In many ways, Vixx is where he is now by chance.
A personal trainer, fitness consultant, massage therapist and nutritional therapist as well as running marathons, it seems a far cry from working in a cinema to make some money at university when his journey started to take shape.
Working his way up from projectionist to management, Vixx was able to take time away from the day job to retrain in those other specialities as well as neurolinguistics and becoming a tai chi instructor. Physical activity, therefore, has always been a part of Vixx’s life, but it was not until completing his transition that he took a step closer to finding his true calling.
Identifying as both trans and genderqueer, the 44-year-old’s attention was caught by a new note on the noticeboard as he was leaving his clinic for the last time that inspired his new path.
“It was from one of the surgeons, saying that if you didn’t fit this criteria, don’t send them the patient because they will just be sent back,” he recalled.
“They had to be a certain BMI before they could have surgery. The waiting times back then were not as long as they are now – I was in and done within three and-a-half years but now you’ll wait that long just for your first appointment – but I thought how bad is it if you’ve decided that you want to transition, you go to the doctor, you go on the waiting list, you wait all that time and nobody tells you until the last minute that you need to be a certain height and weight – and if you’re not, come back when you are.
“For some people, that would be life-destroying. I thought I’ve got all these skills – and all the time I was learning them I didn’t know why, they just interested me, but there has to be a reason. I did all that before I even realised what was going on with me, it was only through very careful counselling that I realised that basically I had known as a kid, shoved it all down into a box and padlocked it and buried it.
“Then I thought ‘ok, what can I do to help?’ From about early 2014, I set up my own secret group on Facebook to help trans and non-binary people to get ready for surgery if they wanted to or needed to. Then it became more sports and social: people wanted to meet other people who were trans. I’ve got an online directory which, as far as I can find, lists every trans-friendly or trans-exclusive sport and social support group, and lists resources for LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers.
“It’s got individual stuff like barbers, hairdressers, personal trainers, massage therapists. I’m trying to expand it, but it’s finding the information that’s not easy.
“I raised money last summer which I’m yet to use, because I want to go to some different areas and do massage therapy for people who are trans and bind, or for trans women who have had surgery because quite often that triggers sciatica in them. Quite often trans people can’t afford massages, because they’re saving up for surgery or for hormones, and money is spread thin.
“I also want to look at how I can fundraise to go and do workshops and seminars to talk to people about how to look after themselves. I feel that if I can help people become physically and mentally stronger, there’s a chance that emotionally they will be peaceful and they can go on and be happier people and enjoy their lives.”
Similarly, Vixx somewhat fell into distance running. He had played football and rugby – where it was rare he tired on the pitch – but after leaving university those fell by the wayside.
Running, he decided, was something he could teach himself, but really the reason he would end up taking part in marathons and later ultra-marathons was sheer chance.
“Back then, I didn’t know about short races, I didn’t know about park runs,” Vixx explained.
“One day in 2002 I was on the treadmill, and I was desperately trying to get off, but every time I was slowing down someone else I knew would get on the one next to me and we would get chatting, so I just kept going. By the time I got off I had done 11 miles.
“One of the PTs asked how far I had run, and told me I should do a 10k. I thought I had just done 11 miles, so I might as well do a marathon – I didn’t know there were half-marathons. I didn’t know there were 10ks, I didn’t know there were 5ks, all I knew about was the London Marathon.
“I found out how to enter – this was before the ballot was online. You had to wait until June, then you had to pick up a copy of Marathon News which would have the entry form stapled into it, fill it in in blocked capitals and you had to send a cheque with £35 in it. That’s how it was.
“Hopefully when this is all done I can get back to it. I’ve done Edinburgh three times, and I want to do Loch Ness – purely because I love Scotland and I want to do a lot of Scottish races. I’ve got a lot of friends who are in the hundred marathon club, and while I’m not there yet that is an aim. I would like to get there at some point. I’ve got 72 to go, I’ve done 28.
“To be fair, when I started, I was hoping to be in the club by the time I was 40. Now I’m looking at getting there by the time I’m 50, which would still take some doing. The most I’ve done in a 12 month period was 12, but a lot of my friends were doing 40 or 50 in a year, which is two in some weekends and then one every other weekend.”
Quite often if LGBT+ people are turned away from sport it is because of a bad experience in a team setting, however with running being an individual pursuit it may be easy to assume things are more accepting.
In some cases, that would be correct, while as ever in others there is little welcome for trans athletes – especially trans women with many commonly argued myths perpetuating.
However, ultra-marathon in particular would be a good example of how to integrate trans and non-binary people into sport, as Vixx says Scottish events are leading the way.
“The ultramarathons are trans and non-binary friendly,” Vixx said.
“The Jedburgh three peaks and the Glen Ogle 33, which are in October and November, they both offer prizes for trans and non-binary runners and teams. Jedburgh were the first to do that.
“Glen Ogle I’ve had my eye on for a while, but it’s in November so the weather is generally Scottish as somebody said to me, it’s a difficult race to get into, but again they’ve got separate prizes as far as I’m aware.
“Scottish Athletics have been ahead of the curve when it comes to accommodating trans and non-binary runners, so to me that’s brilliant. They’re even ahead of UK Athletics, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are watching what’s happening in Scotland just to see what the take up is.
“Scottish Athletics is very accommodating, and since Scotland has some stunning scenery, why would you not want to run? You’ve got the West Highland Way, you’ve got the Highland Fling which I think is 54 miles. There are a lot of good races up there, and Scotland is one of the homes of ultra-racing. Scotland has this great racing community, and I would like to be more of a part of it in the future.”
Vixx’s experiences in running led him to join the Athletics Pride Network, which recently celebrated it’s first birthday.
