Once I have “decided” I am a crossdresser, it has the effect of making my options, for the time being, finite. I continue to explore my mother’s wardrobe, and reason that for the time being, that’s all I can do. I know about the Cover Girl shop but I’m too scared to go there, at least for now, so that’s that. And I have closed off the option of transition, so I can focus my energies elsewhere. As a consequence, I do find some ways of enjoying my later teens. By and large though, moving towards adulthood, I can detect patterns of behaviour, that all my actions tend towards the same kind of consequences:
- There tend to be moments when I come more out of my shell, but they tend to be when I am in a new situation, away from home, and with unfamiliar people (like the last blissful holiday in Lyme Regis where I got my first kiss from the redhead).
- I have a tendency to start things, but not finish them. This is not primarily a lack of application, more a lack of confidence.
- I pursue girls with all the subtlety of Norman Wisdom on roller-skates brandishing a football rattle and shouting “You’re gorgeous, you are!”, and as a consequence have zero success for some years.
In the UK at that time, school students study for GCE O-levels or, if less academic, CSEs, taking them at the end of what used to be called the fifth year of secondary school (about age 16). If you stay on at school beyond the age of 16, you then usually study for A-levels in the so called Sixth Form (which lasts for two years and is divided into the Upper and Lower Sixth). It’s a bit different now, but that was the deal for most of us in those days.
I study for O-levels for two years (the fourth and fifth form). After the expulsion scare my academic performance comes back on track, although it is always a bit erratic. I get to know more people at school. My initial snobbery about students from Cheshunt, that was first chipped away at by becoming friends with Michael, fades away more until in the end I see it for the ridiculous prejudice it is, and realize that most of my fellow students are nice and worth getting to know.
Success with girls – still zero. I still have this deep conviction that I am fundamentally unattractive. I remember going to school Film Society one evening, which is run by the brother of a friend of mine called Tony. Tony’s brother takes one look at me as I pay for my ticket and says, from his perspective no doubt with casual rudeness “Christ, you’re ugly”. For me, those words have the power of independent evidence – I have always thought it myself so I believe him absolutely.
My knowledge of girls remains highly limited. The same TV comedies that depict gay people as scary or outrageous (or both), tend to depict girls as desperate for sex. Mainstream British television in those days tends to do that. So I have a tendency to think that the only way I can have success with girls is to engineer some ridiculous situation and then rely on the cosmic laws of sitcom to take their course.
The first time I remember explicitly adopting this ridiculous approach is in the Fifth Form (1974-75). There is an announcement that there will be a ski-ing holiday in Austria that Easter for anyone who is both interested and who can persuade their parents to pay for them to go. Although I am slightly more physically confident these days, my initial reaction is that hell will freeze over before you get me careering down an icy slope on two planks. However S– (see, here’s the promised bit of Victoriana), the girl that both Nigel and I pine for, and who goes out with D–, says that she is going and he is not. Classic sitcom situation – romance during the après-ski, whatever the hell that is. So I start working on my parents to get them to pay for me to go.
I imagine they are both surprised and pleased at my apparent interest in a healthy outdoor pursuit, rather than my asking to go on courses on applying make-up or walking in heels. So eventually they agree, and my father comes up with the necessary funds. Eagerly, I return funds and booking forms. I am going to Austria and S– will be there and it will be wonderful. Except that by the time I have paid and committed, she’s not going. Her parents have not coughed up, or her plans have changed, or whatever … But muggins is going!
As the date of the trip draws near I become increasingly worried – I just don’t do this kind of stuff, it’s P.E. for God’s sake. Two of S–‘s friends are going, neither of whom I am interested in, but she’s not. Oh … my … God.
In the end though, I have a fantastic time! There is a mixture of people there from several different years in the school. I don’t know most of them, and my clumsy nerd reputation therefore largely doesn’t follow me. I have fun. I make friends. We eat chips in the restaurant at the local pool. After a few ski-ing lessons I become slightly confident, but not great. There is a test at the end and I (just) acquire my Coca-Cola One Star Ski Certificate, which I still have. I get to like the ski-lift. In several days of tuition plus freestyle ski-ing I only have one bottom-clenching moment of utter terror, but even then I manage to stay upright.
In the weeks after we finish our O-levels a whole bunch of stuff is laid on for us for the final three weeks of the school term. I spend two weeks helping out at a local primary school – again, functioning out of context, I have a great time. Buoyed by the success of my ski-ing holiday I am keen to go on a week of “outdoor pursuits” in the third week, in Barmouth, West Wales, a name I had previously associated with a now-defunct biscuit. God you can find almost anything on the Internet, can’t you?
In Barmouth I have another great time. I explore a slate mine. I walk on hills. I canoe, and my canoe turns upside down and I follow procedure and get out and survive! Mind you, the canoe nearly drifts off towards Ireland and I would have had to pay for it, but luckily a passer-by snags and returns it.
I go for a ride on a miniature railway. On that trip I notice a man is filming our train from a car with a cine camera, presumably tracking the fun his children are having on their train trip. Quite spontaneously, I start mugging outrageously at his camera – I do a whole silent cinema routine for him. My travelling companions are in fits and at the end of the trip the man filming beams at me and gives me a big “thumbs-up”. So maybe my spontaneous comedy masterpiece is still on film somewhere.
So despite the fact that my romantic endeavours are as successful as Robin Tripp’s pursuit of Chrissy Plummer in Man About the House, I am finding ways to kind-of enjoy being a teenager, and being a boy.