all about jin xing

Whenever I’d be hanging out with some group of artists or dancers, sitting around the remnants of dinner and drinking in one of those sultry Guangzhou nights, Jin Xing’s name would always seem come up. There’s very much a story for me there, the people who affected me that I suppose caused me to become what I am now. The admiration with which she was always held, how highly regarded she was in the world of Chinese contemporary dance and that she was also very publicly transsexual was not lost on me. I think especially because in a very real way she allowed me to imagine the possibilities in how I could continue to live. After hearing so much about her and meeting her a couple of times, it’s nice to read some of her life from her.

“You are sick, Jin Xing. Do it later, maybe. But look, women are fascinated by you, and men are intrigued. If you become a woman, women won’t want to be friends with you and guys won’t be turned on by you any more. And as far as men, real men, go… Do you think they’re going to want you? They want a natural woman, not… not…”

“A fake one? Is that what you want to say?”

— The Guardian

Revolution in the blood

Feeling trapped in an alien body, Jin Xing underwent one of the first sex changes in China. The Red Army colonel who dared everything to become a prima ballerina tells her story

The Jeep is parked in front of our house in Beijing. Li Jian, the driver, is getting impatient: we’re going to be late. Mother has come out for a last goodbye. She is leaning against the doorframe, tears running down her face. She has devoted herself to me, her only son. In China, it’s the son who continues the family line; the son who is showered with love; the son who matters most. And now she is about to lose her son and gain another daughter.

Li Jian taps his watch. “We have to go.”

It is 1995 and we have just celebrated Chinese New Year. I turn 28 in August.

At the Hospital of the Perfumed Hills, Dr Yang shows me her collection of silicone breasts. I prod the largest one as if I were shopping for fruit. That’s the one I want, but Dr Yang praises the elegance of the smallest one. No way! It is laughably flat, like a 15-year-old girl. But Dr Yang won’t be swayed. They would bother you when you dance, she says.

Before I’m allowed anywhere near the scalpel, I must take a psychology test. If only 60% of your answers come up as “feminine”, you will not qualify for sex-reassignment surgery. If you hit 75%, you are encouraged to undergo “re-masculinisation” therapy – something I must avoid at all costs. Above 80% and surgery is recommended. I shoot for 80%. The result exceeds my expectations: 94%. The day after I have my first operation, I cup my hands around my new breasts, astonished. I can’t believe that I have made the first step. I know there is a long way to go, but my childhood dream is finally becoming reality.

I am six years old. I have just come home after watching a performance of The White-Haired Girl, one of communist China’s first major ballets. I climb up onto my kang – my brick sleeping platform – peel off a pillowcase and make a headdress. Then I twirl round and round, pretending I am the white-haired heroine.

Back in the real world I am a young boy again, living with my mother and my elder sister. We lodge with an old lady in a small Manchurian village about 100 kilometres from Shenyang. My parents are both Korean émigrés. My mother and her sister fled Korea during the war, seeking refuge in northern China. It was there that she met my father, a handsome older officer in the People’s Liberation Army of China. My sister Jin Xianglan was born in 1964 and I followed in 1967.

Now, six years on, we are in the middle of the Cultural Revolution and my father works for the Regional War Office in Shenyang. The Red Guard denied my mother permission to live with him, so we see him only rarely. He is a “red”: in the army his nickname is Jin the Marxist-Leninist. My mother, however, is regularly accused of being a spy – in part because she is Korean and works as a Japanese translator, but also because when she first came to China she was given shelter by a known traitor. As a result, she must undergo interminable interrogations by the Red Guard every night.

One day at school, five People’s Liberation Army officers in full uniform appear and my name hisses through the loudspeaker. “Jin Xing! Jin Xing is called to the director’s office!” The following day, the officers show up at our home. They introduce themselves to my parents, and explain that they have been impressed by my talent and would like to invite me to join the army’s dance troupe.

There were 13 of us boys, aged between nine and 17, and I was the youngest and smallest of the lot. At night we slept like spoons, seven boys in one bed and six in another.

The official wake-up call was at 5.30am. Our blankets had to be tucked in with corners as sharp as blocks of tofu and our caps lined up perfectly on top. Then there was jogging, followed by an hour of indoor gymnastics.

