After a short, childless marriage, 40-year-old Geoff Harvey took the brave decision to fulfil his destiny and start a new life as Jenny. It wasn’t easy for the gentle giant to reinvent himself as a woman, but Jenny encountered more support and understanding than ridicule and abuse, and now feels that “the real me” has finally emerged. She tells Alan Cookman her story (The Sentinel)

IT WAS the scariest thing Jenny Harvey had ever done, but it was an inescapable turning point in her life.

On a sunny day in Stafford, she stepped out in female clothing for the first time.

Jenny knew that walking down a street in broad daylight dressed as a woman would be an ordeal – not least because she is 6ft tall and weighs well over 20 stones.

“I wore a long denim skirt, brown boots and a brown top,” she says. Taking a deep breath, she got out of the car and walked around the town, convinced that every eye would be on her.

“People did look at me because my walk wasn’t that great and I was new to wearing make-up. They looked, but they didn’t seem to care. I survived the ordeal unscathed.”

From being “totally buried in the closet” the former Geoff Harvey was now emphatically Jenny.

It was the fulfilment of her destiny, and she now says she feels happy and at ease with herself – more normal than she ever did before.

Jenny, who is 40 and lives at Meir, is a branch secretary of Unison, Britain’s biggest trade union, working with NHS personnel in Stoke-on-Trent.

Born in Stafford, she has one brother, with whom she shared an “unremarkable childhood.”

“I did suffer bullying at school, but not because of gender issues. It was because I was overweight and had a wonky eye

Jenny says that from the age of around 10 she felt “there was something about my gender that wasn’t right” but she didn’t know what.

In her early teens, she began to wear girls’ clothes.

“I felt relaxed and less stressed then, but sometimes I’d think: ‘My God, I shouldn’t be doing this.’ It wasn’t guilt or shame, just confusion.”

She couldn’t understand her emotions, but as a teenager she felt she’d love to live as a woman.

“I never thought it would be possible, so I buried those feelings and just got on with my life.

After school, which she left with the average number of O-levels and “a few dodgy A-levels”, she went to Liverpool Polytechnic to study physics.

She never finished the course, but despite being shy and rather awkward, she made friends of both sexes and enjoyed a normal social life

“I didn’t have any girlfriends in my teenage years, but I could make friends. After poly, I got a job in the NHS and met my ex-wife, Caroline. I met her through a friend and fell in love. We had a good marriage.

“My gender confusion was not so important until the marriage broke down, for other reasons, after six or seven years and I told her that I liked to dress in women’s clothes.

“She’d never suspected anything, so it was a shock for her, but she did support me and helped to give me confidence. Until then, I’d been totally buried in the closet, apart from contacts I’d made on the internet.”

After the split, she was Geoff at work and Jenny in the evenings, until the time came to introduce Jenny to her colleagues at work.

“Work is the defining thing,” she says. “It’s the transition point. After that, all your male baggage has gone.”

Workmates were shown photographs of Jenny, as she tried to prepare them for what was to come.

Jenny talked to her colleagues and they fully accepted the situation.

Within days, she was nervously giving a presentation to visitors from other hospitals, and found that humour and a refusal to be precious won over her audience.

Jenny, who is Unison’s assistant regional convenor for the West Midlands, also made an impressive appearance before 3,000 delegates at the union’s annual conference in Bournemouth.

“You risk losing a great deal doing what I’ve done, but I’ve been lucky enough to work in a very liberal, accepting environment.

“Now my life is complete,” she says. “I feel like I belong. I feel more normal than I ever did.”

She was not so naive as to expect that she could make the transition with attracting a certain amount of ridicule or abuse.

“There has been a sprinkling of that but surprisingly little and nothing I couldn’t deal with,” she says.

One of the trickiest problems is unravelling the confusion when telephone callers speak to a Jenny with a man’s voice.

Jenny is receiving hormone therapy and attending the Charing Cross Hospital in London, awaiting a referral for gender reassignment surgery.

Meantime, she says that coming out as Jenny has made her realise how unfulfilled she was before. “This is the real me,” she says. “People say that I’m a better human being as Jenny

And as far as romance is concerned, she says she’s in no hurry.

“I’m generally very happy and certainly not pining to be attached, but if the right person came along…”

For information and advice, contact The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Network Stoke-on-Trent by emailing info@gaystoke.org.uk or by logging on to www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/gender, where you can also read Jenny’s own online blog.

You can also contact Trans-Shropshire on 01952 240099 (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 10am – 1pm) or email info@trans-shropshire.org.uk

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