she didn’t know that I was transgender, she thought I was playing around. She later apologised and we are fine now.”

Damien said: “The relationship Jessica has with her mum is fantastic, they are so close. We aren’t too bad as a family!”

Jessica said: “Me and my dad didn’t have much of a father-son relationship when I was younger, but we are great now, our father- daughter relationship is a hell of a lot better.

“I do have a brilliant family but what was the alternative? Being unhappy for the rest of my life? That wasn’t an option. I wasn’t going to hide my truth because life is hard enough without having to worry about your identity.”

Damien added: “This is nothing out of the ordinary – it’s life today, it’s the world we live in now.”

When asked how life is for her now that she’s had her surgery, Jessica says: “Life is awesome, I’m in a good relationship, working away, saving up for driving lessons and I want to travel the world. There’s no stopping me.”