'Just call me Donna' - Press Gazette

'Just call me Donna'

I'm a pretty normal woman these days.

Well, maybe not that pretty, but hopefully normal in terms of my appearance.

Certainly anyone who meets me for the first time without knowing my background takes me as such.

In fact, the few people who failed to come to terms with my transsexuality were all individuals who couldn't accept the passing of the ageing sports hack they knew as Gerry Greenberg. Those people have long since disappeared from my life – a life that is now everything I ever wanted. I mean, how's this for a dream scenario: happily married for 38 years with a large, loving family; a sunshine home in Spain where I now spend most of my time; and THREE jobs at an age when most journalists have been condemned to the scrap heap.

It took 50 years for me to come to terms with the shame and embarrassment I felt at having been born in the wrong gender. But has life been good to me since I finally came to terms with reality a decade ago.

My life has been a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, laughter and tears – and definitely unique. And apart from the gender thing, I wouldn't have changed aminute of it if I had my time again.

In fact, so much has happened to me that I've started chronicling it in an anecdote-filled autobiography I'm calling Why Is My Dad Not Answering Her Phone? It's a comment my daughter Lisa made to a friend when she couldn't get through to me on my mobile, and still makes me giggle years later.

Professionally, my career was always interesting, from my days as a trainee on the Pontypridd Observer when I gave Tom Jones his first-ever newspaper write-ups, to three decades as a sub, writer, columnist and sports desk exec – with the bonus of covering top international rugby all over Europe.

In those days, my gender dysphoria was buried deep inside me. I had too much to lose to come clean with the world, or so I thought. So for years I lived a double life – working as a guy and spending all my free time as a woman. Finally, with the agreement of my wife Lynn and daughters Hayley and Lisa, I became a full-time woman, and I've never looked back.

Contrary to the experience of most trans people, my wife, children and grandkids absorbed the change relatively easily; indeed, only the eldest of our five grandchildren, 15-year-old Rosie, has any recollection of me as a man.

There were one or two hiccups in the months after I changed over, but at work at The People (where my involvement as a Saturday sports sub/page editor goes back 15 years), everyone has been great.

Some years ago, I wrote an article in PressGazette recording the reactions of colleagues to my revelation that I planned to change sex. The never-lost-for-a-word Lee Horton, now People sport editor, quipped: "For the first time in my life, I am f***ing speechless!'' But the vibes I had were all positive. People seemed to think I was being incredibly brave in throwing myself into a potential abyss of prejudice.

Working these days as part of a skeleton staff in the Manchester office, I have little direct contact with most of my People colleagues. The big exception isthe annual Christmas party at Canary Wharf, where there was a dramatic change in attitudes towards me after my transition. Hard-bitten journos suddenly stopped swearing and started opening doors for me. Even better, I've yet to be allowed to buy a round of drinks.

Although I was petrified when I first started going out as a woman, there was nothing brave about my transition because I‘ve never experienced any of the problems suffered by the trans community.

Many trans people's lives are made hell by intolerance, ignorance and bigotry.

So much so that it's relatively common for tormented individuals to take what they see as the only way out.

However, I'm incredibly lucky in that I am not immediately recognisable as trans. I'm 5ft 5in, have no particularly masculine features and have worked hard to culture a female voice and body language.

I've also had lots of surgery; indeed, Lynn and our daughters envy the fact that I'm the only woman in the family whose boobs don't droop I've spent 35 years staffing on Fleet Street sports desks, which are probably the strongest bastion of masculinity in the newspaper business. At the Sunday Express, Daily Express and Daily Star in the '70s and '80s, I can't ever remember seeing a female sports sub or reporter.

Now I find myself trying to talk myself out of corners when people ask me what it was like being a woman sports journalist in the old days A typical response to my gender change came from former England and British Lions rugby star Wade Dooley, whose autobiography I had ghosted backin the early '90s. The 6ft 8in Blackpool policeman emailed me apologetically saying he had heard the news from a couple of rugby journos and asking me to forgive him if he had got it wrong. The gist of his message was to wish me well in my new life, though he added: "Personally, it's not something I would consider doing." If you know what Wade Dooley looks like, that should conjure up quite a picture.

I've been on the The People casual staff since before my transition, but my trepidation when I applied for a job as a woman for the first time proved to be totally misplaced. Someone recommended me to the daily Metro at a time the features department needed help with their provincial editions. When chief sub Helen Bingham interviewed me, I felt it was best to come clean as it was inevitable my past would emerge on the journalistic grapevine.

The issue was a non-issue from the outset.

"Donna, the only thing that matters to me is, can you do the job, and, do youget on with people,'' insisted Helen. ‘‘I'm happy the answer to both is yes, so when are you available for shifts?'' I can't tell you how reassuring those words were to me. I've since done loads of shifts at Metro and the subject of my transsexuality has never been raised. I assume everyone knows.

The only embarrassing moment I've ever had there has been looking around the office and realising I'm twice the age of most of the staff.

A few months ago, I was approached by Sportingo.com, a start-up sports website based in Israel, to do some editing, and that has really taken off. I'm effectively working full-time for them from home, which these days is both in Manchester and the Costa Blanca, where Lynn and I have a villa. Do they know about my background at Sportingo? I honestly don't know, and I'm pretty sure they don't care.

When we moved into our sunshine home in January 2006, Lynn and I decided to tell the neighbours we were cousins. It worked well until our family came for a visit and the neighbours started asking: ‘Whose daughters and grandkids are they – yours or Lynn's?' We flannelled over the facts but there was no way out of it when someone read a magazine article about us and told the entire neighbourhood.

But a couple of weeks ago our closest friend in Spain assured me: ‘‘We're not bothered about your past. In fact, we can't imagine you as anyone else but Donna.'' And that's exactly who I am.

Just Donna.