Originally published 26/05/2020
Fresh from her listing in the DIVA Visible top 100, it was time for me to sit down with the inimitable Jane Fae, to chat through why people see her as controversial, talk about her views on Trans people in the workplace, and what she would change if she was in control.
Tell me about your coming out story and where you are now as a person?
Coming out for me, once I realised, was instant. For a period of time before, I was becoming more troubled – I couldn’t pinpoint it but I knew it something to do with my gender. However I grew up at a time when being Trans wasn’t a thing, men were sensationalised in the media as cross dressers, doing so for sexual kicks, which wasn’t how I felt – it wasn’t about dressing up.
It got to the point where I could barely function in the office with men around as I felt so ”estranged” from my assigned gender, which was odd as I presented as a man and I really didn’t know how I identified. At the time I was working as a writer, and many of my stories focused on sexuality and personal experiences – I interviewed a person who was Trans and talked about discrimination – part way through they turned to me and said ‘But you are Trans?’. I almost fell off my chair as I had sudden clarity – I realised they were right.
That sounds like a profound moment! How did this affect you in your life?
Well, when I had that moment it was mid-2009, and I spent the rest of the year not really knowing what to do or where to go. I had a real internal war – it was as if I was mentally splitting into two people. I sought solace online, where I was able to be Jane, and she was starting to take shape, so much so that I had internal arguments between Jane and the old me. Once I had realised what I needed to do I found I couldn’t wait for the NHS to medically transition. Medically transitioning was important to me, although I realise it isn’t important for everyone – we are all different. So I went to a private clinic to transition. They were great and after my initial consultation in 2010 I went straight out and bought a skirt.
I underwent a fairly rapid transition over 15 months. In some ways it was traumatic, going from experiencing male privilege to then feeling fearful and seeking safe spaces. Not surprisingly, in the early days I was also regarded as a ‘bloke in a dress’ which was confronting to many, who threated physical violence. When I came out to family, some took it better than others – I ended up splitting with my partner, for other, non-trans reasons. My son certainly felt a backlash at school – one school parent banned their child from interacting with my son, and the school were extremely unsupportive – essentially my son was left to fend for himself. Eventually we made the decision to change schools and the experience was very different, much more supportive and we were made to feel like we mattered – it was a real contrast.
How did your transition at work go?
I was pursuing two quite separate career lines during my transition: on the one hand working as a consultant in marketing and IT, on the other, growing as a writer and journalist, and doing a mixture of writing about sexuality and the law. Both my transition and my writing caused friction with the more conservative companies I was working with, as my profile was considered to be controversial – a Trans woman writing about porn and sex! – and so they got nervous. I wasn’t accepted for certain contracts – International and Middle East work was a no-no, as women and gay men were not accepted and Trans didn’t even ‘exist’ over there – I don’t think it does even now.
However I persevered and it helped my relationships with men, I no longer felt so at odds with them, as I was no longer pretending to be one.
One of my first experiences after fully transitioning was when I was working for a tech magazine. I went in for the first time as Jane and was accepted straight away. People got my name right, and were really respectful for the whole day. I remember my boss at the time riding the lift down with me at the end of the day remarking ‘Well that went OK, it’s a shame about your nail polish colour!’ I was really pleased, we were close and it was a real ‘confiding’ moment, and he was right – it was an awful colour!
You have talked a lot about being trans at work. Has your experience changed over the years?
Early on I saw sexism so blatantly, in a meeting with me, another woman and two men. The men were talking about what we women would be doing, as though we weren’t there. On top of this, we were the experts, and we had a better idea of the work then they did.
I also had a time where an editor consistently used my deadname, then went on to use a composite of my new and old surname. This felt very odd, and almost as though he was using a form of his own internal logic, rather than respecting my wishes. Having said that, it didn’t strike me as anti-Trans, more ignorant.
Most of my workplace experiences were positive, but when I’m interviewed about it these tend to be more fraught! I had one notable incident were we were discussing a Trans person dying, which then moved to the interviewer telling me how brave I was in coming out, and then asking questions about whether I have had sex as a woman, all on live radio!
Has the Trans narrative changed in the workplace? Transition policies are in effect, but do they work?
I think the discussion needs to be around how much control do you give to people – how empowered do they need to be? Perhaps we need to give a bit more credence to people rather than a set of rigid guidelines. As a Trans person I know my feelings, life experience, personality and workplace is going to be different from the next Trans person – we all have our own personal journeys, and our employers need to have the flexibility to work with us, rather than fitting our path into those fixed boxes. I truly believe that having mutual trust and being able to have honest and heartfelt conversations with the person transitioning is the best way. We need workplaces to give options and active support.
And what about Non-binary and genderfluid people? The media often doesn’t talk about them.
That’s true, and perhaps it has been that being non-binary is less acceptable or more confusing in some way, especially in the media. The backlash isn’t great – but some people always find a reason to have a go at people. We need to remember that the world is changing, that change is good, and people will either change with it or not. It’s not so long ago that people didn’t believe that lesbians existed! Tribalism is the overriding issue, and I find it really puzzling. I realise that people find comfort in being with those who are reflections of themselves, but this shouldn’t be to the exclusion of all others. I really hope that ruling intelligence will always prevail.
What’s next for you?
Working on my writing – I find that Lockdown has been very beneficial to my creative spirit.