• Stephanie Ashton

Work Is A Four Letter Word

Cilla Black, 1968

As an honouree Liverpudlian I am quite proud to make reference to Cilla, she was a Merseyside treasure. For my part, I say honouree because I have never lived on Merseyside but I did live in Lancashire for a time and as a “die-hard” Liverpool FC fan have been in the city many times. The origin of supporting Liverpool went back to my childhood. Growing up in the Northwest in the late 1970s, the majority of boys at school supported either Liverpool FC or Manchester United. Given that all the cools kids supported the Liverpool and my annoying brother supported the Mancunian jokers, I naturally chose to be a Liverpool fan. Interestingly, I remember watching United vs Liverpool on a black and white 14” TV in my parents’ kitchen in 1980 and saying to my brother “can you tell who anyone is?”

Okay, so I admit talking about the tribalism of football supporters is an odd place to start a tgirl blog, but it is super relevant to how I ended up becoming female in my head. Stay with me on this one people because it’s going to get deep…

Throughout my childhood I was raised to think family was important but never developed any particularly strong views about gender “right” or “wrongs.” Of course, there were people around me calling visible targets like Freddie Mercury a “poofter” and such like. Fortunately, such blatant homophobia was largely ignored by young-me as these comments didn’t come from anyone who was of any great influence in my life. In fact, growing up in the late 70s and early 80s there were an increasing number of men on television who were either camp or making comedy out of pretending to be women. If anything, it appeared that a man dressing up as a woman was largely regarded as a humorous thing to do.

So, I maintained a pretty open and fluid view of the world. No indoctrination that trans or homosexual people were “bad” or that strictly puritanical heterosexual was “good.” This was quite an amazing outcome really when you consider I was raised in one of Britain’s roughest towns in the cultural wasteland of the post punk era.

Fast forward 15 years, I have finished School and University, and moved away from home to start my first professional job in Manchester. All excited with the freedom and opportunities that awaited, my spirits were soon dampened with the reality of a ridiculous workload and a chronic lack of money. I was brought up to believe if you applied yourself you would get on, so I naturally went into overdrive at work in a bid to improve my life and move up the social ladder. Happily, I jumped in the ring to fight with all the other Alpha Dogs for my position and a much-vaunted promotion.

At first it was fun working all the hours, playing 5-aside football, drinking late at weekends, and chasing “skirt.” It was also a novelty hanging out in places like Barca and seeing all the celebs going about like Becks, Danni and the cast of the Chanel 4 TV show “The Word." However, the gloss of this situation soon wore thin. I started to observe with honesty the men I was now surround by at work and now socially. In a moment of awakening I realised something very important that would change my life forever; these men were awful.

Now I appreciate I have made a very broad statement that needs some justification. So, I will provide it. The majority of these men voiced decent principles if I am honest but I soon noticed their actions betrayed their often fine words. Examples? They would wax lyrical about duty to family, but would happily ignore loved ones at home in preference to going down the pub to “socialise.” Some guys talked about their wives in a loving way, but actually regarded them as trophies who were soon forgotten once they got into a strip club. At work, the supposed leaders of the group talked about team work and “looking out for each other." However the truth was they had no consideration for their staff, no empathy, avoided difficult conversations, and were terrible communicators. And let us not forget that most of these merry men I worked with talked with derision about any male who didn’t measure up to Stallone. Gays, trannies and effeminate men were all the subject of private and public mockery, banter and snide remarks.

Darling, just let me just send Jackie in Logistics a quick thanks for the great work she has done for the team

Now at this stage in my life I had not quite reached the point of accepting I was transgender. But regardless, I felt very uncomfortable in the presence of people mocking the community that I belonged too but felt too weak to defend. Then I had the realisation that regardless of their “laddish” friendship towards boy-me, I simply did not belong in their tribe. It would be me who was the fraud - not them. In reality it was not my place to judge them for being atypical male ape descendants, their masculinity threatened by anything they didn’t understand. No, for their apparent failings the issue was with me; I was no “mans” man. I didn’t want to go around Mikes house on a Saturday afternoon to help him fit a kitchen worktop and then get pissed in his back garden on home made beer. No thank you, I am a white wine girl.

So, it was a slightly odd and confusing time in my life. I clearly had testicles but didn’t belong in the same tribe as everyone else with testicles. Not ideal.

Fortunately, and to my lasting joy, there was a positive influence developing in my life to counter the negative male influence at work. And that was the influence of my female colleagues. Yes, in a diametrically opposed direction to the men, the females around me were pleasant, respectful, inclusive, engaging and brought people together. Importantly for myself the females also did not attack other minority groups – ever. Yes, I am not going to say that the ladies were perfect and didn’t have their moments, typically once a month, but in general terms the female were the people I looked up too. The female leaders were inspirational in behaviour and the younger ladies inspirational in their fashion and outgoing social behaviour. These were the people I wanted to befriend – and be like in every way conceivable.

And so, I very quickly decided I wanted to join the female tribe. And in the main they have let me do so; even though I have testicles. Very inclusive.

And so, my work environment quickly became a real pivot point in my personal development. I stopped drinking “with the boys”, joined groups that exposed me to more creative and diverse people, and enjoyed dressing as a girl socially in a guilt free-way. I was becoming happy because I was authentic. Over a period of time my apparent isolationism from the male world would be commented upon by the fellas and I would become the target of some criticism for not wanting to talk cars, lawnmowers and other lad crap. I will never know if that was because I had been spotted parading around on Canal Street in drag, but if I had it was certainly never mentioned; most likely as the guys would have felt too awkward to mention it. Regardless, by that stage I had enough self-belief and banter to deal with anyone inside or outside of work; I could verbally shred anyone with the audacity to expose or confront me regarding my "activities" external to work.

Since that time, I have met many great leaders in my working life who are male, female, gay, lesbian and even transgendered. See, the men aren’t so bad after all :D The reality is that modern-day values and behaviours in most multinational companies has weeded out many of the worst luddites. What is amazing and very positive, is the fact that LGBT leaders are now securing top positions and being openly successful in UK business. This is a big step forward even in the relatively short time span of my working life and may eventually see Stephanie grace the once empty desk next to you in your office.

I am glad to say that I have also developed a stronger voice during my career and openly stand-up for all minority groups in the workplace. Where I was once scared of the ape descendant’s mockery of anyone they viewed as lower life forms, I am now unafraid to pull up even senior people for expressing a lack of diversity and inclusion. This is something I have done on two separate occasions and if anyone wants to know one of the funny stories on that I will write about it in another blog. Please understand that in stating my Diversity and Inclusion credentials I am not looking for a brass star or a Napoleonesque portrait of me on a white charger, carrying the trans flag across the battlefield. No, not at all. It is much simpler than that for me and why the equality battle is much bigger than LGBTQ+ in my mind. My view is that I am just a human being who believes that all other human beings have a right to be treated fairly, equally and without discrimination. And I am not afraid to stand up for those values.

So that is a little bit about how the workplace changed me for good, hopefully for the better. I have a number of good friends who have now “come out” at work and I plan to do likewise. I will write further blogs on how I get on in the future as events unfold :D