My story is one of transitions; from Catholic to agnostic; from Labour to Conservative; from RAF to student; and from man to woman. A thread does run through them all and I will, in my own way, try to explain how they are related. Firstly, let me start off with a simple biography.
Careers – RAF and Computers
My childhood was spent growing up in north London during the 1950s and 1960s as one of four children, an only boy with three sisters, in a devoutly Roman Catholic Irish household. My mother qualified as a nurse in Bethnal Green during the 1930s, where she worked during the Blitz and war years. My father worked on the railways whilst studying as an aerospace engineer at night school before becoming a design engineer. This was an era where the Irish were seen as the unwanted immigrants and ads for room and flat rental commonly included the terms “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”, so they scrimped and saved and bought a house in what was then a run down area, Tufnell Park, and took in lodgers to cover the mortgage. Given their background, it should also be no surprise they were also Labour supporters with the only newspaper in the house being the Daily Mirror.
My primary education was at a local Catholic school where I passed the 11 Plus and went on to the attached grammar school. It was at this stage that problems started to arise, at which point they withdrew me and sent me off to Catholic boarding school in Ireland where I finished my education.
I mentioned my father was an aerospace engineer; one of the perks of his job was that he received tickets to the Farnborough air show each year and, for many years, took me with him. I developed a deep love and interest in aviation. My eyesight was such that I knew I would never be accepted as aircrew, but I hoped to have a career as close to flying as I could. So, in 1974, I applied for a commission in the RAF in the Fighter Control Branch – and was accepted and passed both officer and controller training.
For those who have seen the film ‘The Battle of Britain’, the role of Fighter Control is performed by those sitting up high, watching the plotting tables and scrambling and controlling the fighters; though it had moved on several generations and using radar screens instead of plotting tables. At one level it is controlling individual fighter formations and being paid to play video games for a living; at another it is like playing three-dimensional chess and taking decisions to scramble fighters and tankers hours in advance to have them in positions hundreds of miles away in order to intercept a threat. In this case the threat being Russian bombers as, during the period up to 1988, we were intercepting them over 400 times a year as they approached and flew with the UK Air Defence Region.
I eventually made the decision to retire from the RAF in 1997 and finally left in 1998. This was for various reasons I will describe later, but the date itself was mainly driven by it being the last optional retirement date I had before being committed to work until age 55 – and thus my last chance to start a second career.
My final tour in the RAF had been working at RAF High Wycombe in the then UK Combined Air Operations Centre, in charge of all the various computerised systems and I felt my best chance of second career was in that field and was, eventually, recruited by a multinational to work on the design of the new NATO system, NATO ACCS based in Paris. I subsequently found myself based in Madrid for several years working on a new system for Eurocontrol before eventually ending up working for several years back in the UK working on the E-Borders for the Home Office.
All the above came to end in 2010 when the Home Office terminated the E-Borders contract and, following a year where I was involved in closing down the programme, I was finally offered redundancy and retired – for the second time.
By this stage I was already living in Brighton, having bought an apartment in 2010 at the encouragement of two of my sisters who live locally. It was here that the next stage of my life began.
I mentioned earlier that there were reasons why my parents decided to send me to boarding school in Ireland. Whilst I can no longer ask them, it seems obvious it concerns about my sexuality. I had always been a quiet solitary child and had never formed any friendships with boys my own age, preferring to surround myself with books. At age 12, however, I had formed an infatuation with the leader of a local gang and spent my time roaming the streets. My parents were obviously worried I might be gay and thought the priests and Ireland would sort me out. Remember, this was the age of Alan Turing where homosexuality was illegal and led to imprisonment, and a devout catholic household where it was also seen as a mortal sin leading to eternal damnation.
I can honestly say the next 5 years were the worst of my life. The school was also a seminary for the training of priests. This was the start of the “troubles” in the north, where many of the seminarians originated and who regaled the classes with stories of British brutality. As the sole “British” student, I was both ostracised and regularly beaten. When I eventually left the school in 1972 I vowed as I walked out the gate that I would never go back, and I have not. I also developed a profound scepticism concerning established religion.
