As 1987 begins, Wendy is the only link between my crossdressing life and my “real” life. I put it like that because, however tentatively I have moved forward in my own comfort about my transness, I still mostly regard it as a guilty secret, not least because I am always anxious about how people may react if they know about it. Although it was exciting to go to Caroline’s fancy dress party dressed as a woman, I responded to anyone asking whether I “did this regularly” with a bluff “Of course not!”.
A small window of opportunity to move things forward opens and closes in the blink of an eye. I get to know Beth better, and occasionally visit her in her basement student flat in Maida Vale, West London. Her flat, and her circle of friends, assume mythical proportons for me. Her student friends seem generally more confident, sorted and adventurous than I was as a student. More exotically still (as it seems to me at the time) her brother Ceri is gay and very active on the London scene. Beth has been “adopted” by Ceri’s crowd leading to some generally exciting times on the gay/media/fashion circuits. She rubs shoulders with people like the now-in-retrospect-not-especially-cool Thompson Twins and was-and-always-will-be-cool Joe Strummer. She invites me to her 21st birthday party, where I meet Ceri and many of his friends for the first time. At the end of a very drunken night one guy asks me for a kiss which I happily and experimentally provide. He is a wild but nice boy, but the experience provides yet more confirmation that I am not a gay man, whatever else I may be.
On another occasion I find the courage to mention to Beth that I am a crossdresser. Fortified by her experiences with Ceri and his chums she seems unfazed, and offers to go out with me. I never take her up on this – logistical difficulties get in the way and before I can disentangle them life becomes much more difficult.
The logistical difficulties come in the form of the Four Odd Lodgers. As my Titan salary dwindles and then is replaced by my equally inadequate QMW salary I am struggling to pay my mortgage and my credit card debt is piling up. The flat has two bedrooms, although one is filled with my books, comics and other junk. However the front room has a sofabed, so I decide to convert that into my bedroom and rent out the main bedroom. Immediately I think, how can I find a tenant who is cool about me being a crossdresser?
Time Out has ads for gay flatshares, so I phone them up and ask them if I can put an ad in indicating that I am, in old lingo, a transvestite. They point blank refuse. It’s OK to be gay, but if you are trans and advertise the fact then you are clearly setting up a bordello. No chance, they say. So …
I put an ‘ordinary’ ad in, and try explaining the situation to prospective tenants. When I do so, their interest in renting a room abruptly drops to zero. I don’t want to advertise a gay flatshare, and then have to tell the men coming to view well actually … There doesn’t seem any way around this problem, but I need the money. So in the end, I lock all my clothes in a suitcase, shove it away in the top of the wardrobe and crossdressing is suddenly off the agenda, for I don’t know how long. This allows me to finally get a lodger … in fact a succession of lodgers.
Oh God, those lodgers. The first time round I have to choose between what seems like an easygoing chap (who is working) and a groovy student. I decide it would be cool to rent to the groovy student. Wrong. He seems nice enough when I interview him but once in the flat he barely speaks a word. He pays his rent though, and that’s what’s important.
However on one occasion I come back from a weekend away. All is quiet in the flat as usual, but when I go into the bathroom I find the bathtowel on the floor. I pick the towel up and find, underneath it, a massive turd. Worried, I knock on my lodger’s door and ask if he’s alright. Yes, comes the reply, so I dispose of the turd in puzzlement, put the towel in the washing machine and head off to work. On my return to the flat his parents are there – I have met them only once before, when he first moved in. They get him to explain to me, haltingly, that he has tried to commit suicide. In my bathroom. Although they explain reassuringly that this was a cry for help rather than a serious attempt.
I am sympathetic but horrified. I am certainly not comfortable with him staying in the flat with me effectively in loco parentis, never knowing what I might be returning to, so I tell him and his parents that the tenancy is, sadly, at an end. I don’t know whether that was the right decision or not, but at the time I am just not comfortable with the idea of him being in my flat.
The next lodger is only eccentric in choosing to live in Walthamstow. He is an Australian who does shift work out near Heathrow, right over the other side of London. So not only does he have to get right across town to get to work, he does so at very antisocial times. Quite why he wants to live here with me I am never able to fathom.
The final lodger (I will come to the third one shorty) works for Reiss Menswear and is very dapper (in a trendy way with oiled, floppy hair). He is also very outgoing, and has his girlfriend over to stay on a regular basis. Say what you like about me, I am consistent in managing to attract lodgers with whom I have almost nothing in common. But I do have a soft spot for the third lodger, particularly as his stay with me involves an indirect encounter with Joe Boyd – see my Doom and Gloom post for more about him. Ah yes, Siegfried deserves a post to himself …