I took a red crayon and coloured in my square like the other girls. The only trouble was, at this point in my life I was still, technically, a boy. My teacher made me go over my red square in blue crayon, leaving one conspicuous purple square.
It was the time of oil crises, boiling hot summers and strikes. It was my first day at school, September 1974. I was five years old.
Once we had all got settled, our class teacher Mrs Saul set us the first ever assignment of our school careers. She produced a large sheet of squared paper and pinned it up on the classroom wall. She drew two axes on it, like a graph. She then invited us, one by one, up to the front of the class to take a red crayon (if you were a girl) or a blue crayon (if you were a boy) and to colour in a square, to form a bar chart showing the population of the class by gender.
So came my turn. I went up, took a red crayon and coloured in my square like the other girls. The only trouble was, at this point in my life I was still, technically, a boy.
My childhood recollection is that Mrs Saul became enraged at this point, although she probably didn’t. But she did make me go over my red square in blue crayon, leaving one conspicuous purple square, which was on permanent display for the whole of my first school year.
And this has been a theme of my life. For years and years, I strove above all to avoid being conspicuous. I tried to fit in, to be normal, to come up to other peoples' expectations.
Fast forward to the early 1990s; poll tax riots and the final days of the Thatcher government. I was working as a graduate trainee at the Bank of England. There was some logic in that move: I’d read History as my degree and in the course of all that I’d developed an interest in economic history and how the economic and political worlds interact. What better place to see the economic and political worlds interacting, I thought, than the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. And so it proved. I got involved in all sorts of interesting things: the fallout from the BCCI collapse, sanctions against Iraq, the ERM crisis, European Monetary Union negotiations.
More memorably for me, it was here that I made my transition from male to female. If I am honest, that was not easy. In fact, it was a very difficult time for me. Transitioning from one gender to another is like travelling down this endless tunnel; you plunge into the dark and then for years and years you trudge forward in the hope that you will see light somewhere at the end of the tunnel. You don’t have any choice but to keep going. It seems like you will never get there. But you do emerge into the light; eventually, you do emerge.
The Bank was brilliant throughout this time. These were days when no one had a “trans policy” or anything like one. They just got on with the practicalities. I had my photo re-taken, they gave me a new pass; I started to use the ladies’ loos. My colleagues were completely supportive, indeed positively defensive in some cases.
I came to be known to the Bank security guys, mostly ex-police, as the “New Lady of Threadneedle Street.” I love that.
There was one manager who just couldn’t get the pronoun right. To be honest I just had to say to myself “Look he’s struggling, he’s finding it difficult to get in that mind-set. He doesn’t mean to be offensive.” Sometimes I thought “I wish he didn’t do that”, but sometimes you have to give people a bit of room. He was an old duffer really, so I would just correct him or laugh it off or whatever. I think we have to be patient, in all sorts of ways. I think going through an experience like transitioning, when so many people are supportive of you, you learn to be a little bit flexible. I have learned a big lesson there.
Of course I operate now as female, but obviously I was never socialised as a female – I was socialised as a male. For all that I wanted to put that behind me, there are lots of aspects of my character and my interests that are stereotypically ‘male’. I’ve got a very schoolboy sense of humour, that kind of stuff. I did try to repress and deny that for a very long time, and then I got to a point where I thought “Does it matter? You should embrace who you are, in all of your wholeness.” So having gone through that process, it is quite interesting to think about where I fit now in the whole women’s agenda.
I don’t identify with a lot of women’s networks and I know loads of non-trans women who don’t either, for one reason or another. For me it’s the white, middle class, blackberry-in one-hand-baby-in-the-other image that I don’t identify with. That would not appeal to many of my female clients (but may appeal to some of my male clients)! It’s a bit stereotypical. And sometimes you go to these women’s events and there is this room full of women but some opportunities for doing business are lost because there are no key men present. I think mixed events are better.
I would really like to see girls having horizons being broadened at a much earlier age and boys being brought up thinking they have an equal responsibility for childcare, for example. Why is it that we have different times for maternity and paternity leave? What is that all about?
I try to be a good manager, but it is really hard. It’s really easy to see things your way. I think a good manager is somebody who – and I don’t know if I am this or not – supports the people who work in their team but at the same time allows them leeway. And in doing so, who would take responsibility if that goes wrong. The bit where I am definitely not as good as I should be is maintaining distance. As a team leader there needs to be a bit of distance and I find that quite hard, because it does matter to me that I’m liked. I’m a bit soft like that. Delegating, supervising and managing is phenomenally difficult, really hard, and I don’t know if I’ve got that right yet to be honest. In a law firm that’s a problem actually. You get promoted for being a good lawyer but being a good lawyer doesn’t make you a good manager. If you happen to also be a good manager, that’s a happy coincidence.
Looking back, what I have learned is that the obstacles and setbacks I have had (and I have had my fair share) have not come about because of others' attitudes to me, but because of my attitude to myself, and a lack of self-confidence or sense of self-criticism perhaps.
But in more recent years I have made a conscious decision to come out and wear my identity more openly on my sleeve. I feel completely differently about myself now, in terms of self-confidence, and I find it easier to deal with setbacks and obstacles than I did even a few years ago.
The fact that the diversity and inclusion agenda has brought such change in the workplace in recent years has been a great help. Good employers are learning that it is not just about representation of any one group, but about empowerment of individuals as individuals.
What I remember from my Bank of England days wasn't whether or not we had any policies in place, but that my individuality was embraced.
That's why I think that this project, with its focus on the experience of women as individuals, resonates with me.
And why I'm so proud to be part of it.