I also knew I liked boys, but was not gay and I liked girls, but was not attracted to them. Which was a conundrum.
Over the next decade the conundrum only grew. I dreamt of being married and having a husband and children, rather than wife; and I dreaded being approached by girls suggesting we date and I gradually built a wall around myself. My defence mechanism was to sit at the corner of the bar with a book and a pint and studiously avoid interaction with others. When I did feel an attraction to someone it was invariably another male, but the attraction was never sexual and I can honestly admit that during my entire RAF career I never sought or was attracted towards a homosexual encounter. But something still hurt inside me.
It is difficult in these days of the internet for those of younger generations to understand how someone can fail to research personal problems and find information. But these were the days where the only real sources of information were the library and the newspapers. Public libraries would certainly never stock books discussing sexual, never mind homosexuality or other “deviant” subjects; and references in the newspapers were limited to lurid reports in those such as The News of The World concerning obscene acts in public toilets and arrests. So it came as a revelation in 1984 when the story of Stephanie Anne Lloyd appeared in the Daily Mirror.
Stephanie Lloyd was the first openly transgender person I had ever heard about and reading her story suddenly made everything about myself into focus. When she started her salon and mail order store the next year, I immediately wrote to her asking her to send me any magazines or books she had on the subject, under plain brown wrapper please – and thus unwittingly sealed the end of my RAF career.
Two years after my letter, I was abruptly summoned to the office of my then Station Commander and, upon entering, was introduced to two RAF Special Investigation Branch officers who produced my letter and stated that I was the subject of an investigation and was under formal warning. How they obtained the letter I will never know, but would presume the salon was a regular target for police and intelligence operations and my letter had turned up in their files. This was followed by a search of my quarters and belongings and several long interrogations followed, after an interval, but a summons to London and a further long interview with an RAF psychiatrist.
The eventual outcome was that I was advised that any chance I had of further promotion was gone, but that I would be allowed to continue to serve as long as I ceased to take any interest in such matters. The other option was immediate dismissal from the RAF and loss of my pension and other benefits. In the circumstances I obeyed, and nailed the lid again for almost the next 30 years.
In retrospect, I now see that I spent the remainder of my RAF career in a state of self-hatred and depression. On the surface my life changed little, I still sat in my corner and read books to the exclusion of all else, but I drank even more heavily and provoked several angry arguments with senior officers which I can now see as attempts to get myself dismissed. One thing I knew was that I never expected to live to see 40 or retire. It was when I reached 40 that the realisation came to me that I was going to have to find something to live for, and my eventual decision to retire.
You may wonder why I progressed down the same path of denial once I had left the RAF and joined Raytheon. The first reason is ingrained habit. When you have been in the closet for so long the fear of leaving is almost paralyzing. The business environment was also largely populated by many of the same people I had worked with for many years and the fear was that the result would the same as if I had come out in the RAF – which eventually turned out to be true.
As previously stated I moved to Brighton in 2010, and was finally made redundant in 2011. It was then that the excuses I had been making to myself started to crumble. I think I had been unconsciously preparing myself anyway, as I had, in the previous 12 months, lost around 10st in weight.
At the urging of friends, I finally approached the Clare Project who offer assistance to those who consider that they are transgender; and I also approached my GP for referral to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). It was at this stage that I found out how convoluted, badly funded, and overworked, the NHS gender services are. The waiting list for the only GIC for the South-East, in London, for a first appointment, was over 2 years. I was, thankfully, able to discover the Exeter GIC had, at the time, only a 9-month waiting list – albeit with a 4-hour train journey each way for each appointment. In the meantime, I used my redundancy money to start going to a private clinic to start the process rolling.