The gym was in a large auditorium, its ceiling supported by towering pillars. We were arranged into pairs and told to stand against a pillar, one on either side. The instruction came to stretch a leg up against the column until we were all doing the vertical splits. Then a series of pulleys were lowered from the ceiling next to each student and, to my horror, the teacher proceeded to attach them to our outstretched legs before giving the signal for the pulley to yank back upwards. Once at maximum stretch, our legs were bound to our pillar with rope and we were told to stand like that for 15 minutes before resuming the torture on the opposite leg. For two or three minutes you could hold it; it hurt, but it was bearable. After that, the ligaments started to rip and it was pure hell. I will never forget those screams as long as I live – like pigs being butchered!

At 8am it was time for Russian ballet and Beijing Opera acrobatics. In the afternoons we had folk-dancing class, Beijing Opera class and, finally, drama class. I loved Russian ballet and excelled at folk dancing. But that was the girls’ speciality. As soon as the teacher left the room, I would scamper off to hang out with the girls, pirouetting on the other side of the curtain which divided our classes in two.

Twice a year we boys went on manoeuvres. They were my worst nightmare. I was nine, I was small, I was skinny, and I felt like a little girl hiding inside a boy’s body – don’t count on me to defend the People’s Republic! First there was the uniform: the waistband of the trousers came up to my neck and the jacket sleeves hung below my fingertips. Then there was the gun, which was taller than I was. We ended each session with hand grenades. Once the pin was out, we had 10 seconds to run for cover. I didn’t have a lot of strength in my shoulders so I couldn’t toss it very far, and I was terrified of dropping it too close to my feet and blowing myself up.

By the age of 13 I was still much too short to perform any of the lead roles but the troupe’s director, the great classical Chinese choreographer Mr Men Wenyan, took me under his wing. It was an honour to be singled out by Mr Men, yet I did not trust him. Although married, it was well known that he was gay. He would invite me to his place during the school’s nap time – always while his wife was out at work and his children at school – on some pretext, such as wanting me to listen to some music. But I was smart and I found excuses.

In spite of Mr Men’s support, the directors of the troupe pushed me to join the scenic arts team. They just did not see me as a principal dancer: my physique was not manly enough. Luckily, as I grew older, my talent won through. After taking first prize in the national Students’ Cup I was promoted to senior officer and called to join the troupe which would perform in Paris at the French Communist Party’s Fête de l’Humanité. I am 17 and about to dance on an international stage!

Rows of black suits fill the China Airlines plane. From where I sit, it looks like a funeral party. The entire delegation has been ordered to wear these badly cut, country-bumpkin suits. Amid the sea of black, I shine out in a superb three-piece suit in dazzling white, bought specially for the trip.

At our hotel we are given two cans of Coca-Cola every day. I line them up, unopened, on my dresser, so I can take them back home. The sky is clearer in Paris, the air purer. The Parisians look happy. I stop at newsstands to look at magazines. I’ve noticed some soft porn magazines and, while the others chat, I discreetly leaf through them. You can’t find anything like that in China. I flick past the naked women and linger on the men.

On my return to China, Mr Men invites me to choreograph a dance number with him and a teacher from the Beijing Dance Academy. At our hotel in Beijing, he sits on my bed and pats the space next to him. I dodge him as usual, but the next evening, I push open my door to find him waiting for me in the bedroom. He presses me against the wall.

“You are a very attractive boy, Jin Xing. Not only a talented dancer.”

He strokes my hand. I tell him he is my teacher, that I admire and respect him enormously but that this is not appropriate. To my great relief, we continue our rehearsals without problem.

A few weeks later, Mr Men dangles in front of me the prospect of studying at the Dance Academy in Guangdong, where the Asian Cultural Council and the American Dance Festival are to run the first ever modern dance class in China. It will be taught by American instructors and the best student will be selected to continue their studies in the US.

America! Cans of Coke multiply before my eyes. They appear dancing arabesques, fizzing over with the pressure of millions of trapped bubbles. But I am wary of Mr Men, who I know is trying to manipulate me into an affair. When I tell him that I will go to Guangdong, with or without his permission, a mask of fury grips his face.

“It’s unthinkable for you to even consider leaving just when you will finally be of service to the army.”

But I am the PLA’s star dancer. I won’t be intimidated.

“Mr Men, my feelings towards you are those of a student towards his teacher. It is out of the question for me to sleep with you.”

He tips back his chair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am simply trying to protect your talent and your training.”

