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Cora Sargeant, a woman with shoulder length blonde hair and glasses, sat in her home smiling at the camera

The woman I created – the woman MS helped me to become.

Cora Sargeant

Educational psychologist Cora Sargeant shares how MS gave her strength as she transitioned to her true self.

There are specific kinds of bodies and minds for which society was designed. Society dreams a life, a future for us, and it polices rules that push us to conform.  

But life sometimes has its own plans.  

The journey of being trans is strangely similar to that of MS – we have little control over it. It becomes a part of who we are. We come to know these rules of society as we transgress them, just by being our genuine selves. 

Living in secret 

I've met many trans folk who try to live within these rules. I once visited a secret society in a carefully guarded location, a building out alone in the wilderness. Inside sat a group of women who had made a tense peace with their lives. They had friends, families, careers, all in disguise as men in the world. In exchange they came to this village hall, this little sanctuary of authenticity. And just once a month, they allowed themselves to be free. 

These wonderful women had built their lives into prisons for their authentic selves. They made the impossible choice all trans folk are faced with, and one that I, too, had to make: continue to live in disguise and imprison my secret self, or risk losing everything to be free. 

Deciding to transition  

It was a dear friend who helped me to choose. I had hidden behind the idea that my transition, to embody my truest, most secret self, was completely out of reach. But my friend took my hands and with unshakeable support, simply held out the slightest chance that my dream might be possible. 

I started to transition the next day.  

I attended my doctoral exam in my favourite red dress, and I graduated as ‘Cora' – my dream made manifest.

Yet more and more I came to transgress the rules of society, losing the privilege of their protections with every step. I remember how my partner and I worried about holding hands in public, how my employer wanted to warn schools before my arrival. And how my GP dismissed my ascending numbness as 'probably just anxiety'. I guess girls can get so anxious that they lose feeling in a limb... 

There's a part of my mind always watchful for the possibility that I might be ‘clocked’ as trans, and the risks should that occur. I'm fairly open about being trans, but there are many people I meet who cause hairs on the back of my neck to stand up in warning. In those moments I take extra care with my voice and try to stay calm while my heart quietly races. In those moments anonymity remains my first line of defence. 

MS can knock my confidence 

The thing is that MS can make it harder to stay secret, to stay safe. From fatigue making it more challenging to pitch my voice, to my reduced finger dexterity making it more difficult to braid my hair. My affected vision makes it trickier to apply eyeliner, and my anxiety in social situations is harder to keep in check. You see, remaining invisible is as much about confidence as it is about appearance. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that MS knocks your confidence.   

One of those moments happened recently outside the hospital. I'd been getting my infusion and of course I hadn't worn makeup. I was in a hoodie and jeans, and I’d barely brushed my hair. I was sat too close to the drop off point for a particular dude’s convenience and he got out of his BMW to complain at me. He began with ‘hey mate’ – a classic sign he'd read me as a boy. I flushed red. I wondered how many others had read me as a guy that day. 

Being seen for who I am 

I recognise that women don’t need makeup, particular clothes or hair to be women, but those things help a binary world to see me as one. When it happens, when the world reads me as ‘girl’, the experience is euphoric. When my partner and I are at a restaurant together and a waiter says ‘what can I get you ladies?’, a weight lifts from my chest. The secret part of myself that was just a dream for so long is finally seen. I’m here in the world, tangible and material.  

I spent a long time frightened of MS, as it trod so heavily over my dreams. Now, though, I realise that MS makes me so appreciative of the present moment. It pushes me to embody myself fully and truly right now, to build friendships and intimacy, to pull people close, and to be kind. I used to be frightened that I was becoming a monster that MS created. But now I think maybe I am… 

…the woman that MS helped me to become.