Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
MARGARET DAWN PEPPER (# 08) Formerly Maurice David Pepper
Margaret Dawn Pepper
Born in London, England
Father & Mother both born in England
Ethnic heritage / Father & Mother: Jewish (Ashkenazi)
Margaret was born as Maurice David Pepper, just off London’s Tottenham Court Road, on 16th January 1944. Maurice’s father had a tailor’s shop and the family lived in the next street - they saw themselves as very ordinary Londoners. Maurice was an only child and his childhood was not extraordinary in any way but, in a modest, hardworking household, it was a happy one. The Peppers didn’t have a garden but Margaret still remembers fondly the time that little Maurice spent on the swings in Regent’s Park, where he was taken by his mother for some fresh air and recreation. However, Margaret remembers quite clearly that at the age of five, while rummaging through his mother’s things, Maurice was absolutely fascinated by the texture, feel and colour of women’s clothes. At the age of twelve, his mother caught young Maurice trying on one of her dresses; this caused embarrassment and the matter was never discussed again.
Maurice went to the local C of E primary school at All Souls, Langham Place following which, having passed the then 11+ Examination, he went on to grammar school in Stepney. Leaving school at 16 to enter the world of work, Maurice started off as an Actuarial Clerk in a Building Society. He changed jobs subsequently, several times, until upon reaching the age of 25 and having tired of a succession of boring jobs, Maurice started his own business, an employment agency. This operated over seven years, up to the time of the ‘3-Day Week’, when economic pressures forced him to close it. In 1977, following retraining, Maurice got a job as a quantity surveyor and, one way or another, continued to work in Construction right up to 2003, mainly on projects in the City. At work, Maurice kept his feelings of ‘otherness’ strictly to himself. He liked girls but at the same time wanted to be one too. This was an inner secret that Maurice kept for many years, locked deep inside him. He had married when he was 23 and led a conventional family life: he went out to work; his wife remained at home, a housewife and mother, looking after the home and their five children; and life went on much as it does for most couples.
Of course, Maurice never shared his secret with his wife; his deepest desires remained concealed, although he did dress up as a woman very occasionally, within the privacy of his own home and when the wife and children were away. Though the indubitable excitement this generated was not followed by feelings of guilt, he did wonder if this “strange desire, to dress as a woman, to be a woman”, would go away. But, says Margaret, “I now know that many others have shared this hope and yet, instead, the longing grew stronger and more defined.”
In his thirties, following his mother’s death, Maurice started to sink into a depression; in Margaret’s words, he was “falling apart like a broken glass.” Having always had a creative streak, Maurice attempted, in this dark period in his life, to paint local landscapes, as a means of escape from the world and from his troubled self, but nothing really came of it. By the time he was 47, Maurice lost control of his life and his emotions: “ I felt it was impossible to hide any longer the intense feeling that I was trapped in the wrong body.”
Around 1991, Maurice discovered, and visited, a few clubs where he found other people who puzzled over the same conundrum as he did. That led to occasional visits to a trans-gender drop in-centre, where he felt safe, and Maurice realised that even at this stage of his life there might be some hope on the horizon - perhaps? When his wife found out, she was very angry indeed and insisted that he see a psychiatrist; unsurprisingly, the practitioner clearly had the mindset of an earlier generation and failed to recognise Maurice’s feelings as anything real. The whole issue then became a taboo subject between Maurice and his wife, but he started to see quite clearly that a sex change was the only bearable way forward, assuming that the future was to hold any contentment for him.
Fate then intervened: around 1997, Maurice’s wife started to become absent-minded; she had difficulty with her speech and her memory deteriorated rapidly; by 2002, she had become doubly incontinent. Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed and for two years Maurice became a full-time carer: “ I was often at my wits end,” says Margaret. “Eventually, she stopped eating, was taken into hospital and, after that, to a care home; then there was no hope of her returning back home.”
