For the militant wing of the transgender lobby, she has become an unlikely hate figure. Nicole Gibson, according to the keyboard warriors of social media, stands for exactly the sort of old-fashioned and reactionary views that are blocking the long-overdue gender revolution.
They’re not slow to tell her – in the most rancorous terms – ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Yet the irony is that Nicole is uniquely qualified to discuss transgender issues.
For she began life as Glenn and was an awkward and effeminate boy tormented every time he saw his own body in the mirror. After years of misery and uncertainty, he decided to undergo gender-reassignment surgery – blossoming into Nicole, a woman so confident that she was able to take a job as a lingerie model.
In a thought-provoking interview, Nicole Gibson (pictured now) argues that, while much still needs to be done to promote acceptance of trans-men and trans- women, the noisy demands of transgender extremists are actually promoting division
With blonde shoulder-length hair, bright eyes and a radiant smile, she has carried out numerous modelling jobs, taken on TV acting roles – including in the crime drama Silent Witness – and guested as an occasional pundit on Good Morning Britain.
Last September, she discussed with the show’s presenter Piers Morgan a controversial series of videos, claiming there are more than 100 ‘gender identities’, which were to be used as a resource in primary schools.
Nicole’s opinion – ‘There are only two genders. Male and female’ – although common sense to many, drove the online activists into a frenzy, branding her an enemy of the trans cause.
Now, however, Nicole has hit back.
In a thought-provoking interview, she argues that, while much still needs to be done to promote acceptance of trans-men and trans- women, the noisy demands of transgender extremists are actually promoting division.
This month, she has been unveiled as one of the faces of a new campaign by global coffee chain Starbucks calling for greater tolerance. But at the same time, she believes that angry protests and demands from hard-core transgender activists will backfire and only lead to resentment from the wider public.
The 39-year-old told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It is wonderful that there is a trans community where people look after each other, but there also has to be integration into society without angering everyone.
She began life as Glenn (pictured) and was an awkward and effeminate boy tormented every time he saw his own body in the mirror
‘The militants are ramming it down everyone’s throats. People turn on the TV and see someone from the trans community having a moan and isolating themselves further from society. They think they are making this apparently ‘awful’ world we live in better for us.
‘But I don’t necessarily think they’re going about it the right way. I want to tell them, ‘Please put a smile on your face and be likeable.’
‘I’d rather be relatable to people so that if a child comes to a parent seeking advice, they won’t only know about the angry, militant trans person the parent has seen on TV.
‘They will also be able to look to someone like me who is pretty average and goes about their life in a similar way to them.’
Nicole has bravely steeled herself against the brickbats.
She said: ‘The only grief I got from being on Good Morning Britain came from the trans community. We are all fighting the same cause, but they don’t like my style.’
Becoming a glamorous and successful woman strong enough to put forward her views in the face of such a barrage of criticism has not been easy.
Born and raised near Horsham in West Sussex, his earlier self, Glenn, was ill at ease gender-wise right from earliest childhood – and enjoyed playing with his sister’s My Little Pony toys and combing her Sindy doll’s hair. Unhappy in the company of boys and feeling more like one of the girls, Glenn was bullied at secondary school, Tanbridge House, and cruelly taunted as ‘Glenda the Bender’.
Fellow students were more welcoming at Collyer’s, the sixth-form college where Glenn studied English literature, theatre studies and performing arts. A contemporary was Holly Willoughby, now one of TV’s best-loved faces.
Nicole explained: ‘Holly and I were friends. She was part of the supportive group of girls who were brilliant about my situation. Outside, I wasn’t a girl. Inside, I was, but I was welcomed into the group without the batting of an eyelid. I was one of them.
‘It was a time in my life when I was talking to Holly and all my other girlfriends who showered me with love.
‘There was no bigotry. These open-minded women were kind to me.’
Although they have drifted apart, Nicole was not surprised to see Holly comforting her co-presenter Phillip Schofield earlier this month when he came out as gay and wept on live TV.
Nicole’s opinion – ‘There are only two genders. Male and female’ – although common sense to many, drove the online activists into a frenzy, branding her an enemy of the trans cause
Nicole said: ‘He couldn’t have wished for a better person to be there for him.
‘Holly comforting him wasn’t for show. That’s who she is. From my experience, she will be the perfect friend to see him through it all.’
Confused about her then male identity but supported by friends, Glenn came out as gay – but still could not shake off the sense of being born in the wrong body.
After psychologists diagnosed gender dysphoria – a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity – Glenn’s feminine side became more pronounced, and he began wearing mascara, then full make-up. In private and in public, he became she.
Having registered at a gender identity clinic in London, he had a course of hormone treatment and began to live as a woman.
In 2013, Glenn underwent gender reassignment surgery on the NHS to remodel his male body as female.
It’s an operation that, even years later, still prompts prurient questions. Nicole said: ‘A lot of people, when you tell then you’re trans, think it gives them free range to ask about your genitalia.
