Joanne Monck OBE

Author: Chris Taylor

Monday 28th June

 

Although the seed of Joanne Monck was planted in a male body in 1955, it would take her over 58 years to break from the cocoon of David.

She always knew the core of her being was a woman even as David developed through a tumultuous school career, experiencing horrific bullying for not participating in boyish physical activities and finding it easier to be friends with other girls.

It caused a human being, in need of guidance, to forge through an early life without knowing how to express or understand the urge to dig into his mother’s dressing box for different garments to wear that were not the standard collars and trousers of the time. Support from others was not readily available either as the word ‘Transgender’ was not even defined in the dictionary yet.

Joanne describes the experience to a growing tree where the visible portion was David, and the hidden roots were Joanne. As the branches grew this shaped his personality and traits.

“At birth, a tree was planted,” she says, “As the tree grew, the trunk and the branches would belong to David, but the roots were always Joanne’s, and she would fill him 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 on after a disrupted end to David’s schooling years and into adolescence. The mounting anxiety felt was increasing throughout as he continued to fight the urges he felt. Desperately trying to validate his heritage while working as a farm hand by shopping for women’s clothing while fibbing they were ‘bought for a girlfriend’ then trying to purge that desire to dress by throwing them on a bonfire in the garden.

This eventually led to a nervous breakdown as the conflicting thoughts and emotions came to an impasse as burning the clothes did not bring the satisfied feeling of being rid of the desires. Instead, it 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, she said 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. “He spent his life trying to validate who he was, but Joanne was so strong, it was difficult.”

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 as his parents wanted grandchildren. By the 1970’s, there was still no wide idea of what transgender meant, no matter any support open to help Joanne come forward.

He eventually remarried.

They had two sons together whom Joanne loves completely. Despite the struggle that continued inside her and the external struggle of staying married to a domineering partner, the decision to have and raise children was never regretted. She said she, “Stayed in the marriage out of a sense of guilt, and an undying love for my two sons. Inside I was physically dying, emotionally dying”.

She took her urge to dress to private times and tried to compensate by taking ‘macho’ jobs such as a part-time firefighter and as a Special Constable, however, they did not work out as the fit into the cultures at the time were not conducive to someone looking to not open themselves up too much for fear of being ostracised.

At the turn of the new millennium, the unimaginable happened, David lost his wife. Although this was a very sad time, there was a limited sense of freedom felt from the expectation to conform.

The roots of Joanne continued to grow into a vast network and her reach was getting bigger. She was bombarding David with thoughts and feelings yet persisted with the status quo.

It took until a bleak day in 2014 where David sat at the point of Beachy Head and reflected heavily on his life. He sat there for a time before being pulled back from the edge by police officers.  

Joanne says the officers were compassionate and helpful and was very thankful to them, but although the temptation to jump was briefly present, she does not believe she would have committed suicide.    

That was the day David returned home and said he “cannot continue like this”.

It was then the decision to transition came to fruition and it was like a zip began to come down along his body and Joanne finally emerged from a long gestation. She said it was “Like the tree had been chopped down but the roots were not dug up. The roots of Joanne started to form their own tree”.

She officially changed her name by Deed Poll and began hormone therapy. She had gender surgery in 2017 and became legally female with a new birth certificate issued.

From then on, she was a completely new person, not just in the way she looked, but there was a massive change in personality too. She said from that day “David died as far as I was concerned”.

Not everything of David was dead, however. She said his values and best qualities remained and one of those qualities was kindness and the willingness to help others.

At start of her transition, she got involved in trying to raise awareness to as many people as she could what it was like to live a life in hiding.

“It has been an amazing thing for me to do. 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.”

Feeling more confident and outgoing after transitioning, she is now more willing to put herself out into what can be a harsh public sphere and is willing to tell her story to anyone who will listen.

“It’s amazing. I’m happy. And extrovert!” she said, “I’ll talk to anybody. I will talk to a complete stranger having a coffee in a café.”  

Eager to make a new start in life, she joined South East Coast Ambulance Service and told them of the transition. She said they were welcoming and supportive. She 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 she had felt happy at work and where she was accepted for who she truly was. She would have stayed in this role long-term if not for a medical diagnosis which forced her to leave, losing her diversity champion role with it.  

 

 

 

Now focussing all her efforts into Sussex Police, she serves on seven advisory groups, is a hate crime ambassador and an independent advisor for the force. She is helping them understand the transgender community and the issues they face and to be more proactive in their dealings with trans people with their use of pronouns.