“I don’t believe you. If you were concerned about my future, you would encourage me. I’ll get there somehow.”

“Not without my permission, you won’t. I am the one who gives the orders, and if you persist in this vein you won’t be dancing here any more either.”

His attack is strong – but I’m ready.

“Mr Men, do you remember that evening in the hotel in Beijing, when you came to my room? Well, I taped our conversation. If you don’t let me go, I will denounce you to the Director of Cultural Services.”

It’s all bluff, of course. He chuckles with contempt.

“So you’re threatening me, you little crook! You’re a fool. I am the director of the troupe. Who do you think they’ll believe, you or me?”

The next day I tell the Director of Cultural Services that I am tired of fending off Mr Men’s advances and that I want to take the modern dance classes at the Guangdong Dance Academy but Mr Men won’t allow me to go.

The director wrings his hands and eventually agrees to my going, but for only a year.

What comes as a great surprise in my first classes at Guangdong is that freedom of expression is not only allowed but encouraged by the American teachers. In traditional Chinese dance, emotions are codified and exaggerated – one “plays” anger, happiness or sadness. Anyway, military dance is essentially just propaganda; we personify valiant, warlike soldiers to inspire the troops. There can be no room for human sensibilities. It is a revelation to discover this, a whole new form.

At the end of the school year I am chosen for the US fellowship. The only problem is that I don’t have a passport. The army refuses my demobilisation and City Hall rejects my applications. My year in Guangdong is over and I’ll have to go back to Shenyang and rejoin the army. I feel hopeless. Then the Academy calls. “Your papers are ready.”

It’s a miracle. By the end of the afternoon my American visa is glued into my brand-new passport. I am going to America!

The Asian Cultural Council accommodation is on 15th Street near Seventh Avenue, halfway between Chelsea and Greenwich Village. It is a tiny studio apartment, right in the heart of Manhattan. A tall blonde, Eileen, comes to pick me up and take me to the bank. I need to apply for a bank account – this is a capitalist country, after all, unlike China where we regular mortals don’t dream of having such things. When I pull out my chequebook at the supermarket I feel rich (even though I need Eileen’s help to write my first cheque). And I’m so excited by all the stuff they sell, especially the ice cream!

Not knowing any English is no problem in my dance classes, but it does affect my social life. Little by little I start to recognise a few phrases, but I remain dumb as a carp.

“Would you like me to walk you back?”

John is balding, like Lenin, and he wears little wire-framed glasses. Not my type at all. He speaks fluent Chinese, however, and at the Chinese party to which we were both invited he doesn’t leave my side all evening. Later, after a tour of the bars, he invites me to his place for a nightcap. I’m not really attracted to him – I like big, tall, virile men – but I am curious. Western sexuality! It is the stuff of legends and I finally have the chance to experience it for myself.

In China, I was entirely taken care of by either the army or the Dance Academy, and I never had to make any decisions. Here, I have to handle everything myself and there are endless choices to be made: this lover rather than that one; such and such a dance class; a dessert or a piece of fruit; one sexual orientation or another… All these options, all these limitless possibilities with their shimmering prospects – it’s almost too much.

I hold fast to my military discipline. Each morning I get up early to practise or go to classes. I audition with Martha Graham, Balanchine, Alvin Ailey, José Limón, Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis. A dancer newly arrived from the People’s Republic of China is a great curiosity. I know no one will hire me because they have been told by the President of the Asian Cultural Council that I have to return to China at the end of the year, but it does not stop me. I am going to take every last piece of knowledge and experience I can from my time here.

I am at a rehearsal with the Nikolais/Louis Dance Company. I am very proud of my technique, but even when I perform the movements accurately, Murray Louis keeps criticising me. “You are like a well-oiled machine; let the emotion through.”

I just don’t seem to know how to be natural. One day, Murray Louis hands me a video tape. It’s a video of his famous solo Déjà Vu, or rather of Tremblement, its second movement. He choreographed and danced it himself at the age of 57, and the performance was a sensation in the United States.

The tape begins to play. He stands alone on a bare stage, accompanied by a single Spanish guitar. His body barely moves; it seems to be animated only by one long, continuous shiver. It’s extraordinary.

Every afternoon, I rehearse and imitate the posture of a 57-year-old man. After a week, I present the solo to the class. All the students applaud. Murray Louis wipes his eyes.

