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The day my life changed

It was fine being 'Bea' once they knew I wouldn't be dressed like Danny La Rue

It was fine being 'Bea' once they knew I wouldn't be dressed like Danny La Rue

I have been transgender all my life but it was something that, for 40-odd years, I kept a closely guarded secret.

I was never public to my family or even to my partner, and that is the case for the vast majority of trans-people. For every trans-person you meet such as me, there must be at least two dozen others who are living secret lives. I'm very much the tip of the iceberg.

I came out in February 2008 after going through a series of problems and depressions over the whole thing. Eventually it all got too much for me and I had to do something about it.

My partner of 20 years was the first person I told. At first, she was supportive but as the facts of the matter dawned it became harder for her and we separated.

I started talking to a lot of groups about being transgender and was "out" in public. Then, about a year ago, I said to my employers that Bea was going to become a permanent fixture. I warned them before that, and circulated emails telling them what was going on with me.

I'm a tutor in post-compulsory education and I work in a lot of places. All educational organisations have policies in place on equality and diversity. Having said that, some were keen and others were more offhand, but I never got any hostility, and actually received a lot of support.

When I first taught as Bea, I was halfway between being expectant and terrified. The most important thing for me was not how they would react the first day, but whether they would be there the second day. I had this terrible worry that my students would take one look at me and run a mile, but my numbers have stayed solid and I have had good feedback.

Fortunately, I'm not bad-looking in a female role. I pass pretty well and that has helped a lot, in that I don't look too strange. I'm open to talking about it and saying: "I'm a trans-woman, I was born male, I'm going through transition". I always tell my students to ask me anything they want and they have tended to be sympathetic and supportive, and some of them are protective.

I'm lucky because the job I do is a fairly liberal one. If I taught in the state-school sector, I would have had problems - it would have had to be the role or the job, really. But for me, there is no difference to what it was like teaching as a male. The only thing I'm worried about these days are the Government cuts.

Some of my older colleagues who knew me in my male role have distanced themselves. They just couldn't take it and, I must admit, I have felt somewhat resentful; the reason being that I always expect teachers to be intelligent, bright people who can work things through.

But most of them have been great. Especially once they found out that I wasn't going to be weird and turn up dressed like Danny La Rue or someone from EastEnders. I'm just a woman like any other female member of staff, only about 4ins taller.

After spending 40 years in a disguise, trying to be male and not doing very well at it, I decided I had to be truthful, to myself and the people I was closest to. Once you do that, you want to take on a female life in a full-time way. I'm gravitating back towards my partner - we are now less than partners but more than friends.

At first I felt very much a different person, but now I realise how much continuity there is between the two lives I have got. I have learnt to respect my male past because it has made me the person I am today. We go through a process of evolution throughout our lives, and I feel satisfied and happy to have got this far.

Bea Groves was talking to Meabh Ritchie. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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