Sunday, July 20, 2008

??? - ဟုိက္ ေ-- က်ိဳးနဲ ၁

ဘယ္နွယ္ဗ်ာ လူ ့ဘ၀ကံေကာင္းလို ့ ေယာက္်ားျဖစ္ေနတာ ေဂးဆုိတဲ့ဟာေတြက လည္း တေမွာင့္။




For Dr Stewart Drage, life was a series of endless top-level meetings with Cabinet Ministers and eminent physicians.

As a senior member of the British Medical Association, he was a respected political negotiator who made decisions affecting thousands of doctors across the country.

By tragic coincidence, through work, he found himself at the very centre of the devastating terrorist attack on London on July 7, 2005, one of the worst atrocities this country has ever seen.

The blasts on the capital’s transport networks killed 52 people and shattered the lives of thousands more.

And for Dr Drage, a happily married father of three, it was also to prove an extraordinary and profound turning point.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Dr Drage, 51, tells for the first time how the devastation of 7/7 finally gave him the courage to have a sex change and become a woman.

Now known formally as Dr Michelle Drage, nearly three years of treatment has changed the dedicated family doctor almost beyond recognition.

Wearing a smart skirt suit and patent black sling-back shoes, which display slim legs and manicured pink toenails, she is immaculately made-up in neutral tones and has carefully highlighted hair.

She is also still married to her wife of 28 years, nurse practitioner Jo – whom she met when the pair were still students – and they continue to live in the family home in North-West London.

Michelle is now the happiest she has ever been. But she admits it has been a long struggle.

‘My earliest recollection of being different was at the age of six when I went to a friend’s birthday party,’ she says.

‘I was very interested in a kilt a boy was wearing.

'It fascinated me for a lot longer than I think people would normally dwell on it, to the point where I remember hoping I would be invited back to the same birthday party the following year so I could see him again.

'I was, but he wasn’t there. I remember that very clearly.

‘The gender blurring, even at that stage, was fascinating.’
Michelle was born the eldest of two children to working-class parents in Mill Hill, North-West London, in 1957.

Her father was a taxi driver who often worked night shifts; her mother a housewife.

But despite a normal, suburban childhood, she remembers always feeling slightly different.

Bullied at primary school by the other boys, Stewart – as she was then – was called a ‘sissy’ because he had more in common with his female classmates.

‘When I was nine, I noticed that the older boy next door had grown his hair long. That was another fascination.

'I loved this long, straight hair. I wished it was mine.’

By the time Michelle went to secondary school she had ‘learned some tricks’ to hide her behaviour, joking around and playing football with the other boys.

But then, at 14, puberty hit.

‘I hated what was happening to my body and tried to hide it at every opportunity.

'I’d avoid the showers and changing rooms.

‘If I looked in a mirror, I tried to imagine the soft curves of a woman rather than the man I was turning into.

‘The only thing I could do was throw myself into school work.

'I desperately wanted to express my femininity in some way and I would dream of being a woman.

'Somehow I found a way of managing it by fitting in with the crowd.’
Later, she went to Middlesex Hospital medical school, then part of the University of London, turning her focus on becoming a GP.

‘Medicine is a conservative profession – you don’t have enough time or ability to find a new definition for yourself as an adult,’ she says.

After a few teenage relationships with girls that lasted – at best – for a couple of weeks, Michelle managed to sustain one relationship for 18 months.

But they did not sleep together.

‘I don’t want to go into this in detail but I was never able to take the relationship forward and kept backing away from having sex.

‘I was accused of being poofy, but I wasn’t and that was very frustrating,’ she said.

‘But then, when I was 21, I met Jo. She was different.

'It was in the student bar, of course. It was an instant bond.

'I’m sure there’s a better way of saying it was love at first sight, but that’s pretty much what it was.

‘There was just something magical about her – her smile, her eyes.I was struggling then and at times wanted to jump off the top of a building – I was in that sort of state.

'But Jo was there and she was the best support I ever had.

'With her I could have a sexual relationship – I don’t know why it was different but it was.’

Stewart believed he had ‘normalised’ himself and applied for a training scheme for general practice, ending up working with a close family member of Jo’s in West London.The couple married in 1980.

‘One night I just wrote “Reserved” on her engagement finger because I couldn’t afford a ring. We were very romantic and we still are.

‘I was terribly nervous on our wedding day but I have no memory of feeling anything other than ecstatically happy that Jo and I were getting married. It was a beautiful time.’

The family moved to a respectable, tree-lined street in North-West London in 1984.

Over the years that followed, Jo gave birth to three healthy sons, now aged 24, 23 and 21.

