Sunday, December 21, 2014

Britain's first transgender military pilot - أول طيار عسكري بريطاني يتحول لـ«امرأة»

بالصور.. القصة الكاملة لأول طيار عسكري بريطاني يتحول لـ«امرأة»

القصة الكاملة لأول طيار عسكري، في المملكة المتحدة تحول جنسيًا لامرأة وتزوج من امرأة.

'Next time I work with you, I'll be a woman': What Britain's first transgender military pilot told Prince William as she speaks movingly of her momentous decision... and why she's frozen her own sperm to start a family
    Flight Lieutenant Ayla Holdom is Britain's first transgender military pilot 


    The 34-year-old worked alongside Prince William at RAF Valley in Anglesey

    One of her first work events as a woman was to the Royal Wedding in 2011

    Here she reveals how working in the RAF has eased her gender transition

أن "آيلا هولدوم"، 34 عامًا، عادت لعملها بعد أسابيع قليلة من إجراء عمليتها كامرأة، مضيفةً أنها كانت زميل الأمير "ويليام" في سلاح الجو الملكي في أنجلسي.


Search-and-rescue pilot Flight Lieutenant Ayla Holdom flashed her ID badge at the security gate of RAF Valley in Anglesey.

It showed her as she had appeared just a few weeks earlier… as a man. ‘In you go, Ma’am,’ said the guard. ‘Don’t worry, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last,’ his words acknowledging the fact that Ayla was returning to work as a woman.


 
Flt Lieut Holdom, 34, is a decorated RAF officer who is Britain’s first and only openly transgender military pilot. She has been, she says, ‘one of the boys as both a man and a woman’.

Among the colleagues she told in a series of emotionally gruelling one-on-one meetings was Prince William, who was at the time a fellow co-pilot within the tight-knit team of 20 at RAF Valley.

و جملة "آيلا" التي قالتها للأمير هاري: "في المرة القادمة، سأعمل معك كامرأة"، وإلى دعوة الأمير "هاري" لها لحضور حفل زفافه عام 2011.

Flt Lieut Ayla Holdom with her Sea King helicopter during a training exercise in the Atlantic in 2012 

Flt Lieut Ayla Holdom with her Sea King helicopter during a training exercise in the Atlantic in 2012

He showed support and understanding. The Royal Wedding in 2011 was one of Flt Lieut Holdom’s first work-related outings after transition. She attended as a woman, accompanied by her wife Wren, a doctor with whom she now lives in a lesbian relationship.

‘All my RAF colleagues were brilliant,’ she says. ‘I think they were surprised because I was pretty adept at pretending to be a man. I walked macho, I sat macho, I worked out hard and I like a bit of banter.

 

ومن جانبها، قالت "آيلا": "كل زملائي الطيارين رائعون، وأعتقد أنهم تفاجئوا ببراعتي عندما تظاهرت طوال هذا الوقت بأني رجل، فكنت رجلا مفتول العضلات، ومشيتي مستقيمة"، مضيفةً أنها وجدت منهم قبولا وتعاطفا شديدين.

But when I came back as a woman there was complete acceptance and empathy. Even old and bold warrant officers who had grown up in the days when people like me would have been taken behind the bike sheds for a kicking, came to congratulate me.

‘I can see why someone might think it’s been difficult. Men go to war, women stay at home and mind the children – that’s the traditional military narrative. But being transgender in the RAF has been, in some ways, easier than in civilian life.


 
‘The military has a policy and there are rules and what we do is adhere to them. It keeps things simple. Even this,’ she says with a smile.

The most striking thing about Flt Lieut Holdom is how far her androgynous elegance is removed from the cruel stereotype of a transgender woman. As a woman she’s neither confusing nor cartoonish; she is unmistakably feminine even if she was assigned a male gender at birth.

Ayla Holdom with her partner, Wren. The pair wed in a civil ceremony six years ago    

Among Flt Lieut Holdom's first work-related outings as a woman was the Royal Wedding in 2011 which she attended with her partner Wren (pictured left)

وأكدت، أن التحول الجنسي لم يسبب لها أي مشكلة في السلاح الجوي، بل إنه أسهل من الحياة المدنية، لأن الجيش له سياسته وقواعده التي يجب التقيد بها.

 Today she’s sitting in the quarters she shares with Wren at RAF Chivenor in North Devon.


 
With their cats, their aquarium, piles of books and a roast cooking in the kitchen, the couple’s home life is a picture of ordinary domestic contentment. It’s one they hope to complete with a baby of their own, born using sperm frozen before Ayla underwent transition.

Yet life was not always so stable. In her first newspaper interview, Flt Lieut Holdom reveals how she came close to killing herself due to social pressure to be a fit and handsome ‘silver-backed gorilla’.

She says: ‘It wasn’t me, it wasn’t honest. From being a teenager I felt a void inside me. It drove me to achieve, to join the military, to fly, to qualify as a search-and-rescue pilot, but it was never, ever enough, because my essential self didn’t correspond to my external image and who could live that kind of lie?



