Illustration by Eleanor Doughty
"This was the only time we would meet up as trans people. A lot of us had lost faith with being able to get help medically."
It was Alice, really, who started it.
It was the beginning of the 1970s, such a different time for trans people. My best friend, Alice, went to her local doctor because she was feeling very low and quite suicidal. And Alice did actually sit on the top of somewhere debating what she should do.
Her doctor put her in touch with a Dr. Whittet from Scotland.
Dr. Whittet was a delightful guy. You know these very softly spoken Scotsmen? That was him. Dr. Whittet came all the way from Inverness to north Yorkshire, where Alice lived, to meet her sons to explain what the problem was; that she was a trans woman. But they wouldn't go to meet him. So he was left there in north Yorkshire, in a hotel. Alice never forgave her sons for that. She never saw them again from the minute she left to the moment she died. She left home and never returned.
After he met Alice, the doctor invited some trans people to see him in Inverness. In those days, we were known as transvestites. We were all more than just cross-dressers, though. He was one of the first to show us kindness. He was a well-spoken man and had a great sense of humor.
Dr. Whittet saw us as people who sometimes had negative articles in the press written about us. He felt sorry for those of us who just wanted to get on with life. He had no personal connection to trans issues whatsoever; he just knew there must be other people out there who needed help. He was absolutely amazing.
He invited a few other trans people over to see him. Most of us didn't know each other, but we all met in Inverness. We stayed at the same motel. It was mad, but a very exciting time because this was the first man that we had met who was helpful to us. He treated us like human beings, and he enjoyed our presence as well. He gave some prescriptions for hormones. He said, "Look, I am prepared to help you all, with any type of surgery that is available, that will help you. The only stipulation is... no newspapers, no media of any kind."
Illustration by Fox Fisher
There was about six of us that actually went up there. Alice was crazy with her music. Her father used to say, "Don't play black music in my house." She was mad for the blues and so she'd have that on loud as we drove. And sometimes the snow would be coming at the car; it was a V8 Rover. Alice was absolutely mad. One time she had a race from Glencoe with this guy. All the way up to to Edinburgh... through everywhere. She was a great driver.
Six of us came from the northwest. Others came from higher; the north east. The other people that were there were from the Isle of Skye. They were in the removals business. And one person used to be an actual Major General. She had one hell of a life. Small place, can you imagine? Isle of Skye: Everyone bitter, everyone against her. What she used to do was go drinking in a pub or a club, and just to get another drink, she'd take a flight to New York, so that she could sit and drink all the way over on the plane. Drink in New York, and then drink coming back. She was a total alcoholic. But she could afford to do it, so she did it.
We all met at this hotel in Inverness, and it was a bit chaotic, to say the least. Some of the rooms had bunk beds in, so there would be four people in one room and four people in the other. Everyone used to congregate in one room.
A lot of us had lost faith with being able to get help medically.
Sometimes we'd go for three days, sometimes five days—it just depended on people who were working and what time they could get there. The atmosphere was great. This was the only time we would meet up as trans people. A lot of us had lost faith with being able to get help medically.
We were over the moon to be able to go up there, and be treated for our issues like human beings. The last time we went up there, we all had a meal together and a few drinks, because it was a lovely feeling to just be there together. This time, he invited us to have a lunch with his wife and himself, before we went back.
We were so grateful for the doctor, but we ended up causing him a lot of problems. Three days later, we went back to England, and somebody phoned and said, "Have you seen the Daily Mirror?" One of the people who got this prescription for hormones was the one to divulge to the newspaper. It was somebody from Carlisle, another trans person, who wanted to tell the papers and made some money out of it. It was 1975, five years after we were first invited to see Dr. Whittet.
Alice phoned him and she said "I can't apologize enough for what's happened." He said, "But it's not you, Alice."
We had quite a few years of going to Inverness before this happened. He had got to know us well. We were all ready for whatever surgeries were available to us at that time.
He said, "You realize that it has to stop." We were all devastated, then.
After the doctor was exposed for helping trans people, everyone split from there. We all went back to living our lives, as best we could, in secrecy. I lost contact with everyone except Alice. We used to send Christmas cards and stuff like that for many years, and of course that was it.
I was 27 when I first got hormones, even though I'd lived as a man from the age of 16, just after I escaped from the hospital my grandfather put me into at the age of 14—after Mom died. (But that's a whole other story.) I had my top surgery before I had hormones. A different surgeon did it for me; he was a plastic surgeon and he did it for free.
I'll never forget that surgeon who helped to give me a flat chest.
I'll never forget this: He had a pack of Park Drive cigarettes and in them days, they were, you know, dockers' stuff. Really tough. So he said to me, "Have one of them." I said, "No thanks!" He said, "But you do smoke?" I said, "Yeah, but not them!"
I listened to his words. He told me, "In your lifetime, they will never perfect what you actually should have. Please try and remember and don't put yourself through lots of problems. It's very few who will actually completely their surgeries. I look forward to helping you. I'll see what can be done, but there's a lot to go through."
I'll never forget that surgeon who helped to give me a flat chest. My nipples are alright, too. He also helped anyone else I brought to him.
I found out recently that Dr Whittet had passed away a few years ago. Now Alice is gone too, I have all these memories I want to share. There were good times, despite all the bad.
My health is getting worse these days but I can still remember Alice so clearly, bombing down the motorway, blaring out the blues.
Traveling While Trans is a sister series to VICELAND's new show Twiz & Tuck, which follows the lives of a gender fluid person and his transgender best friend as the duo travel and take in all that is weird and wonderful along the way. Airs Mondays at 10:30 on VICELAND.
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