'I was afraid of the shame I'd cause my family'
VANESSA LACEY will be 50 next year but, far from dreading the milestone, she is looking forward to a new decade filled with personal contentment.
Vanessa, who was born and raised in Waterford city, was identified as male at birth but "my gender identity for as long as I can remember was female".
She lived most of her life as a male, going to a Catholic boys' school and marrying a woman with whom she had two children.
Six years ago, she came out as transgender and now lives as a woman.
But the sense of tranquillity she feels now has been hard-won, and only came after years of heartache and turmoil.
"I seriously considered taking my life because I was afraid of the shame I would bring on my family," she said.
"I left school at 14 after failing every exam because I could not concentrate.
"I conformed again and had two wonderful relationships with people, both female, and I was married and I have two wonderful children.
"My children have supported me. My mother died two-and-a-half years ago, and prior to that did not talk to me."
Vanessa worked as a French polisher for 17 years, but gave it up to study counselling and take a degree in psychology.
"Because of my own experience I became involved with the Transgender Equality Network Ireland and saw the need to have support systems for the parents and families of people who are transgender," she said.
Vanessa, who is the network's health and education officer, is now involved in training healthcare staff who work with transgender people.
She recently trained managers and drug and other addiction workers and gives talks in schools.
But she warned there was still a long way to go to eradicate "transphobia" in areas such as GPs' surgeries and hospitals which leads to discrimination and fear.
"Education is the key to ending transphobia. I would like to see age-appropriate books not just in second- and third-level but in primary schools. That will ensure that children are aware of their gender identity."
Call Transgender Equality Network Ireland on 01-87335 75 or email firstname.lastname@example.org