‘It was very exciting having children – and interesting having boys. Jo being pregnant was fantastic,’ says Michelle.

‘I turned into SuperDad, super-macho Dad. Perhaps that was my attempt at compensatory behaviour.

'We got involved in football and became Tottenham Hotspur fans.

‘But I was different from the other fathers. I did things they didn’t do, like washing up and helping around the house.

'I was regarded by some as a bit of a wimp.

‘There’s a dinner table habit where men all go off together and the girls stay chatting.

'People found it odd that I would rather stay with the girls, so I’d go with the men and played my role rather well.

‘But I was living in the sense of keeping the show on the road. That worked in my career as well as in my family life.’

Michelle’s career continued to take off. In 1993, she became the chief executive of what later became Londonwide LMC, a body that represents the interests of 6,000 GPs in the capital.

Meanwhile she carried on working part-time as a GP in Hammersmith and became active in the BMA’s GP Committee.

Her roles involved discussions with Ministers such as Patricia Hewitt, John Reid, Alan Milburn and Frank Dobson.

But the carefully constructed lie was beginning to crumble.

‘It all began to come to a head in the late Nineties when I turned 40 – it was a form of mid-life crisis.

'I spotted this trend for men to wear nail varnish.So I started using vibrant green and yellow colours.

'It was just another way of expressing myself.

‘Soon afterwards I got an ear pierced and kept thinking that I’d have the other one done.

'I was becoming distant, preoccupied and questioned myself constantly.

‘Jo had noticed my increasingly odd behaviour and we had various conversations about it.

'But I would laugh it off and insist I was just being me.’

For Jo, however, the doubts and questions had niggled away over the years.

One night in bed in 2000, she took the plunge and asked her husband whether he had ‘gender issues’.

‘I said no – partly because I couldn’t admit it to myself and also because there was this overwhelming sense that I’d betrayed her by allowing her to marry and spend the best part of 30 years with someone who wasn’t truly me.

‘When she asked again, a while later, I told her there might be something wrong.

'She said she already knew.’

Michelle is reluctant to discuss exactly how Jo coped with the news, although it is clear the couple went through an emotional and difficult time.

‘There was anger, tears and a lot of love.

'Primarily, her reaction was: well, how will we sort this out? She’s very practical.

'She knew we had to talk about it but she saw it as my problem which, ultimately, I had to deal with.

‘But it was this very bizarre situation where we were discussing gender reassignment, something that hadn’t even happened.

'All I can say is that we are both copers.’

Neither Michelle nor Jo told the children or their friends.

Michelle says: ‘That was part of my angst, that I couldn’t tell people.

'But Jo and I had made a decision that I’d tell them when the time was right.

'The time would be right when I knew what I was doing.

‘After 18 months of counselling, the specialists confirmed that psychologically I was who I thought I was – a woman.

‘I was referred for hormone treatment in June 2005 but turned it down because I was still in denial.’

Michelle had also recently been re-elected as a negotiator for the BMA’s GP Committee, and was involved in meetings with the Government over pay and conditions.

But the devastating events of 7/7 changed everything.

Michelle was holding a meeting with colleagues in an office in the BMA headquarters in Tavistock Square when the bomb that ripped apart the No 30 bus exploded on the street outside.

They ignored calls to evacuate and instead helped the seriously wounded, setting up a field hospital in the main square at the BMA building.

‘There was dust and the smell of cordite and there was smoke and there was silence,’ she says.

‘I saw the bus, I saw the legs hanging out of the bus, and the debris and the horrendous aftermath.

‘We were carrying bodies, people and bits of people on blocks of wood which were lying around.

'The amount of order and organisation we achieved because we had clear thinking and leadership was awesome, really.

‘It’s one of those unsung stories you don’t hear about – no one ever talks about the BMA brigade.

'We dealt with 30-something casualties and some deaths.

‘One guy I dealt with, who had his shoulder and half of his body blown off, died in the end.’

The experience threw Michelle into a dark depression.

She says: ‘As I was having counselling anyway, I thought the best thing to do was talk.

'I was thinking, “Great – I’ve done so well.”

'But by autumn time I started to feel it bad. Every time anyone mentioned the bombings you saw that bus.

‘Everything kicked in and it was overwhelming.

'This was my lowest time when I decided, “Enough – just enough”.

'It was a mixture of feeling both rescued and vulnerable, those two conflicting emotions.

'I thought, if people can die just walking down the street, how can I not allow myself to be the person I need to be?

‘It was a life affirming, and life-changing, experience.’

