Updated: Aug 11, 2021
I was looking for something to brighten up my day today, and I found it in a most unusual way. This is not a typical security article, I apologise, but it is a story of strength, resilience, courage, with more than a dash of that most elusive of states of mind, hope. And as I write this amidst a global pandemic that has touched the lives of nearly everyone on this incredible planet, we could all use a few rays of metaphorical sunshine. So I’m taking back my apology, I’m not sorry one bit.
I was tired, still slightly sick from a bug I picked up having spent the weekend in close proximity to a walking pathogen incubation machine, commonly known as a child. A few things were playing on my mind, including upcoming meetings I was desperate to avoid, and my anxiety level had reached the point where a feeling of impending doom cast a permanent shadow over my every moment. I’m not normally an anxious person, I’m often the antithesis of anxiety; the calming presence or voice of reason when all around me are being pushed, or more often pushing themselves, towards the edge. But today was different. The few topics that do cause me anxiety - the details of which I will omit partly for brevity, but mostly for vanity - crashed together in a miniature near-perfect storm to drench me, somehow barely touching others around me, with a wave of gloom and uncontrollable emotion. It wasn’t the best day.
Now I’m no social media obsessive, but I confess to the occasional (read hourly) surf on a few platforms. Amongst the plethora of posts, updates, brags and cries for attention one can find the occasional nugget to bring a a smile to your face, and very very occasionally you come across something that lifts your spirits beyond the stratosphere. I found one today, or should I say one found me.
Darren used to work for me when I ran the intelligence network for a private security company in Iraq. A talented analyst - skills developed in the UK armed forces then fine-tuned in the cut throat (often literally) world of ‘the circuit’ - he possessed ample ability with an abundance of humility; a most rare combination of properties in an industry saturated with alpha males. I’d never say Darren was effeminate, but his physical attributes differed from the blueprinted security operator significantly. Slim and nerdy - fit enough to pass the assessments with ease, but clearly not spending 90% of any free time doing ‘curls for the girls’ in the mirror of the US Army gyms on camp.
When the contract ended we remained in contact via social media, only conversing briefly when I wrote a professional and character reference for him seven or eight years ago. Other than that I only saw the occasional posts, enough to tell me he was still living and breathing, and approximately where in the world that was occurring. Of particular interest was a post a few months ago showing Darren dressed as a woman and referring to his alternative identity and profile account as Lowri. I remember being intrigued at the time - checking connections, mutual friends, and so on - to see if it was real or some elaborate hoax or joke (ex-British military, after all). My research was inconclusive and the topic was quickly dropped. I had better things to do!
Sometime around mid-afternoon today, Lowri sent me a friend request and I gladly accepted. The profile photo was the same as I remember; Darren in women’s clothes and make-up, one might say “Darren in drag”, said with the utmost of respect coming from an extremely open-minded and liberal chap like me.
“Hey! How are you going?” read the private message from Lowri.
“Hi! I’m OK thanks. All good with you?” came the lame and generic reply.
A brief exchange of pleasantries, social chitchat and discussions of coping with COVID-19 lockdown in our respective host countries followed before I tentatively asked “How’s it going for you? What’s the story?”
“Well, it's been a pretty rough year since the whole coming out Lowri thing. But I got work (thanks for that). Just had my contract extended too for another year.”
So, there we have it; Lowri is real! I suspected as such anyway, but the confirmation was reassuring. In between writing about the whys and wherefores of site security risk assessments and staff training sessions - my actual job - we chatted intermittently. I navigated the awkwardness of saying I wasn’t sure if it was a joke at first with relative ease, vindicated by the fact that several of Darren’s friends thought the same.
When we exchanged tales of woe about financial struggles and I learnt that the cost of ‘transition’ is high, the inevitable moment came when I asked “So what’s the deal with transition? I apologise! Dressing only? Or you want to change sex fully?”
“The whole deal eventually. I’ve been on hormones for about eight months now. I don’t look how you remember me!”
The photo sent with that statement qualified it. Darren in khaki cargo pants and matching 5:11 shirt, occasionally sporting an M4 rifle and Glock sidearm, was replaced by Lowri in a blouse, plaid skirt and tasteful makeup.
Good on her I say! Yes, from this point on she is a she; during transition ones sex should be based on a state of mind, not anatomical composition.