Having started down the clinical path, I knew I would also have to start down the path of the Real Life Test. The RLT means having to live totally in your preferred gender for at least two years. This involves not only how you dress but also your name and all other documentation. Within weeks I had changed my name by deed poll and acquired a new driving licence and passport, and changed my details with agencies such as the Inland Revenue and had discarded my male wardrobe and started to acquire my female wardrobe. (I said started, do not ask me how many pairs of shoes I now possess).
Whilst I was still seeking new work, I also had no delusions about how my CV would now be received. Wishing to spend the years of my RLT and transition in a non-judgmental atmosphere I also applied to Sussex university, to take a full time degree in Politics and International Relations; hoping finally to graduate as Josephine.
Thankfully I was accepted, and eventually graduated in 2017.
As it proved my misgivings regarding employment were justified and I can tell you that, since starting my transition in 2012 and having had my name submitted by recruitment agencies for literally hundreds of positions, I have been invited for a grand total of…. one job interview. The world is still a cold place for those in the TG community.
On paper this seems so simple and straightforward, but please consider the fact that I am a strong willed survivor, and lucky. The suicide and self-harm rate amongst transgender youth is about 30% and many need years of psychological treatment before reaching the stage of RLT, let alone surgery, and also need many years of subsequent assistance.
Labour to Conservative
I started off by describing how my family background was firmly Labour, in fact my eldest sister is married to someone who was a Labour councillor in Haringey for over 30 years. I was also a labour supporter in my youth and am reminded of the quote, by Francois Guizot, “not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head”.
For me the point at which I changed from being a Labour supporter was during the 1970s with the rise of Militant Tendency and their attempt to take control of the Labour party whilst Jon Lansman was working within the CLPD on their campaign to get Tony Benn elected as the leader. While I had been a supporter of their policies, the fact that they came so close to allowing an avowed Trotskyite group so much power repulsed me.
That opinion was reinforced by the Labour 1983 election manifesto, the so-called “longest suicide note in history” in which they promised to cancel Trident and commence independent nuclear disarmament. Please remember that, at the time, I was serving in an air defence bunker, which in the depth of the Cold war, was one of the first three targets on the Soviet attack plan and due to be hit by a 250Kt nuclear warhead!
The final straw was the take-over of Liverpool council by Militant in 1983 and, under Derek Hatton; their illegal budget of 1985 and, with the auditors threatening bankruptcy, redundancy notices being delivered to workers by taxi.
I will admit also, to having been a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, who I consider turned around the state of the UK economy and politics, which had been descending into chaos. I also take pride in the fact that Labour considers Thatcher a villain for her actions against them. Considering John McDonald also considers Churchill a villain, she is in good company.
Standing for Office
None of the above, of course, explains why it is now I have put myself forward to stand as a Conservative councillor.
The first explanation is a matter of my career. Whilst I was in the RAF, I was not allowed to be political or join any political party and, having left the RAF, my work was mainly based abroad and I was in no position to offer my services. The second is personal in that, for the last few years, during my transitional, I did not feel ready to offer my services.
As to why I did finally join the party and am now standing in Brighton, we come back to why I abandoned Labour and became a Conservative in the first place, namely Trotskyite infiltration of the Labour party, Militant and the take-over of Liverpool council.
There is an eerie similarity between then and now, when you compare Militant and Momentum, and the role of Jon Lansman. The only difference being that this time they have successfully taken control of the party through dominance of the NEC and are not at risk of being purged as they were in the 1980s. I would also expect a similar manifesto to that of 1983 to appear prior to the next general election.
Perhaps more relevant, and closer to home for me, is that Momentum have taken control of the local CLPs in Brighton and, during the last 9 months, have deselected all sitting councillors who do not support their policies; their intent being to take control of Brighton council in the election in May. I am horrified at the idea of Brighton being in such hands and have no intention of allowing history to continue to repeat itself and intend to fight to the best of my ability to stop them.
If I succeed, who knows. I might get a taste for politics…..
Josephine O’Carroll is the Conservative candidate for Brighton Queen’s Park in the 2019 Local Elections.