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Kellie Maloney: 'My 60-year secret'

Thu, 06/11/2014 - 00:00
Kellie Maloney: 'My 60-year secret'

Retired boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly Frank, talks about her dreams, diaries and secret dress-ups, and why it took her 60 years to come out.

Las Vegas, November 1999. Lennox Lewis has just beaten Evander Holyfield to become Britain's first undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in more than 100 years.

After the ringside celebrations among 6,000 delirious British fans, Lewis' promoter Frank Maloney retires to his hotel room, where the darkness engulfs him.

He should be feeling on top of the world. He's just masterminded the greatest success story of British boxing in a century. It should be the crowning glory of his career.

But Frank has a secret. A secret so huge he has never been able to whisper a word of it to anyone for fear of losing everything.

It will be another 15 years before Frank reveals his lifelong secret to the world: that he is a woman trapped in a man's body.

By the time of the announcement in August 2014, Frank had been living as Kellie for a year and was preparing to have gender reassignment surgery.

One of the main reasons Kellie didn't come out earlier is because of her father, Tom, a former railway worker, who had been so proud of all his son had achieved after leaving school aged 15.

"I had his respect," she says. "He put me on a pedestal. I could never hurt him." Looking back, Kellie now believes her father's death from cancer aged 87 may have been a tipping point.

'Living with the burden any longer would have killed me'

Kellie Maloney

"I couldn't tell him, even on his death bed," she says. But his passing in 2009 meant Kellie no longer had to live up to her father's expectations. "I couldn't disappoint him anymore," she says.

Kellie had planned to complete her transformation in private, but was forced into going public after a national newspaper threatened to out her.

Buoyed by the public's positive reaction, Kellie has embraced her new-found status as Britain's most famous trans person to help raise awareness about transgender issues.

She followed a string of newspaper and TV interviews with a three-week appearance on Channel 5's Celebrity Big Brother.

'I always knew'

At 61, and after nearly 60 years of corrosive silence, she says: "Living with the burden any longer would have killed me. I always knew … from the age of three or four. I didn't know what it was, but I didn't associate with what I saw in the mirror."

But growing up in 1950s Peckham, south London, with working class Irish Catholic parents, being different was not an option.

"I just wanted to be a normal boy," she says. "In those days, you'd get called names just for having a speech impediment or having ginger hair."

So Kellie tried "extra hard to be accepted as one of the boys", dating pretty girls and getting into sports such as athletics, football and boxing.

But as hard as she tried to be a Jack the lad and fit in, deep down she still wanted to be a girl, to dress and act like them.

"I have a female brain," she says. "I knew I was different from the minute I could compare myself to other children. I wasn't in the right body. I was jealous of girls.

"If I saw a girl and she looked really nice, I'd wonder how I would look if I was wearing that. Then I'd try to distract myself and stop thinking about it."

The only place Kellie could be herself was in her dreams. "In every dream I've ever had I'm a girl," she says. "At first I used to think I was dreaming of someone else."

The childhood dreams never went away, and became more and more vivid as Kellie got older. "I was living as the real me in my dreams," she says.

She has always kept a diary, even at the height of her power and influence in the boxing world, where the suppressed Kellie could come out for some air.

"Everything you need to know about Kellie is on those pages," she says. "The diary helped me get things off my chest. It was like therapy."

Secret dress-ups

With nobody to share her secret with, Kellie found strength from reading about other people's experiences in transgender publications and websites.

She remembers reading the stories of Christine Jorgensen and April Ashley, who were among the first transsexuals to have gender reassignment surgery in the 1950s. "It just didn't seem a realistic possibility to me," she says.

To satisfy her desire to be Kellie, if only for a while, she attended private dressing up sessions in shops off high streets and down back roads in Dublin and Manchester.

"You could get a makeover for about £300 and stay there for three to four hours," she says. "For a few hours I was able to be the real me."

'Boxing was a great distraction'

Then it was back to the macho world of boxing, where Kellie had built a reputation as a hard-nosed Cockney geezer famous for wearing Union Flag suits in the ring.

"Boxing was a great way to distract myself from my thoughts," she says. "I was totally absorbed. I buried myself in my work, 24/7."

On fight nights, Kellie would sometimes leave her team in the locker room and enter the thronging arena to allow herself one little indulgence.

"I would try to imagine what it would be like to be one of those glamorous women in the audience," she says. "But I'd head back to the locker room and focus on the boxing."

Away from the boxing ring, Kellie tried to conform to what society expected. She says she genuinely found love, married twice, and has three daughters.

'I'm a woman, and my transition won't be complete until my body matches my mind'

Kellie Maloney

"I thought being in love and marrying would beat what was going on inside of my head, but the inner fight in me made it harder to keep going as the years went by," she says.

Marriage break-up

Kellie's secret was slowly tearing her apart. Struggling with depression, she began drinking heavily and tried to shut herself away from the world and her family.

"My life was spiralling out of control," she says. "I was very unhappy. My temper was getting worse."

She turned to counselling and says the help she received over the phone and in face-to-face sessions over the last 12 years "has helped me enormously to come to terms with myself".

She recalls having an angry exchange with one counsellor. "All I wanted was for him to tell me that I wasn't transgender, but he said I needed to accept myself if I want to live a normal life."

Kellie is still in touch with some of the organisations that helped her, including transgender support group TG Pals, and is keen to support their work.

Her father's death, the suicide of boxer Darren Sutherland, and her own health – she had a heart attack watching a boxing match – all weighed heavily on her decision to reveal all to her wife in 2009.

"Tracey was the first person I had told outside counsellors," she says. "She swore she would never tell anyone. She would've taken my secret to the grave to protect our girls."

The couple tried in vain to rekindle their relationship. Following the breakdown of their marriage, Kellie tried to take her own life on Christmas Day in 2012 – her second attempt in recent years.

"It got to a point where I just couldn't cope any longer," she says. "I couldn't go on, and I had to start living the life of the person I should've been born as."

She revealed all to the rest of her family before the story went public. After the shock and tears, they have mostly come out in support of her, although her daughters are unlikely to stop calling her "Dad".

"I can't say enough about my 81-year-old mother," she says. "She told me that she had always known I was different from my brothers and that at last she could see why.

"I think it stems from her that the family has accepted it, because she made the point of telling them. Their support has given me the confidence to go out in the world and be myself."

Gender surgery and identity

Over the past two years, Kellie has received hormone therapy, hair removal electrolysis, voice coaching and specialist counselling.

The final phase of her transformation will involve "the realignment of my male genitalia to become female genitalia", as well as having breast implants and facial surgery – all done privately.

She says her transition was about gender identity and not about sexual orientation.

Why the name Kellie? "It's always been Kellie," she says. "It's short and sweet. I'm dyslexic and Kellie is easy to pronounce and spell."

"Until I have the operation I feel like half a person," she says. "I'm a woman and my transition won't be complete until my body matches my mind," she says.

"I don't want to be labelled," she says. "I'm not a transsexual woman. I'm a human being. All that is being done is to correct a mistake at birth."

And where's Frank? "Frank is still a part of me, but the roles have been reversed," she says. "Kellie used to be a small part of Frank, but now Frank is a small part of Kellie."

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