“It’s what’s on the inside… not the cover”
Rachel Horne interviews Natalie Harrison a transgender women, dementia care-worker and Northern Soul DJ.
So what was it like for you growing up?
“You know, I have to tell you this first. When my mum was six months pregnant with me, my dad was on two years service in Cyprus. My mam went over to join him in 1955, my dad hated the weather out there, he was an engineer in the RAF. So they decided to come back to the U.K. The day they left to come home, they walked along the tarmac towards the plane, all of a sudden it blew up in front of them, the plane, their luggage, the lot, 5 or 10 minutes later I wouldn’t be here. I’m not saying it’s God’s will, I’m not so sure about all that. What are the chances?
When my parents got back to England they had nothing, just the clothes they were wearing.”
When did you realise you were different to other children?
“For me, it all started when I was 4 years old.
My mum always wanted a girl. I was dressed in christening gowns until I was two, that was what my aunty told me.
I can understand the children today that say, “mum dad, I want to go to school in a skirt”, I’m not a boy, I’m a girl. , The worst thing you can do is tell your child “no you can’t do that”. They have got to discover themselves, deeply. It’s what’s on the inside that matters… not what’s on the cover.
I felt there was something so wrong with me for years, I didn’t tell anyone or say anything. It was so difficult. When I had the chance I would come home from school early, I just wanted to sit at home and put my mum’s dress on. To make me feel that I was female. I couldn’t have a doll. But I thought it was fantastic when Action Man came out, you know what I mean? Cos I could have a doll….I found it so difficult.
My dad ran football teams and because I had a willy down below, I had to be a footballer, I couldn’t let him down. I did under 10s, 11s, 12s, because I didn’t want to be a cissy, I had to go along with it. But I still was a character as well, as I am now, I was always laughing, always truenting at school. Things like that”.
Did you feel like this life isn’t for me?
“I used to cry sometimes, cry myself to sleep, thinking what is up with me? Why am I like this? I used to have such an adult mind, like, what if one day I told everybody, “I’m a girl”…they just say “Wha..what?” It was the 1960/70s and 80s you couldn’t say something like that”.
You must have been such a deep thinking child to question life and your gender at such an early age?
“You question yourself all the time. And I wasn’t really interested if I had a girlfriend or not. But I did have a girlfriend by my side most of the time. I was never without one but I’d always be questioning why am I like this. There was still something missing but everything around me was a boy/girl. If you were gay or queer in those days you would be absolutely hammered. So I had to keep going as I was”.
Did you ever see anyone in the media and think, oh, I can relate to them?
“Not till later, I just went on thinking there’s something inside me, I can’t get out yet because of my mum and dad. I didn’t want to make them feel embarrassed, or something like that. My mum and dad loved me to bits, I had the most fantastic upbringing. So, I was 15, I had my willy down there and I got those urges. But I just wasn’t bothered if I had a girlfriend or not. I wasn’t into men. This is the weirdest thing; I wasn’t gay.
But there was still something missing…I got married twice and they didn’t last. I just want to prove myself as a male but in my mind, Natalie was trying to come through.”
When did you start to call Natalie, Natalie?
“It was about 10 ten years ago. My marriage didn’t work out, so I came home, it was around the time my mum was dying, I was deeply depressed, I started to think about coming-out. My dad was still alive as well but I couldn’t do that to him. For him to see me in a dress. I’m a very thoughtful with people, you know. I’ve got such a great heart. I’d sooner do something for someone else, I’d given my last penny, to help someone. Well actually, only before I’ve bought a few records!”
What was the transitioning like?
“You see, you have to be dressed-up for two years, and attend the gender clinic every few months and they will ask if you have changed your mind.
I’d be like “no, no”… they’d be like: “have you seen the operation”, I’d say; “yes, yes”, (actually I never saw the operation, my mate told me if I saw it I’d never get it done).
I’d just say “yeah, yeah, can I get it done yet?” That’s just my humour, I like to laugh things over, I do laugh a lot.
I had the operation, it didn’t bloody hurt! It’s like having a pin prick, the operation was in Brighton, I should have headed straight home and stayed in because they ask you to stay at home for two or three weeks. A taxi came to pick me up, I said, I’m not leaving Brighton till I have fish and chips. I went to the pier and ate fish and chips. It was just fantastic.”
What are your links to the Northern Soul Scene?
“I was in the Northern Soul scene from 1971. My dad used to put on events at the Duke of Wellington in Lincolnshire, at first it was just pop and Motown but then we decided to do a proper Northern Soul night. So my dad would give me £20, and we’d go to Arkwright Street in Nottingham to buy records.
I’d come out with 30/40 records of course I’d think they were all originals but they were just pressings. I didn’t know. Anyway, I’d come back, bolt home to play the records, my dad liked Genesis and Black Sabbath ye see. I beat him too it.”
What was it going back on the scene as a woman all these years later?
“Well, Julie Dixon – my very best mate from years back… we’d not seen each other for ages. One night about six years ago, she came to the venue, she wasn’t gonna come out but someone talked her into it. That’s god’s law for you!
So someone said to her Dave Levo is over there…so she said where is he? I can’t see him? …and they said “NOT HIM HER”
…so she said “fuckin’ hell…. tell HER to come over ‘ere then.
She asked me how I was doing. I told her everything, that I’d known since I was 4 years old and that I was going for the operation. Bloody hell she said….we will have to have a night out. Ever since that night she’s been by my side. She’s a soul sister.
I used to DJ in the 70s, I used to DJ at the Palais Nighters in Nottingham. Quite a few places on the Lincolnshire Circuit. You know with getting married and everything, I’d had to sell my records and now I have to buy them back at treble the price. Bridget Wilkcocks a soulie in Doncaster said “Nat you are wanted in three states!” Everyone wants to book me; Scotland, Manchester and Nuniton.”
Does gender matter?
“I sat down and I thought, Gender? Why are some people so funny about gender but I don’t push myself to people they come to me. But in my past I was a bricklayer, I went to football, I’d go scrapping. I was a right nut case. Just to prove how much of a man I was.”
Do you feel like your life has come full circle, going back to the Northern Souls Scene but as Natalie.
I said to Julie one night when we were out, you know what? I wanna DJ again but as a woman. I’m gonna get back into this as a woman, I’m gonna spend 600-700 month on records, I’m starting to build a big following on social media. I play records live on Saturday and Sunday morning from 10am my show is called The Wide Awake Club, hundreds of people tune in, I’m being booked to DJ in venues all over.
How could anyone imagine the way I’ve been accepted back on the Northern Soul Scene? People are so supportive they say “ so what? it doesn’t matter.. she’s Natalie to us”.