The seven ages of woman

According to Shakespeare, a man’s life is divided into seven distinct ages. PENNY MC CORMICK looks at her own circle of friends and discovers the same is true for a woman

20s: The Travelista
After her Leaving Cert, Sharon embarked on a gap year to Thailand and Bali where she was bitten by the travel bug. Every summer, during her Information and Social Computing course at UCD, she’s headed to a far-flung place, much to the chagrin of her parents. She’s brought back all manner of weird things for their kitchen – sumac from Baku, zaatar from Beirut and saffron from Rajasthan.
They’ve never been used and languish in the cupboard, as do the capulanas and suzanis presented as throws for the front room.
When she gets together with her friends, Sharon regales them with stories about gauchos in Uruguay and sheep-shearers from Perth, as well as Troy the medic from Vancouver whom she Skypes weekly. She keeps mum about the STD picked up at Burning Man though, and the less than fabulous Airbnb sofas she’s slept on. Her boho style muse is Helena Christensen and she loves to show off her eclectic fashion finds, regardless of the occasion. She mostly wears maxi dresses during the summer with Tom’s platform wedges or beaded flip flips and an assortment of noisy silver bangles.

30s: The Careerista
Jane wears a mouth guard while she sleeps; her teeth grinding reached epic levels when she was promoted to Head of External Relations last year and she has the headaches to prove it. 
Rising every morning at 5am is necessary to ensure she looks the part – her bathroom cabinet is carefully curated with Dr Sebagh products and Charlotte Tilbury make-up (she couldn’t live without the Uptown Girl palette). She timetables her Clarisonic sessions with the same regularity as her baby botox. Her style crush is Amal Clooney and she’s currently lusting after that orange Tod’s tote and a white Max Mara coat to add to her workwear wardrobe of classic Louise Kennedy suits.
Jane’s got a five-year plan in place which will culminate in her owning a boutique PR agency. She’s taken on board the Think Like A Lady, Act Like A Man ethos and performs accordingly. In fact, she has already sorted out her holidays for the next 18 months – the Algarve for some sun and skiing in Megeve. Friends have been told they need to give her two year’s notice for any nuptials or special parties.

Mid 30s-40s: The Decorista
It all started when Linda’s last relationship came to a grinding halt. Instead of going out, she decided to nest. She expunged the ex’s memory by repainting and decorating every room with a different theme. The living space is pure Tara Bernerd – contemporary with a large piece of artwork and a velvet sofa. The bedroom, meanwhile, is a homage to Ian Schrager – luxe neutrals, a Le Labo candle and a fur throw spread nonchalantly across the bed. As for the kitchen, with some deft styling, she’s turned the galley into a haven of light and the overhead rack for saucepans and baskets is always a talking point. She’s particularly proud of her tablescape in the dining room complete with alpaca beaten silver bowls, a Baobab candle and her burgeoning collection of interiors titles – she’s a huge fan of Kelly Wearstler.
Where once she would save up for designer clothes, Linda’s been investing in classic pieces for the home. An Eero Saarinen chair is top of her wishlist (though a limited edition Kit Kemp for Anthropologie one would do in a pinch) as is the Mamounia rug by Martyn Lawrence-Bullard for the Rug Company.

This story appears in the July/Auguts issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in our next issue, out Saturday September 5

A tale of two lives

She was born a boy but knows her true gender is female. One woman shares the heart-wrenching story of her double life. Her family and work colleagues know her only as a man, but as far as she’s concerned, she’s all woman

My earliest memory is playing at the feet of my aunt. I was about two at the time, and I distinctly remember her shoes – they were red pumps. Gorgeous. I’m from deepest rural Ireland. My parents were so religious I always joke that in our family we rebelled by going to mass only once a week. There’s just eleven months between my younger sister and I so we’ve always been close. My other sister is three years older, and I have a very vivid memory of being jealous of her Communion dress. I wanted to wear it. I suppose I would have been about four then. As far as my family are concerned, I’m a man. They have no idea I live most of my life as a woman.
Even as a young child, I was acutely aware that wanting to be one of the girls was wrong. I remember being taken away from my sisters and sent to work outside with my dad. They wanted to make a man of me. In school, I excelled academically and was always top of the class. That isolated me from my peers. But my background is poor and my mother was adamant that we would all get a good education so we could leave and go to college. She always nurtured my more refined side – she loved that I liked books and reading, drawing and art, over more boisterous activities. She tried to steer me towards the priesthood. That was the traditional refuge for people like me, wasn’t it? But I knew I didn’t want to join a seminary. I remember loving the cartoon The Care Bears, and being so proud to have them on my pens and stationery. It caused much consternation in the classroom – Care Bears were for girls, you see. So I learned to only use them at home. I collected fancy paper too, but I did it by proxy with my sister and her friends. It had to be secret.
Secondary school was a very lonely time for me. The other boys used to ogle girls, but I just wanted to be one. I was hassled for being a swot and I was considered a hillbilly too. I wasn’t so much bullied as excluded. I never went to teen discos or did any socialising. I never had any relationships at all. That’s when the experimenting with girls’ clothes started in earnest. When I was home alone, I would wear an old school skirt, that had supposedly been thrown out, and do my homework. I felt so much more comfortable and I fantasised about wearing it in public. On one occasion, when I was about eleven, my younger sister got a new dress. I was trying it on when the family car pulled up outside. They’d arrived home early. I didn’t have time to put it back exactly how I’d found it, so I pulled it off and just threw it in a corner, hoping that I’d get an opportunity to fix it later. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. My sister blamed our other sister for wearing it. They had a blazing row over that dress for three days, but luckily I was never found out.
As a teenager I felt lonely and isolated. Then there was the self-loathing, depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s even a question I still have: Do normal people consider suicide at times? I joined the musical society so I could dress up and wear make-up. We did a performance of Oklahoma once and I was so jealous of the girls who got to wear dresses and fishnet tights. My costume was dungarees, a check shirt and a straw hat. Everyone knew that I was a little bit different, maybe even more than I did. There were phases when I’d think, “Okay, I need to knock this on the head, I need to accept that I’m a boy”. My religious background meant I frequently worried that the devil was inhabiting me. But I wanted to be a girl so badly. The first I ever heard of anyone being transgender was in an article I saw by chance in one of my mother’s magazines. It blew my mind. I tore it out and kept it hidden in my room.