At the age of 58, and after 35 years of marriage, Maurice found himself alone. His children were adults by then - he and his wife had had three sons and two daughters - and all had flown the nest. “So I grasped at life,” says Margaret, “and just went with my impulses: as my wife exchanged her home for the hospital, I came out as a woman. In the drop-in centre in 1991, I met numbers of men who were perfectly content to be men; with their male sexuality, they were happy within their bodies. Occasional cross-dressing was enough for them. I felt I was different, indeed, had felt different for over 50 years.” Therefore, in 2002, Maurice (now ‘Margaret’) decided to head right for the end of the gender spectrum and this instinct proved totally correct. Without guilt, she started to buy dresses, make-up and wigs and periodically to wear woman’s clothes. “Indeed, it was a dream come true; it was totally thrilling,” says Margaret.
This brings Maurice’s story up to January 2002, when Margaret visited her local doctor, who then wrote to the local hospital. Nothing transpired, so she decided to call on a private gender specialist and visited his clinic in March 2002. Immediately, she was given female hormones, but continued to work as a man in the office; she was now a woman in the morning, a man in the afternoon, and a woman again in the evening. This situation persisted until October 2002, when Margaret told her boss at work she was changing sex. Her employers did not quite know how to handle this situation but regardless, Margaret determined to change her name officially by Deed Poll to ‘Margaret Dawn Pepper’ and to come to work as a woman. For the first few minutes of the first day, everyone stared for 10 seconds, and then got on with their work as usual. “Everyone got a surprise”, she thinks, as in the years before, she had often taken her wife up to the office at Christmas time. “You cannot judge a book by its cover,” Margaret says with a smile.
By mid 2003, Margaret decided that the time had come for surgery. She saw her gender specialist again, and arranged to see a surgeon at a hospital in Brighton. Following a consultation with a second psychologist in October of that year, Margaret arranged to have the surgery the following March (ie 2004) and this was duly carried out, very successfully. She had not told any of her family what she had planned to do.
“Becoming a woman has meant everything to me,” Margaret says. While her oldest son ‘freaked out’ and refuses to speak to her or to meet her (“He was always very masculine,” Margaret says, “and he seems to have inherited all my worst male characteristics.”) she meets up regularly with the four other children. They continue to call her ‘Dad’, their partners call her ‘Margaret’, and her grandchildren call her ‘Nan’.
While Maurice was basically an introvert, Margaret is the opposite; her emotions freed, she is now an extrovert and feels at peace with herself. Her creativity has blossomed and she paints almost every day; her life and her paintings seem filled with excitement and colour. She says: “Life is so normal now; it is bizarre because it is so normal. But what is normal anyway?”
When asked if, given the chance, she would opt not to be an outsider, Margaret says: “No, I am quite happy to be an outsider, I just wonder where the outside is. Where does the box end? Where does the outside of the box start or end? I think that life is in a continual state of flux, so that boundaries are constantly being redefined. And this relates to every facet of existence, be it personal, economic, religious, financial, moral or otherwise. Yesterday’s values are yesterday’s values, but not necessarily today’s values. I wonder what tomorrow’s values will be?”
Interview Date: 22nd May 2013
Updated: 5th June 2013
Margaret's painting can be seen and prints purchased online at:
GIRES - Gender Identity Research and Education Society:
The Beaumont Society is a national self-help body run by and for those who cross-dress or who are transexual. They can be contacted online at:
Formerly a quantity surveyor and later a prominent artist, Margaret was born as Maurice David Pepper, just off London’s Tottenham Court Road, in January 1944. For most of his adult life, Maurice was a husband and the father of five children; increasingly, however, he felt he had been born, and was trapped in, the wrong body, that he was indeed transsexual. Quite late in life, after the death of his wife, and following gender-reassignment surgery, Maurice became Margaret and since then, both her life and her paintings have burst with excitement and colour. While Maurice was basically an introvert, Margaret is the opposite; with her emotions freed, she is now an extrovert and feels at peace with herself. Her creativity has finally blossomed and she paints almost every day.
Photography: London 22nd May 2013