‘I knew I wasn’t a gay man, I couldn’t tick that box. But it is a huge step to ask yourself if you might be transgender because of the stigma attached to it.

'You know you risk being ostracised, ridiculed, belittled and made to feel somehow less human. You are the punchline in a big joke, or worse, still deemed to have a psychological condition.

‘You are considered a freak and you put your career, your family ties and your friendships on the line. That’s why you deny it, why you deny it even to yourself until the need to do something about it is so overwhelming it makes life impossible – truly impossible.’



By impossible the officer means killing herself. She declines to go into detail but she admits she contemplated suicide. ‘My whole life felt empty and worthless and in the end it came down to simple mathematics – either I could transition or I could kill myself.’

That she survived is down to two things: a marriage that was ultimately defined by love and not gender, and the support of the RAF.



My whole life felt empty and worthless  

She cannot stress enough that a military environment in which she is judged on her professional skills and not by her sexuality or gender has been an unexpectedly comfortable place to be. ‘It’s not unfair to say that women in the military are often one of the boys. Being gay, being trans, being a woman in a man’s world – they are all easier because this work is very task-focused.

‘People worry first and foremost about your ability to do the job.

‘I was worried I would have to surrender my flying career but I was wrong, just as my fears about losing the love of my family and friends were unfounded. I was quietly confident I would keep my marriage but I couldn’t know: Wren married a man.’



The couple, who say they were both bisexual, met in a ju jitsu class during their first year of university at Plymouth where the future Flt Lieut Holdom was reading ecology. ‘It was love at first throw,’ she jokes.

They were together for eight years before marrying six years ago in a civil ceremony at a Somerset stately home. By then Ayla was, with Wren’s support, already living as a woman outside of work and family events.

واعترفت "آيلا" بأنها احتفظت بالحيوانات المنوية لها قبل عملية التحول الجنسي، لتتمكن هي وزوجتها من الإنجاب.

The 34-year-old said being part of the RAF had made the transition surprisingly more comfortable

The 34-year-old said being part of the RAF had made the transition surprisingly more comfortable

She was born in Somerset, the youngest of three siblings. Her parents, Colin and Olive, ran a smallholding and let holiday cottages. The rural environment made it easier for their son to ignore the fact that he did not relate to the world as a boy.

‘I knew I was different from the age of four but I had no words of explanation.

‘The fact that I had a loving family made it easy not to press the question. But going to university meant leaving home and I spent all my time looking for the next thing, the thing which would complete me.’

 

At Plymouth she joined the university air squadron and from there she signed up for a short-term commission in the RAF. She completed her officer training at Cranwell in Lincolnshire, and then volunteered for search-and-rescue.

‘I am not a blue-light chaser,’ she says. ‘It sounds grandiose but I wanted to do a job that involved helping others.’

She joined RAF Valley in 2007 and was fully operational by the end of 2009, co-piloting a Sea King – the same role as Prince William – along with a pilot, a winchman and a radar operator. Today she works 24-hour shifts responding to calls from the coastguard, mountain rescue teams and the three emergency services.



The process of transition is over now, although it took two years, three major operations and several other procedures to achieve.

‘I did as little as possible because I wanted to stay operationally fit and healthy, to remain a fully functioning military pilot throughout, she says.

‘But if you are cursed with testosterone and a Y chromosome then you have to do what you need to to get yourself out of the door every morning and be accepted as a woman.’



To that end Flt Lieut Holdom has had laser treatment on facial and body hair, a hair transplant into her thinning hairline and breast implants. Like all women she worries about hair, make-up and clothes. ‘It makes it easier,’ she says, ‘for the world to accept you as a woman if you look like one, even though that shouldn’t need to be the case.’

She has had to jump through a series of legal hoops, including changing her name by deed poll to Ayla Zoe Louise.

She and Wren chose the first name together, the middle names were given by her parents. ‘They’re my parents – of course they had to choose my names,’ she says.

It’s only now, four years after she began transition, that she is willing to tell her story. ‘Why hide it?’ she asks.



‘Why reinforce the taboo? Being transgender is one of the last areas of prejudice.

‘It’s like race or homosexuality a generation ago and I hope that transgender people can elicit the same change in society today.’


The transgender community believes that 40 per cent of people attempt suicide in the years before or during transition. Flt Lieut Holdom was almost one of them.

Like all those in the military, her currency is courage. But no matter how many more search-and-rescue ‘shouts’ she answers, she will never do anything braver than discarding the man’s body into which she was born in order to live as the woman she knows herself to be.

كما كشفت "آيلا" في أول حوار صحفي لها عن تفكيرها في الانتحار بسبب الضغط المجتمعي الذي يجبرها على أن تكون رجلا حقيقيا، قائلةً: "لم أكن رجلا، ومنذ فترة مراهقتي بدأت أتجنب وأكره نفسي، لهذا حاولت الالتحاق بالجيش والطيران، ولكن هذا لم يحقق الصورة التي كنت أتمناها ولم أتحمل العيش في كذبة أكثر من ذلك".


Search and rescue pilot, Prince William, in action