Hairdresser Monique Carrick (40) never felt comfortable in her body growing up as a boy in 1980s Dublin. She began her medical transition three years ago and says she finally feels like her true self
“I was into very feminine things when I was growing up. I loved Barbie dolls and My Little Pony and I used to walk around with a tea cloth on my head and pretend it was long hair.
Little boys can be into feminine things and not be transgender. But I just loved feeling feminine and I used to be raging that I was born a boy.
This was back in the 1980s and the other kids in Crumlin, where I grew up, didn’t exactly respond positively. As time went on, I became kind of embarrassed about it, but it was a hard thing to shake. From about the age of 10, it was very hard for me to accept my femininity and I used to try and get rid of it to be more socially accepted.
At the age of 18, I came out as a gay man, which was extremely difficult. There was a huge stigma to being gay back then. You were seen as weak and it was almost as if you weren’t a real person.
Because of the shame, a lot of gay men who grew up in that era tried to make themselves more masculine. They’d be checking themselves, making sure they were standing and talking in a more masculine way so nobody would say anything to them.
I lived most of my adult life as a gay man and yet, when I was in gay clubs and bars, I used to feel like I didn’t fit in. I had great gay friends but I just didn’t feel… I just knew that this wasn’t me.
I used to kind of brush the way I was feeling under the carpet but, still, I wouldn’t get into relationships or anything like that. I didn’t like to be romantically involved with anybody. It was all just a social thing for me. It was a very confusing time and I was nearly in a tailspin.
I was on the party scene for a few years and I got heavily into drugs and drinking. At the age of 20, I ended up in the Rutland Centre.
When I went into treatment, I hadn’t a clue who I was. I didn’t know what emotions were going on with me. And I suppose that was the start of me peeling back the layers and getting to know myself better.
It was also the start of me becoming more comfortable with being part of the LGBTQ+ community, because I was never comfortable with it before that.
I came to a place where I wanted to be my own person, my own authentic self. But still, it was a long time before things really changed. After treatment I was still avoiding romantic relationships and just kind of existing. I knew there was something up.
Things started to shift around six years ago when I went to see a movie called The Danish Girl. It’s set in the 1920s and it tells the real-life story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known people to have sex-reassignment surgery.
Watching that movie I could see how it opened up Pandora’s Box for her. And it was a huge realisation for me. I remembered as a child how I felt. I remembered how I used to dress up in women’s clothes and how I loved everything feminine.
Around the same time, on Instagram, there were a lot more queer influencers coming through and we were starting to hear more about transgender people. That’s when I think it started to subconsciously sink in with me.
I had a friend in London so I asked her if I could come over and dress up and go out to a club. It was a huge step. Prior to that I was always trying to make myself as masculine as I could. Sometimes my gay friends would dress up in women’s clothes, just messing at house parties, but I would never get involved. I was actually quite anal about it.
But when I dressed up that time in
London, something happened. I felt very liberated. I was expressing femininity again, and my confidence grew stronger.
After that I loved dressing up and putting on makeup and having my nails done. I was obsessed with it, yet I was still kind of in denial. And I was confused. I didn’t know if I was transgender or if I was just dressing up at the weekend.
In terms of dating, there are some straight men open to having a relationship with a trans person, but a lot of men keep everything behind closed doors. A lot of straight men have this fetish with trans women so they don’t really see you as a person. They see you more as a sexual object.
Straight men aren’t really educated about transgender women. A lot of them think being attracted to one means that they’re gay, but they’re not.
When I started dressing up, I would take photographs and upload them on social media. I was kind of letting friends and family know what was going on with me.
I felt a lot freer in myself when I was doing that and then, as time went on, I just felt more myself. I felt like I was actually living instead of existing. I wasn’t hiding, and it just felt so good.
It was around that time that I took the name Monique. I was watching this documentary about a drag-queen pageant in New York called The Queen and there was a trans woman of colour in it called Crystal LaBeija. I admired her because she fought her corner and then she went on to start the ballroom scene in New York. So when the name Monique was mentioned in that documentary, it really resonated with me. My old name began with an M too.
It took me a good four years before I openly came out as transgender and, you know, to realise that I actually was transgender. I started my medical transition three years ago and I’ve been doing feminising hormone therapy since September 2019.
When I look in the mirror and I feel masculine, I’m suffering from gender dysphoria. The hormones make me feel more feminine. If you’re taking feminising hormones, like I did, they soften you up and make you more hippy and feminine-looking.
In my case, the weight went to other places as well. But that has a lot to do with genetics, and the way your body responds to HRT.
Of course, you have to watch your mood and your mental health when you start hormone therapy because it’s almost like you’re putting your body through a second puberty. You’re more emotional and you’re kind of like a teenager again.
Still, they’re an extremely important, positive step in a trans person’s medical transition
I’ve also had a breast augmentation and Feminine Face Surgery (FFS). I’m happy with the changes I’ve made so far in my transition. I may have bottom reconstruction surgery down the road but I want to make sure that I’m in the right place and I’m mentally prepared for that. I have my whole life to do it and you have to take it slow, because it’s a huge step.
I was lucky that I was financially stable when I started transitioning. I was in my 30s and I was working so I could financially support myself.
But not every trans person is in that position, especially trans adolescents. The waiting list in the Irish healthcare system is three to five years and they can’t go on hormones until they see a psychologist, and they haven’t got the money to buy them privately.
Should children and teens be given more time to explore their gender identities? It’s not black and white. Kids do go through phases because they don’t know who they are. But you have to support your child; you can’t just dismiss them. If your child is coming out and saying they’re transgender, I think you have to let them explore that, just as you have to educate yourself on what it is they’re going through and reach out to the right support groups.
As for me, I have found my authentic self and I’m a lot happier and content. I was born a transgender person and this is always who I was meant to be.”