Old iron lined stairways and a reception that smelt exactly like a Travelodge. The majority of patients that sat at the seats that lined any valuable space against the walls or those standing at the desk appeared to be well on their way to ‘becoming’ male and nearly all of them were probably an average of half my age. Talk of testosterone levels flew left and right from a gang of four standing at the desk. It was if numbers on paper had become more important than the life-goal. I was probably wrong.
Inspirational photo posters hung on the walls, domineering the spare space as décor, of people who had successfully transitioned to being whole-heartedly male. It seemed I was out weighed from the start but as I glanced down the corridor, past reception and towards the closed doors of the consultation rooms, the walls had an equal number of morale boosting people who had become female. They didn’t do anything for me, I thought, they just felt like another label. As they say a picture says a thousand words. In retrospect I can see why they are inspirational just like most of the patients in the waiting room that were full of confidence, aspiration and hope.
It had been a refreshing summer morning start with the hint of a crisp autumn air. The sun was out which meant I wouldn’t be driving in the rain. The clinic was at least two and a half hours away but I decided to leave an extra hour early. I was out on time at 7am and well on my way. That cool morning sun had soon turned to a skin tanning heat through the windscreen as the traffic came to a stop-start crawl with an electronic motorway sign reading ’30 minutes’ and an icon of an upturned car. Some forty or so minutes later I passed that car, stuck in the centre lane with a smashed in front. I always think at those moments that I’m glad I didn’t leave a few minutes earlier or I may have been involved in that accident; it made the delay seem less annoying.
After the second hold up and checking my sat-nav it seemed I should get there with enough time spare to park but I decided when the estimated time I’d get there hit within ten minutes of my appointment time I would call them. As I got closer to Greater London I clicked the mobile onto hands-free and called them. The voice mail picked up and informed me in a way that basically said, ‘the office is closed.’ There didn’t appear to be a way to leave a message.
As central London approached as it does in it’s heavy manor of density and diesel fumes I slowly made my way around the centre of Hammersmith with short dashes to each set of traffic lights when the phone went. It was the clinic responding to the message I had left with them the day before to confirm my appointment. “You wanted to confirm the date of your appointment.”
“I just wanted to check my appointment was still okay for 10:45? I’m just around the corner now.” I explained – given that if my appointment was cancelled for any reason it would be a bit late anyway.
There was a sort of confirmation between us but the signal wasn’t the best and within a few minutes I was on the high street passing Charing Cross Hospital and looking for the nearest side street to the clinic.
When I was researching where the clinic was I had these thoughts of the large nineteen seventies grey concrete mass of a building that is Charing Cross with the busy circuitry of people of an ant hill and full of pioneering work from it’s links to the Imperial College London. The reality of the gender clinic is what appears to be rented office space a couple of streets away above a chain metrofied supermarket in a high street in southern Hammersmith. On the face of it there was little medical glamour attached to the London stock facade. On arrival though I was facing something that was about the rest of my life, possibly one of the most important moments of my life and with that the location and the building didn’t even cross my mind.
I found a parking space practically opposite the entrance to the clinic and jogged to the nearest parking meter and leased two hours from Hammersmith and Fulham. I hit the buzzer for the door – nothing. I pressed both buttons alternately and eventually someone answered. “Is this the gender clinic?” I enquired.
“Yes, come on up. Give the door a push.”
And that was that. I had arrived. I trekked up that old staircase to a modernised waiting room and had arrived right on the button of 10:45am.
Registration was just confirming the details they already had and then a twenty minute or so wait for a clinician to appear from the corridor and invite me down. It started with generic questions and some very personal questions and analysis of a trip through the history of how this all began and my life while he typed it up furiously at the keyboard. It was easy for me. I’d already been through the whole process in detail with a local psychologist since some time in 2012. In the moments where I waited for him to catchup my attention would be grabbed by the busy street below through the window. Life buzzing by and people with their own problems and stresses. Constant traffic, other cultures, someone wasting money in Ladbrokes, early lunch at Cafe Nero across the road.
It didn’t matter though that this was a brief tour of my life because he had me pegged to a T by the end of the session and despite any brief distraction I was completely there in the moment. This was so important. I wasn’t nervous about the session, it was just another appointment to me in that respect but it was what the future may hold that was nerve racking. He knew exactly what the answer was and in hind sight, given I didn’t know what to expect from this first day at the gender clinic and what possible answers I could get given all my previous local therapy, he told me what my situation was, what I had to do next. He looked at me, smiled, eyes wide and told me knowingly. He could have just held a mirror up to me and said, ‘you know who you are and what you should do next. Take a look. What is it?’ It was that simple, but it took someone to say it back to me. A mirror alone was not enough.
I was surprised how positive and inspirational the session was. I suppose I expected some kind of more safe and held back process; albeit for the proviso hung on to the end of every suggested course of action that only I know what I want.
When I left the room I suppose I felt a little confused in that everything we spoke about needed time. Time for things to sink in and to think about what it all could mean. It’s not important what those details are, after all what was said in that session was personal to me and these things are unique to every person that attends a gender clinic. After the appointment I returned to the waiting room where more waiting is needed for another appointment to be booked. A new database system in place was being slow and everything needed to be crossed checked which ended in another fifteen minute wait. It was time I had to notice other new people arriving from all walks of life. Some on their own like myself and others with a supportive partner or parent. It is an amazing place to watch, a mixing bowl of people and lives full of colour and both indecision and aspiration.
Another date was made that is so far in the future that it went beyond any date in my diary. The only formality to complete was a blood test for the records at that big grey building from the seventies a few doors down.
Until next time.