Technically, I was still a man. This was five year ago, long before my gender reassignment surgery to become the woman I am today. But dressing up in drag was the idea of a friend who said it could be ‘practice run’ for my transition.
Talulah-Eve, 24, is a TV personality, model and influencer from North London. She was the first-ever transgender contestant on Britain’s Next Top Model. She shares her transgender journey with JILL FOSTER and explains why being transgender does NOT mean she’s a drag queen…
Standing before the full-length mirror, I felt a surge of something I’d never experienced before – pure, unadulterated happiness. Dressed in black leotard, pink feathery skirt, high heels, make-up and long wig, I finally felt like ‘me’.
At first, I was unsure. For me, drag queens are men who take on a female identity to entertain the crowds. You see them at holiday camps in their full make-up and outlandish clothes. They’re like clowns.
What I was feeling as a transgender woman ran so much deeper than that. My transgender identity means everything to me. I’m a woman born in the wrong body. This is who I am and I didn’t want to play around with my identity for fun and games.
However, I plucked up the courage to try it – and I’m so glad I did. Because becoming a drag queen, even though it was only for a few occasions, finally allowed me to see myself as the woman I’d always wanted to be. I was attractive as a woman. I thought I looked like Beyonce. It gave me a confidence that very few transgender women have when they start their transition to know I was doing the right thing.
I was around eight years old and growing up in Burton-on-Trent as the only child of a single mother when I realised I was different to other little boys. One Christmas, I asked for yet another Barbie doll and my mother got quite angry. She’d been patient with her ‘feminine little boy’ for years but now, enough was enough. She wanted me to do football and karate – things that other boys enjoyed.
It was very confusing for me. I loved dolls, sparkles and traditional ‘girly’ things. I’d always wanted long hair but mum would take me to the hairdressers every two weeks for a cut. In the bathroom at my gran’s house, I’d wrap my hair in long towels and pretend I had flowing locks.
Although primary school tolerated my feminine behaviour, it was a different story entirely at High School. It was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to hang out with the girls and do gymnastics and dance. Instead, I was forced to do rugby and football with the boys. I had no friends of either sex and would sit in the toilets on my own at break. By the age of 12, I planned to kill myself and developed an eating disorder. Thankfully, Mum discovered my suicidal thoughts in my diary and spoke to the school about how they could help. Gradually, things improved and I made a few friends. But teenagers are so keen to ‘label’ others so I became the ‘gay boy’ they expected me to me. But it still felt wrong.
I went to college to study art, design and fashion but later did a beauty and makeup course. That’s when I decided to try drag for the first time.
That moment when I first saw myself as a woman, it was as if a lightbulb had gone off in my head. I’d read all about Nadia Almada, the transgender woman who had won Big Brother in 2004, so I knew what I wanted to be. But seeing myself as a woman confirmed it for me.
I never liked looking at my male body. I’d tuck my private parts underneath me and envisage them not being there. I’d slip cushions and tissues down my bra in an attempt to get breasts. It was such a strange feeling, knowing that my inside that was so different to the outside.
I started on the transitioning journey by taking hormones when I was about 19 and that’s when I began to blossom. My breasts began to grown and are now naturally a DD cup. My features softened. Looking back, I was still quite masculine but men started to pay attention to me and it felt so natural. I knew that this is what I wanted.
I changed my name to deed poll to Talulah-Eve. I chose the name after a psychic once told me that a glamorous woman called Talulah would be very important to me. My family wanted me to change my name to something more like my old name – which began with an A – but I knew that Talulah was meant to be. I added the Eve at the last minute simply to make it less ‘boring’.
I loved being a woman but needed months of psychiatric assessments and specialists before I could have my gender reassignment surgery. During that period I was scouted for Britain’s Next Top Model, which was a crazy time. I was so self-conscious next to the other girls who all had vaginas. I’d worry about whether camera angles could pick up the bulge of my penis.
The moment I finished filming, I got a date for my surgery. No one can brace themselves for how difficult it is, not only physically but mentally as well. My hormones were all over the place, my body looked like a war zone and yes, there were times when I wondered whether I’d made the right decision.
But now, everything feels right. My career is going from strength to strength and I feel amazing. My body has recovered and my family, who also struggled at times with my decision, have been very supportive. Now, I know that my main job is to help other young people going through the same thing as me. Being transgender is not simply about being a man dressed as a woman, it’s so much more than that. Although my journey was very painful at times, I’m keen to share it with others because if it helps even one more person to accept who they are, it’s worth it.