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Wednesday 13 December 2017

'I had a loving marriage but I felt like I was deceiving my wife' - Galway's 'oldest transgender' woman

Christine Beynon on RTE Radio One.
Christine Beynon on RTE Radio One.
Christine Beynon

A Galway transgender woman has spoken about her 12-year journey to self-realisation.

Christine Beynon claims she is Galway's oldest transgender woman at 74.

But despite knowing from a very young age that she was born as the wrong gender, Christine said she only found the courage to being her process of transition when her wife passed away in 1998.

"I'd say I know from about the age of 10," she told Today With Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio One.

"But I married and had a family, a stepson and a daughter. I felt like I was suppressing my identity. I thought it would go away by getting married. It went away for a little while and then it crept back into my life."

Christine was born in the UK and met her first love and wife, who was from Galway, in London in 1964. They married in 1970 and moved to Ireland where Christine built the family's home in Claregalway.

Christine kept her true identity a secret throughout her marriage and her wife passed away from cancer in 1998 without ever discovering the truth.

"When she went to do errands I used to dress in her clothes. I used to get some of her underwear out... if she went to Dublin for the day or town, that was my window. I wouldn't go out though, it was just within the house.

"I felt comfortable in female clothes. I just felt liberated but I didn't want to put my marriage in jeopardy. I didn't want to tell my wife.

"It was a secret that I lived with all my life."

Christine had a "stable and loving marriage" but said that she felt like she was "deceiving" her wife during their time together.

Even after her wife passed away, it was eight years before she told anyone the truth.

"I came out in 2006, I had a guilty conscience that many years," she said.

"I went through a period of depression after my wife died. But one day, I thought I could sit here and mope all my life or move on. So I decided to move on and become Christine."

However, coming out wasn't easy and Christine said she lost all of her old friends as she transitioned.

"They never bothered with me. They never came to the house after they found out. All my friends I knew in my male mode have gone. I've turned my life around and all my new friends accept me as Christine," she said.

"It's a lonely life, you're told that when you start to transition. But so be it. I'm living my life for me and not for them."

Christine said that she has experienced negative reactions from people but in general the reaction has been positive.

She believes that Ireland has become a more tolerant and progressive society ever since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2015.

"I know I don't pass as a woman. I don't want to hide away. The more we're out and people see us, the more it becomes the norm," she said.

Growing up in the 1950s and 60s was an isolating experience for Christine, in a society that wasn't always sensitive or understanding to people who identify as a different gender.

She's confident that most young trans people today have a more optimistic journey ahead of them, thanks to the information and support available.

While Christine knew from the age of 10 that she was born as the wrong gender, she warns that parents of transgender people should wait until their children are 16 before they begin the process of transition.

"I say to parents try to understand where they're coming from because they're starting to know the difference from about 10 or 11. Parents should understand the wishes of the child but I think it's wise to wait until they're 16."

In an effort to inspire other transgender people, Christine set up an exhibition that is currently on show at the Galway Arts Centre.

'Becoming Christine' is the work of artist Amanda Dunsmore and curator Liz Burns.

It features selfies and sound installation of her 12-year transition journey and Amanda is also filming a new video portrait.

Christine said: "I just want to show people that I'm out there and if I can [transition], anyone else can do it."

  • Becoming Christine is showing at the Galway Arts centre until Saturday July 8 and will premier at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in November 2018.
  • For more information please visit here.

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