Over my time at Titan new staff join, but it is rather more rare for staff to leave during this expansionary phase. Most of the new staff are lovely – only rarely does someone join who is fannish to an eccentric degree. We do acquire one chap (who I will not name) who is heavily into role-playing games, the wearing of costumes, and the adoption of an alternate name for his mystical fantasy persona. He also has a serious sugar habit and has a tendency to leave little boxes of cereal at strategic points on the bookshelves, so that after a hard few minutes order processing he can have an emergency sugar rush. He is relentlessly teased by some at the warehouse, culminating in a stocktake weekend when John Hurley (who leaves shortly afterwards to pursue a career as a heavy metal guitarist) asks very loudly from behind some shelving whether he should stocktake some Coco Pops he has just found. Cue the person-who-I-will-not-name screaming out “JUST … STOP … TALKING … ABOUT IT!!!”.
I worry briefly about coming out to Wendy but she is lovely and supportive and in due course will help me slightly emerge from the closet. At this time I see quite a lot of Wendy, and L– begins to wonder why. At about the same time L– starts seeing a fair bit of Michael, who as well as working at Titan lives close to us in a houseshare with friends. Ironically I regard this contact as entirely innocent.
It’s the summer of 1986 now, and I have decided to break up with L–, but not before a holiday in Ireland and our annual pilgrimage to Fairport Convention‘s summer festival in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy. You may recall that, having stumbled across Richard Thompson I then work my way back to Fairport, of which he was a founder member. The festival, which is still going, reunites various line-ups of Fairport as well as hosting other acts. We have been going to Cropredy since 1980 and have seen some great performances, usually seating ourselves near the front, up close to the action.
Every previous visit to Cropredy has been hugely enjoyable but on this occasion my impending discussion with L– weighs heavily on me. I remember being up by the food and merchandise stalls and spotting Robert Plant in the crowd, and then wandering back to where we are sitting in a state of melancholy. I remember walking down through the field, feeling so detached from everything. Plant later appears on stage as a surprise guest, and thanks to the miracle of YouTube I can share part of his performance with you. Fine guitar from RT in this clip, as you will hear …
Michael has come to Cropredy with us. L– tells me that he has asked her if she’d like to go and stay with his family for a few days. His mum has retired to Newport, Pembrokeshire – I’ve been down there a couple of times myself. It’s school holidays for L– but I have to go back to work. She asks if I mind her going and I say fine, secretly glad of some time to myself before the big discussion … Back at work I tell Wendy the news and she speculates idly about whether there is something going on between L– and Michael. Innocent that I am, I don’t draw the obvious conclusion …
While L– is away I go to a party at our friend Caroline’s house in Palmers Green. Caroline is originally Michael’s friend but by now is a friend to many of us, including Nigel who is at the party. At around the same time Nigel and I have both become involved in a drama group down in Wandsworth and I have been dropping cryptic hints to him about the impending events. Everyone is surprised when I turn up to the party on my own and even more surprised when I tell them where L– is. Everyone, except me, speculates on what this means.
A few days after L– gets back, I tell her I think our relationship is over. She is upset, but ironically her initial thought is that I have found out that she is having an affair with Michael. So in some ways this is a symmetrical “perfect solution”, although of course one reason this has happened is my increased emotional detachment from her. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel a bit better at the time about ending the relationship, which is selfish of me. But also immature, because I don’t know how to handle any of this stuff – the only way I can deal with my trans feelings is by pulling the plug on this relationship, I never seriously consider trying to salvage it. But it’s all a bit crap, and unfair, and a mess, and of course I don’t know where I’m going with things. It seems clear that our relationship cannot survive my transness – what is less clear to me at the time, because of my confusion and lack of courage, is whether any relationship can survive. I know I didn’t acquit myself well, and I’m sorry to this day about the way in which things ended.
In the short term, another relationship is not my focus – addressing my physical and identity issues is. I talk to my GP about my non-standard physical development. I am approaching 28 by this time … the impact of my failed surgery on me was so profound that it has taken 15 years before I can finally talk to anyone about this issue, and it has taken the trigger of encouragement from Wendy to get me to this point. The doctor listens to what I have to say, and then asks to examine me. I remember her both being shocked, and angry at what she sees. She tells me she will write a referral letter to the local hospital, Whipps Cross. In due course this will lead to another challenging chapter in my life, but before then …
I talk to Wendy more about my crossdressing, and she remains very encouraging. One evening I go to dinner with her and her new man Anthony, and then afterwards she gives me a make-up lesson. The London TV/TS support group managed by Yvonne Sinclair has now moved out of Upper Street and into its own premises in French Place, Shoreditch and I am keen to go there and take the opportunity to dress as a woman.
L– has by now moved out of the flat we have bought together in Walthamstow (in the end I will buy out her share). The flat is in a terrace by Lloyd Park – the whole road consists of upstairs and downstairs flats (our is an upstairs one). The front door opens onto the street and I am, to begin with, scared at the thought of walking out of (or into) my front door crossdressed. Wendy comes to the rescue … she and Anthony are away for the weekend and say I can use her flat for the weekend. And so it is that, one evening in the autumn of 1986, I head from Denmark Hill to French Place and to the next part of my adventure ….