Rebekah Moffett, Communications Officer at Christian Concern, sits down with Pete Benjamin, a Christian man living with transgender regret.
I first meet Pete at the train station. He greets me with a friendly smile and a handshake. It’s clear from the off that he’s eager to share his story, to make the truth known.
Nobody bats an eyelid as we make our way to the car, chatting about how well he looks, how glad he is that we’re here. The conversation flows, but he keeps coming back to how good God has been to him. His joy is contagious.
Of course, if I’d met him a few months ago, the scene would have looked a lot different. Pete has a long and complicated history of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and a host of other mental health issues. More than once, joy had seemed unobtainable.
In fact, for years, Pete had struggled with his masculinity. For years, he had longed to be a woman. For seven years, in fact, many who knew him didn’t know him as Pete, but as Victoria. Back in 2015, Pete had irreversible gender reassignment surgery.
“I thought becoming a woman would make me happy,” he tells me. It didn’t.
Instead, it led to a deeper depression and in 2017 he suffered a nervous breakdown. But on Good Friday 2019, handing out flyers for a church event, he was challenged over his transgender lifestyle and made the life-altering decision to revert back to his God-given male identity.
Feeding childhood fantasies
Pete Benjamin is another prodigal son. Born into a church-going army family, his history of cross-dressing and relationship breakdown almost seems out of place.
Pete hadn’t grown up wanting to be a girl. “When I was five or six, I had no thought of becoming a girl,” he assures me. “It wasn’t until I was exposed to men in dresses at cabaret shows that my mind went that way.”
Aged just 10-years-old, his parents took him to see a cabaret act involving men in drag performing erotic-style dancing. This is where he attributes the beginning of his fascination with cross-dressing.
In his bedroom at home, he says, “there was a wardrobe containing my mother’s clothes. I used to take them and wear them.” Hidden in his own room, nobody was able to discourage him. “It was private,” he says, “I felt safe to indulge my fantasies. I had a secret identity. It felt good.”
But the fantasies didn’t stop there. With a hint of shame, Pete admits he would go to the library to find books about cross-dressing and men becoming women. This was all back in the 1970s when the gay lobby was beginning to find its voice after the 1969 Stonewall riots. The UK’s first Gay Pride rally took place in 1972, when Pete was just 13.
This early exposure to stories and examples of cross-dressing and transgenderism would have a detrimental effect on Pete growing up, and he believes it was these things combined that first placed the idea of ‘becoming a woman’ in his head.
Cross-dressing and alcoholism
The eldest of three, Pete himself joined the army aged 16. The prodigal son left in search of ‘joy’.
His ‘secret identity’ as a cross-dresser, however, didn’t leave him. As a young man of mixed race who had a secret identity to hide, Pete quickly became lonely and anxious. Drinking seemed to be the only form of escape, the only way to make him happy.
But as the legend dictates, when the head of Hydra is cut off, two more will grow in its place. Try as he might to rid himself of the loneliness, depression and anxiety, his efforts only seemed to make it worse. Alcohol took away the pain for a brief moment, but in its place, it left a gripping urge to cross-dress. “I believe there is a relationship between my cross-dressing and excessive drinking of alcohol,” he explains. “I believe that one feeds off the other. I drink so I lose my inhibitions so I can cross-dress; I’m ashamed of my cross-dressing, so I drink.” The cycle was vicious.
Hydra’s heads kept on growing back. His alcohol addiction inevitably led to depression and suicidal thoughts, he says. “The alcohol misted my mind,” he explains, “and because of the depression, I turned my back on Jesus.”
Married three times, his first wife mistook his addiction to cross-dressing for homosexuality. Throwing him out of the house, Pete rented a bedsit next to a dingy pub and filled the place with his women’s dresses. There was an LGBT club at the top of the road which he used to frequent, he tells me. The bright lights of the club were attractive, life seemed good – but when he got back home, the loneliness was overwhelming.
At the height of his loneliness, he married again. His second wife encouraged him to cross-dress, even joining him to shop for women’s clothes. But that marriage ended in an unhappy divorce.
In 2005, he married his third wife, whom he credits with “bringing my life back on track”. “She encouraged my Christian faith,” he says, “which had been dormant since 1973.”
This seemed to provide a momentary spark of joy, but in the wake of losing her to cancer in 2011, with an overwhelming burden of grief, he turned back to alcohol and cross-dressing. The depression returned stronger than it had ever been: “It was all building up inside, it was hurting.”
Ignoring the underlying factors
During the pain of grief, the heavy drinking and the addiction to cross-dressing, eager to escape the depression, loneliness and anxiety, Pete decided he wanted to ‘become a woman’ full-time and began identifying as ‘Victoria’.
To help him through his depression, Pete underwent a series of counselling sessions. “My counsellor knew that I was depressed,” he explains, “but he encouraged me by saying, ‘you are a woman, you’re living as a woman’. Nobody told me I was wrong to change gender – everyone encouraged me, so that’s the road I went down.”
