The following text is from an article published by Physics World (PDF), published in January 2020.
For most of her life, Megan Povey coexisted in an uneasy, often distressing, truce with Malcolm Povey. Two sides of the same coin, but only one of them, Malcolm, permitted to be visible, present and self-evidently male in the wider world. That all changed on Boxing Day 2017 when Megan came out to her family, telling them that for as long as she could remember she’d been a woman “inside her head”.
What was life like for you before your transition from Malcolm to Megan?
I was never comfortable about who I was meant to be, to be honest. I’d hide away rather than meet people. It was easier in the workplace because I could relate to people entirely through my science. The female side of my personality was wanting to escape since I became conscious – and it’s not like something you can switch off.
That can’t have been easy?
It was quite lonely. I have been a woman inside my head for a very long time – and I don’t have to pretend any more. Now that I’ve transitioned, I say to my female friends that I’ve suddenly discovered the other half of the world. And from their point of view, they could never have had the conversations with Malcolm that they now have with Megan.
How did going public with your transition make you feel?
It was very frightening, but I had to do it. The experience has been massively liberating because all my life – even from early school days – I’ve had to pretend I was somebody I wasn’t. Ultimately, it’s about intellectual honesty. Put that another way: staring at the gulf and pretending it isn’t there is a non-starter for me. Because I always want to know – and you don’t get to know by denying the existence of things. I don’t think even five years ago I could have done this. The world has changed a lot of late, with more progressive approaches to gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in society. I’ve benefited from all that.
How have people responded to your transition?
I’ve had lots of fantastic support from my family, the university HR department, plus my colleagues and collaborators have been amazingly accepting. I know my transition has had a positive impact within the university, and I’ve got a lot of kudos for doing it at this stage of my career. There have been a few issues, with some male colleagues, funnily enough, still treating me as a man – or rather the man they used to know. There’s also the fear of being outed as a transwoman in the street and being attacked – that’s an ever-present concern.
What advice would you give to others going through a similar experience?
It’s an individual choice, but just be true to yourself. Fundamentally, this is about self identification and being brave – though obviously you have to worry about the impact on family and the people close to you. The social context matters, but I think people should come out if they can. The situation is perhaps more complicated for a younger person who’s not yet established their own identity. For me, I want to claim my past and my work. I’m proud of it and it makes me who I am.
Professor Megan Povey is a Professor of Food Physics in the School of Food Science and Nutrition.