Written by Joanne Lau

Voices

Awesome Old Lady of the Week: Michelle Bridgman

This week Joanne Lau speaks to ultra-cool 66 year-old Michelle Bridgman. She’s a psychotherapist, writer and standup comedian. She’s also travelled to more than 70 countries!

Michelle BridgmanIs there a story behind your name?

My daughters chose it for me when I changed my gender – I wasn’t born female. It’s my oldest daughter’s second name so it won out.

Where were you born?

In Northolt, West London. It was famous for its airport. Now it’s used by the military. I suppose looking back, it was quite tough, but I didn’t know any different at the time. I grew up with little money, but so did everyone else around me. In the summer, the families would gather and sit outside under the streetlight to save electricity! That’s the level of poverty we’re talking about.

I was never left wanting, though. My parents always provided. They went without more than I did. There’s a quote from The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer: “It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”

Where do you currently live?

Buckinghamshire. I decided I don’t want to live in London anymore and it’s great because I can wake up and hear the birds and see some green. I get the best of both worlds though because it’s also in easy reach of London.

What is/was your profession?

I’m a psychotherapist. I’m fascinated by the human condition and always interested in what makes people tick. I sort of slipped into psychotherapy. I started as a volunteer on a helpline, then I became a counsellor, then I studied psychotherapy. I’m currently working on my doctorate in clinical treatment of people with gender identity issues. I left school at 15 without a single exam, and I’ll be graduating with my doctorate when I’m 67. I guess I’ve left it a bit late!

I’m also a comedian, which is more of a hobby for me. I’ve been doing it for 10 years and did the Edinburgh Fringe six times. It’s a bit of an ageist pursuit though, comedy. I think it’s difficult for anybody over the age of 35 to plough a furrow. At the same time though, when you want to do something, you do it. My attitude is, “To hell with it! Let’s get out there and have fun!” And that’s what I do.

For comedy and psychotherapy, you’ve got to be nosy. You’ve got to want to get your nose in other people’s business and find out what they’re up to. In that sense, they go hand in hand.

You’re also a writer, aren’t you?

Yes, I wrote a book last year called Stand-Up For Yourself. The tag line is: become the hero or shero you were born to be. Maya Angelou coined the word ‘shero’ because ‘hero’ is a masculine term and she quite rightly said that women need to recognise that they too can be ‘sheroes’. My book is about my story at different stages of my life, and in between I have conversations with imaginary heroes and sheroes.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of keeping my family together. That’s a big one for me. My partner is an amazing woman, as you can imagine. She should probably be the one you’re talking to, really! I’m also very proud of my two children and my granddaughter. Changing your gender is not an easy thing for a child to get their head around and I could have lost them. I’m so happy I didn’t.

“When you want to do something, you do it. My attitude is, ‘To hell with it! Let’s get out there and have fun!’”

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’ve visited more than 70 countries and my great passion in life is travelling. I’m still like a kid now when I get on the plane to go somewhere. I ran a travel business years ago because I was so interested in travelling. As it turns out, when you own a travel business, you should also be interested in business! If I had to pick a favourite city to visit, I’d toss three coins between New York, Rome and Berlin. As for a favourite country, it would have to be Malaysia or anywhere in Southeast Asia. Everything about the region is interesting: the people, the culture, everything.

Would you like to be a young woman in the 21st century?

Yes! Absolutely! It’s an exciting time for young women. There are more opportunities and women are inching their way through to equality. It’s a long way off, but compared to my parents’ generation it’s definitely better.

What advice would you give your 30 year-old self?

I’d say to trust your intuition more. Go with what your heart is telling you rather than being too rational.

What is your favourite indulgence?

I love clothes. I never have enough money to buy them, but I love lovely clothes! They are definitely an indulgence.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken that you feel has paid off?

I suppose you could say changing my gender, but was it really a risk? I don’t know. It was sort of life or death, really. You have to do what you have to do. I suppose the biggest risk all of us take every day is just being who you are. People always think they’re not enough for the world or might be a bit too much. Everyone wears a mask to hide their fear, so it’s a risk to just be you.

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Written by Joanne Lau

Joanne Lau is that tired-looking Chinese-Canadian girl on the tube scribbling in her notebook and staring into space a lot.