{Gladys Paterson}

An Appreciation

by David Thomas


The story of Gladys Paterson falls into many chapters most, you will know better than me. I can only share here a flavour for the stories that Gladys cared to share with me. I only ever knew Gladys but she always generously acknowledged her past, in particular her beloved wife Bette.

Gladys deeply empathised from age seven or so with a neighbour’s young girl (Gladys), inside she felt she ought to be a girl like her. Although not having the words back then for this, she was convinced she felt she had been assigned the wrong gender at birth. Early attempts to discuss this with her doctor as a teenager, (itself brave at that time); had been dismissed and Gladys explained; the doctor had said “join the army, that’ll make a man of you”. Looking back, Gladys was absolutely convinced, given the time, this had been the only real caring option the doctor probably had.

Conscripted into the army, she saw service in Africa, at one point; as bodyguard to the Hollywood film star Victor Mature whilst on film location there. From the little Gladys said of this time I took it she quite enjoyed the adventure if nothing else.

She met Bette at the Majestic Ballroom in Glasgow, they married in 1962. They had a very strong, loving marriage producing Carol and adopting young Alan. For over forty years theirs was a devoted loving household. Gladys had three grandchildren of whom she had access to only one under personally difficult preconditions which she put up with to maintain a connection that she valued above all else. Gladys was an antique dealer, auctioneer and valuer: as part of a winning team with wife Bette they set up an antiques business and together, through dogged hard work; they made for a very driven, dynamic and successful career with lots of travel for Gladys all over the UK and near continent; sourcing quality antiques for export to the Americas (at its height they were shipping six Sealink style containers a week to the US). They were Lloyds Names, a high risk, rich rewards affair; effectively underwriting Lloyds Insurance losses. In a good year (with few losses) they shared rich rewards. The worst insurance disasters in living history wiped out all they had worked for and they had to start over, this time in lawn mower supply, servicing and repairs where again, they had the magic touch and knew how to get the best deals.

Bette contracted Parkinson’s and was cared for throughout by Gladys nursing her through to the end in 2003. Gladys told me she had lost her soul mate.

Gladys now began the transition process which would fully realise Gladys as the woman she always was. The potentially life-threatening operations in her late 60s and just a few years after having heart bypass surgery didn’t faze her and as one might expect; she persuaded the doctors that it was the right thing to do.

Gladys has been quoted in the media as saying "Only I know what torment I went through for most of my life” "If this opportunity (to transition) had been denied me I think I would have ended up in a psychiatric hospital and the cost of that would soon have exceeded the cost of my transition”. "To me, this procedure was every bit as vital as the heart surgery that saved my life. It was perhaps this deep understanding of struggle that made her such an LGBT community ally at the Glasgow LGBT Centre in Dixon Street. Often Gladys was the first welcoming face that greeted you in what could be a somewhat dingy, daunting reception area. Many have subsequently attested to the value they placed in Gladys making them feel less nervous and really welcome with a firm but friendly “come away in” and pointing folk on in the right direction. Safety was always uppermost in her mind back then.

Driven, focussed, successful people can often be strident, even brusque in reaching for some goal or other; Gladys was no different when she wanted the best for herself and “her girls”: as she was wont to refer to those who attended her support and social group at home in Buchlyvie.

Gladys swore by the Sandyford Transgender Group and directed folk along there as appropriate. She also promoted Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and its associated services, Crosslynx and Icebreakers. Gladys wanted to be a beacon for the support services that are available to the Trans community and her regular advocacy extended to the Glasgow City Council Community Safety Forum, the West of Scotland LGBT Forum, Crosslynx.

Gladys was especially proud of her role as a police advisor to the Tulliallan Police College at Tulliallan Castle, Alloa. She felt she impacted well on getting hate crime for the Transgender community be better recognised and understood within the police force and thus more likely reported by those suffering from it.

Gladys served on the board of the LGBT Centre at Bell Street and she maintained an ongoing connection with the Parkinsons Disease Society Scotland in Stirling. Gladys was the least politically correct person I knew; a product of her age. Many a person was made blush by the straight from the shoulder Gladys and her blunt statements. She did work at it and over the time I knew her, she did make improvements to prevent fainting. We shared a mutual admiration of April Ashley which helped us initially bond and we both passionately believed, visibility is important for our community wellbeing and safety.