‘But it’s just rude: I’m a girl and I don’t want to be asked about that all the time.’
She is, however, happy to discuss her ‘home-grown’ cleavage – and set the record straight for the people who wrongly assume she’s had breast-enlargement surgery.
She said: ‘Often it’s women who have a go at me, saying I’m flaunting my fake boobs.
‘But I’ve never had breast surgery. I’ve had hormones and HRT and I’ve grown to a Double D. Some women moan about me having spent £8,000 on my breasts. But these are all home-grown.’
As part of her new identity, Nicole also had to decide what she wanted to be called – something she discusses in the Starbucks online video campaign promoting inclusivity called What’s Your Name?
She explained: ‘I decided to open a magazine at random and go with the first name I saw, because otherwise I couldn’t start my treatment properly.
‘The names Nicole Kidman, Nicole Richie and Nicole Scherzinger were all mentioned on the same page. The rest is history. Not everybody gets to choose their name. With transitioning, almost everything else is out of your hands, what with waiting-lists and the whole process.
‘I was so chuffed that in the Starbucks campaign I get the opportunity to share a positive side.’ Fully transitioned, she’s modelled lingerie for the designer Sonata Rapalyte, done bridalwear shoots and taken to the catwalk in London Fashion Week.
TV roles have included the 2015 domestic comedy series Catastrophe and Channel 5’s Borderline in 2017, which featured transgender storylines.
Last week, the DIVA awards, which celebrate the achievements of gay, bisexual and trans women, announced she had been shortlisted in the Actor of the Year category for her performance in the TV comedy drama Flack.
Her public profile has allowed her to become a spokeswoman for gender politics – but this has inevitably put her at odds with activists with more extreme views.
One of the most controversial demands of some in the transgender lobby is that people, even young children, should be able to self-identify as whatever gender they choose – and that the law and society should unquestioningly accept it.
However, Nicole insists that people should have to demonstrate a commitment to their new chosen gender. She said: ‘I knew at 14 that I should have been a girl. But that doesn’t mean I was mentally OK to self-identify.
‘Self-identifying is problematic which is why, to undergo surgery on the NHS, you have to go through so many assessments.
‘I saw different psychologists. I had to wait a few years for my surgery. I’ve never understood why someone goes to a clinic wearing male clothes and with a beard saying they want to be a woman.
‘If you’ve got a beard and your name is Dave and you’ve just stuck a skirt on, I think everybody would appreciate that’s not trans.
In 2013, Glenn underwent gender reassignment surgery on the NHS to remodel his male body as female
‘That’s not how it works. I’m not saying you have to look like Cindy Crawford but, come on, make an effort.’ Among the most heinous crimes, in the eyes of some extremist transgender activists, is the practice of ‘dead-naming’ – where a trans-person’s birth name or gender are used instead of their chosen name or gender. Some even insist they should never be mentioned.
But Nicole is not offended by such reminders that she was once a boy called Glenn.
She said: ‘I don’t like to use the term ‘dead-name’. I don’t like saying that because I didn’t ‘die’ – instead, I feel more like I evolved. I’d hate to think of myself before then as being dead and I’m sure my parents would as well.’
She also explains why she hasn’t undergone any facial feminisation surgery. ‘I never wanted to not look like me. I wanted people to still recognise me because I wasn’t a bad person. I was a nice person. I just happened to be born in the wrong body.’
Another debate sparked by the growing awareness of transgender issues is whether trans-women should be allowed to compete in women’s sport.
For Nicole, this is complicated –but in her own experience, gained while she was shooting a film about the superhero Wonder Woman, trans athletes don’t always enjoy an advantage.
‘There’s an assumption that because I’m trans, I will be naturally stronger than some other women. But I was the only trans woman cast as an Amazonian female warrior in Wonder Woman. I trained at Warner Bros for four weeks in preparation, and days before we were due to go to Italy to film, I was dropped because I wasn’t strong enough.
‘We had to be physically strong enough to act while swinging a sword around all day and I couldn’t keep it up. I had transitioned from male to female but there were all these other women who were a lot fitter and stronger, even though I’m broad-shouldered and quite Amazonian in appearance.
‘So on one hand, I understand that if you are built like a brick outhouse, that would be an unfair advantage. But at the same time, my personal experience was that I had been through all of that and I wasn’t as strong as these women.’
Aside from debating the roles of transgender women, Nicole is keen to stress how ordinary her life is.
She is about to start work in a cafe, which will provide her flexibility to audition for modelling and acting assignments, and is in a ‘normal’ relationship. She said: ‘I’m dating, but not someone in particular.
‘I’m nearly 40, so I’ve had a fair few relationships but I get bored quickly. I date in a very normal fashion.
‘For example, I’ve dated somebody that I met in a bar and somebody that I met in a supermarket. I’ve dated someone that I’ve met on Tinder. On Tinder, I’ve always put in my bio that I’ve transitioned, but I don’t tick the trans box, though perhaps I should in support of the trans community.
‘I just put ‘woman’.’