Justine Smithies is a transgender woman bidin in Cruden Bay, the smaa North-East traditional fishin toon, wi her wife an ae bairn. She warks as a marine electronics engineer on ships. Baith her wife an job predate her surgical, legal an social transition tae trans-womanhood. She gied us permission tae engage wi her on a puckle issues aroon trans in general, an the lived experience o bein trans in Scotland’s rural North-East. 

Transphobia is endemic in Scotland. An I amnae scrievin that fae ma ivory-tooer. I’m fae a totty wee village whaur the cultur is conservative, an onythin that dauners awa fae the straight gait shouldnae expect tae be acceptit.

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Sae I’ve grown up transphobic. I ken I amnae ma lane. Wi trans-fowk makkin up ainly 1 in 5000 Scots, maist o us havnae met a body wha identifies theirsels as a trans man or trans woman. That’s how I wis on the Skype tae Justine in Cruden Bay, tae ken mair, tae challenge ma auld-farrant prejudice.

“Growing up the media ainly ever portrayed trans fowk as men in dresses, an ridiculed them,” Justine telt me. “But I wis aware that I didnae want tae people to see me as some kind of a ‘freak’, which is how trans fowk were portrayed in thae days. I wis a bit o a loner at scuil. There were ane or twa lassies I’d hing aboot wi. I wasnae comfortable in ma body, I wis slopit-shoudert…I wis never guid at the fitba either… the teachers used tae tell me I ran like a girl. If only they knew!”


Sae Justine kept ticht-lippit aboot her - then, his - urges an desires. She left the scuil, flittit tae Scotland fae North Wales an met her wife.

Like mony trans fowk, Justine becam suicidal. Ae nicht, lang efter her marriage tae Julie, her Scottish wife, an lang efter the birth o her bairns, she - then he - contemplatit daein awa wi hersel. “I didnae want tae dee as him, tae dee as a man” she explained. “Sae I cam oot wi it tae Julie. It wis either live as a woman or no live. An luckily for me she stayed. I thought I’d tyne ma hoose, ma wife, ma bairns, ma job. But it wis risk aa that an live or I couldnae be here onymair.”

Her doctor suggestit fir her tae flit awa fae the North-East. “He thought that the fowk here wadnae understand.”

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Justine’s warkin as an engineer on ships raised a curious issue. We aa ken there’s a rammy aroon transgender women haein access tae female toilets. But whit aboot transgender women gingin ontae male-ainly fishin vessels? Justine haed tae gae ontae mony sic vessels, whaur traditionally in the North-East women arnae alloued on fir superstitious reasons.

Needless tae say, nae aabdy wis initially acceptin. “At the stairt some o them wernae happy. They’d walk aff if I cam on board.”

But owre the years, things hae changit. Certain boats banned Justine fae enterin them. Noo thae same boats gie her a haun ontae the ship, cairry aa her gear fir her, as they wad dae fir ony ither quine.


Justine with wife Julie

The help is needit. The surgery stapt her testosterone production, an hormone treatments ate awa at her muscle mass. She is noo weaker than her wife, whaur aince she wis a strang man. She sees this as bein a correction o something wrang wi her gestation. “Whan I was in the womb, something went haywire with male genitals. I’ve aye been a woman, never had hair on my chest or face.”

Whit, then, I askit, is the source of Justine’s womanhood. Gin it isnae a womb, a vagina, female body shape, DNA etc, then whaur does it come fae? Justine didnae really hae an answer. “Thon’s a difficult ane…” she said.

 “I think [womanhood] is a state o mind” she telt me. “Aabdy’s definition is going to be different. A lot of fowk think its aboot genitals. But that’s no true. Some trans fowk get the surgery an some dinnae. But you can be a woman an hae a penis. You dinnae need the surgery tae be a woman.”

Unprompted, Justine began talkin aboot the increase in young fowk identifyin as transgender. “There’s mair bairns identifyin as trans, but that’s no cause the trans movement is ‘turnin bairns trans’. Its cause it’s easier tae come forrit noo. 

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Justine is richt tae cry transgender as a ‘movement’. The vanguard o the movement is in America, whaur a puckle vocal, an unco crabbit ‘trans activists’ seek oot an attack whit they perceive o as ‘transphobia’ warld wide. The movement has an acceptable core: treat trans fowk wi respect an challenge transphobia. But fae oot thon trunk grows less universally acceptit branches o thinkin.

Ane o the mony questionable tenants o the movement is the desire tae gie puberty blockers tae bairns. Puberty blockers essentially pit a stap tae puberty, an can be gien whaur the bairn self-identifies as sufferin fae Gender Dysmorphia, that is whan they see theirsels as haein an identity at odds wi their physical body. There’s certainly mair bairns bein seen tae suffer fae Gender Dysmorphia.

Justine wad hae loved tae hae access tae puberty blockers. Houiniver, ainly atween 10% an 30% o Gender Dysmorphia cases survive adolescence, wi the vast majority o dysmorphic bairns realignin wi their born gender. Intervention wad therefore trap young fowk in a phase they wad naiturally itherwise pass oot o.

Social media is mibbie guilty o gien self-appointit spokespeople fir trans owre muckle credence, an gien the impression that trans issues are pairt o an extremist online movement. This isnae true. Trans issues are fundamentally local issues, aboot social cohesion, aboot the acceptance o trans neebors intae the community.

Social acceptance in Cruden Bay wasnae quick fir Justine, but it is noo developin. She gaes tae dance classes wi her wife, yaises female public toilets, an generally cuts aboot livin as herself, an doesnae get muckle resistance.

There are mony conversations aheid, an mony prejudices an opinions tae challenge on aa sides. But it maun aa be done wi respect fir the fowk involved, wi patience an wi unnerstaunin.


This is the latest article by Alistair Heather published by The Herald in Scots. Click on his byline above to see more.