I am reading Becoming Julie a beautiful story about transgender life, and the author, Julie Clarke, has kindly agreed to do an interview for Gay Literature; this won’t come out all in one go, but a few questions at a time, so… Watch this space!
Julie Clarke‘s extraordinary journey started in a small town in Scotland, where she grew up, anatomically, as a boy in the post-war years. The path to self-awareness has been a long and tortuous one; the full realisation that her experience was unlike that of everybody around her didn’t come light lightning from the sky, but slowly and painfully. Reading her book, I find it interesting how prejudiced people started singling her out as ‘different’ even before she realised who she really was…
Along the way, she has become a drum player, worked as a firefighter and met situations that we can all identify with.
Hello Julie, thanks for agreeing to this interview. For those who don’t understand what it really means to be transgender, could you explain how it felt to be a woman trapped in a man’s body for so many years of your life? How’s growing up feeling you were ‘allotted’ the wrong sex?
As a child and then as a young adult, I knew there was something wrong with how I felt with my body, but didn’t really have a grasp as to what it was, but I just knew I was a girl. As I got older I began to realize what it might be, but didn’t know what to do and that’s when my inner turmoil really started in a big way. This became a battle that lasted for over 40 years and it nearly destroyed me on quite a few occasions, I thought that only my demise would be the only way to escape.
When younger, you fought against your nature and tried to be ‘like other men’, even becoming a firefighter to try to forget, how hard was it, and what made you finally decide to become a woman?
Firstly, I didn’t decide to become a woman, that had already been decided for me. I did all these stereotypically male things as part of a denial, as well as to try to conform to what society said I should be doing. I eventually gave in to my female side after misguidedly trying to show everyone that I was a man, because that was what was expected of me.
You say your book, Becoming Julie, is not about transsexualism, but a story about you going through life; could you give some more detail about this distinction please?
Indeed, Becoming Julie is not a book on the subject of transsexualism, far from it in that sense. As I don’t go into the nitty gritty politics of it or try to analyse what it is, how and why. What Becoming Julie does is tell what it’s like to be on the face of it be a “normal” person, but struggling with the overwhelming anguish it brings, while all the time trying to conceal it through fear of what the consequences of being discovered would be. I really do feel that this makes the book quite unique in that sense, and is something that not just the LGBT community can glean something from, but the wider public will be enlightened to the plight of those of us, who through no fault of our own have taken an alternative path in life.
Looking at the cover of your book, I see the clear blue of the sky and see, the wake of a boat, you looking into the horizon photographed from the back and a lifebuoy. Do I detect symbolism?
I’m glad you’ve asked this question. You are absolutely right, the book cover says something very important. A lot of people have commented on it, saying, they got it too! A lot of thought and discussion went into it between me, my publisher and their graphics and arts department. We all agreed the cover had to be powerful, it had to say something, make a statement, symbolise something about my journey, and its outcome.
Much of my long and arduous journey through life was dark and negative, but over many years I fought that off. I turned a corner and came out the other end full of life and bristling with enthusiasm and positivity, ready to take on anything life could throw at me.
The cover of Becoming Julie depicts all of that. It shows me watching my past disappearing in the wake of the ship and over the horizon forever. The clear blue sky along with the bright, bright sun heraldsvexactly what I now feel, which is an amazing feeling of positivity, optimism and contentment, and looking enthusiastically to the future, and the two seagulls are very important, flying high and free in the wind. The lifebuoy was thrown to me in 2004 when I first stepped out of my front door, reborn as Miss Julie Clarke.
When you wrote Becoming Julie, did you have a reader in mind, and who do you think would enjoy your book now it’s out?
