Alyssa Henley from CGI talks to Louise Sinnerton from myGwork about discovering her confidence and growing into the person she was meant to be
An experienced solutions architect, Alyssa ran and exited her own business before joining CGI. The move to CGI forms part of her new life and is something she celebrates. “I am really happy at CGI and looking to excel here [and] get some qualifications. There are some brilliant projects that really match my skills and that’s great.”
Alyssa works on high level software and hardware design. Before joining CGI, she was already an expert in the field. She set up a successful IT company in 1996 along with her schoolfriend, where she looked after really sizable government projects. After meeting her wife and having children, the years flew by. “We were tied up with years of early mornings, nappies, and it just raced by. There wasn’t much time for self-reflection or exploring your identity.”
Eventually Alyssa and her wife broke up and it was during this time that Alyssa was able to explore who she really was and who she wanted to be. “There were trans feelings that came to the top and I started looking into that a little.” During this time, trans stories were being given more time in the media, and Alyssa read about Laverne Cox and soaked up articles from the trans community. “After growing up and being told to conform to strict gender norms as a child and not being allowed to experiment with who I was – experiencing that societal pressure to conform to being a man – I finally was in a place where I could give all my thoughts some space. That was a time when I could explore those feelings. That exploration wasn’t met well.”
Despite a bleak period, when Alyssa went to live on her own, she had the space to explore herself and received therapy and words of wisdom from those around her. “I got the diagnosis from the gender clinic saying yes you are definitely trans. I changed my name, and I kept going. The best piece of advice I ever had was you can never plan the journey, just take the next step when it feels comfortable.”
Alyssa’s friends already knew her under a new name, and after moving she simply moved on. “I moved from Slough to Reading to have a fresh start, it is a very effective technique. The irony is that the opposite of my fears around social stigma happened. I have a much wider circle of friends because now I am my true self and have a heck of a lot more respect for who I am.”
In Reading, Alyssa became active in her community and after joining the trans social group, Support U, she ended up running it. “Once you know who you are, then you do blossom as you discover your confidence and are not the person you pretended you were.” With Support U, Alyssa has provided support for Reading Pride, Reading University, and the NHS. “I have influenced and supported a lot of people in the community here. My ethos is all about inclusivity and being inclusive of others has helped me with my own transition.
Inclusivity is at the heart of Alyssa’s story and the goal for her work in both the trans community in Reading and her participation in CGI’s UK LGBT and allies network. “There are some people that say you can’t be truly trans unless you’ve had lower surgery, and that isn’t true. A lot of people can’t or don’t want to have that surgery. There is a common confusion around people doing drag – gender expression and the other is gender identity – who you are inside. I am very open to all of that. Really not the same thing and there is room for both in the world of course. We can be inclusive of everybody and all beliefs. My goal has always been to reach as many people as possible and provide as much support as we can.”
Alyssa has continually blossomed, joining a burlesque troupe and growing her confidence as her true self. She has also pushed to improve trans rights, having become the Labour LGBTQ+ representative for a few years and successfully getting a few motions through parliament. “I’m really keen to help push trans rights. If you want to give your time, there are lots of things you can do to engage politically and to help bring about changes. Also, even simply just to educate yourself further or read articles around the trans community.”
She continues, “The biggest thing for me is that trans people are real, we have diverse and eclectic lives. Trans people have much deeper stories than just their transition journeys, which so many people seem to focus on. It is lovely to see Paris Lees invited onto Newsnight for her opinions not just as a token trans person. We are nothing to do with the predatory image that can sometimes be spoken about us. I’m accepted as a woman by my entire friend group, they’ve never questioned that. I feel safe in my local bars. All we want fundamentally is for our new name and pronoun to be accepted.”
DIVA magazine celebrates 28 years in print in 2022. If you like what we do, then get behind
LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.