There are two Acmes is my lfe – Acme Press, of which I was a co-op member, and the rather more famous Acme Corporation which supplied Wile E. Coyote and other cartoon characters with a succession of unpredictable products, often leading, in Wile E.’s case, to plummeting over a cliff or falling from the sky, hence the title of this post. I am particular fond of Earthquake Pills. A note or warning though – they don’t work on road-runners.
As 1988 progresses and blurs into 1989, I become increasingly worried about my involvement in Acme, particularly as more personal events are starting to affect me. Acme has, by this time, an increasingly close relationship with Eclipse Comics. Our reasoning is that this will give us better access to the North American direct-sales market, which grew up in the seventies and eighties as an alternative to newsstand distribution and which is, by this time, huge. Eclipse handles our North American distribution, and many of our later titles appear under a joint Eclipse/Acme imprint.
The partnership is always fraught with difficulties though. Even when U.S. sales are strong, revenues that are due to us arrive painfully slowly. At one point Richard Ashford pulls off a real coup by obtaining the rights to publish the comics adaptation of the new James Bond film Licence to Kill, followed by an original Bond story. We engage US artist Mike Grell as writer/artist on these projects, but strong pre-orders, particularly on the original series, fail to be realized when production deadlines are missed and issues limp out many months apart. Back in the UK our Brixton comics shop is also poorly managed and so never as profitable as it should be.
I become increasingly worried about all this, not least because we are all financial guarantors to Acme’s bank – not for a huge amount actually, but at the time it seems like money I can ill afford to lose. I try and urge us to be a bit more assertive in our relationship to Eclipse in particular, but it would be misleading to suggest I am a strong voice, for reasons I will explain shortly. If I felt a little more together myself, I might have been a little more insistent, although to what effect who knows? In the end, I don’t feel that Acme is going anywhere, and I decide to withdraw from the co-op for this, and also health reasons. I announce this at a co-op meeting, although I am cagy about the “health reasons”, unable to talk about what has happened to me. Alan Mitchell, who attends most meetings, offers to take my place as a co-op member. As I leave that evening, I am sure that this signals the end of my involvement with Acme. It turns out I am very wrong, but that’s a tale for another day.
The aftermath of my unfortunate surgery takes a while to emerge, but when it does so there are two main effects. The first is hormonal – I am prescribed testosterone supplements by the hospital. The medication supplied takes the form of some rather nasty pills – nasty because they are not particularly effective and also because they lead to weight gain and fluid retention. Compliant, helpless me assumes that the doctors know what they are doing. But amazingly in retrospect no-one – not the hospital, nor my GP – ever orders a regular blood test to check hormone levels. These days, happily on estrogen, it’s considered critical that my levels are checked every six months, but back then it isn’t done at all and I endure the consequences for years.
I become significantly overweight and fluid accumulates, particularly at the knee. I try taking water tablets, which seem to have marginal effects, apart from turning my urine bright green. My libido suffers, although my energy levels seem OK, at least for a while. But as it is described to me later, one consequence of low hormone levels is a general lack of “wellness”, both physical and in terms of psychological states. At the time I still feel I have no control over what is being done to my body, and so I never make a fuss or consider that there might be alternatives. It will take a chance encounter some years later to start putting things right.
Shortly after my surgery, I go to see my GP – who is relatively new to the practice. He is concerned about my psychological well-being, but at the time I brush his concerns aside. I am just carrying on, putting a brave face on things as usual, resigned to my crappy body, lack of self-esteem, sense of oddness and difference etc etc.
A few months later there is some emotional impact. Not much really – I manage to keep most of this stuff at bay until years later. But I begin to find things a bit harder to cope with, so I return to my GP who writes a referral for group therapy. My initial motivation for seeking therapy is to deal with the sense of helplessness and distress which my various medical treatments, and also my upbringing, have caused me. My secondary motivation relates to my transness – the start of a quest to obtain “proof”. I have this notion that if someone somewhere, some medical expert, could say to me “you feel this way because of MEDICAL CAUSE X and this is what you should do about it” then I could show this “proof” to friends and family and say look, it’s not just me banging on about this, this is why I am the way I am and this is what to do about it. So I guess I am seeking both proof and “instructions”. A lot of trans people do this at some point on their journey, but I now know this is wasted energy.
I pursue this fruitless quest for many years in different ways, but perhaps the quest properly begins then. I now know that there is no “test” for transness – you must self-diagnose by first facing up to the truth about yourself. This is one of the reasons why medical help is so variable and inconsistent – our situation is poorly understood by those in charge of treatment and/or funding.
As it happens back in 1988 my trans feelings are becoming more and more buried. This is partly my choice, as I don’t think anyone in my life can cope with my uncertainties about gender. But another factor is the effect of hormones on the brain. My low levels of testosterone lead to a diminution in my cross-gender feelings. I am not expert enough to explain why this is so – and the sense of being trapped in my circumstances, and in my damaged body, were no doubt a strong factor. But in the late nineties, doctors finally get my testosterone levels “right”, and when that happens my gender discomfort starts becoming stronger and stronger – and harder to ignore. That I suppose is the oppposite of what you might think – testosterone should make you feel more masculine, not less. But I am just relaying my own experience – an increase in “T” levels also increased my unease with my apparent birth gender.
When, in September 2008. testosterone is replaced by estrogen well … after a couple of months of adjusting to the change things begin to feel “right” for the first time in my life. But it is very difficult to trace the relationship between hormones, sense of gender and one’s overall psychological condition. Things today do feel very, wonderfully different from how they felt in the dying days of the 1980s.
Back in 1988/89 I trundle off to group therapy, and then in due course to another chapter in my chaotic “career” …