Jenny-Anne: God loves Diversity

Nature creates diversity, nobody is absolutely fixed one gender or the other. We love the diversity of most of nature, which adds colour and interest to life, why do we find it so difficult to accept it in each other?

Jenny-Anne Bishop OBE
Credit: Christa Holka










Born in South West London in 1946, Jenny-Anne grew up in South West and South East of London, she notes that growing up in this time was:“very different for LGBT, and especially ‘T’ people” .
After expressing ‘gender variant behaviour’ at a very young age, she was sent to see a psychiatrist at age 6. Although the psychiatrist reported such explorative behaviour as not unusual for a developing child, Jenny-Anne reflects that her parents, school and the Roman Catholic Church she belonged to at the time greatly disapproved.  Because of this she grew to be secretive in her gender expression and exploration, she felt the need to hide something so innate to oneself “Hiding, it stunts people’s growth”.

She always felt she was going to grow up to be just like her sister; she felt as a guardian and in charge of her younger sister, because of this stewardship she learnt  from the experience:
that sort of said to me, girls are more important than boys” . When she found she wasn’t physically growing up like her sister she became frustrated “then my childish mind said, well women are just castrated men – so if I can just persuade someone to do it, then I’ll be the person I should be” .

When puberty started, She felt her different body image was going further in the wrong  direction ;“I was told ‘get yourself a girlfriend; that’ll sort it out’”.

Jenny-Anne observes that when working as a scientist, back in the 70’s meant she could get away with dressing less hyper-masculine and formal, as she was more behind the scenes in the Laboratory. She remembers trying to fit in with typical male formal wear and her then wife agreed that it didn’t suit her. So she encouraged Jenny-Anne to wear more ‘relaxed’ fashion.
When her partner suggesting she borrow her unisex clothes Jenny-Anne remembers saying
Oh that’s very nice; can I wear the underwear as well!”  Her wife was understanding and supportive, and the pair went out for make-up and a more feminine wig as Jenny-Anne had a conventional masculine haircut at the time to fit in at work. On reflection Jenny-Anne notes that her wife was not fully aware of her being transsexual and simply viewed the style changes as a ‘crossdressing game’.

It was only after Jenny-Anne changed jobs and began travelling more, that her wife became unhappy with her partner’s gender identity. This led her to confront Jenny-Anne on theoretically what would be put on her headstone if she was killed in a traffic accident.
And I, without thinking, said ‘Of course, Jenny-Anne, it’s who I am’”.

Jenny-Anne’s marriage lasted 31 years.She can’t help but reminisce on her time pre-marriage where she was advised: “Get married, because it will cure it all” (00:22:33) She feels much regret in this, as she considers that if she had just been honest pre-marriage, she wouldn’t have effected so many people and a whole new family with her gender variance and presentation. But in combatant to this, she notes she probably wouldn’t have had her children which she loves and treasures dearly, even though they are not in regular contact. “Don’t hide it, come out with it

You either are trans or you’re not, it’s not something you have any real control over; the only control you have is, are you going to be your own authentic person, or are you going to try and hide

Jenny-Anne notes that her religion, which had always played a central role in her and her family’s life became even more  important to her at this time.  Her church was very conservative and didn’t approve of her gender variance – this means she felt she couldn’t go to communion often, could not go to church as herself, but she still went to mass regularly.
And I did until I was over 60, so for most of my life, there were very few Sundays I didn’t go to mass. And I found it very difficult because my church, my faith, my spirituality, is very important in my life; because I believe in a loving God, who welcomes everybody

There was very much this family pressure to conform, and the church was similar
She notes that this negative attitude to her gender non-conformity meant she felt she couldn’t go to mass anymore because she didn’t have the same prejudice to gender variance. “When I left the church, it was still very hard to be trans in the Catholic church; I think it’s easier now
Her friend, an Anglican vicar, and fellow trans person, introduced her to a trans Christian group , the Sibyls where she could practice as herself.  She says that it was amazing to go to communion as herself, but all her negative experiences with the Catholic church caused her to think that perhaps it was wrong to do this . “And I used to think: ‘come on, Jenny-Anne, you’re fooling yourself, God doesn’t want you doing this’. But that was my strong Catholic faith impinging on my thoughts” .
Through this group she met a friend who convinced her to go to their LGBT church, as it would be a more comfortable atmosphere. She notes it is at this point that her spiritual journey starts to change and morph slowly: “I went to church as Jenny-Anne and everyone just accepted me!