At Christmas 2005, Michelle finally agreed to hormone treatment and began to tell people about the decision.

She refuses to say how her sons found out, and will say only that the circumstances were ‘difficult’. Each coped in their own way.

It is easy to understand how traumatic it must have been for them to accept their father’s choice.

Hormone treatment – similar to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) normally given to post-menopausal women – had reduced Michelle’s testosterone level and gave her a normal female level of oestrogen.

Her body hair disappeared, skin softened and she began to develop breasts.

‘Probably the most important thing for me was that it stopped the dysphoria, the desperate need to be someone else.

‘You can’t do anything or be anything or think of anything else unless you really overcome it.

'I’d be sitting in a room with women and I’d think, heavens, why can’t I be like them?

‘There’s this noise going on in your head and the hormones stop the noise.’

The name Michelle was chosen because Stewart had always hated his middle name, Michael, and decided it was important to use it positively.

Make-up was a process of trial and error just like the experience of any other female.

‘My eternal quest for the right foundation has continued until just recently.

'I had two makeovers sitting in Selfridges just because it was a thrill,’ she says.

‘I’m still playing around with clothes and styles.

'I’m aware I’m 51 and trying to get away with being 40-something.

'Every now and again I slip up and buy something too young and Jo will tell me I look ridiculous.

‘It’s interesting as we do have different tastes. We can’t swap clothes as I’m a 16 and she’s a slim size 10.

‘Also, she’s not really a make-up girl at all whereas I could talk about it all day.’

She admits to frequent manicures in Debenhams in Oxford Street. And she has just experienced the classic female wardrobe nightmare – another woman in the same outfit.

She giggles: ‘We were at a BMA conference and a friend said she’d bought a new Monsoon dress. I said, “It’s not turquoise, is it?”

‘I thought, Christ – she’d look brilliant in a bin liner so there’s no way I’m wearing the same dress.

'Luckily, Jo flew up a black dress for me.’

Three weeks ago Michelle went through the first phase of extensive facial reconfiguration.

Her scalp was opened up and the skin pulled down so that her brow bones could be sanded down.

Her nose has been reshaped and cartilage taken from her ears.

Electrolysis and laser treatments have removed her facial hair. Soon, she will have her lower jaw reshaped.

But she is reluctant to go into more personal detail about how far the sex change will go.

She says: ‘There are other things on the menu.

'I’m not telling people what I’ve done because that’s my private thing. I won’t talk about my genitals.

‘What I will say is, whatever there is to have, I’ll probably have.’

People often think she must now be attracted to men. But a charm bracelet on her right wrist hides a discreet tattoo.

Inked in green and pink is the word ‘Jo’ coupled with a simple love heart – a touching tribute to the woman who remains by her side.

She said: ‘Gender dysphoria is nothing to do with sexuality – there’s no natural reason why my sexuality would change.

‘Sexuality is the biggest mystery anyway, and I was born attracted to women.

'I was also born female, although with the wrong genes.

‘The person I’m attracted to is the same person I was attracted to 30 years ago and that’s Jo.’

The couple are coy about their sex life, but they are still sharing a bedroom.

Emotionally, they are still dealing with the fall-out of Michelle’s decision.

‘We’re committed, working through this. It’s new territory for both of us.

‘It’s very exciting for me as I’m gaining myself but Jo would say she’s losing her husband.

'However, as Jo would put it, we’re a love match.’

Friends and colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive and understanding.

But her male colleagues have found it hard and some are struggling. Most of them don’t know whether to kiss her or shake her hand.

She finally plucked up the courage to tell her parents, both now in their 70s, last Christmas and both have been remarkable.

She said: ‘My dad, with whom I’d say I had, at best, an arm’s-length relationship, said, “Now I understand.”

'Those were his words.’

Jo’s parents have also reacted positively.

The next step is to go back to work. Last Thursday, despite the apparent support of her colleagues, she narrowly missed out on being re-elected as a negotiator for the GP Committee.

She may now go back to being a GP.

She says: ‘Although I haven’t seen patients as myself yet, the hardest thing was while I was in the limbo place, seeing patients as Stewart.

'That’s the bit I was acting out. ‘I’m now at my happiest point so far.

'I know there will be harder times ahead. But tomorrow is another day.

'I couldn’t have sat here 18 months ago and said that.

‘One of the things I was searching for in the black times was a good news story about transgender people, someone who had held on to their family, their relationship and their job.

‘And now I’ve got one of my own.’

Reference: Daily mail UK , By Jo Macfarlane
Last updated at 10:45 PM on 19th July 2008


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