“You know, internationally acclaimed dancers – the great Nureyev, for instance – have asked me for permission to perform it. But I’ve always said no. To all of them I’ve said that it isn’t a dance, that it is the experience of a life. It’s impossible to dance it under the age of 40. And you… how old are you?”


“Would you like to perform it on stage?”

All the New York critics are there on the night of the show. All I am aware of when my performance ends is the standing ovation which lasts longer than the four-minute solo.

After that, every time I travel abroad I ask if I can perform Tremblement. For me, this solo is the epitome of the modern dance that I am only just beginning to understand.

Springtime in New York. I count my remaining days. My return to China is planned for July 1 1989. I beg the Asian Cultural Council to let me stay, but it is out of the question.

I can’t remember who first tells me about Tian’anmen Square but the news spreads through the ACC. Nobody knows exactly what’s happening, only that the army has been sent in and the students have been shot down. The big news soon comes.

“There’s a rumour that President Bush is offering Chinese students who were in the US before June 4 1989 the right to stay four more years. And then to get a green card.”

Most of us opt to stay, unable to refuse such a gift of fate.

Without the Asian Cultural Council fellowship, my life becomes a patchwork of little jobs around which I barely manage to squeeze in my dance class and my practice. By turns I am a babysitter, handbag seller, packer at a Korean wholesale grocer, dishwasher, and waiter at a Chinese restaurant. After three months of this schedule, I quit the restaurant for a job at a leather-goods store in Greenwich Village, owned by a friend of my mother’s. At least it’s less tiring than waiting at tables.

I begin the process of getting residency but I don’t have the patience to jump through the hoops required. I want to be able to leave the States to tour and travel without worrying about my visa. To hell with the green card!

In 1991 I choreograph the famous Chinese legend of Liang Shanpo and Zhu Yingtai for the American Dance Festival. I call my new work Half Dream. It tells the tragic tale of a young man, Liang Shanpo, who falls in love with his classmate Zhu Yingtai, a girl who has disguised herself as a boy. Half Dream evokes the surreal situation in which I find myself at this point in my life: midway between east and west, midway between man and woman.

Over the following years I live, work and fall in love in Rome and Brussels, all the while secretly gathering information on sex-reassignment surgery. I don’t go so far as dressing as a woman, but I do discreetly experiment with slightly feminine outfits. A pair of Jean Paul Gaultier cowboy boots with a stacked heel; a long, unisex-style coat. I let my hair grow long but I don’t wear make-up. When I eventually revert to being a woman – and to me, it truly will be a reversion because in my heart and head I am already a woman – I will dress ultra-feminine. But for now I am still inhabiting a man’s body.

Finally, I am drawn back to Beijing. I was born in China, it is in China I must be reborn as a woman: I must go home.

Back in Beijing I barely recognise my mother, her hair has turned so white in the past five years.

“Mum, don’t you think it’s weird that I have never had a girlfriend?”

I take her by surprise, but I need to deal with this.

“You have always been so devoted to your career. That’s a good thing.”

“Mum, please stop fooling yourself. Look at me.”

I take my long hair in my hands and fan it out over my shoulders.

“Don’t you think I look like a woman?”

Her face doesn’t betray a thing.

“Yes, especially with your hair long. We’ve always said that, actually, since you were a little boy.”

“Mum, it’s because I am a woman. That’s why. I was destined to be female.”

A shadow passes over her face.

“What are you talking about? You are a man.”

“My body is a man’s body, but in my head, in my soul, I am a woman. And I am going to become a woman.”

A frown cleaves her forehead and her hands clench between her knees. “You can be gay. You wouldn’t be the first one.”

“Mum, I am not gay. I want to have a sex-change operation.”

“But how?”

“It’s an operation that has been practised in the west for years.”

“But it must be dangerous. You’ll be risking your life, and what about your career? Could you still dance?”

“Yes, of course.”

Dr Yang Peiying doesn’t express any surprise when I explain the purpose of my visit, as though changing sex was the most ordinary thing in the world. In her office she asks me what I am hoping for. She has never performed sex-reassignment surgery, her only experience is with hermaphrodites, and yet I trust her immediately and entirely. I share my worries with her: my beard is very thick, my legs hairy. It is an ironic twist of fate that I have a lot of male hormones. But that doesn’t bother her.

“Your chances are good. We can start the first operation whenever you are ready.”

My mother doesn’t approve of my operation and neither does my friend, the pop singer Cheng Fangyuan, when I tell her.

