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.
This Post Has 8 Comments
How refreshingly straightforward and honest.
Thank you! It is so important that you clearly express the truth – it is Not possible to change ones body completely, it will be in disabled in one or another way and depending on chemistry… The healthy body is – contrary – able to do almost everything, in reality both sexes can do the same, mostly it is social limits.
“unable to ever experience the pleasure of orgasm”. Exactly right.
When Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch, I think she meant the title to be largely figurative.
Now the trans movement are trying to make it a physical reality for many girls and women.
Spot on. Misogynist to their rotten core.
Thank you so much, Ajay, for telling your story. Honest testimonies like yours may save lives. I am following several people on YouTube who are de-transitioning after years of living as the opposite gender, who say that surgeries and hormones did not fix the struggle they had had with their bodies; it only introduced more medical needs and psychological issues they otherwise would not have had. None of these people are judgmental of these procedures, they are simply telling their own stories. The positive that has come from this is awareness of how many people struggle to fit in with what society has told them they must be. We need more education and acceptance that we don’t need to feel or behave a certain way simply because we were born with male or female genitalia. These procedures are handled way too matter-of-factly. As with any medical treatment; medications, hormones and surgeries should only be implemented after an exhaustive search for more moderate solutions. Carelessly prescribing surgeries and hormone treatments and bypassing a more extensive medical and psychological search into each individual’s situation is dismissive of peoples’ needs for the RIGHT answer for them. It should always be approached from the perspective of compassion and sincerely trying to do right by EACH PERSON AS AN INDIVIDUAL who does not feel comfortable in their bodies.
Something about being female makes an adult human female usually, but not always, more reflective, less impulsive, more curious to explore the consequences of her proposed actions. Thank you, Ajay, for telling us about your discovery of the kind of life and intimacy which you wanted. You were never seriously abused in childhood or adolescence and you developed a normal self-confidence. I am glad that your life worked out so well for you, your family and friends!
I am a “transwidow” – the abandoned wife of a transsexual man. He suffered repeated childhood sexual abuse which he has never talked about with anyone. And he is lazy about self-discovery. And he simply does not care about hurting the people who tried to love him before his behaviour became too confused and abusive, like a monster. He has hurt all family and friends – a psychiatrist called him “a psychopath” . Obviously I wish that he wanted to understand himself, but he in fact has no curiosity. He is now a recluse, living alone.
I won’t go further because this is not the right discussion group.
I would just like to say that your self-questioning got you to the right place in the end: Thank you!
I feel for you so much coming at these feelings from the other side, as an MTF leaning non-binary person…I have often grappled with the term “trans” and though I believe that were I growing up today with the resources that we have today, I would have transitioned as a teen, I know that I will not do so now. I have too much to lose even if I want it so badly. Finding self-acceptance is ironically one of life’s biggest challenges.
I didn’t choose the road to transition because I wanted to be a man – I did so to survive life as I knew it, in the 1970’s. There are those who called it the coward’s way out of a tough spot, but they had never walked in my shoes. Having friends call me a “traitor,” was a huge blow to my soul.
Being an obvious butch lesbian, put me in harm’s way many times. I was evicted from several residences after being confronted by the landlord, finding employment was almost impossible, and I was a target for any homophobe. Several confrontations became physical assaults; two were sexual in nature.
I saw the word, “detransition,” in print for the first time, when a woman who knows me better than just about anyone else, sent me an article on the subject. The idea made my head spin, and she knew it would do just that. She’s sure to have been smiling, conjuring up the visual in her mind, as she tapped the button on her keyboard, sending me an email that read like a pass to freedom from solitary confinement.
The article led me to conversations found on an online blog, being generated by women much younger than myself, and their decision to detransition came within the first five to seven years of beginning the process. I’ve been down this road longer than any of the women who were discussing it, had been alive!
I want to thank the younger generation for bringing this conversation into the light for me, however, their experiences are not those of someone older, who has lived the realty of decades. The present-day understandings of younger women, are in a time when viewpoints on the entire subject of being trans, are seen in an altogether different form, and are much more socially acceptable. Even the words “transgender,” “non-binary,” and “gender-queer,” are topics for a younger generation.
Detransitioning – just as a private thought – was an intimidating prospect for me. My first response to the idea was that of yet another transition, and I was already fatigued from the first go-round. When I began looking for more information, there wasn’t much regarding detransitioning as an older lesbian, and this became a serious frustration for me.
I’d been struggling with this self-inflicted dilemma for years, trying to find a way out. It’s crazy-making to think about all the things I did or didn’t do, the experiences I encountered, and the total rearrangement of my life, in order to deal with the daily push to be normal in this world; then the rules changed, and thirty plus years of flying under the radar and living in the shadows, became irrelevant practically overnight.
There are only two people in my post-1986 life, who know the severity of the angst and loneliness I experienced, during my years in transition. They know how much I missed the presence of lesbian women in my everyday life, and the numerous times when I was unable to join a conversation or attend a lesbian function, knowing my presence would not have been welcome. Anyone who knew me well understood, given the opportunity to “take it all back,” I would gladly do so.
I see myself as a human being having lived in an interesting blend of two worlds, both crashing, banging, and intersecting, on a regular basis. I’m sharing my story to illustrate a different journey as a lesbian in this world, which includes an unusual twist of gender fluidity that’s so natural to many individuals.
This fluidity allowed me to reclaim my identity as a Butch Dyke as I detransitioned; a title of great importance to me these days, just as it was in my youth. A friend of mine calls it the “third way.” Whatever the name, it was tremendously lonely, often amusing, very unsettling, and mostly exhausting.
Everyone’s decision to take the journey into transitioning is exclusive to themselves. No one can dictate how it must proceed, or know the end result for certain, including those who claim to be “experts” on the subject. They may know the technicalities and protocol of the transition procedure, but most will never understand the intricacies of personal involvement. It’s practically impossible to understand the effort it takes, unless a person experiences the process. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I wasn’t given any guarantee life would be better or that I would be more content. I can tell you it was a much more difficult way to live – mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Detransitioning took a heavy weight off my shoulders, giving me the inner peace that had been absent from my life, for way too many years. When the love of my life came into my world six years ago, she admitted that she couldn’t see me as anything but a proud Butch Dyke. I want to thank her for sharing her thoughts, they were the catalyst that brought me back to my original self. They were the sweetest words I’d ever had the pleasure to hear.