Ajay Böhr is a retired university IT director now living in the Outer Hebrides with her dog Minnie. She is a lesbian who describes herself as ‘an old-fashioned butch dyke’ and has been with her wife, who is currently living and working in Germany, for over 20 years. They have two grown-up children. Ajay now spends much of her time getting involved in feminist politics and learning new things – current studies include marine biology, polar exploration and history. She is also experimenting with writing and is looking forward to travelling again to visit friends and family once covid restrictions lift.
Our thanks to Ajay for writing this account of her story for us and allowing us to publish it.
Lesbian testimony from ‘an old-fashioned butch dyke’
My name is Ajay, which is not the name I was born with (Katrina) but a name I devised myself from the name, Amanda-Jane, that my adoptive parents gave me. I can’t remember what age I was when I first started insisting that everyone use my new name, but I remember not answering to Amanda-Jane and as soon as I was legally old enough, I changed my name by deed poll. Clothes were a childhood battle ground too, and I have a shameful memory of biting my grandmother hard enough to draw blood when she tried to put me in a dress. I loved my riding outfit and the collar and tie of my school uniform but it was spoiled by the skirt. It was joyful moment when my secondary school at last permitted older students to wear trousers in winter.
I went to an all-female boarding school, both primary and secondary, and there were no male teachers. At home there was just my mother and grandmother. I didn’t want to be a boy but I envied the few I knew – I envied their clothes, hair, physicality, their masculinity. I knew I was not happy at a fundamental level with any of the things that being a girl seemed to involve – female clothes, toys, interests, ‘ladylike’ behaviour and career options. I wanted to be an engineer on an oil rig and my romantic day dreaming was not about boys but the other girls in the school. Unlike my school friends I didn’t want to marry Cary Grant, I wanted to be Cary Grant.
Puberty brought sexual feelings and intense emotions. I fell intensely in love time and time again with older girls at school and even some of my mother’s female friends. I don’t remember how I first heard about and understood what homosexuality was but I knew immediately that it applied to me. I read anything I could find to learn more – the Well of Loneliness, Stone Butch Blues and even The Joy of Lesbian Sex which I had to travel to the Gay and Lesbian bookshop in London to get.
I was eventually expelled from school and briefly sent to another one from which I ran away and lived rough for a while in London. I ended up being taken in by much older cousins who lived in Notting Hill Gate and I spent the 70’s immersing myself in lesbian pubs and clubs in London – Gateways, The Half Moon, Vauxhall and Union Taverns and working for my cousins’ company. These early adventures on ‘the scene’ included embarrassing, fumbling one-night stands which at least enabled me to slowly improve my sexual skills. However, I was very aware that I did not like receiving sexual attention or pleasure – only giving it. My female body, and especially by this time my large breasts, continued to feel very wrong. I still dressed in male clothes whenever I could and, just for the sense of satisfaction and completeness that it gave me would sometimes stuff socks or rolled up sanitary pads down the front of my trousers. I also got a thrill from shaving with foam and a razer (I still do). My later job as a computer programmer in the City, was severely marred by the rule then that women had to wear skirts or dresses.
I got involved in all sorts of lesbian and gay groups, like a Woman’s Place on the Embankment and the Gay and Lesbian Centre at Farringdon and gradually started to feel, if not comfortable, then at least grudgingly accepting of my female body – disguised as best I could by a masculine appearance. Although I have never completely accepted my female body – especially my breasts – it was the many amazing and supportive women in the feminist and lesbian community that I was part of that helped me realise that trying to be a man was not a solution and that I had a chance of a life as a lesbian.
Adulthood brought increasingly more senior jobs and ‘what to wear for work’ was a constant problem. Being ‘out’ as a lesbian made it easier but posh ‘black tie’ business dinners were a nightmare and I usually ended up trying to get away with wearing a tuxedo which I suspect now would not even get a raised eyebrow.
In my twenties and early thirties, I had an 11 year relationship with a woman who I had met at A Woman’s Place, but it didn’t last as she was desperate to have children and our attempts with sperm donors eventually brought too much stress for the relationship to stand. Then in my mid 30’s I met the woman to whom I am still married. When we met she already had a 4 year old daughter and a baby son from a previous, doomed-to-failure marriage with a gay friend. We moved from London to the countryside around Cambridge and I think we really were ‘the only gays in the village’. We made the effort to get involved in village life and we were mostly accepted, although I once overhead a neighbour whispering to another “Which one is the ‘man’?”
I always knew I could not give birth to a child myself. The thought of being pregnant just seemed ludicrous, it was something that a woman does, not me. But bringing up children as a step-parent has for me been the most rewarding and enriching experience of my life. They are now in their 20’s, one in the merchant navy and the other just completing a PhD and I am very proud of them.
If the opportunity had existed to ‘change sex’ when I was young then I know with absolute certainty that I would have taken it. Does that mean I was, am, trans? Even now, at 57, I do not feel comfortable with my female body and still from time-to-time consider getting a mastectomy – not because I want to be man – I know that it is not physically possible – but because my breasts are large, inconvenient and uncomfortable and have never felt part of me. I don’t think it is possible to change sex, only to achieve an approximation of the opposite sex with hormones and surgery. For some that is enough although I know some believe they can change sex and I respect their beliefs.
What upsets and worries me is that I think there are many young lesbians out there, who do not have the benefits of the lesbian community and role models that I did, who see being transgender as a way out of their misery. I ask you to consider my story and ask yourself if you really want to make this irreversible decision now, as a teenager, the most emotionally tumultuous time of your life? It will mean major, irreversible, permanent changes to your body that will probably make you infertile, unable to ever experience the pleasure of orgasm, and a permanent medical patient – and you will still only be a simulacrum of the opposite sex. I know for some that is enough, but make sure it is for you. My advice? Read everything you can get hold of on both sides of the debate. Read the stories of other lesbians and of de-transitioners. Learn about feminism and patriarchy. Engage in discussion and debate with those who challenge you. Listen to as many different opinions as you can. You owe it to your future self to take a properly informed and considered decision.