Transgender Star Tells of Life Experience in Changing From Man Into a Woman

Published September 2nd, 2018 - 05:00 GMT
India Willoughby (Twitter)
India Willoughby (Twitter)

Just under two years ago, I wrote a piece for this newspaper about all the questions I’m often asked – or that people feel they can’t ask – about what it’s like to be transgender.

To cut a long story short, at the age of 40, I had realised I could no longer keep living a lie and today, 12 years on, I have no doubt that transitioning was the best decision I’d ever made.

My gender dysphoria – the sense of being in the wrong body – had completely vanished. And, having completed all of my surgeries, I was finally at peace with my body.


But that all changed in January after I agreed to appear in Celebrity Big Brother.

That led to another life-changing decision: to go under the knife yet again – this time for 11 brutal hours of surgery on my face, with a team of surgeons peeling back my scalp and cutting into my skull, stripping and grinding bones and using the sort of power tools normally used on a house extension.

Yes, it sounds like a horror film. But relentless online abuse and comments about my ‘manly’ appearance made me despise my face and left me feeling utterly depressed.

In the end, I decided to have the most extreme type of makeover – facial feminisation surgery.

Here, several areas of the face are tweaked to make features more womanly. The changes are subtle, often just a few millimetres of bone shaved off, or a slight lift here and there, but the results, as my pictures show, are quite remarkable.

Embarrassingly, I have to admit that I was bullied on to the operating table by online trolls. But this surgery isn’t primarily about beauty.

I certainly didn’t have it to try to look like Angelina Jolie. The objective is to help transgender women ‘pass’, and not stand out in public, enabling them to live a normal life, free from mockery, taunts and trolling.

Other trans people have also had it, the most famous being Kardashian matriarch Caitlyn Jenner and boxing promoter Kellie Maloney.

In fact any woman can have it – maybe because hormonal problems lead to them developing male facial characteristics – but it’s quite an ordeal, as I now know.

And it certainly isn’t cheap. Mine cost £25,000 ($32,000).  But transgender women from all over the world, from all types of economic backgrounds, scrimp and save for it.

And if any of them have been through a fraction of what I have over the past year, then I can totally understand why.

First off, on CBB, my housemates, writer Rachel Johnson and ex-MP Ann Widdicombe, kept referring to me as ‘he’ and ‘him’.

Before this, I had never been casually misgendered to my face, and the pain hurt like nothing before. After I left the show, the online trolling I received on Twitter and in the comments of news articles left me in despair. It was relentless.

Every time I looked at my phone there would be up to 100 Twitter messages. They criticised everything about me and told me however hard I tried, I’d never be a woman. It might not sound that bad, but when you have tried so hard to get rid of your old skin, it is very traumatic.

After weeks of trolling, I stayed in bed for three days and began obsessing over my face in the mirror. Was it masculine? It looked feminine to me. Was I missing something? Part of me knew it was ridiculous to pay attention to what some idiot – probably sitting in a dark room, wearing a tracksuit and eating a Pot Noodle – was typing about me.

But sometimes, when you’re at a low ebb, words really hurt. I wanted to wash away as many traces of trans as I possibly could, regardless of cost, or the pain I would have to endure. So in March, with the money I’d earned from CBB, I packed my bags and flew to Marbella, home of the world-renowned FacialTeam clinic.

My first prerequisite with the surgeon was that I would only have the surgery if I would still look like me. I wanted the same face. It sounds strange, but I said I wanted to look like ‘my sister’. I wanted the face I should have been born with. Me, but the female me.

The consultation process began with a full three-dimensional MRI scan of my skull. Photographs were taken of my head from a variety of angles. Two surgeons arrived to feel my face. ‘Your face is already quite feminine, but there are things we can do to help,’ they said.

Femininity – in an aesthetic sense – is very much a mathematical equation. It’s a computation our brains make instantly when we see someone, without even realising it.

For instance, women tend to have smooth, rounded foreheads, unlike men, who have a bony ridge at the junction where the top of the nose reaches the forehead.

Women’s eyebrows are naturally higher above the eye and they don’t have bony ridges at the edge of their eye sockets. Women also have a shorter distance between their top lip and nose.

No two women will have the same surgery: it’s about tweaks to a face to try to get as near as possible to the so-called Golden Ratio – the ideal ‘feminine’ distance between various facial features such as the top of your hairline and your eyebrow, and the nose and upper lip.

I was told I need six procedures, all to be done at the same time under general anaesthetic, and I would need two days in hospital. I was assured the procedure was safe. 

I spent two days thinking things over and returned to the clinic in May for surgery. I didn’t tell anyone. When I woke up, my head felt like a block of wood. My eyes were slits, my vision blurry. I looked as if I had gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson before being run over by a tractor.

In fact, facial feminisation surgery was tougher for me than my actual sex-change surgery. Looking in the mirror for the first time, I thought: ‘What have I done?’

The next ten days were spent recovering in Spain. Slowly, the initial bruising started to subside, though it will be a full 12 months before all the swelling from the trauma has gone.

Three months on, my face still aches at times and my forehead is numb, though this will go in time.

Overall, I’m really happy with the results – it’s knocked 20 years off me. And the surgeons didn’t just rebuild my face. They’ve restored some of my confidence.

But I will admit that part of me is annoyed at myself that I had the surgery done. The trolls caught me at a low ebb.

Sadly, some people still want to make life difficult for women like me, regardless of how we look, or the efforts we make.

It’s a shame that ‘looking trans’ is regarded as a bad or funny thing.

But I won’t have any more surgery – I’m not going to let anyone beat me up again, be they surgeons or trolls. Trans women are strong, and walk through fire to be who we are.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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