My first visit to a TV/TS group has been a bit of a disaster, but further down the road, opposite Islington Green, is an Aladdin’s Cave for crossdressers, Cover Girl. Hard to imagine now how important crossing that threshold for me felt then. Everything about the scene was so underground then – enticing yet terrifying at the same time. Amazingly L– agrees to come with me and advise me on purchases. In retrospect I can see how fantastic it is that she does so. And however strange and distant that experience seems now, it is necessary. I am so in denial in those days this is the only way I can begin to approach and explore these feelings.
The front of the shop is very discreet. As far as I can recall it is painted black, and the windows are opaque and white – it’s impossible to see inside, so once you go into the shop you don’t need to worry about passers-by taking an interest in your shopping habits.
The wording chosen to describe the shop – in advertising and on the shop front itself – is coded and only makes sense to those ‘in the know’. It uses terms like “stage” and “TV wear”. I suppose that does mean the odd person wandering in thinking they have found a theatrical costumier – they would very quickly realize otherwards. For a slightly less tidy, but similar, shop front, see the cover of Ian Dury and the Blockheads New Boots and Panties. That photograph was taken outside another, similar store – Axfords, which used to be near Victoria station in London (still trading in Brighton apparently).
After another chunk of dithering (see previous post) we go into the shop. As best I can remember, the retail space is L-shaped – wide at the front, with a narrow piece snaking toward the back at the right hand side, with a counter on the left of this narrow piece. The shop does not sell outerwear, but it does sell underwear, wigs, books and magazines, jewellery, various bits and pieces. All rather glitzy and over the top as I recall. The staff are all female – I have a vague recollection that the police used to insist that such shops were only staffed by women – perhaps to avoid any impropriety (or suggestion of impropriety). We look round, talk to the staff and so on. In my state of mind back then, all this stuff feels to me as though it has magical properties. Put this on and you will be transformed …
We discuss, we take advice. I am particularly interested in garments that will change my body shape, and make it look more female, but also inexperienced in terms of whether what I intend to buy will do the trick. I can’t remember exactly what I buy in the end, but it does include a basque (plus something to pad out the bra cups), suspender belt and stockings, and what is described as a cache-sex. This two part apparatus is intended to conceal one’s male genitalia.
The first item is a wide piece of black elastic, with a piece of black satin dangling from it. The idea is you step into this, easing the elastic over your waist in order to pinch it in and shape it. The second part is made from foam rubber, and is shaped like (and seems like the size of) a stealth bomber. You shove this gizmo into the first gizmo, which holds it smoothly in place. Hey presto, all is hidden. The fact that you feel like you are wearing squishy body armour is an unfortunate side-effect.
We take my loot back home to Cuffley and I retire to my bedroom with L–. Although my parents rarely disturb us up there I lock the door just in case. We unpack my treasures and L– helps me to squeeze myself into them. It is exciting to be wearing womens’ clothes that I have bought myself. By way of celebration I lie on the bed admiring my slightly pulled in waist and stockinged legs. I stay like that for a while, and then take them off.
L– really does try to join in with all of this, but I am so ill-at-ease with myself that it doesn’t help much. When we return to Manchester she helps me to buy some outerwear – two dresses, a skirt and top, and a pair of narrow high-heels on which I teeter dangerously. Neither of us want to go home for the summer, so we secure vacation jobs in Manchester. We find a flat to rent in Withington. It’s available from September, so in the meantime we stay in the house on Great Western Street – all my housemates have gone home so we have the house to ourselves.
One evening L– helps me get dressed in these new acquisitions, puts make up on me and styles my hair, which is quite long at the time. When she is done, I look in the mirror and I am amazed at what I see. To me, I really look like a woman. I’m not saying this is the case – but it’s how it seems to me. In fact, the effect is so persuasive, the transformation so apparently complete, that I think it scares me. After that day, I rarely cross-dress in L–‘s presence, and not that much when I’m on my own. Once we have moved into the flat, my beard returns with a vengeance. Any faintly successful crossdressing therefore requires a huge pre-amble in terms of face and body hair removal, so I rarely contemplate it. I have shoved the genie back into the bottle.
A few weeks into my third (final) year of university, my father tells me (on the telephone) that he is divorcing my mother. It does not take much thought to conclude this is likely to be a messy, miserable and drawn-out affair. A few weeks afterwards I decide this is not the time to be studying for my final exams or writing my thesis. I go and see the Students Union Welfare Officer who negotiates a one-year break from University. When I tell my Dad, he says “Oh, that’s that then, you’ll never finish your degree”. Gee, thanks.
I do finish, two years later. I get a II:1. My parents divorce, as messily as predicted, and move to separate Hertfordshire flats – Dad’s in Wormley, Mum’s in Potters Bar (she’s still there). L– gets a first teaching job in Chingford, North-East London. The only flat we can find to rent is in nearby Leyton – it has no bathroom, no phone and an outside toilet. Although the landlord is renovating a flat close by so in due course we move into that and get indoor plumbing. The area the road is built over used to be watercress beds, so everything is a little damp.
I get temporary work and have no real career plans, but I write to Mike Lake and ask him for a job, either at Forbidden Planet (retail) or Titan Distributors (wholesale). In the end both possibilities come up – just before I can attend the FP interview someone shoots my cat with an air rifle and I have to take him to the vet urgently, so I postpone the interview. In the meantime I am invited to interview at Titan. Mike offers me a job there and then, for two months initially. In the end I stay there nearly five years. With minimal effort, and more or less by accident, I am suddenly working in the comics industry!