‘I tried to kill myself five times as I couldn’t cope with being transgender’

From the age of just four Eva Echo knew she had been born into the wrong body.

One of her earliest memories is playing with her sister's Barbie dolls and pretending a towel was a dress.

Born a boy, she never had any interest in traditional male toys and always knew something was wrong – but had no way of explaining exactly what to her family.

The 39-year-old explained: "I don’t think adults give kids enough credit for what they’re feeling. But I knew from the age of four I was different. I just couldn’t articulate it.

"Rather than playing with my boy toys, I wanted to play with Barbie dolls belonging to my older sister. 

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"And one of my first memories was getting out of the bath, wrapping a towel around me and then pretending it was a dress. At the time, I didn’t know why I did it. But I knew it felt right."

Desperate to fit in, Eva admits that she focused all her energy on "just being a boy" but her life continued to spiral out of control.

She said: "From that point on, whenever I felt those sensations, I’d try to push them back down again. I tried not to think about anything else other than, ‘just be a boy’."

Born in Manchester to Chinese parents she was also a victim of racism and violence until the family moved to another area in the city to escape what was happening.

By 17 Eva's relationship with her family had deteriorated and she had developed an eating disorder, which she says was her way of "clawing back control" of her out of control life. 

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And after dropping out of university, things got even harder when her then girlfriend fell pregnant. 

Eva, who does not have contact with her child, said: "I felt like a complete failure. And it was a problem of my own identity, not wanting to bring a child into the world when I was trans.

"I didn’t want to ruin another life. I had a complete meltdown. That’s when self-harm began and my depression and eating disorders got even worse."

Any notion that Eva could 'come out' – even to herself – seemed ridiculous.

She adds: "At the time, trans people were seen as freaks, or that they were a fetish. It made me want to hide my feelings even more.

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"I became a ticking time-bomb. I couldn’t see a way that I could survive. It always seemed so much easier to take the suicide route."

The tattoo studio manager, now based in Stourbridge, West Midlands, was overcome by depression, self-harm and suicide attempts as she grappled with her real self.

It brought her to a motorway bridge where police were called as she threatened to throw herself from it.

Eva was also hospitalised several times after taking overdoses of painkillers to end her life between 2009 and 2012.

She said: "I was just upset that I couldn’t be who I wanted to be.

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"And I tried all sorts – I tried to hang myself, I took overdoses. One time I found a bottle of really strong prescription painkillers and ended up taking them all, ending up in hospital.

"Another time I went out wandering late at night and came to a footpath over a motorway. I remember sitting on the edge and thinking, 'it’ll be so much easier if I just slipped off now. Let’s just call it a day'.

"Right at the last minute I called the emergency services and begged them for help and I was taken by ambulance to a mental health unit, escorted by police.

"These feelings bubbled up more and more the older I got. Every year that passed was another year of not being me. I was in denial and ashamed."

Then Eva met her partner, tattoo artist Pippa, at a gig and in the spring of 2017 made the brave decision to tell her girlfriend that she was transgender.

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Eva, who opened the Lye Tattoo Studio with Pippa, says: "I knew I needed to tell Pippa but I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t even say the word ‘transgender’.

"And I ended up just blurting out to her, ‘I think there’s something wrong with me….’

"I told her everything… and she wasn’t even surprised. She just sort of shrugged and said, 'I know'

"It was huge for me. She’s the most important thing in my life and she wasn’t angry. I’d built things up to be so horrific that it was the ultimate turning point for me.

"I want other people to know that this scenario, this amazing outcome – despite a lot of the stories you read about, is possible."

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In 2017 Eva officially began her male to female transition and has presented as female for the last two years.

But she was confronted with a two-and-a-half year waiting list for access an NHS-run Gender Identity Clinic and is now calling on the government to offer better support.

Anyone seeking hormone therapy – either oestrogen or testosterone – will typically be referred to an NHS-run Gender Identity Clinic (GICs) where they can be assessed first.

Those diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ can then be offered treatment but not before then. The diagnosis is what opens the door to a solution.

But there are just seven GICs in England – London being the main one, as well as Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Daventry, Nottingham and Exeter – to serve a UK trans population estimated to be as large as 660,000.

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Waiting lists can run to three years.

In Eva’s case, she chose the GIC in Exeter and was referred by her GP, where the waiting list jumped to two-and-a-half years, leaving her devastated.

She eventually sought a diagnosis and hormone therapy from private firm Gender Care – where the waiting list was just three months.

Eva has recently undergone facial feminisation surgery with respected surgeon Christopher Inglefield, who featured in ITV documentary Transformation Street, and is now hoping to access gender affirmation surgery through the NHS.

Mr Inglefield, founder of the London Transgender Clinic, says Eva’s case is typical.

He added: "We’re delighted with Eva’s results and we’ll continue to support her in her journey.

"But sadly her story is also all too familiar. The vast majority of our patients have suffered from depression and anxiety and around half have actually experienced suicidal ideation.

"In many cases, it’s because they were unable to access the care they so desperately needed.

"We need better awareness about trans issues in the UK and we also desperately need more GICs to service the trans population.

"Another issue we face is that around one in five of the GPs we work with actually refuse to offer trans care – against all medical guidelines."

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