I come into the world one September night, at around 9pm. I am very ill when I am born, and there is some uncertainty as to whether I will survive. The details of what happened that night have never been clear to me and I’m not sure, at this late stage, how much it’s possible to find out. A few days after my daughter is born, my father tells me something shocking about that night, but that must wait for another post.
My parents live in North London and I am born in the North Middlesex Hospital in Edmonton. In recent years I have met two other trans women who were born in the same hospital. That’s a discovery that gives you pause. I haven’t known that many trans people over the years but two of that relatively small sample were born in the same place as me.
My parents live in London, in the slightly less leafy part of a generally leafy suburb called Winchmore Hill. Later I will go to school there, but I don’t remember our original house as we move out when I am two. My parents grew up not far away, met, courted, married. At the start of the sixties much of the Curson family, including us, relocate to Hertfordshire. For the entirety of my schooldays I live in the dull commuter village of Cuffley which is now, I am told, rather stuffed with professional footballers moving to the ‘burbs. My dad is one of six children but I am my parents’ first, and ultimately only, child. I am oldest among all my cousins bar one who lives in the USA, the son of my aunt who relocated as a G.I. Bride.
I am a fairly sickly child, although memories of sickness are more vivid later in my childhood. I develop asthma at an early age and suffer a bout of bronchitis so can get breathless easily, particularly in the autumn and winter. Asthma medicine in the sixties is pretty ineffective and I have strong memories of sitting upright on my bed, hunched and fighting for breath for hours on end.
As best I remember, I receive lots of care and attention in my early years. We are the first occupants of a new house on a new estate in Cuffley. Our road is a cul-de-sac with a round expanse of grass in the middle. On asthma-free days I play with the neighbourhood children on this grass, or in someone’s garden, or trundle around on my beloved blue tricycle, carrying books and toys in its generous boot. Never sporty, I develop obsessive attachments to the entertainments of the day – television, radio, records – and to the associated technology. My parents seem mostly happy about this, but my father is consistently worried that I like comics, particularly when I discover American comics. In the mid-1950s there had been scares about “horror comics” on both sides of the Atlantic, and for my Dad, who never actually examines any of my Superman comics, all American comics are horror comics. It’s the first, but not last, thing I’m interested in for which my father really registers a dislike. I particular remember him being worried about a comic called Doctor Solar, picked up one day on our summer holiday. As any sixties comics fan would know Doctor Solar, from minor publisher Gold Key, is one of the least harmful pieces of fluff ever to be printed in four colours, but my Dad still didn’t like the look of it. In due course my love of comics becomes another of the many “issues” my father has with me, so much so that when, as an adult, my first proper job is in the comics industry, I bend over backwards when describing my work to my father to avoid using the actual word “comics”.
I remember my early childhood as a time of affection. Memories from so far back are necessarily suspect but I have a distinct flavour of “before and after”. In the “before” were cuddles, and being taught to read by my Dad in bed on Sundays. I am a coddled child I guess, with a keen sense of what I do and don’t want to do. At about four I am a page boy at my Mum’s cousin’s wedding and behave spectacularly badly – this is preserved on cine film I have been told, but hopefully not yet on YouTube – and yet still managed to get the record I have been promised as a reward.
I have lots of cousins, but large family gatherings are rare as relationships between my Dad and his siblings can be volatile. We do see a lot of my grandparents – both alive on my Dad’s side and one grandmother on my Mum’s side, all very affectionate towards me.
Generally summer holidays are idyllic, apart from the unpredictable British weather. We almost always holiday in Dorset, initially in the rather sleepy village of Charmouth, and then in later years a few miles along the coast in Lyme Regis, famous for fossils and later for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. For me the main attraction of Lyme is a seafront paper shop stuffed with American comics. Instead of returning unsold titles, this shop keeps them for the following summer season, so each day there is a huge and varying display outside the shop of both new and older comics. Although I love the beach, the thing that I get most excited about each day is which new comics might be on the rack.
On one holiday, quite by accident, we discover a long-lost great aunt in joyful retirement, when we find paintings by her on display in Charmouth. Aunt Sue is on my mother’s side of the family, the only family member apart from my grandmother that I ever get to know. She is very different from all my other relatives – artistic, rather fey. I remember liking her but not really knowing how to respond to her. Her artistic interests are expressed very freely, right down to the way she decorates her cottage. Today I am sure I would be entranced but as a child the most interesting item in her home to me is a dog-eared Penguin paperback of The Day of the Triffids. If it isn’t alien or dressed in a costume and flying, I’m not interested.
In my very early years, I have no clear sense of unease with my gender, or whether there was anything about me at the time, physically or behaviourally, that would cause others to have doubts. The moment of revelation, when it comes, is clear, powerful and unambiguous.