Over the last year transgender awareness has grown enormously. Thanks to the bravery of Caitlyn Jenner and others like her, more and more people are gaining an insight into the challenges that transgender people face when coming to terms with their identity.
As support for the trans community continues to grow, others are finding the courage to speak out about their experiences and even take the next step in exploring their individuality.
We welcomed one of these brave individuals into the SkinViva clinic last year and were lucky enough to play a part in the transformation from the person that they were born, to the person they knew they were always meant to be.
Alexis Vanlee (birth name, Paul Mitchell) grew up in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester and worked for many years in the motoring industry. Despite spending her days in such a testosterone fuelled environment, Alexis knew that she didn’t identify with the other men as much as they did with each other. In fact, Alexis had felt strongly from a young age that she didn’t identify as a man at all.
“I’d always felt I was trapped in the wrong body. As a child, I’d been happiest playing with dolls inside my Wendy house and all my friends were girls. Instead of my boring boys’ pyjamas, I longed to wear my mum’s feminine nighties.
“But being “girlie” was frowned upon. My dad was always trying to get me to do typically boyish things, like playing football. I did it just to please him, but Mum couldn’t help but notice how effeminate I was. ‘Have you been stealing my make-up again?’ she would ask. ‘You’d better wash your face before your father sees you’”
Tragically, Alexis lost her mother to illness aged just 12 and spent most of her teenage years desperately trying to please her father.
“I spent as much time as possible out of the house as a teenager. I had girlfriends, but I was going through the motions, trying to prove to my dad I was the son he wanted. But as time went on, I was convinced my gender identity was different to what my father wanted it to be.”
After leaving home Alexis explored her new found freedom to express herself.
“I suppose it was a blessing that it was the early 80s and the New Romantic movement was in full swing, meaning I could wear frills, leather trousers and eyeliner to my heart’s content. Strangers would shout “tranny” or “queer” at me, but I developed a thick skin. Most of my friends were girls and they accepted me for who I was. I’d tell them, “I feel like a woman, but I don’t want to be in a relationship with a man.”
By her late 20’s, Alexis was married and working with her wife Toni’s family in the car auction industry. Her ‘new romantic’ days were over and despite Toni’s continued support, Alexis was only able to explore her feminine persona in private.
“I loved the buzz of car auctions, but it was a macho, male-dominated industry, so I never revealed my secret life to anyone. Toni let slip that her father had called me a “poof”, but I tried not to let it bother me. I was open about everything, so from day one Toni knew about the real me and was fully supportive of my feminine alter ego.”
Alexis and Toni continued to have a happy marriage together and in 1992, their beautiful daughter was born.
“Toni and I were thrilled when Emma, was born in August 1992, but we decided from then on I’d keep the feminine part of my life private. Being transgender was taboo and I didn’t want Emma being teased at school for me being different. So I only dressed as a woman in private. Years went by and we lived as a happy family and I found I was much more of a nurturing, mothering parent than a stereotypical father.”
In 2007 the family received some devastating news, Toni had fallen ill with breast cancer and after a two- year battle, passed away leaving behind Alexis and Seventeen year old Emma.
“I was crushed beyond words, in the months that followed, I tried to deal with my grief,”
As Alexis started to come to terms with the loss of her wife, she slowly began to explore her identity again.
“I felt more and more like I wanted to make the full transition to living as a woman. Emma was 17 and living with her boyfriend by then. I’d already started growing my hair and my colleagues teased me about it, saying I looked like a girl. I don’t think they could put their finger on what was going on with me. The first time I went to the pub five years ago in full make-up, a short skirt and heels, I felt so liberated. “It’s you, isn’t it?” asked the barmaid. I told her and my fellow regulars in the pub that I was to be known as Alexis from then on”.
As Alexis continued to grow in confidence, she began to make friends and socialise with other people in the trans community and realised finally, that this was where she felt at home.
“Feeling more sure than ever, I left my job and went to my doctor, explaining I wanted to transition. Four years ago I was referred to the Leeds Gender Identity clinic and doctors enrolled me on an intensive grief counselling course to make sure I was psychologically ready. Then I started taking hormones and, after several months, noticed my breasts were growing and my skin was softer. It was exciting to feel my body becoming more rounded and womanly”
In Summer 2015, Alexis paid a visit to the SkinViva clinic to embark on the next step of her journey as a woman.
“I had a non-surgical facelift at Manchester’s specialist clinic SkinViva in order to feminise my profile”
Dr Tim said
“I created a small lift to the tip of Alexis’s nose and feminised her eyes by lifting the eyebrow, erasing the crow’s feet and creating a more almond shape. I also used filler to create fuller, higher cheekbones”
With her new soft cheeks and full lips, Alexis was thrilled
“When I saw my reflection, I was stunned. “Is that me?” I gasped. I’d finally become the “me” I wanted to be – a beautiful woman”
After hearing such an inspirational story, the team at SkinViva could not be happier to have played a small part in helping Alexis take the next step in her transformation.