“You are sick, Jin Xing. Do it later, maybe. But look, women are fascinated by you, and men are intrigued. If you become a woman, women won’t want to be friends with you and guys won’t be turned on by you any more. And as far as men, real men, go… Do you think they’re going to want you? They want a natural woman, not… not…”

“A fake one? Is that what you want to say?”

Cheng Fangyuan looks away, embarrassed.

“I don’t care. I need to be true to myself, I need to feel at peace. I am ready to lose everything.”

Red lights flash across an electronic display unit. A throbbing pain grips my left leg, as if thousands of little needles are piercing the skin from my knee down to my foot. Under the sheet, it is so swollen that the ankle is bigger than my thigh. I have no sensation between my knee and my toes.

The next day the swelling has still not subsided. The skin is so stretched it glistens with a purple sheen. A pinprick and the whole leg might explode. I don’t even think about the 16-hour operation that has just taken place. Everything’s fine on that front, the nurse tells me. Total success.

Dr Yang arrives with a nurse. Her tired features light up when she sees me.

“Look at her,” she says to the nurse. “Her face has changed. She looks like a woman already. Don’t you think? Congratulations!”

No need to congratulate me. I feel like neither woman nor man; I feel only excruciating pain.

“What about my leg?”

“Your leg slipped off the iron stirrup and your calf was pressing against it for a while, which interrupted the flow of blood to the muscle.”

At the end of the day Dr Yang brings me the test results and the diagnosis. The nerves are dead from the calf down to the toes. That explains the lack of sensation. In cases like this it is difficult to regain the use of the leg. There are possible treatments, but at best I will limp till the end of my days.

Sacrifice: the word comes to my mind like a bitter balm. It is such a transgression, this transformation from man to woman; why should I not expect to pay a price? For me it is a rebirth. I think of the way a woman’s body is torn apart during labour, but it is my self – my true nature – that I am bringing forth into the world.

It is a beautiful August day. I watch the magnificent landscape through the window of the car that takes me back to Beijing, my cane on my lap. I have managed to withstand the physical pain, but the psychological pain that society will inflict on me concerns me now. My friends are split into two camps: those who support me completely, and those who are critical. Their reactions are quite normal, of course; it would be strange if some people didn’t disapprove, but I have not done anything illegal, even according to our stringently communist law-makers. The only people whom I believe are entitled to make demands are my parents, and they support me fully. When my father came back from Shenyang to inform me that he had managed to have my identity changed and all my documents were officially registered in a woman’s name, he said to me, “Be happy. Live your life.” My father, Mr Conservative!

I let my cane drop to the floor of the car. I swear to myself that I will get back on stage and show them all what I am capable of.

I am still skinny and pale. I have straggly hairs on my face, I dress in long skirts and I wear very little make-up. I still don’t know what kind of woman I want to be. I need to find out.

My career is also uncertain. As far as the PLA is concerned, I left the army without authorisation, so they don’t owe me anything. I will have to make my own way. I put together a modern dance show with my students and call it Half Dream, after the dance I created in America. It is the first major performance of modern dance in the People’s Republic.

It a huge success, and afterwards I am invited to choreograph some military shows in Manchuria. I land wearing a long overcoat and high-heeled boots, my hair hanging loose down my back. My old friends and teachers look at me sideways. Mr Men holds me tight in his arms. He invites me to sit down. “You have no idea how much damage you did when you denounced me. I had to retire a year early without getting the promotion I was entitled to.”

My smile freezes on my lips.

“I asked you to let me go, but you refused.”

He sits up and hits the arm of his chair.

“Let’s forget all that. I have too much affection for you. You are the best choreographer in China.”

“You see,” I say, “I am not gay. I am a woman. If I hadn’t gone to America, I would not be who I am today. You’ve held a grudge against me, I know that. And I have hated you, too. But anger propels us forward in life.”

I hesitate for a moment. I might as well tell him the truth. “You know that recording in the hotel room in Beijing, when you made a pass at me? I told you I would give the cassette to the Director? There never was any cassette. I was bluffing.”

The flash of anger in his eyes melts into admiration. “Bastard!”

