Vive la difference
In his captivating memoir Charlie Kiss chronicles his life from female peace campaigner and mental breakdown to becoming the first trans man to stand at a general election
20 October, 2017 — By Peter Gruner
Charlie Kiss: ‘I still despise sexism and I’m still a feminist”
Perhaps the most fascinating revelation in Charlie Kiss’s moving and timely book about gender change is his first experiences of living as a man.
In his book, A New Man, Charlie, a former general election candidate for Islington’s Green party, details his tough journey from female peace campaigner – he twice ended up in Holloway prison – to mental breakdown and eventual realisation of a need to transition as male.
Living as a man, however, the world treats him differently and he has to adjust. Speaking this week he said: “I had to come to terms quickly with the fact that people care less about your feelings as a man.”
It didn’t stop Charlie, 52, however, becoming the first trans man to stand in a general election in the UK in 2015. He was selected by the Greens to stand in the Islington South and Finsbury constituency, where he won 8 per cent of the vote.
There are obvious contradictions in his life. On one hand Charlie had always hated men’s domination and their treatment of women. On the other, from aged eight he always wanted to be a man. But wanting to transition as a man didn’t stop him enjoying a bouquet of flowers sent by Camden Trades Council for his peace campaign.
Charlie also has to cope with men’s poor reputation for chauvinism, sexism, physical and sexual violence. As a male pedestrian he is involved in a frightening road rage incident with a driver who almost knocks him down. He realises that if he was a woman there would probably be the odd swear word before it’s all forgotten. But he’s a man and the angry motorist stops his car and proceeds to chase Charlie along the road. Fortunately the motorist gives up the chase.
Incidentally, Kiss is a common Hungarian name and belonged to his late father. His late mother was a Colombian who separated from her husband when Charlie was two years old.
He is particularly perplexed by old fashion chivalry that insists on “ladies first”. He writes: “I hated all that before but it’s easier to protest about it if you’re a woman. As a man you’re considered selfish and rude if you object.”
He hopes men’s attitudes are beginning to change and says: “Today at least more men are learning to cook and fathers look after children and more men are aware of the toxic effects of sexism.”
Charlie watches a documentary about an older woman who had transitioned from male to female in her late 60s. “She said she was now really happy and remarked. ‘Women are so friendly and I have loads of friends now’.” He writes: “Well, the opposite is true for trans men. Men don’t share much with each other or support each other.”
The book chronicles Charlie’s political campaigning when at the age of 17 he joined the Greenham Common Women’s peace camp opposing the planned siting of cruise nuclear missiles. He identified as a lesbian at this time. After leaving Greenham Common, he started a career in the printing industry, which he found had poor conditions for workers and a culture of significant sexism and racism.
He later realised that he needed to properly medically transition and so he started hormonal treatment in 2002 and, soon after, surgery.
He has lived as a man for more than 15 years. “I feel infinitely more at home and comfortable,” he says. “There are advantages and disadvantages to being male, but this is me. I still despise sexism and I’m still a feminist. I firmly believe that your gender should not stop you from doing what you want.”
How does he feel about the current controversy over parents who have withdrawn their child from school after a six-year-old boy pupil wore a dress. He said: “It’s a total over-reaction, and an ideological response rather than concern for their child, especially as they are suing the school.”
• A New Man. By Charlie Kiss, Matador, £13.99