I join Titan in November 1982 and leave in April 1987. Towards that period opportunities arise to express myself – both through my writing and through gender exploration. My general lack of confidence limits my ability to take advantage of these opportunities, and medical issues will, in due course, complicate issues around my gender in ways I don’t anticipate.
My relationship with L– becomes one of relatively dull domesticity. After her initial teaching post in Chingford she takes up a new post in Dagenham, East London. Near to where we live is Leyton Midland Road station, which is on the Barking to Gospel Oak line, so the most logical thing is to take a train to Barking and pick up the tube the rest of the way. Unfortunately this line is somewhat unreliable and L– has trouble getting to school on time, which naturally enough annoys her head teacher and puts her under stress. At one point we consider moving to Dagenham but thankfully we never do this (sorry Dagenham, but hey!). Instead as we both have steady jobs our thoughts turn towards buying our own place.
My transness becomes unspoken, and also largely unexpressed. Although L– really tried to help early on my sense is that she’s not comfortable with it (when we split up in due course she confirms that in the end, she couldn’t cope). By this time I have a good relationship with her family, none of whom suspect there it anything “different” about me. Once again I have found a point of equilibrium where I can function reasonably as male and relate to people but my opportunities for gender exploration are very limited. So equilibrium is probably the wrong word really. What I actually mean is I’ve found another way to keep these feelings at bay. But through a combination of factors, things don’t stay that way.
Over my time at Titan I end up working more and more closely with Wendy. The company has a diabolical computer system for accounting and invoicing provided by UK Olivetti in “take the money and run mode”. In the early years only Wendy uses the system, but as we get bigger the work gets too much and I offer to help out. Which would be fine if the computer doesn’t start breaking down repeatedly. It’s a standalone system so only one person can use it – no network, no terminals.
We realize this is unsustainable and in the end find a local company who we talk to about supplying a replacement system. We are also very keen to have a system for comics order processing – this is all done by hand at the moment using massive sheets of graph paper. It’s a very complicated business because of the many hundreds of titles being published by the mid-1980s. Marvel and DC are now producing a lot of titles aimed at specialist shops, rather than the newstand, and the success of the mushrooming comics shop scene has led to an explosion of independent publishers, some of whom start to have big hits – American Flagg, Cerebus the Aardvark, Nexus, Miracleman and most unexpectedly of all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This last title is such an unexpected hit that it triggers a slew of copycat and parody titles. Speculative collectors buy them all, scared of missing the next big hit.
Wendy, Wilf and myself, work with the company to spec the replacement system and the order processing software, which to our amazement and delight, works brilliantly. If there are any hard-core IT nerds out there, the system is a DEC PDP-11 running RSTS/E.
As a result of this project, I work more closely with Wendy and we become good friends. At about the same time, her relationship with Mike breaks down – in due course they separate, and later divorce. Wendy continues to work at Titan and this becomes a difficult and emotional time for all concerned. Wendy moves into a flat in a block close to Denmark Hill station in South London and we begin to socialize more outside.
I realize that for me, this becomes a more emotionally dependent relationship, because I am still immature, as well as unhappy. I have started to think the unthinkable, that I might leave L–. The reason this seems unthinkable is that, as far as I am concerned, I never initiate anything. But we are drifting apart and once again, the attempt to put a lid on my trans feelings is failing …
One evening I go over to Wendy’s for dinner. It turns out that night we both have important stuff to share with each other. Wendy tells me she has met someone – a former sales representative from Sphere Books who used to come and sell SF titles to myself and Gamma. I worry about what this may mean for a relationship I have increasingly come to depend on, particularly as that night there is a lot of stuff I have decided to share with her.
Cautious as I am, I decide to share my news in what I see as an ascending order of appallingness. I begin by telling her that I think my relationship with L– is over and that I intend to finish the relationship. I then start telling her about some of my bodily problems, as these have really started to bother me. You will recall that, as well as my internal confusion about gender, in adolescence my body did not develop as expected. For whatever reason, the physical problems were not addressed by either the doctors or my parents, and I was left to contend with it by myself.
In the intervening years, I have done so by ignoring the problem. Although L– is aware of it, she is unaware of the potential implications. But I am so self-conscious of it, so crushed and made to feel worthless because of it, that I have always been too scared to investigate, to find out just how bad the problem is, and whether or not it can be rectified. It’s hard to convey the difficulty of living under these twin pressures – that my sense of gender is not like other people’s and that I feel my body is not like other people’s. And though with hindsight I think the two are connected at the time they feel like separate problems, but both overwhelming and unsolvable.
Despite my fears, I trust Wendy and tell her the next bit – my concerns about my body and that I have been too scared to seek medical help. We discuss this for a while and her support and advice give me sufficient courage to (finally) talk to my GP about this.
Two down, one to go. The biggest thing is … I tell her … that I am a transvestite (all I will allow myself to think then). As I blurt out the words she gives me a tremendous hug. At the time I am flummoxed – she almost seems to be celebrating what I see as this appalling burden. She says I need to properly explore my identity, she says she will help me choose clothes, that she’d be happy to go out with me dressed etc. She doesn’t seem bothered at all.
A whole range of possibilities seem to open up before me – and in due course, as you will see, I do move forward a bit, until circumstances combine to overwhelm me once more. But even though things don’t work out quite as I hope, that conversation remains one of the most important of my life. Wendy’s friendship and support gives me the courage to step a little further into the daylight – just not as far as she or I hope. Some actions, events and realizations triggered off by that night happen quite quickly. Others take a long time to come to fruition – the most crucial realization will take another twenty years. But it’s Wendy’s acceptance and affirmation of her lonely, needy, damaged friend that allows me to find a little more courage and really starts me on the the road to becoming me.
After Titan we drift apart – not least as a result of my conviction back then that my transness is too much for friends to cope with – but also because her life is developing in a different direction, with marriage and the arrival of a daughter. When she moves out of London we lose contact, apart from regular Christmas cards, but when I start transition I get back in touch, saying that I have ‘big news’. Wendy instinctively knows what the big news is and last November we were reunited as friends, four months into my life as Natasha. It’s a proud and powerful moment for me when I am finally able to be properly myself with a dear friend who helped me to become so.