I am used to making myself up for the stage, but the business of wearing high heels, tight skirts and handbags requires a dexterity I had not, even with all my dance training, anticipated. I dress up too much and too well. I look like an Italian woman who shops in Las Vegas: make-up, miniskirts, pantyhose, long red nails and big rings. In China, that is way too far over the top! And yet somehow I need this staginess to convince myself and the world around me that I am a woman. It is almost like learning a part. First you have to collect the accessories, visualise the character, play it physically from the outside, and then, little by little, begin to inhabit her from the inside, more fully and honestly.

To distract me during my long convalescence, I decide to establish a modern dance troupe, the Beijing Modern Dance Company, under the auspices of the Beijing Cultural Bureau.

The rehearsals for our first show, Black And Red, are particularly exhausting, as I have decided to take on a dancing role, my first since the operation. I have to adapt the choreography to my diminished capabilities.

“Miss AC/DC plays Black And Red.” Two weeks before the dress rehearsal this headline explodes on to the front page of the China Youth Daily and almost makes me suffocate with rage. I threaten to sue, and the next day the paper publishes an apology. But the journalist goes on the offensive again and this time he writes to the head of the Beijing Cultural Bureau to complain about a transsexual having the audacity to show herself on a Beijing stage. The director sends a delegation to the rehearsals to observe our work, and concludes that “Jin Xing is a serious dancer and her company does quality work”.

But the battle is not yet won. Rumours abound that our show is anti-communist. In the offices of the Cultural Bureau, the clerk points to the headline in the China Youth Daily.

“Black and Red is a confusing title, don’t you think? Couldn’t it be an expression of antagonism between the Party and an opponent? Red, the Party; Black, the enemy of the people?”

Those civil servants are so literal I could cry.

The show is a success, but a disgruntled dancer leads a mutiny against me. Faced with a lack of support from the Cultural Bureau, I resign.

That is not the last of my career, however. In 2000 I produce a show called Shanghai Tango in Shanghai, and later I set up my own company, the Jin Xing Dance Theatre.

My birthday is August 13. Years before, an astrologer told my mother I would have a child the year I turned 33 and, despite everything, she has continued to believe the prediction. Three days after my birthday, she calls to tell me that she has found a baby boy for me to adopt. We had talked about adoption a long time ago and this has been her plan all along. I can’t describe it; I am overjoyed.

His black hair is glued down with sweat and he gives off the musky smell of a young creature. His closed eyes are two tiny slits above the plump folds of his cheeks. His tiny fingers wrap around my index finger and a smile floats on his lips.

His mother is a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army. She is 21. His father is a married officer. She was hoping that the arrival of the baby would push him to divorce, but he changed his mind. My mother had been to visit a sick friend at the Beijing Naval Hospital the day the little boy was born, and the mother placed him in my mother’s arms.

“Auntie, do you want him?” asked the mother.

“Would you give him to me?”

“Auntie, you are too old. How could you raise him?”

My mother is 63. She explains that he would not live with her, but with her daughter, who can’t have children.

Before Leo I was like a pretty kite that floated freely in the wind. Now Leo holds the kite strings with a firm hand. I come home to him every night and I don’t party as I used to in Beijing.

I produce Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with my dance company. Black and Red, Shanghai Tango and Carmina Burana are international productions, and we take them on tour both within Asia – to Korea, Hong Kong and Macau – and beyond, to Germany, France and Belgium.

There are four of us in the family now. After Leo came Mimi. She was born in Shenyang, my hometown, also the product of a love affair that turned sour. My mother knew I wanted another child and, thank God, the single-child policy doesn’t apply to adoptions.

A year later, two friends of my mother’s were talking about a student from Beijing University who was five months pregnant. The father was also a student. They could not keep the baby, and so Julian joined us. We call him Xiao Sir – Little Sir – because he is the youngest. Three children is a big responsibility. A single mother cannot quit her job, and it is a constant struggle to keep the dance company afloat – all my energy is devoted to the children and my work.

In 2002 I buy a house in the former French Concession neighbourhood in the heart of Shanghai. It has a little garden. I have a pistachio-green Volkswagen Beetle which I drive to my studio at the Opera House each morning. One day I will put the Beetle into storage and then give it to Mimi as a present when she turns 18.

Throughout my life, whenever I have wished very hard for something, my dream has come true. We all have the choice to get off one train and jump on to another heading for a more beautiful destination. By becoming a woman I have changed tracks.

I had to do it. It was a difficult and treacherous journey, but that was the only way I could realise my childhood dream. And the arrival of the children has taken me to another platform.