Her first pride march for the church in 1999 or 2000, to promote same sex marriage; “and I was dressed as one of the mothers’ of the Bride, and that was great fun”.

In church, at this time in the early 2000’s, Jenny-Anne was asked if she wanted to be on the board of directors for the church.  At first she was dubious if she was up for the part, but she received full support from her pastor.
And I’ve been, more or less, on the church board – and now the church committee – ever since”.

“Being able to be myself at church, in many ways legitimised my identity; there was no longer this distance between ‘Yes, I should be Jenny-Anne’ and my faith in a loving god, again, my Catholic upbringing still felt at odds with this new found peace in my identity.”

Through her current church she has learnt that “God loves diversity, diversity is just natural, it’s just what happens”.

Jenny-Anne received an OBE by the Welsh Office for her Trans work in Wales and the award itself from the cabinet office and the Queen; she talks about the amazing support she received after it was announced in the New Year’s Honours list and her trip to Windsor Castle to receive her award from Princess Anne, which was a fantastic and magnificent  occasion for her. She recounts that when thinking about an outfit to wear to her investiture, two close friends said they had a friend currently studying fashion design, and she had found a gap in the market for clothes for Trans people “The trans guys sometimes have to go for teenage clothes because everything else is too big; and very often, the trans women have to go for very large sizes, which aren’t necessarily terribly fashionable!” Jenny-Anne and her partner Elen worked with her for a few months and were presented with  amazing outfits for the award ceremony.

Jenny-Anne notes that because she has gone down the more traditional Legal and medical  gender pathway she was able to achieve Gender Recognition in 2010, she was then able to marry Elen as a heterosexual couple as Elen decided not to follow the conventional pathway of changing her  gender on legal documents.Elen’s legal name had to be put on the certificate, but her preferred name is also on the license as an also Known as name (AKA), “So I’m  married to two people! I’m a legal bigamist!” On their honeymoon in the USA, Elen chose to dress androgynously because her passport was in her birth name;’ it seems that people often gave us looks and comments suggesting Jenny-Anne must’ve married a gay man’ which she laughed at internally. Jenny-Anne notes people have very problematic and fixed ideas on people in diverse relationships.

Jenny-Anne is concerned that as an older woman, she and Elen want to be each other’s next of kin, to have proper care and make legal and community arrangements for if either one passes away before the other. “Because too often, when Trans people die, families reclaim them; and in too many cases they’re not treated in the way they should be

So I think I’ve been very lucky in my life, I’ve met lots of really nice people, I’ve been given resources by God at the right points to do what I do; because I believe that life is full of opportunities, the trick is to try and take the opportunities that are going to cause change”

Twilight People: it says in a way that people are having to hide a little bit, they can only come out in the twilight when people don’t notice them […] we’re going to move these twilight people into the spotlight and show what their lives and their thoughts are really about
Jenny-Anne views this as an amazing things as she notes the intersection of trans people and people of faith is not explored often, and people tend to ignore the problems of people who are trans as well as people who are trans with faith, trans and learning impaired or disabled, people who have immigrated / asylum seekers and are LGBT: “And we don’t give those people enough space to tell their stories”(

I think, most people who’ve struggled to be themselves, want to tell their stories if they can; and they want them to be recorded to help others”.
Jenny-Anne mentions that sometimes people think an autobiography is the only way to tell their story, but she reflects it is only one, and it is very hard to do; she instead proposes a collective like Twilight People encompasses the wealth and multitude of experience by many gender diverse people turning them into history; inspiring both the LGBT+ community as well as society as a whole.

I think it can also be inspirational to other people who can see that it’s possible to be both trans, and to still have faith and come out and transition if they want to, or just to be themselves when the occasion allows

I have a little saying; “keep on keeping on”
Jenny-Anne plans to go on with her current projects enthusiastically; she also encourages people, by simply being out there, all of us are making an impact in the world she says.
Some of my friends say ‘Oh oh I’m not sure I could be an activist’ and I say, you are, you’re out there in the world, being Trans and being openly proud of who you are” (01:33:15)

Jenny-Anne supports other big events like the public exhibition of Twilight People, which widen the profile of Trans people in the public awareness and that is further work and exposure fighting for recognition and equality.

One day we won’t have to do it; and if we educate the children properly, diversity will be celebrated in future generations