A university chaplain has become the Methodist Church’s first transgender minister – after hiding her true identity for more than four decades.
Joy Everingham, 46, spent years secretly applying lipstick and wearing women’s clothes before finally coming out three years ago.
The mum-of-two from Canterbury, Kent, says she first knew she was different aged just five, and ‘didn’t fit in with everyone else’.
She said: “I wasn’t like the boys, I was always more like the girls.
“My dad used to joke ‘I’ve got three kids, one of each’, so I was obviously different – I couldn’t hide it.
“I went through my teenage years trying to be as boyish as possible.
“It always felt really disjointed, so I hid.
“If I’d admitted how I really felt at secondary school I think I would have been beaten with sticks.
“I’d put make-up on, put my mum’s shoes on.
“It was liberating, but at the same time I felt dirty, and I felt wrong.
“I felt like I was the only person in the world who was like that.”
Aged 15, Joy became a Christian, which she says was life-changing.
Four years later, she started dating her best friend of six years, Ruth, and the pair married when she was 22.
For eight years, Ruth was oblivious to the secret life her husband was living, unaware he was hiding clothes in the loft and continuing to dress as a woman.
But shortly after the birth of their first son, Joy, 27, travelled to Leeds on a secret trip to a transgender club, and it proved to be a defining moment in her journey.
She added: “It made me realise it wasn’t going to go away.
“I felt so at ease with myself. I felt normal.
“Coming back to the hotel that night I was thinking ‘I don’t want to take ‘me’ off’.
“I didn’t want to go back to being what I what was. I knew I had to tell Ruth.
“We were sitting in bed and said ‘I’ve got something to tell you’.
“I started crying and couldn’t breathe – it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
“Ruth was convinced I was either having an affair, or I was gay, it was obviously a bit of a shock.
“I thought she was going to leave me, or kick me out, but she said ‘I’ve got to think about this’.”
Much to Joy’s relief, Ruth was prepared to help her explore her identity, but she said she would leave if Joy transitioned.
After the birth of the couple’s second son in 2002, they decided Joy would live full-time as a man and all of her clothes were taken to a charity shop.
She became hugely depressed, and aged 45, Joy was referred to a gender clinic and diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
But despite doctors confirming what she always knew, the threat of Ruth leaving was very real, forcing Joy to continue to lock her true identity away.
Aged 41, she decided to become a minister with the Methodist Church, which had never ordained a transgender person.
After two years of training in Birmingham, Joy started work at St Peter’s Methodist Church in Canterbury, arriving in the September of 2014 and setting up home in Faversham.
The following month Radio 5 DJ Stephanie Hirst – then called Simon – revealed on air she was going to transition to a woman, which prompted Ruth’s acceptance of Joy’s feelings.
She told senior church leaders of her plan to transition, receiving their full support, before revealing it to her new congregation in a notice handed out before a service.
Joy began living as a woman full-time and 18 months ago started taking cross-sex hormones.
She said: “Ruth loves me for who I am, but she’s still attracted to men.
“I’m not sure she is really attracted to me sexually anymore, but we’re still in love and we’re still best friends.
“She still sees me as the same person, I just look a bit different.
“Transitioning has made our lives easier, it has become wonderfully normal.
“There have been times when it’s been difficult, but it’s actually made our marriage better, because I’m suddenly content with myself, and the struggle isn’t there anymore.
“But I’ve had people shout ‘freak’ at me in the street and I know people who have been beaten up in Canterbury just for walking home.
“It’s social ignorance and it’s usually trans women who get physically and verbally assaulted.
“There’s a long, long road ahead to turn the tide, but look at the gay rights movement.
“Over the last 50 years it’s become very acceptable in society, mostly, and it’s becoming that way with trans.
“Not everybody knows I’m trans, but I don’t hide it. I welcome people asking questions.”