LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Stephenie Robinson, a British transgender police officer born Stephen, never felt like she was trapped in a wrong body and never dreamed of living life as a woman.
Robinson’s transition from man to woman began 35 years ago with one doctor’s diagnosis that the reason behind her unmanageable sex drive, suicide attempts, violent outbursts and occasional cross-dressing was simply because Robinson should have been female.
The doctor proposed three treatment options to the then-26-year-old computer engineer: brain surgery, aversion therapy or female hormone treatment.
“When I went to the (gender identity) clinic for the first time and was sitting around with a lot of male-looking women I thought ‘What am I doing here? This is a very strange situation to find myself in’ - it didn’t make sense to me,” Robinson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at New Scotland Yard headquarters in London.
“THERE’S NO WAY OUT OF THAT”
The classic transgender diagnosis wasn’t an easy one to digest for Robinson, then married with two little kids. It was as much of a shock to her as it was to her family.
“When I told them the diagnosis, all the family’s eyes dropped to the floor in disbelief. Everyone just went quiet and I had no idea what decision to make at that time. I was just absolutely flabbergasted that such a suggestion would have been made.”
Desperate not to be sent back to a psychiatric hospital, Robinson decided to try female hormone therapy. The estrogen treatments addressed her psychosomatic issues, which ranged from hypersensitive skin to a violent temper that, at one point, prompted social services to threaten to take her children away.
But Robinson was far from being overwhelmed with joy.
“The impact of estrogen taking is that you will feminize and there’s no way out of that.”
She had to face a decision that would have a profound impact on the rest of her life, and that of her family: continue the hormone therapy or return to a life with which she had been unable to cope and had tried to end several times.
“It was a complicated situation with no right answer to it, because whichever decision you made, someone was going to get hurt: the children, the partner, yourself, the family.”
Following medical protocols at the time, Robinson had to divorce her wife and leave the family to continue therapy at the gender identity clinic.
She still sees her now grown-up sons, ex-wife and four grandchildren.
“The priority was how do I survive and how do I continue a life and can it be turned around into a success story? The alternative was a permanent stay in a hospital, which wouldn’t help anybody.”
It took her a long time to adjust. “For a good 15 years it was like it was happening to me rather than it being me.”
She insisted the transition that she had never dreamed of was, after all, a good thing.
“All I know is that it’s cured me from the conditions I was suffering from and the stability and life that I have now far exceeds anything that I can ever remember.”
WORKING FOR THE UNLIKELY ALLY
When Robinson started her transition in the early 80’s, there were no laws to protect transgender people at work and she lost her job twice after her past was exposed.
After years of on-and-off job stints, including modelling and serving pizzas, Robinson secured a contract as an administrative assistant for the Metropolitan (MET) Police in London 2006. It was followed by a permanent role as a project officer.
“The MET was the first place I’ve ever been to that have actually had the opposite view in that (being transgender) was a very positive contribution that could be made to policing for the UK and for the MET,” said Robinson.
At that time the MET was looking to have representation on a national platform for transgender people to work in policing, Robinson said.
Now a sergeant in the special constabulary at Metropolitan (MET) Police in London, Robinson helps the force to better understand transgender community and assists during interviews when transgender people are brought into custody.
“Many of them are very surprised to see a transgender officer coming to the interview room and feel a lot more relaxed, so the officer doing the interview is actually getting greater communication.”
Robinson is also involved in the National Trans-Police Association, which provides support to police staff with gender-identity issues.
In 2008, Britain enacted a law protecting transgender people at work. But elsewhere in the world, many live in constant fear of abuse and assault while hundreds are killed every year.
Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM), a project coordinated by non-profit association Transgender Europe, said 226 transgender people were murdered in 28 countries worldwide over the 12 months to September 2014.
“If we could stop that by having police forces across the globe have representation of the communities they serve, I think we would have achieved something very ambitious, but not impossible.”