He hopes to move into the coaching side of things while still targeting his century of marathons, as he feels he can play an important role as a visible trans mentor.
“I think there’s potentially something there for everyone to have a go at, and that’s where I’d like to be encouraging people to have a go and see what they might be good, or great, at,” he reasoned.
“Hopefully I can be that role model, that encouraging person that tells people they can do it. They can do it for fun, they can go and run all over the world, they can have a go and they might be good enough to win medals or even be a potential Olympian.
“If we can get people into it knowing that they will be accepted – the thing I have heard from a lot of the others in the APN is that when they are having to hide their true self, it’s mentally stressful.
“You want to be making friends and socialising with the people that you train with. You’re going to be training with them two or three times a week, you’ll get to know them like family, but if you’re gay or trans and you don’t feel like you’ll be accepted that’s a big chunk of you to hide away.
“If you’re constantly having to watch your mouth so that you’re not giving it away, then you’re continually on your guard whether you know it or not. That could then affect how you perform, because you’re always going to be mentally wound up. That will then affect your physical body so that you won’t be performing to the best of your ability.
“Even in the trans community they’ve started calling me the trans dad. I could possibly be old enough now to be some of their dads, but I’m 44 and I don’t really feel like a dad. If I can be a role model and just be there, even just for others to say this is how I think and feel and we can talk it through with no judgements and no pressure, they can just be them and learn to own it.
“We were saying at the Pride Sports summit a couple of months ago that a lot of other sports now are starting to set up their own pride networks because of the work that the core team at the APN have done.
“Before they might have thought ‘does it really matter, we accept everybody’, but when you know there’s a way you can help people to feel accepted then I guess that will help people feel a bit more welcome. There are some people who say they didn’t realise it was that nuanced, they didn’t realise there were that many things around LGBT+ issues, but if you’re cisgendered and straight then you won’t have had to deal with it yourself.
“So if we can talk about it and bring it up, people will then see that maybe they do need to learn this, or they didn’t know that but it has piqued their interest.
“I really do feel that information and education is key. If you are informed and educated, not necessarily even to any great degree, it takes away the ignorance. If people are ignorant, they can be frightened by what they don’t know, which then builds up to something that they don’t really control.
“They don’t think they know anybody who is gay or trans, so it becomes fear of the unknown, and that’s not necessarily anybody’s fault. If you live in a small community, you’re not going to go around asking people if they’re gay because they need to meet a gay person.
“For me it was one of those things, I never actually said anything, but everybody knew, and nobody cared.”
For trans people, it is never an easy journey to “owning it”, as Vixx has found himself.
In the UK, waiting times are getting longer and longer, meaning that anyone who wants to transition will spend years on a waiting list before even being able to start on the path to become their authentic self. In other parts of the world the process can lead to eye-watering bills for hormones or surgery, or job losses – if transitioning is even legal at all.
It is no surprise then that many people only take those steps when it becomes a matter of life and death, but after coming out the other side Vixx wants to do all he can to help those following in his footsteps for as long as he is able to.
“I was prepared to turn my back on everything,” Vixx admitted.
“I was prepared to lose my family, my job, my friends, because it became one of those things. If I lost everybody, I was still going to do it. Luckily, I didn’t. I have a lot of very supportive people in my life, and the people I meet are very supportive to me. I’m lucky, I don’t get a lot of aggro, but I try to explain to people that this is not something you would choose.
“It’s like being gay, you wouldn’t choose it, and I do think that whatever part of the LGBT+ spectrum you’re on, we probably do a lot more soul searching about ourselves because we have to be absolutely sure we are who we say we are.
“You get people questioning it, like ‘are you sure you’re gay?’ Yeah, I took the test and they let me in. We have to do a lot of soul searching to be absolutely certain of who we are in a way that a lot of cisgendered people don’t. In a way, we know ourselves better because of it.
“We may still have doubts, and we may still have bouts of low self-confidence, but we probably know more about ourselves and what we want out of life because we have had to search so hard to find out who we are.
“I did the gay thing first. I came out as a lesbian, and then I realised I was trans. There’s always the possibility that a third act in my life will see me coming out again. I know how to do it now, I’ve had two practices at it. It’s just that whole thing of knowing yourself. That’s where it changes with gay people in sports – we know ourselves, but how will it be received?
“While I’m generally not keen on people knowing that much about me, I appreciate that if I want people to know about the work I’m doing to an extent I’m going to have to start talking about me.
“I kind of made the decision that what will be, will be. I transitioned at the end of 2010, so it has been over 10 years. I got to the point where I want to be able to help those who aren’t yet comfortable, so that people can see that trans people aren’t just people to be taking the mickey out of.
“The way I look at it is I was the wrong product in the wrong packaging, but now I’m the right product because the packaging has changed.
“There are people who don’t feel able to be out, they are frightened. There are people out there who don’t yet know they’re trans, and if they can see someone like me it might help them.
“For quite a long time I had people messaging me saying ‘I think I’m like you, can you help me’. That’s quite a big thing, these people are trusting you to help them make big decisions, or find people to help them make big decisions. Not everybody wants to do that.
“There are people who started off back in the 80s, and they are still fighting the cause now and they will be until the day they die. Some people started fighting the cause, and five or 10 years down the line they’ve had enough. They’re fed up of continually saying the same thing.
“While I can’t guarantee that in 10 years’ time I’m going to feel the same, while I’ve got the strength that’s what I’m going to do. It helps people realise that we’re human beings just like anyone else. We like watching sport, we drink water, we drink alcohol, we just want the same life as anybody else – we’ve just had a few more hurdles to go through.”