NHS pathology lab scientist Abi Giles shares her story in a bid to promote understanding and equality
‘Realising I was a woman was a gradual process for me, rather than feeling trapped in the wrong body from a young age. Before I transitioned in 2017 and changed my name to Abi, I spent a few years expressing myself as female behind closed doors.
When I presented myself in that way I felt more confident and comfortable. I started to think, this is who I am. I’ve been through male puberty so I’ll never have the same features as a cisgender woman – my bone structure is bigger and I naturally have more muscle mass – but I’m still a woman.
My parents are in their seventies and they don’t fully understand my decision, but they can see how much happier I am and support me. Basically, they put their love for me first.
I’m a pathology lab scientist – which means I test blood in hospitals – and I’m based in Bolton. I literally wear a white coat for a living! I’ve always wanted to help people but without being on the front line like a doctor.
I came out to my managers and agreed a set date to transition. A few months before that day, I put a message out on Facebook for my colleagues to see. They were all incredibly understanding and since that day I’ve represented my NHS trust at Bolton Pride.
My appearance didn’t drastically change. I have an androgynous dress sense and found daily make-up too much of a faff. I have light facial hair and it’s painful to shave my face every day, so I’ll admit, I have been a woman walking around with a bit of a beard every now and again.
It’s important to me to be honest about my story on social media, because society has this idea of what a woman should be, and I want to show you don’t have to conform to this dated idea of femininity.
Because I’m a medical professional I’m not a hard-core tweeter of my opinions, but I am vocal about the importance of trans rights. I like to challenge people to think about what they are saying.
There are on-going debates about whether trans women who still have male genitalia should be put into female-only prisons if they have committed a crime.
The name usually quoted from people or the press who are anti society reforming is Karen White, a trans woman who was placed in a women’s prison in 2018 and sexually assaulted four female inmates. That was essentially a big screw up by the prison service and it doesn’t mean all trans women are dangerous or a threat to women.
In-fact, trans people have a huge amount of empathy for women who have suffered at the hands of men. And trans women can be the victim of rapes and attacks just as much as cisgender women. Or they are even more of a target, because we are ‘unnatural’.
As a state registered health professional I also really want to clear up another misconception about the NHS – that teens are given hormones to change their gender identity if they ask for it. In reality, it’s so hard to access treatment, and no person is given any permanent hormone treatment until they turn the age of 16. What is given to teenagers under the age of 16 is hormone blockers, which essentially puts puberty on hold. They are safe and have been used for decades.
I’m not supposed to be on hormones yet (the NHS target is to be prescribed hormones within 16 weeks and it’s been three years since I was referred), but I suppress testosterone by self-medicating on three tablets a day, as prescribed by my individual GP.
I’m keen to have full gender confirmation surgery, but I want to stress that not every trans woman can or will have an operation. The Equality Act of 2010 outlines that you don’t need to have any medical procedures to be a woman, you just need to define as one.
I’m 29 years old and currently single. In the past I’ve felt lonely and desperate for love, but right now I’m content. I’m bisexual, so for me, it’s about connecting with the person, not the gender. I have tried dating apps, but it’s sometimes scary to think of people not taking kindly to you because you’re trans.
If I found myself in a stable relationship I would like to have a family of my own. I’m infertile due to taking hormone treatments, so I would definitely consider adoption. Family is so much more than sharing strands of DNA. It’s about teaching good ideas and values to offspring.
Since the 2016 Brexit vote there has been a lot more toxicity towards minority groups, but I appreciate life is a lot easier for trans people to live than in decades past. Put simply, I just want people to be treated equally. What you’ve got between your legs does not define who you are as a person. I’m trans, I’m proud of it – it’s nothing to be ashamed of.’
Abi is a fundraising co-ordinator for the national transgender charity Sparkle, which aims to celebrate the transgender community. For more information see sparkle.org.uk