“If you’re gonna do it, do it properly.” I exclaimed. “That’s cool, I’m proud of you ... in a non-patronising way!”
It wasn’t all sweetness and light. Lowri suffered terribly as Darren, having suspected that all was not ‘normal’, whatever that is, since the age of six. Then perhaps three or four years ago Darren knew something had to give. He confided in someone, talked about his feelings.
“Once I started to vocalise it then the whole reality kinda came tumbling down on me.”
He developed gender dysphoria, he couldn’t go out as Darren anymore. Well and truly past the tipping point, something had to change.
“Well if I hadn't done it then I think I wouldn't be here anymore.”, came the shocking statement.
We both knew people from our previous careers who took their own lives. I must have lost five or six friends over the past two years alone. Some say suicide is a coward’s way out, but I disagree. The victims see it as the only way out, utter despair blinds their view of alternative futures. No one should kill themselves as they’re unhappy with what and who they are; some people need psychological help to cope, buy them time so the scales can be removed from their eyes. So Darren became Lowri, and she’s a happy individual.
“I know I’m on the right path now.”
I remember Darren getting married, perhaps 10 years ago. Predictably the formal relationship broke down after he came out, but they still share an apartment - splitting bills, supporting each over emotionally. There was always going to be collateral damage, but as mature adults they seem to have minimised it as best they could. The arrival of Lowri caused a stir amongst friends, especially ones from the military, but I was assured that many have been incredibly supportive. Knowing the character involved I have little doubt about that; good people attract the company of good people.
This is a story about Lowri, not me, but please allow myself a brief moment to revel in some glory! I’d like to think that I played a small role, and I mean small, in Lowri’s journey. In her words I was the best boss, a fantastic leader, always willing to do want I wanted my staff to do, rather than just dictate orders and take the credit. Too many bosses do that, sadly.
“Despite the short time working together I respected you from the off and you're an important person in the way I think about my work and my life to some degree. In a non-patronising way!” Touché! Strong words from a strong woman.
Apparently I made her think long and hard about aspects of her life and how she can make a success of anything. Wow! I was just doing my job, being a decent human being in a difficult and complex environment. The words and associated emotion hit me like a train. I knew I helped a keen bright analyst get a job - that’s just natural, and not particularly difficult - but to think I played a part in helping someone unhappy in their skin start a process of metamorphosis is incredible. Yes, I’m proud. Yes I’m boasting, which is rare for me. But I asked your permission beforehand! Now, back to Lowri.
I said this was a story about strength, resilience, courage and hope. If you disagree please stay clear of me forever. Lowri’s mental struggle has lasted a lifetime, but is slowly subsiding. Her physical struggle has just begun; surgery takes its toll. And let’s not think about the financial burden, it’s immense. Lowri has a vision of the real her and she’s taking steps to realise it. Now that’s what you call strength. She’s resilient in the face of overwhelming adversity; transgender people don’t often have it easy. Lowri had the courage to tell others, knowing that saying “Hey, I was born a man, but I need to become the woman I am” isn’t the most palatable of phrases for family, loved ones, friends and colleagues. That’s quite incredible.
Our society in general is too quick to be critical of those who don’t conform to the twisted notion of norms. Biases - both conscious and unconscious - dominate. We see the conformists in their sharp suits enjoy success in corporations, neatly fitting the stereotypes of winners. Yet the literature are full of wonderful stories of the freaks, weirdos - dare I say it lunatics - who break free from the artificial bounds placed upon them to achieve what many consider to be the impossible. They are comfortable with who they are, and if they’re not they make changes.
Lowri, it’s an honour to be considered as a friend and mentor. As I said at the start I was looking for some rays of sunshine on an otherwise dull and depressing day. They certainly came; little did I know they would come with a rainbow!
If anyone reading this needs support, look no further. Lowri has offered to help anyone reaching out, just email me and I’ll forward it on.
Furthermore, if you or you friends / family feel threatened in any way we can help. We’ve developed training sessions on a number of topics to build awareness and provide a set of easy-to-apply skills to enable anyone to lessen the likelihood of them being a target, and take appropriate action if confronted.
If you contact me from this article I’ll gladly run an online session with small groups for free. Just message me!
Security Laid Bare embraces diversity!