BY STUART ROLT
Her life has already been filled with plenty of adventure, but since coming out she’s become a trailblazer. The first trans woman to work in the Premier League and Europe’s first trans news anchor, Sophie Cook also came very close to becoming Britain’s first transgender MP. “There’s always got to be someone that’s first,” she tells me. “With me being the first trans-woman in Premiership football, the reason I was so scared was because no one had been there before. It’s the same with politics. The electorate already showed it’s not an issue, we just need the rest of the world to realise it’s not an issue.” In April she was selected to contest the East Worthing and Shoreham constituency (a Tory safe seat for 20 years) and increased Labour’s share by 114%. It’s just another step in a journey which has seen her travel the world, serve in the RAF, work with rock bands and learn to love who she is.
Now all this experience is being crammed into her one-woman show – ‘Not Today: How I Chose Life’, which comes to Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre on Tues 5 Sept. From her first inklings that she was trans at the age of seven, through life in the Middle East and coming out in amidst the world of professional football, it’s a remarkable story. Upon coming out, she made a choice between hiding or standing up to better the world. “Everything that I’ve done over the past two years was designed to raise people’s awareness and educate. In my own little way, I want to improve the world.” And she’s adamant there’s no better way to improve the world than going into politics. Despite not yet entering Parliament, she’s challenged and changed many people’s perceptions. For many, Cook might have even been the first trans person they would have met.
The process brought a new perspective to her life, opening her up to a world which she might have considered prejudiced and difficult for a transgender woman. Now she realises there really are no limits. However, just because you’re a media personality and campaigner, doesn’t allow you to exist in a hate-free bubble. Only the night before in Westminster, travelling to speak at a Labour event, she encountered another bout of intolerance. “I had someone come up to me and, repeatedly in my face, ask me to show them my genitals. Until that stops happening, I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing, because we need to break down that prejudice and make sure that doesn’t happen anymore. If I’d been elected, I’d have been an MP on the streets of Westminster being abused because of my gender identity. That doesn’t change just because you get on in life. That won’t change until society changes.”
Even two months ago, when she was selected as the candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham, people both inside and outside her party thought it was an unwise choice. She’s heard first-hand stories from people forced to move out of the area because of abuse. “I’ve had a lot of abuse of the years, online and in person and even had death threats on Twitter. I thought moving into politics that’s going to step up a gear.” The reality was an overwhelming amount of love and support from the community she was hoping to represent. It seems preconceptions run both ways. “Areas might not look diverse on the outside, but it’s a form of bigotry to think that they are going to be bigoted. If you’re someone that’s a victim of bigotry, and you’re walking down the street and see a bunch of guys hanging around by a white van, you might think: ‘Oh no, this is going to be a nightmare. I’m going to get abuse here.’ That’s form of bigotry as well. You’re prejudging people.”
I have friends of over 20 years who aren’t as open about their feelings and experiences as much as Cook. She talks about the misery of living a lie, the support and respect from the club and fans alike at AFC Bournemouth (where she was working during her transition) and her antics and misadventures in the RAF. As an equality campaigner, parliamentary candidate, TV presenter, writer, and photographer, she’s both learnt and demonstrated there’s nothing to hide. She’s unyielding that her gender doesn’t matter. When you come out to someone, it’s just a new piece of information. People are too often obsessed with judging other people, even if it has no relevance to their own lives. “Too many people feel quite open and quite justified in expressing bigotry towards others because of their race, their religion, their gender identity, sexuality, or disabilities. People express judgement all the time, it’s not acceptable.”
Sophie Cook’s ‘Not Today: How I Chose Life’ comes to Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre on Tues 5 Sept.