Not shying away for a challenge, she is also an Equality, Inclusion & Diversity (EID) advisor for the Bluebell Railway. The steam railway has an older collective of patrons and volunteers who are not as focussed on inclusion than a major police force with strong community ties. She received numerous “weird looks” and was misgendered frequently whilst providing her services, but she remained strong and put herself forward wholeheartedly to them, sharing her life garnering respect for it.

“I tell them ‘This is me and this is my life, and you have to respect that’ and they do, and I am highly respected there now,” she says of her experience.      

It was that strive for respect that earned her three nominations for a National Diversity Award. Her building confidence and hard work culminated in one of her rewarding opportunities to date as an independent custody advisor for the Sussex Police Crime Commissioner, where she would go into custody centres and check on the welfare of detainees – with particular focus on transgender detainees.

Her work with the PCC led to a change of national custody policy. It also opened the opportunity to become a hate crime advisor for the LGBT+ community to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

LGBT+ campaigning organisation, Stonewall, entrusted Joanne as a Schools Role Model, speaking in schools about trans and LGBT+ 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”.

Not every aspect of her life has taken a dramatic turn for the better, however, as she experienced a particularly bad barrage of vitriolic hate on social media two years ago which she says “almost finished” her. She wanted to quit the work she was doing at that moment but found the strength not to let that defeat her.

Her determination was rewarded last year when she won the diversity category of, We Are the City Top 100 Rising Star awards. She said she was “blown away” by the award.

The Chief Constable of Sussex Police agreed to present 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. She assumed was from the tax office and paid it no attention until the end of the day. It was not until 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.

She is now looking forward to her medal presentation once pandemic restrictions ease sufficiently. She says the OBE was “the icing on the cake” for a year she could not have even imagined before a few years ago.

Her OBE announcement has subsequently opened doors for her as she has been asked to be an Ambassador Consultant for the Global Equality Collective and has since been asked to be a global mentor and has been approached by organisations to talk about her life.

The awards and accolades have not dulled her sense of humility, however. She remains humble and passionate to speak about trans issues and do anything she can do to help raise awareness of diversity, whether it be through the schools, the public, or organisations.

Within organisations, large or small, she is determined to eliminate this unconscious bias where someone does not fit into an ‘in’ group or an ‘out’ group where they identify as LGBT+ or disabled and are automatically put onto an ‘others’ list.  She says it, “Doesn’t matter who you are, you should employ on merit, and it doesn’t matter who the organisation is”.

She says there is still a lot of work to be done around workplace inclusion, and not just for LGBT+ people. There are still companies with greater marketing abilities creating a distorted impression rather than providing a truly inclusive culture.

She continues to fight for reasonable, cost-effective, adjustments such as gender-neutral toilets. She also fights for other adjustments that would allow organisations to respect a greater number of people such as greater access for disabilities and dedicated quiet spaces for people to pray during work hours.

She says, “A truly inclusive organisation can have a massive impact on the way employees engage with each other, they are more productive in what they do.”

Joanne has said that one thing will always have a place in her memory. “Whilst recovering at home after my gender surgery, one of my sons visited me. After asking how I was he then asked if he could call me mum and that bought a few tears”.

With the advisory work she does, she is cultivating respect. She says her OBE has gone a long way in affirming that respect but says it was always there. “Respect came from being honest and open about what I have done and have always been open about my previous life.”

Joanne fears many transgender people will not talk about their past experiences. For some, there are traumatic events that they simply cannot reconcile. She 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” afterword, 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.

Releasing her burden did not magically turn her life around for the better overnight. She put in a lot of work to get where she is now, but her change in outlook has made her better equipped to deal with challenges.

She puts it down to how she interacts with people, telling her story, but also listening to what others have to say and not getting too disheartened when others may disagree with her. “It is how you talk to people is the key to breaking down the negative and positives. Listening helps in understanding,” she said, “Allowing them to open up by engaging on their terms helps too.” 

Joanne continues to raise awareness for transgender issues and does not intend to rest on what she has achieved to this point. Her passion for her work continues and wants to help others that may be finding their experiences difficult.

She is now the National Head of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion for Believe Global CIC/ The Believe Foundation, and a Global Pride Inclusion Advocate for InterPride Global

She is currently working as an Ambassador and Diversity Mentor for Includability and is available to any job seeker or Employer looking for career or employment advice from a transgender perspective.