Writing the book has been an amazing experience, but when I started it I didn’t have anything in mind as far as who would read it was concerned. However as it developed and became something that I thought might be credible and even important I began to wonder who might be interested in it. All I wanted to do was tell my story candidly and honestly. Yes I want those in the LGBT community to relate to it, but I feel I can do them and me a greater service by enlightening those who have no knowledge of the life of a transgender person. So the book is aimed at the general public, young and old, and I feel I have already made some progress in enlightening them. The book was launched in three big Waterstones shops in Oban, Edinburgh and London, with me giving talks, readings and book signings. All were a big success and well attended, with one being filmed for BBC news, which went out on two consecutive nights on BBC Scotland news programs. I’ve also done two radio shows, both of which were in-depth interviews. I’ve also featured in six newspapers and magazines. The response so far has been all positive with great reviews with people saying they had learnt something from my story. The book can be found on the autobiography shelves in bookshops and is even sold by many Sainsbury’s stores around Scotland. So the answer to your question is, I feel my book will have wide appeal to many from many walks of life. I do think that Becoming Julie is the book that people can relate to as its not heavy going, but it tells of the trials and tribulations of a transgender life in a very clear and honest way.
In Becoming Julie, in my opinion, you focus more on the people who have been supportive to you. How would you suggest to someone earlier down a similar path to yours should approach people about their real identity? Do you have any tips, for example, people to avoid and how to ‘break the news’ to friends etc?
Yes, you’re right Martin, in this book, I do focus more on those who were there for me, but before I answer your question I’ll explain why. Becoming Julie is fundamentally a positive story with a positive outcome, and although I cover some very dark and difficult times in the book it is ultimately a success story. I wanted to show that even against overwhelming odds, it really can be done, so that is why I focus more on those who were brave enough to stand up for me, even at the risk of being alienated themselves. However, I’ll cover the darker and more controversial side of my life in my next book and I’ll, em let’s say, expose those who abused me as a youngster or tried to corrupt and take advantage of me. In short, I wanted Becoming Julie to be a book that everyone could read and take some understanding from, somebody said to me recently “It’s a trans book your granny could read”.
Okay, to answer your question now. To anyone who’s read Becoming Julie it’s probably very obvious that the people I confided in where predominantly females. Now, I don’t want to get too controversial and I mean no disrespect to the men in our lives, but in my case I always found women more understanding, more sympathetic and easier to talk too. Men on the other hand, I felt were more worried about what others would say about them “siding” with someone like me, they thought that others would see them as being soft or that they’d be seen as having transgender tendencies themselves, this was a situation that I encountered throughout my life.
The other and main reason that I found it easier to talk to females is that I saw myself as being one of them anyway, so these are the main reasons that my confidants were females.
However, all of that is really just my own experience. So, the main thing I would say to others at the early stages of their journey is; try and work out who in your family or a friend has maybe worked out your situation, but hasn’t changed their attitude towards you, they may have been asking you probing questions about stuff you’ve been doing, and you’ve been evasive, maybe it’s time to put them in the picture, before they put 2 and 2 together and have come up with 5, give them the true story. It is hard but it does clear the air, and it will be a huge wait off your shoulders. The most difficult thing of all is if no one has an inkling as to what you are going through, then you have to decide who to approach and that can be daunting to say the least. Before I found my confidants, I racked my brains for years trying to pluck up the courage to approach the right person, but in my case they presented themselves at the right time in my life. I’m really sorry if that’s not a lot of help, but you’ll know the right person or persons when you’re confronted with the right opportunity at the right time.
You have received quite a lot of interest in the media; did you expect it or has it come as a surprise?
Yes, you’re right, I’ve received an amazing amount of media interest in my story so far, 7 newspaper/magazine features 2 live radio shows and 2 BBC news programme interviews/features, absolutely amazing, and that’s not over yet as I’ve just been booked to do another live radio show with Dublin City FM, on 18th January. They also want to do a radio documentary on my story, yes amazing indeed.
The sheer amount of media interest I’ve received so far has come as a bit of a surprise, but I’ve embraced it wholeheartedly, and if it brings the plight of us transgender people to the attention of the general public that is really great, I really do think that Becoming Julie has the potential to reach the mainstream public in a way that other trans books have not done so far, so we must find a way to publicise it to its full potential.
Have you left out anything in the story, or have you tried to be as truthful to your life as possible?
Yes, I’ve left a lot out, but I have much more to say and will cover the more controversial and darker and upsetting side of my story in my next book, the title of which has been more or less decided, but I’m sworn to secrecy for now. I have already told my story truthfully and given away more about my life than most folk would want too about there lives. I have to say I’m really happy and contented with that though.
Stay tuned for more…