April Ashley’s Odyssey was the first book I bought when I accepted myself as trans 10 years ago.

It wasn’t necessarily the book I picked, it was just one of the only books I had to choose from. That’s because back in 2013, we didn’t have the trans representation we have now. We didn’t really have any at all.

At that point, the last trans person that made it into the mainstream was Nadia Almada on Big Brother, a literal decade before.

Previous to Nadia in the 00s, we saw model and Bond girl Caroline Cossey outed and destroyed by the press 20 years prior and April Ashley 20 years before her in the 60s – also outed and torn apart by the media.

There’s a running theme here with the British press and trans people, isn’t there?

April Ashley was a successful model in the 60s, appearing in Vogue, before her story was sold to The Sunday People, and it emerged that she was a trans woman. 

Luckily for us, April went on to write a book. Unfortunately, it had been taken out of print by the time I wanted to buy it in 2013.

But I found a copy for about £50 on eBay. It was the most expensive book I’ve ever bought. Fortunately, I had my student loan and it ended up being worth every penny.

Despite being born a lifetime apart – not to mention transitioning in completely different worlds – there were a lot of parallels between April’s life and my own. Her book was just what I needed, because it’s cliché, but how can you be what you can’t see?

I began reading April’s story about her transition when I began my own. For me, it all started on my rough council estate in Ladbroke Grove, which wasn’t the funnest place to be trans.

I had insults, punches and once even a glass bottle thrown at me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.

Despite her iconic regal appearance, April also grew up very working class in the slums of war-struck Liverpool, and had a much harder time than me. In a weird way, I took some solace in this – knowing that if April could get through what she went through, I could too. I drew strength from April when I had none myself.

Her story then told of how she fled Liverpool in a bid to secure her future, and some form of safety for herself. Another parallel I – and I think most trans people, especially marginalised, whether working class like me, or of colour, of faith – feel they have to do too.

Despite all the odds stacked against her as a trans woman with no resources, April made it. She made a life for herself – and a good life at that.

From being a celebrated showgirl in Paris, to a model in London, as well as marrying an aristocrat. April had overcome the unthinkable and defeated all the odds. 

Until she was outed. 

Then, everything April had fought for – everything she had earned – was stripped from her in a heartbeat. She lost the safety she’d worked so hard to build, her career, and later, her marriage.

Worse than losing her relationship though, was the fact that she lost her right to be a woman in the eyes of the law. Her husband, Arthur Corbett, who knew she was trans when he married her, took her to high court for their marriage to be annulled on the basis that she was a man.

Forgive me for saying this, April – if you’re listening from heaven – but you are more of a man than that spineless little toe rag ever was.

April had to endure the pain of having all of her personal business being splattered all over the press as her case played out in the public eye, as well as the pain – both emotional and physical – of having her vagina inspected by numerous doctors to determine whether she was or wasn’t a woman.

All this pain after the ordeal of being one of the first people in the world to even have surgery – one she literally risked her life for because that’s how desperate she was to be the woman she felt inside. If that’s not proof enough that she was a woman, I don’t know what is.

Sadly, this wasn’t enough proof for Justice Ormrod, who was presiding over the court case, debating what makes a woman. In the end, Ormrod ruled that April Ashley – one of the strongest women I know – was a man.

There are no words.

I was going to say I can’t imagine how April felt, but in a much smaller way I can, because this tired debate about what makes a woman is something we see playing out on a weekly – sometimes, daily – basis in the UK 60 years on.

I am called a man every single day – in the press, on Twitter and on the street.

Like April, everything I have fought for to be respected as the woman I am, all the pain I’ve been through – both from surgeries I’ve spent my life savings on, to the pain of the insults, punches and glass bottles that have been thrown at me – is discredited when a stuck up, privileged, high-profile, white, middle-class lady who has never fought for anything, let alone her life, tells me, and the public, that I’m not a woman because I don’t have an XX chromosome.

This is why the documentary about April’s life, that aired on Channel 4 last night,  has never been more needed, to bring some long overdue compassion to the debate around what makes a woman.

You don’t need to have an MA in gender studies to understand right from wrong.

You can see that trans women like April and myself – who have fought and risked dying to be a woman – deserve to be respected, or at the very least, left alone.

The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley is now on All4

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Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, as well as the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict, and youth homelessness charity AKT. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

For Metro.co.uk‘s latest Pride coverage, click here.

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