This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in our next issue, out Saturday September 5

Bad blood

Giving birth should be one of life’s greatest highlights. One woman shares how receiving contaminated blood the day her daughter was born not only rocked her health, family life, career and very being to the core, it resulted in exposing her husband’s affair and signalled the end of her marriage and loss of her home

Some of you will be too young to remember the anti-D scandal. Some of you will never be able to forget it. And although this all happened between 1977 and 1994, the effects are still reverberating today, with many of the affected women now dead, and many others living curtailed lives. And all because of the negligence and arrogance of the state, a state that is supposed to cherish its citizens—men, women and children alike.Anti-D is a blood product given to women with rhesus negative blood who have given birth to babies who are rhesus positive. It ensures that the mother does not produce antibodies which might attack a subsequent foetus. Many lives were saved by this simple treatment. All very laudable. All very good. That is, until news of the contamination of the anti-D blood product broke over the airways in February 1994.I remember that morning so clearly. Like it was yesterday, not 20 years ago. I was in the kitchen of my beautiful five-bedroom house in Malahide. We were running a bit late. I had to drag myself out of bed, exhausted as usual. I asked my eldest daughter Emma to fill the dishwasher before heading off to college, slurped down a cup of tea and kissed my husband John goodbye. The first stop was school for Claire, my 18-year-old. She had her mock Leaving Cert maths exam that day and was anxious and tense in the car. I reassured my normally happy-go-lucky teen that everything would be alright. She had studied hard. No need to worry. I drove off, my thoughts now on the day ahead, that big meeting I had been prepping for. I ran my pitch over in my head. Not bad. Hopefully they’d back me on this one. I flicked on the radio, but had missed the headlines. It took me a few moments to grasp what they were discussing, something about contamination. I heard rhesus negative and my blood ran cold. All women who had received anti-D in the year 1977 were invited to come forward for testing. 1977? That’s when I had Emma and I had received anti-D. Did that mean me? Was I infected and if so with what? I broke into a sweat, then went stone cold. I gripped the steering wheel, trying to focus on the road ahead. The news moved onto something else and I wondered had I heard right. Could that possibly be true? The anti-D I had received had come from infected blood. How could they let this happen? Were there no checks in place?I arrived at work, oblivious as to how I got there, and with a meeting scheduled for first thing, there was no time to investigate further. All I remember of that meeting is voices swirling over my head. It went well but the head of department did ask me if I was alright. As we were leaving the room, I nodded, excused myself and got back to work, and kept my head down until lunchtime when I could go out to buy a newspaper. I slunk into my car to read it in private, my heart clamouring as I read the government advertisement inviting all women at risk to undergo testing. I rang my GP and made an appointment, then headed back to work.I told no-one, discussed it with no-one, apart from my doctor, preferring to wait until the results of the tests came back. Even he was vague about what might be wrong, some kind of hepatitis he said. Did I imagine it or was I even more tired than usual that day? I was used to suffering from fatigue but I knew how to handle it. I just made sure I had everything done, everyone fed, lunches made, and the kitchen sorted before I went to bed at 9pm.The first result came back positive but they still weren’t sure what it was. For the moment they called it hepatitis non A non B. But whatever it was, I had it and there was no known cure. About 70,000 women were tested. Of those 1,200 tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies, 50 per cent tested positive for the active virus. I was in the latter group, one of the unlucky ones. I couldn’t believe it. Why me? How could this happen? What would I tell my family? I asked my GP for the prognosis and he admitted they knew very little but I probably had five years.Five years.
I was turning 40 and, apart from fatigue, had never been sick in my life. And now this, maybe I’d have five years to live. It was too much to take in. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The nightmare was only beginning.

This story appears in the June issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in our next issue, out Thursday July 2