Britain’s first headteacher to change sex while in post has told how she ‘faked being a man.’
Transgender Claire Birkenshaw, 48, has just returned to her desk after taking a six month break to begin changing from a man to a woman.
Claire, formerly known as Michael, is the head of Ashwell Academy in Hull, a specialist school with 58 pupils aged 11 – 16.
Yesterday she told how she started experiencing gender dysphoria when she was just four, but spent decades feeling shameful and guilty that she was an “imposter to masculinity”.
She said: “I’ve had a lifetime of fear about being ‘found out’, like I was an imposter to masculinity.
“It was an age where there was little knowledge about transgender.
“I learned to mask my true self and fit in as best as I could.
“However, maintaining something you are not is not an easy thing to do.
“Shame is a very powerful emotion, and the guilt, too. I constructed this picture to the world out of it.”
She said her teaching career provided a “white noise” that helped to block out her deep-seated anxiety and unhappiness about her gender.
Claire said: “I am quite a determined person, so I think I would always have been as successful as I have been.
“But teaching is such an intense, pressured environment it meant it could become like a white noise behind what I was feeling.”
However she admits it was her career that became a barrier to her making the transistion sooner.
She said: “Schools are very complex organisations and I just wasn’t sure if the industry was ready for it.
“But I just thought of all the children who might be experiencing what I went through.
“I don’t want any child to feel what I felt.”
She said she considered moving away from Ashwell Academy, in Hull, East Yorks., and beginning somewhere new, but the fear of being “discovered” in fact proved the motivation for her to be open about the change.
Claire said: “I accepted that my journey would not be easy and there would be numerous hurdles to cross, but I also knew that if I did not transition I would not be being true to myself.
“I also know that, if I did nothing, then as an educationalist that believes in helping all children to feel that their life has meaning and purpose, I would be letting those transgendered children down who share those thoughts, feelings and fears I had when I was growing up.
“After living so long feeling invisible, I wanted to make myself visible.
“It’s like I’m taking everyone on this journey with me.
“And it’s not been easy. Some people say it can be a difficult thing to get their head around, and for some people there is a bereavement for Mike, I think.
“To say I am happier would be an understatement.
“Things seem more vivid and real now.”
She added that she wanted to be seen as a role model for children experiencing gender dysphoria to show them it shouldn’t be a barrier to their happiness.
She said: “What I think was pivotal was looking at the statistics for suicide in transgender young people.
“And wanting to tell these young people they should feel proud of themselves, and happy in themselves.
“I think the thing to get across is this isn’t a choice. What we want is the support and to be loved and accepted.”