Gladys addressed the young LGBT attendees at LGBT History Month and by the end of her session I think she was happy that the kids had gotten all she could give. She wanted the young to get involved with the community to take it and its challenges through to the next generation.

Whilst she was content to speak of her journey with the media; sometimes she fretted about lacking control of the resulting articles. Already the subject of one BBC documentary some years ago, Gladys took steps to ensure a forthcoming documentary; out November 2015 and in the final stages of completion, gave her a higher degree of control of the finished product.

It was “her girls” to whom Gladys was dedicated and it was known that if someone was in need and phoned her, Gladys would talk and talk and if appropriate or necessary, jump into her car and drive through the night to Brighton just to be there for someone having the jitters about surgery the next day. To my knowledge, she never made a promise to the community or indeed anyone that she didn’t meet.

She felt passionately that we needed to get a new LGBT centre established as part of the Commonwealth Games legacy and she still had that hope alive, when she passed away. With the loss of her beloved LGBT Centre, Gladys had lost that stage from which young folk and those having it tough could see and hear her. They could witness that if Gladys could go through so much in pursuit of herself; then they may feel; hell yes “I can be me too”.

For young LGBT folk she exemplified the ethos; if it’s worth having, it’s worth working for. Gladys for me typified that view that life is all about the journey and the destination will make itself clear in time. Gladys kept on going.

She well knew she was a work in progress, I well remember the skip in her step when she hit upon a wig that suited the self image she harboured. Electrolysis, though a necessary evil; she tolerated as best she could. Gladys took the obstacles life put in her path as challenges to be resolved by calling on friends for help and as a team finding a way to overcome them. With a generosity of spirit, she was willing to help anyone do the same as part of their team.

Gladys subsequently had her hip replaced at the Beardmore about four years ago where doctors begged her to forego high heels, at least during recovery!

Gladys was greatly encouraged by all of the legislative changes that improved things for the LGB & T Community eliminating many of the difficult hurdles she had had to endure on her path to being who she ought to have been all along. She was insistent the T remain part of the LGB for community strength it brought.

For me, I only ever knew Gladys as a distinctly positive force for the good of the LGBT community. She was keen to see young people supported in any way possible to ensure they benefitted from the progress made in terms of services available, the support of the police and in particular the access to appropriate medical support as appropriate as soon as was possible to benefit them. She was a strong advocate of good sexual health and as a community, mutually supporting one another.

Gladys loved good tastefully feminine clothes and she was nicknamed ‘Glad Rags’ by those closest to her. ‘Fun was her game’, she enjoyed her holidays having just returned from another Cypriot break; a place she found accepting and warm towards her, she had a knack for making these trips self financing by selling her mobility scooter there and buying a new one at auction upon her return. She was happy outgoing and for many, the very life and soul of her groups. Gladys has been characterised by many as always approachable always welcoming and a good kind soul.

I never tired of Gladys’s company especially her enthralling stories of the past. We had recently persuaded her to sit down with the folk from Our Story Scotland and their recorders to set her record down for posterity. Sadly it was the one date with us she didn’t make.

So too with Pride Glasgow this year; there will be no Gladys heading the march, her mobility scooter bedecked in rainbow pennants and her in her compulsory cowgirl hat in homage to Doris Day in Calamity Jane or sitting at the forum’s stall, taking in the spectacle whilst administering sweets, drink and condoms to wide eyed youngsters.

Gladys Paterson that force of nature who didn’t mind who knew it, part of our LGBT family, she stood for community good, being true to yourself, a trailblazer for those whom, perhaps, might be feeling; its too late to change.

Gladys had been cared for throughout this last short chapter by the staff at Ward A22 Acute Stroke of the Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbet. She was treated very well and with total respect for her dignity. Sadly her recovery was not to be and Gladys passed away on the 6th July 2015 at 05:00hrs after a short overwhelming illness.

A great many of us are proud and privileged to have known Gladys; we will find it hard coming to terms with her not being in our lives anymore.


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