1989 is my most full-blooded temping year – I spend almost the whole year working for Kelly in a variety of places around London, including a Very Long Engagement in central London. Domestically I still oscillate between my flat in Walthamstow and Beth’s in Maida Vale, with me spending much more time at hers than she does at mine. The relationship developts to the point where we find ourselves contemplating actually moving in together. She is just renting, while I have a property which is increasingly rapid in value (and also a lot of slowly diminishing debt). So apart from the relationship itself, the domestic merger solves both out problems – she gets a foot on the property ladder, significantly nearer to where she works, I have my debt problems solved at a stroke.
As I recall, Beth can’t afford a full 50 per cent share, so my solicitor and Beth’s father’s solicitor draw up a fairly convoluted document which reflects an unequal ownership of the flat and how things should proceed in the event we break up and go our separate ways. Of course, this never happens, so at some point (either the property after the flat, or the one after that) we quietly forget this quirky equity split. Beth finds it very emotional and upsetting to say goodbye to her Maida Vale flat, where she has lived for nearly four years, and to some degree it separates her from her brother Ceri’s social circle – Walthamstow represents a life of domestic ordinariness for both of us, as we attempt to develop our careers – she in perhaps a more coherent way than me. My transness is quietly submerged – group therapy allows me once again to put it in a box “over there” somewhere, in this case a box marked therapy. The fact that I dont talk about it in therapy is neither here nor there – I still feel that if I am ever going to make progress on my trans identity it will be in the therapeutic environment, so maybe one day I will have the courage to speak up there. Not yet though.
In spring, around the time Beth moves in, I get what turns out to be a long temping gig at Marks and Spencer’s head office in Baker Street, Central London. It’s a lovely part of the city to be working in, in a fantastic building, although I see they have since sadly vacated it to move to Paddington. I am based in the department that deals with charitable giving and community engagement, doing full-fledged secretarial work. It’s an open plan office with different managers taking responsibility for particularly types of giving – one has responsibility for arts, another for community projects etc – supported by a large pool of secretarial staff who prove a very nice group of women.
I have a great time there and before too long it becomes unexpectedly interesting. I work for a couple of different managers during a temp engagement than runs for nearly six months. Initially I mostly work for the woman who deals with requests for arts funding, but then I am asked to help a male colleague in the team who is running something called West London Compact. This is an ILEA initiative, one of their last before the Thatcher Government abolishes them, and is focussed on improving attainment, achievement and I think employability among children attending inner London schools. I get quite involved and it seems overall an extremely good project. It’s strange to be involved in something with such a direct social purpose, and to enjoy it so much, as my career aspirations remain to do something in the media – writing or possibly (I sometimes think daringly, and then unthink less daringly) performing. It proves a great experience, and I get on well with my manager.
Both of the people I work for try to recruit me to M&S permanently, but I resist the temptation. One of my other temp engagement in that year – helping to produce a tender document for Bell South International for the first UK cellular phone licence – also leads to a job offer, even though their bid is ultimately unsuccessful. I remain determined to do something arty, even though I have no idea how.
Back in group therapy, I start to talk a bit more. Revealingly, I rarely talk about myself, preferring to offer suggestions about other people’s issues. It will be some time before I talk much about my own issues, or my transness, or my surgeries. It is increasingly difficult to get to the group on time, something that will only get worse in the following year.
Overall, though, I am very busy, and reasonably happy. Setting up home with Beth is fun, although adjusting to life in Walthamstow is a bit of a shock for her I think. Before too long she becomes frustrated with working for a religious publisher, and moves to work for the local council, the London Borough of Waltham Forest, in their Recreation Services department – which covers sport, classical concerts and entertainment. The Bootleg Beatles are regular visitor to Walthamstow Assembly Hall, and MOR crooner Vince Hill famously has his wallet nicked on Waltham Forest’s watch. It’s a low responsibility job with amusing people – which has something to be said for it – but after a while Beth will begin to look for something more challenging.
Gender issues fade into the background – partly I think because I am busy, partly because of the impact of low hormones on my brain chemistry, and partly because I self-limit my participation in therapy, so it is years before I even begin to touch on my sense of gender in the group, and even then I do so cautiously and tentatively.
You will recall the whole point of switching to temping was in order to have time to carve out a creative career, despite having little idea how to go about this. I make some perfunctory efforts to write, but for most of 1989 not much happens to progress my ambitions. Then as the year starts to draw to a close, the industry I thought I had said goodbye to comes along and makes me an offer I find hard to refuse …