Transgender Visibility Day, is a day to recognise everything that the transgender community have accomplished, as well as pay tribute to their resilience. It’s a time to reflect on achievements but also a time to continue raising awareness, helping to break down the barriers and identify the continued struggles they face. We at Interbank wanted to use this day to bring the spotlight on a very special person that I first came across when I was aimlessly scrolling through LinkedIn one evening. Joanne Monck had shared a snippet of her story and immediately it caught my attention. It resonated with me  for many reasons – one of them being that my brother is Transgender and as some of you would have seen from the interview I did with him in November (you can see it on the Interbank website if you missed it), although his transition was thankfully much earlier in his life than Joanne’s there are still so many struggles he has had to face and it is imperative that as Allies we spread as much awareness and education as possible. Joanne is a fierce advocate and for TDOV she has kindly agreed to share her story with us here today.

Q: So, who is Joanne Monck… ?

A: The seed of Joanne Monck was planted in a male body in 1955 and it would take her over 58 years to break from the cocoon of David.  I always knew the core of my being was a woman and I grew up having to endure horrific bullying for not participating in boyish physical activities and because I found it easier to be friends with other girls. It created a human being in need of guidance and support from others was not readily available – the word ‘Transgender’ was not even defined in the dictionary. I compare this experience to a growing tree where the visible portion was David, and the hidden roots were Joanne. As the branches grew this shaped David’s personality and traits. Joanne’s roots, would fill David with her thoughts, emotions and desires throughout his entire life until David accepted that he had to release her.

The feeling of being ‘different’ carried into my adolescence and the mounting anxiety continued as David had to fight the urges he felt. Whilst working as a farm hand he would shop for women’s clothing, telling lies that they were ‘bought for a girlfriend’ then trying to purge that desire to dress by throwing them on a bonfire in the garden.  Eventually, this led to a nervous breakdown as the conflicting thoughts and emotions came to an impasse because of course, burning the clothes did not rid David of the desires but instead, further complicated the feeling of living life as who he was born to be rather than supposed to be. As Joanne’s personality was becoming more powerful,  it felt like David had a virus that he could never cure.

David had girlfriends as a young adult but did so because he wanted to be like them. One of the relationships resulted in marriage, but it was short-lived as she found out about David’s desire to dress and she left after three months after putting a knife to him. He continued to meet new girlfriends because that was expected of him – his parents wanted grandchildren. By the 1970’s, there was still no wide idea of what transgender meant and no support open to help Joanne come forward. David eventually remarried and had two sons – whom I love completely. Despite the struggle that continued inside me, the decision to have and raise children is one I never have regretted. Inside I was dying and I took the urge to dress to private times and tried to compensate in other areas of my life. At the turn of the new millennium, the unimaginable happened, David lost his wife and alongside the grief that comes with that he continued to be overwhelmed as Joanne’s roots grew.

Q: Can you tell me about the realisation that you needed to release Joanne, where you were and what steps you took?

A:The realisation came after David sat on the edge of Beachy Head in 2014 and contemplated suicide. He was pulled back from the edge by 2 compassionate and understanding Police Officers.  A week later he realised that in order to be happy he had to release Joanne from his body.  You see in a way, David had to die in order to let me live. It was then the decision to transition came to fruition and it was like a zip began to come down along  his body and I finally emerged from a long gestation.  I changed my name by Deed Poll and began hormone therapy followed by gender surgery in 2017 – it was then I became legally female with a new birth certificate issued. From then on I was a completely new person, both in looks and personality – I could finally be who I wanted to be.

Q: Throughout your journey have you experienced low points that have been caused by other people?

A: On the whole I have had positivity throughout my journey.  I chose the narrow path, because it was mine and mine alone. However in the initial stages of my transition I must admit I did get a few looks, particularly from men. I just ignored them. The only real hate came when I received some very nasty remarks on twitter after I was criticised as an advisor to Sussex Police for not being involved in a trans activists demonstration a few years ago in Brighton – it actually made me want to quit the work I was doing but I found the strength not to let that defeat me.

Q: How about the high points?

A: I suppose the highs of my transition have to include the support of family and friends. My son in particular when he asked after I had my gender surgery, if it was OK to call me Mum.  

Q: Has allyship helped throughout your journey?

A: Allyship is crucial to anyone in a marginalised community – the more allies that self-identify the better.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the work you do now, and why you do it?

