When I was little, my mum would always have a Friday night out with her girlfriends and my grandma would come and babysit. Watching her get ready to go out – even though I was supposed to be a boy – was a ritual I loved. It was the eighties and her style was very Princess Di meets Dynasty meets Howard’s Way. I remember the smell of her Elnette and Dior Tendre Poison vividly.
It’s funny what you learn from your parents, isn’t it? My mum was the first of her friendship circle to divorce her husband, but she certainly wasn’t the last. A good 30 years before Taylor Swift was lining up her friends on various beaches, my mum had her very own #squad.
What I learned – implicitly – is the importance of female friendship. All through my childhood, I saw that women have each other’s backs in a way that men rarely did. Men, I observed, come and go, but your friends will be with you through thick and thin.
As a ‘little boy’ I was ‘placed’, for want of a better phrase, with other little boys and told they should be my friends. This did not work. I found it very hard to care about bikes or skateboards or computer games. I was allergic to sports of any sort. Stereotypically male pastimes did absolutely nothing for me. In fact, when role-playing Scooby Doo, I was always Daphne. If it was He-Man, I was Teela.
My body, my name and my clothes are all different, but I am exactly the same person who has always thrived in the company of women.
As I got older, whoever I was meant to be socialising with, I’d inevitably seek out female company. The only way I could do this ‘as a boy’ was to have little playground romances, although all I really wanted to do was collect troll dolls and brush their hair.
Everything changed when I was in high school. I had a pretty rough time with bullying – most of it, I hasten to add, because I was shit at being a boy. My voice, the way I looked, the way I walked, were all too ‘girly’. No kidding, all I wanted to be was a girl, so that makes sense. I eventually ditched my male mates who were responsible for much of the bullying (often the way, isn’t it?) and replaced them with my best girlfriends, Kerry, Phyllis and Beth. At the time, they adopted me and – having no knowledge of transgenderism – I came out to them as a gay boy.
They were so wonderfully supportive and school finally became fun. We are still close, seeing each other through a myriad of life’s ups and downs. From school, to university, to the workplace - whatever my name, I’ve completely relied on the support of my girlfriends: Olivia, Sam, Kat, Nic and Sarah Lea, not to mention all the wonderful female authors I tour and do events with.
I always compare myself to a stick of rock. Not just because I’m thin and minty, but because running through my core was my true self – Juno. That core, the real me, has always been there. Fundamentally, I haven’t changed at all. My body, my name and my clothes are all different, but I am exactly the same person who has always thrived in the company of women.
In the past, I was terrified at the thought of losing friends on my journey. But now I realise, anyone who isn't accepting of my new exterior, isn't deserving of what I have to offer as a friend on the inside. I’m so lucky that all my old pals – although probably a little surprised and shaken when I first told them I was transitioning – have stood by me, and then some. In a way, it feels like we’re all adapting together. They’ve tried so hard (some of them have known me for 20 years) to use the right name and pronouns. And I couldn't be more grateful.
It's why I wanted to use this month’s column to give them all a great big, and heartfelt THANK YOU. Your support has meant the world to me.