Autumn 1986. Although still shy, I have:
- been to French Place crossdressed a few times;
- attended drag balls at Tudor Lodge, leaving and returning to my flat crossdressed and using a local taxi firm to boot;
- wandered around my neighbourhood at night crossdressed;
- managed to do all of the above without bumping into anyone I know;
- been to a fancy dress party at Caroline’s crossdressed, although when people at the party ask if this is something I do regularly, I of course say ‘no’.
The drama group that Nigel and I have been involved with folds over the summer, so I start looking in The Stage newspaper for another group. In due course I find one in Kensington – and joining it will prove highly significant for me. I am becoming more adventurous, but maybe not enough. I advertise in the Time Out personals section to try and find a girlfriend who would be accepting of me as a crossdresser. To be totally candid, I also explore the possibility of finding a boyfriend but this always seems like a scarier prospect somehow, so I don’t take this very far. I get various responses and in due course meet up with a girl who is very involved in the scene, but when she suggests going clubbing that night I chicken out – a big shame in retrospect.
Nonetheless the start of the autumn seems full of possibilities, but then reality starts to bite. First – Titan. By this time Wendy has left the company. Her last few months there have been very awkward for all concerned, but now that she has gone I find myself completely in charge of the computer systems. Not a problem – I’m totally on top of if technically – but for various reasons, including my support of Wendy, Mike now sees me as a ‘problem employee’.
At that time I am taking home good money from Titan because I am getting a lot of overtime. So although, in due course, I buy L– out of her half of the flat, this is affordable to begin with. However before too long Mike has a meeting with me (also attended by Steve Robson I recall) at which he brands me a “problem employee” and gives a clear indication that he feels it would be a good idea if I were to leave as soon as reasonably possible. I should reiterate that I don’t blame Mike at all for this, nor do I bear a grudge. Titan is a small company at the time, and feelings run high. Of all the people at the company involved in the situation, only Wendy herself has any real emotional perspective, so none of the rest of us handle things particularly well.
It’s clear to me that I need to find another job, so I start looking. In the meantime my overtime dries up, so I take a big financial hit. Mike employs someone to work on the IT systems, effectively taking a large chunk of my job away from me. I refuse to work with her (although I tell her it’s nothing personal) as I feel doing so will write me out of a job even more swiftly, but effectively I no longer “belong anywhere” in the company.
Working at Titan, fun though it is (or was), doesn’t give you much in the way of transferable skills. Having become involved the IT provision though, I am a slight exception to that rule, and in early 1987 I see a job in the London Evening Standard – the only time in my adult life I come across a job in its pages I feel I can apply for. So I do … and get the job. Ironically it is at Queen Mary and Westfield College (QMW as it was called then, part of the University of London) which is, like Titan, in Mile End, so I will be working around 15 minutes walk from the warehouse!
The upside is that I can get away from Titan before things become too difficult. The downside is the money, which is similar to my now overtime-free Titan salary. It’s not enough, and this will become a problem before too long. But it’s a job, and maybe I can forge a career in IT? And it means I can leave Titan on my own terms. So I take it.
It turns out to be a tedious and incoherent job. I am a Liaison Assistant, which involves me in relatively minor administration of the college IT systems. The Computing Centre maintains systems used for both teaching and research. These include a conventional ICL mainframe and a much more experimental DAP system which QMW uses to pioneer work on massively parallel processing; a DEC VAX system; a whole bunch of BBC micro-computers (then very popular in schools and colleges for teaching) lashed together in an Econet network; a single Acorn Archimedes which is championed by an enthusiastic colleague, but not widely adopted; and a small, but growing number of Apple Macintoshes, mostly Pluses and SEs. There you go, there’s a whole bunch of techno-porn for those of us who remember another, pre-Internet era. IBM PCs are seen as a low priority by the Centre – although they become widely used in business, they don’t become hugely significant to academia until they are cloned (driving costs down) and usable versions of Windows start to appear. My early exposure to Macs leads to a lifelong devotion, but I will resist triggering a religious war in the pages of my blog, at least for now …
My job is a bit unnecessary. There are already two Liaison Assistants, and they are mostly coping with the demand. Although the Computing Centre has determined a new post is needed my boss Sue Hindley struggles to find things for me to do. I feel a bit guilty about this in some ways, but it does leave me the time and energy to remain involved (increasingly so) with Acme Press, managing to sneak in bits of Acme work, particularly as Speakeasy is by then being designed on Macs, courtesy of a bunch of comics fans working in the graphic design department of MFI, of all places. MFI has invested heavily in desktop publishing hardware and software, and is open to the possibility of taking on external design jobs to defray costs.
So, a reasonable stable and not very demanding job … which leaves me with a lot of freedom, at least until the consequences of the low salary begin to bite. Mostly it feels like I can ignore the job – I have probably never taken a job less seriously before or since, and I’m sure periodically it showed. Although on the other hand they couldn’t figure out what to do with me. By the time I start at QMW (April 1987) I have already become involved with a new drama group, and it is there that we will go next …