LAST week I caught up with an old school friend I hadn’t seen in more than 10 years. He’d changed a lot since we did Year 12 together – he’d acquired a beard and a trendy new wardrobe, and his many hours spent in the gym were evident in the buff biceps sticking out of his sleeves.

The only thing is, I went to an all-girls’ school – and the last time I saw Aeden, he was a she.

Insert record-scratch sound effect here.

Remember when you went to your 10-year school reunion and marvelled at how different everyone looked? Well imagine that multiplied by infinity. Plus a beard.

Not that he surprised me with it, exactly. It’s not like we arranged to go bikini shopping and get our nails done and he rocked up in a tuxedo shouting, ‘‘CHECK IT OUT, I’M A BLOKE!’’

That surprise happened six years ago when I received an email in which he – or she at the time, and using another name – announced his decision to become a man.

It was lucky I was sitting at my computer when I read that because if I hadn’t been, I might have fallen over.
If I’d been holding a bottle, I would have dropped it, along with my jaw.

Aeden had always been a slightly tomboyish girl, but it had never occurred to me that might be connected to
something deeper. Chatting over coffee last week, Aeden told me it hadn’t occurred to him either until he did a Google search aged 26 and discovered a name for it – transgender.

‘‘I knew since I was four years old I was in the wrong body,’’ he told me. 

‘‘I learned it at primary school when the teachers line you up in the schoolyard – boys over there, girls over there. I learned I was different because I wanted to be in the wrong line.’’

What followed were years tinged with confusion, anger and loneliness – most of which he kept hidden as he
struggled to understand what his body was doing.

I have a photograph of Aeden at a school dance, wearing a bright pink frilly dress and looking uncomfortable. It always made me sad, but I never knew why.

He laughs all that off now. He found the medical and emotional support he needed and after a double mastectomy and six years of hormone therapy, which he will be on for the rest of his life, he’s happy, fit,
healthy and, I might say, quite handsome.

He’s got a good job, a supportive family, a new house in London and a girlfriend who loves him.

You’d never know to look at him that he was once a confused young woman – which, he says, is how he’d
prefer to keep it with his London workmates.

‘‘Because they wouldn’t understand?’’ I asked. 

‘‘No,’’ he replied, laughing. ‘‘Because I’d become the most interesting person they know and they’d constantly try and show me off to their friends.’’

If your biggest concern about revealing your deepest secret is that people will like you TOO much for it, it’s fair to say you’re probably in a pretty happy place in life.

Changes to Australian law last year mean that transgender people no longer have to undergo gender reassignment surgery to change the sex on their birth certificates. But that wasn’t the case when Aeden lived here. As a result, he has two birth certificates. One for his new identity, and one for the woman he left behind.

He says it comforts him to think she will never have a death certificate.

He carries a picture of her in his wallet as a reminder of the journey he’s taken. Looking at it as we laughed and reminisced over coffee, it was a reminder to me that true friends never really change.

First published in The Advertiser, December 6, 2012.