Hey everyone. There are times, unexpected times, when you read a story in a newspaper or journal which for some reason gives you the feel good factor. Such was the case for me a few days ago when I read the front page headline in a certain paper which my flatmate tends to buy and I will openly admit has never been amongst what I would consider to be my normal recommended reading material.
I am however always prepared to give credit where it’s due, and on this occasion, The Sun’s coverage on Captain Hannah Winterbourne the career soldier who underwent gender reassignment surgery after returning of a tour of Afghanistan was actually a very well written piece of journalism As a transwoman myself I have to give the highest praise to Acting Defence Editor David Willets who in my opinion can be justifiably proud of his work.
Under the headline An Officer And A Gentlewoman the paper tells the story of Army officer Ms Winterbourne’s struggle to become the woman she had known herself to be since hitting her teens. With remarkable honesty she tells of her determination to pursue a career in the Army, a career she had always dreamed of.
At 15 Captain Winterbourne attended a residential college for students who are being ear-marked for a careers in the service and later attended Sandhurst the UK’s top officer training facility having gained a degree in Electronic Engineering. It was at this time she realised she was born to be both an officer and a woman but didn’t believe she could do anything about it. After all, she now had men under her command.
It was on being posted to Germany that Hannah began to realise she had to do something about her feelings and began her transition. Not surprisingly in what she would be the macho world of the forces she was terrified of what others might say and the fear of a negative reaction. Having been through the experience of coming out both to those who matter to me and greater society at large, I know only too well how fear get a hold of you at this time. Believe me if coming out in the East End of Glasgow It was hard for me to deal with then my problems pale into insignificance when compared to a serving soldier in the British Armed Forces.
As Hannah says she did not think anyone else realised about her issue as she was quite good at playing the part of being happy and sociable. Again, this is something with which I can readily identify. For many years I tried to fit in to the appropriate box only to find that the more I tried the less I fitted in. Also I think that whether you realise it at the time or look back on events retrospectively and see amber lights flashing your mannerisms betray you more than you realise. This was certainly the case with me and though I did lose a number of acquaintances on my decision to 95% of those I consider friends have stayed friends. Indeed many in that number were nowhere near as surprised at my decision as I thought would be the case.
Now the nerves have long gone both for me and indeed for Hannah who is now living openly as a woman and has taken up a new post at Catterick Garrison after serving at Camp Bastion in her tour of Afghanistan. Though still a year from full surgery Hannah has undergone some surgery and started on hormone treatment and as every trans person must she has built up a good support network. As she correctly says every time you take baby steps and tell someone it makes things easier and then you can get ready to tell the rest of the world.
When it comes to the often tricky issue of family, she said that though they initially found her decision difficult her parents have been very supportive but says most parents would have been the same and they were concerned that she wouldn’t be have ‘a normal life’. When I had that problem with my late mother I simply said well my life has never been normal it’s been exceptional and I’m not downgrading it now. That said however I fully appreciate that Hannah’s parents must have found her decision both difficult and challenging but it is wonderful they have decided to embrace it and support her.
It is also refreshing to hear that despite their macho image the Army have done all in their power to support Hannah as she had feared her decision to transition may have ended her army career but she discovered the Army has had a policy for transgender servicemen and women since 1999. This shows that perhaps we don’t give enough credit to the armed forces as being what Hannah describes as very forward thinking. This may be because we find it easier to accept old fashioned out of date of prejudices towards an organisation we all too often view as old school and narrow minded or as some would say pale, stale and male.
Captain Hannah Winterbourne who is now responsible for other transgender servicemen and women is living proof that attitudes have changed, and now having won her hardest battle this soldier woman will fight with dignity to ensure others have the right and support to do the same.
Love And Best Wishes