At start of my transition, I knew how important it was to raise awareness to as many people as I could, I had been through a lifetime of hiding and I don’t want other people to feel they have to do the same.

Almost all of life I was the ugly caterpillar, and when I transitioned, the caterpillar pupated. When I finished surgery, the butterfly hatched and flew off freely into the world.  After transitioning I am so much more confident and outgoing and I put myself out into what can be a harsh public sphere, I tell my story to anyone who will listen just to try and help others feel they can do it too.

When I took the opportunity to make a new start in life, I joined South East Coast Ambulance Service and told them of the transition. They were welcoming and supportive and I became a diversity champion for them as a point of contact for other employees if they were going through similar experiences. This was the first role I felt happy in at work, I was accepted for who she truly was. This is the role I would have stayed in if not for a medical diagnosis which forced me to leave, losing my diversity champion role with it. 

Following that, I started work with Sussex Police where I serve on seven advisory groups – I am a hate crime ambassador and an independent advisor for the force. I work to help them understand the transgender community and the issues they face, I also help them to be more proactive in their dealings with trans people and with their use of pronouns.  Aside from the force, I am an Equality, Inclusion & Diversity (EID) advisor for the Bluebell Railway and the Director of Global Education and  Diversity, Equality and Inclusion for Believe Global CIC/ The Believe Foundation, and a Global Pride Inclusion Advocate for Interpride Global.

I do all of this work because of what I went through before accepting my destiny, I speak openly and honestly about my life because I want others to feel safe to be true to themselves. My biggest hope is that others will not have to go through the traumas that I had. After all in the 21st century it should be OK to be who you want to be without fear of hate or discrimination as a basic human right.

Q: What does Transgender Visibility Day mean to you?

A:TDOV  is a day when the achievements and resilience of people in the transgender community are recognised.  It also helps to raise awareness of the discrimination that this community often receive on a daily basis.

Q: Finally, what advice do you have for someone struggling with their own coming out?

A:My advice is simple – BELIEVE TO ACHIEVE. Believe in your destiny and ability in order to Achieve success and happiness.  Search for your rainbow and find the sackfulls of happiness at the end of it. There is always support available for those struggling to come out, but being open and honest to family and friends is key.

It’s clear that Joanne is passionate about moving the dial when it comes to education and awareness and it’s evident within minutes just how much it means to her. The work she has done with the PCC led to a change of national custody policy and it also opened the opportunity to become a hate crime advisor for the LGBTQ2+ community for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Stonewall, entrusted Joanne as a Schools Role Model, speaking in schools about trans and LGBTQ2+ issues. She says she particularly enjoys delivering these talks as she says, “children are the future and helping them to understand helps eliminate unconscious bias and microaggressions.”

It’s important here to bring the attention to the many accolades Joanne has been nominated for, including earning three nominations for a National Diversity Award. She won the diversity category of, We Are the City Top 100 Rising Star awards, to which she said she was blown away by. The Chief Constable of Sussex Police presented Joanne with the award in a virtual ceremony. After she was presented with the City trophy, she was presented with the Chief Constable’s commendation for support and dedication to the police force and the CPS – a high honour for a civilian working on behalf of a police force. Joanne says she was amazed by the honour and never suspected it would happen.  To top off everything, an envelope appeared at her door in December 2020, assuming it was from the tax office ignored it until the end of the day. When she finally opened it she found it was a Cabinet Office recommendation for an OBE in the New Year Honours list for services to transgender equality as an independent advisor and a global LGBT+ advocate. Joanne told me about going to Windsor Castle to be presented her OBE by HRH Prince Charles and how honoured and humbled she was.

The OBE announcement has subsequently opened even more doors for her as she has been asked to be an Ambassador Consultant for the Global Equality Collective and has been approached  by several other organisations to talk about her life. Despite the awards Joanne remains committed and passionate about doing all she can to help raise awareness of diversity, she is determined to eliminate this unconscious bias and hopes to encourage others to talk about their experiences as she has done on podcasts, speaking of trauma, bereavement, loss and mental health.  She says she often receives feedback for being “brave”, but for Joanne, it is not about being courageous, it is about trying to prevent others from bottling up their identity to the verge of breaking point. The stress of hiding and trying to justify a male existence for 58 years was enormous and she regrets not making her decision sooner.

Thank you Joanne – your openness and honesty has already and will continue to help so many, we need more of you in this world!

Laura Laing