Desperate to speed up the process, he became addicted to unregulated hormones, which he bought online, and began attending a transgender support group. In 2012, he approached a doctor in a highly vulnerable state and declared that he wanted to become a woman.
The GP encouraged him to “live as a woman for a month first” before being referred to a consultant psychiatrist at an NHS Foundation Trust.
At a quick appointment with the psychiatrist (no more than an hour long, he tells me), he was told he had ‘no underlying medical condition’ and was automatically put on a private waiting list for a gender identity clinic. There was no mention of his depression, other mental health issues or alcoholism. At the clinic, he paid £300 for a one-hour appointment with a doctor and was prescribed oestrogen tablets and Decapeptyl injections to begin the painful process of shrinking his testes and lowering his testosterone levels. These were on top of the addictive hormones Pete was already taking. “I could’ve killed myself taking this stuff,” he whispers to me.
Pete was then seen by another psychiatrist who referred him for full gender reassignment surgery on the NHS. Back in 2015, the NHS paid the £10,000 fee to fast-track his surgery to a private clinic rather than have to pay the fine for a longer waiting time than the 18-week limit.
In September 2015, Pete had the operation to ‘become a woman’. At the time, he’d pushed for it to happen sooner, loathing the very sight of his male body hair and the thought that he was a biological man.
“I never thought cross-dressing would lead me to having an operation to become a woman. I had addictions, I was drinking heavily, and I was having suicidal thoughts, but at every appointment I was encouraged to carry on the path to gender reassignment surgery and to become ‘Victoria’,” he says. “There was no caution or restraint. I was simply told, for example: ‘Yes, you are definitely transgender, I’m prescribing you hormones.’ It cost the NHS and myself thousands of pounds for me to go through this process.”
The emotional cost
But the cost was not just financial. When I ask him what made him go through with the operation in the first place, he tells me, “I thought I would be happy inside, I would be really joyful. I pushed to have the operation.”
But did it ultimately lead to his joy? “Straight after my operation, I was happy. But when I came home, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel any different inside, I didn’t feel like a woman. I went back to my previous ways. I was depressed, I was drinking heavily.”
In 2017, having had no follow-up psychiatry, Pete suffered a nervous breakdown. “After transitioning, I was back to being on my own, it wasn’t a good life. In reality, I was getting up in the morning and thinking, there’s something wrong here. But it’s too late now. Everyone knows me as Victoria, it’s too late.”
We stop for a second. I notice he is shaking, so I ask if he’s OK. He looks down at his hands and nods. The shaking, he explains, is just a side effect of everything he’s been through; all the drugs, all the anxiety, the alcohol. The doctor has told him it’s unlikely to ever completely leave him, although he assures me it’s gotten a lot better. Did he shake before he became Victoria, I ask. “No.”
At rock bottom, he turned to a local church for support, where he found what he describes as a “true Christian welcome”. But that didn’t mean the church affirmed him in his gender confusion, as so many others had done before.
After a few months attending this church, on 19 April 2019, Good Friday, Pete was sharing the gospel in his local shopping centre. A woman from church who only knew him as Victoria passed him by, and, compelled by the Spirit, asked him, “who is Peter?” Taken aback, he answered, “I am Peter.” She continued to explain: “God told me that a man called Pete should not live as a woman anymore.”
The prodigal son returned home. That very day, Pete threw away all his female clothing, all his wigs, all his make-up. He joined a church prayer meeting all Saturday. There, he found out that the church had been praying for him for months. The joy in his voice as he tells me is almost tangible. “If they hadn’t been praying for me,” he says, emotionally, “I would still be living as Victoria, depressed and suicidal.
“When I met that Christian woman, I realised that it wasn’t too late. God loves me and he wants me back. If he can leave the 99 sheep and go after the lost one, he can go after me.”
Supported by his church, Pete is continuing to live as the man that he was created to be. Like every other Christian, he has found that in following Jesus there is true freedom, undeniable hope, and real joy.
“God has done so much in my life,” he tells me, beaming. “When I met the lady who told me God didn’t want me to be Victoria anymore, it was like a big weight had been lifted off me. Since I’ve de-transitioned, I see more of God’s beauty every day. I wake up in the morning really happy now!
“When I look back on it now, I’m so much happier being Pete than being… that woman. When I was a woman, I wasn’t free. Now I can just come out and be me. I’ve got God, I’ve got freedom and I am happy.”
“Why does all this matter?” I ask him. He smiles thoughtfully. After a moment he tells me, “It’s a closed society, people don’t want to know the truth. They glamorise the transgender lifestyle – but it isn’t glamorous at all. People need to know what it’s really like, having been there myself.” The effects of transgenderism, he says, are heart-breaking and far reaching. To think that many children these days are being encouraged not only to read books promoting gender confusion, but also to take dangerous hormones and seek surgery, is tragic, he explains. The real dangers of transgenderism need to be exposed and parents, teachers, doctors and politicians all need to listen up.