Thursday, 17 August 2017

Humble Beginnings - Pandora and I, et al.

The Real World.
Having made the decision to move out of the services into the real world, I took a position as a staff nurse on an intensive care unit in west London, and moved into a house in Ealing.
I had made contact with a local Beaumont Society group, ran by a lovey woman called Janet, that met in Ealing, and attended frequently over the next few years. The meetings were held in a ‘hush-hush’ ‘secret squirrel’ sort of way.
The Beaumont Logo
I was able to make lifelong friends with some of the members, and was introduced to Christine, who had a house and was looking to take in a lodger to help with the bills and keep the place secure when she was away as she traveled overseas a lot.

Seventh Heaven.  
The first week I had moved in was a turning point in my life. I could dress when I liked, keep my clothes in my wardrobe hanging up, shoes on the rack and relax enfem. This was my Pandora moment and it was Bliss!
My night life took off too, as Christine enjoyed going out for meals and socialising, and as I didn’t drink, I very quickly became indispensible as the designated diver. So we were off gallivanting all over the capital when ever possible. I was living full time fem and only out of heels at work or at the canoe club.
But being a poor low paid nurse in the NHS, I couldn’t afford to keep my car, pay rent and eat, so sadly sold it and took to cycling the 17 miles each way to work as back every day. The upside was I had a fab figure, and this helped my canoeing as well. I averaged 34 miles a day, or better seen as 1000 miles a month by bicycle, no wonder I was fit!!

I had to register with a GP and the lovely Indian lady doctor in the surgery around the corner from the house took me on. I explained my situation and the fact that I felt I should have been female, and asked her advice. Surprisingly she had come across this before and was familiar with the Benjamin protocols, the real life test, hormone therapy and referrals for psychologist assessments etc. However she would not start any treatments for at least six months and only then after a psychological review, saying that I should start my ‘Real Life Test’ during that time, as it was a three year test so the sooner I started the better it would be. This was the early 1980’s and I am pleased to say we have progressed from this nowadays in many areas, but still have some way to go.

London Friend

Yvonne Sinclair 
  The London TV/TS group on Upper Street, Islington, was a regular haunt of mine at that time, with meetings every weekend overseen by the famous Yvonne Sinclair, who keep the TV/TS helpline and venue going for several years We would all meet up at the group venue, chat and gossip for a while, then about 10pm dash over to Earls Court on the other side of London, to the Philbeach hotel for a meal in the Asian restaurant and then dance till dawn in the basement.  The restaurant was managed by Paula, a lovely lady who was transitioning, and we all got on really well with good humor and long discussions into the night on just about every subject under the sun!
Yvonne was one of the original London girls who introduced me to the balls!
We attended events every couple of months at the Porcehster and Tudor Lodge where Ron Storme presented amazing Drag Balls that attracted a dazzling array of individuals. We all glammed up to the nines in sequins and big hair, fab frocks and heels, there were fashion shows, outfits were judged and lots of dancing to live bands. Later the discotec style of event took over and we just danced.
It was only some time later that I learned that Ron would often use the proceeds from the events to support other London based charities.

Life in Technicolor
Living in Christine’s house was always interesting as she was very social and invited some lovely people back for snacks and drinks. One afternoon she turned up at home with a lovely lady who was about my age at the time, dressed in an amazing short dress, skyscraper heels and hairstyle to die for. After chatting she told me she was transitioning and her Arab sheikh boyfriend was paying for everything, flat, clothes, surgery, hair removal … and shoes!! (… I would settle for the just the shoes!! ) She was very positive about the arrangement and oversaw the property he owned in the UK so earned her keep.

When I was not working weekends we would hit the city. There were nights out at Stallions, Hippodrome, Heaven, The Way Out Club, Storms and the Fallen Angel. Even Ealing had a friendly club called Lucky’s that was in walking distance of home, and had a gay night that was well attended. We had become part of the ‘IN’ crowd of alternative London, dancing at all the trendy night clubs of the day, rubbing shoulders with rock stars, those on the up, the famous DJ’s of the day, politicians, and people you could see in the newspaper gossip columns. 
We often met celebrities at the Hippodrome with Peter Stringfellow including  Marilyn, Tiny Tim, Kenny Everet and Alan ‘fluff’ Freeman.

London Hippodrome 
I must stress that despite this bohemian lifestyle I have never taken any drugs or smoked and have never drank, so it shows what people can do when there is a will to have fun. Enjoyment with no stimulants or hangovers may have been strange to some of my friends at the time, but I was never tempted to slide down that path. 

I went out with the girls at the hospital a few times for meals or drinks, being invited to hen nights and even a wedding. We all got on very well, partly due to the large number of agency nurses that came through the unit and the small core team that kept the place running. It did make for some long discussions on nights about gender and sexuality, and prompted the first serious navel gazing that I undertook to try and understand what I was and why. After a few months of soul searching and asking lots of questions of my friends I came to the conclusion that I was me, unique and happy, so I told myself to just get on with life and be myself.

Meanwhile the TV/TS group had found a new venue in French Place, Shoreditch, and we all became involved in setting it up. The venue was much better than Islington in that we all put something into it to make it work.  It had a different dynamics as well as a vibrant atmosphere. It was ‘ours’ and open most days and you could always have a nice cup of tea and chat, there were changing rooms and big mirrors. It hosted meetings and events, including a memorable presentation by Dr Russel Reid.
Sadly it was not a long term success as it was a great initiative, and provided a safe haven for many new girls coming out. It seemed that this was destined to fail after a couple of years mainly due to the internal politics of the group around the management of the venue

Sole Mate
One of the friends that I was introduced to by Christine was to become my long term partner. She lived on the other side of Ealing and was in a relationship at that time with some one who was also TV.
The boss ! 
We got on well and would often all meet up as a group at the local night club and dance together. However I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time and didn’t think she was either, when one weekend she phoned me to see if I could help as her niece, (who she was babysitting while her brother and sister in law were at the Bruce Springsteen ‘Born on the fourth of July concert in Wembley) had fallen off a slide and hurt herself.  When they arrived at the house I found the niece had landed on her arm and it was painful but not broken, so some ice for a while and a bandage was all that was required, and after a 10 min watch of cartoon on the telly it was all forgotten.  As payment I was invited to go to the ‘Big Top’ on Battersea Park to see a ballet with her.
One thing led to another and we eventually became partners.
She had a proper job as an editor of a magazine in the city, and I was the lowly paid nurse working shifts, so it was a complete role reversal where I was taken out and dined on her expense account at all the fashionable places in London, the ballet, opera, and I introduced her to canoeing, where I took her out on the Thames one new years’ day when the river was in flood and she nearly drowned. She eventually forgave me and we have been together for over 30yrs now !

Peddles and Paddles
Canoeing was still a major part of my life, and I was selected to race in Denmark. This was all well and good but the team were on a tour for over a week training in the Danish lakes and I couldn’t get the time off for the whole event. However L, who was also invited to race was not able to make the whole tour either so she and I hatched a plan! I managed to arrange night duty for the week before the race and the pair of us cycled the 750 miles from London to the center of Denmark in four long days – thank goodness it was mostly flat!  
It was a hard ride with minimal stops and long days, however some how we managed to get to the race location in daylight the night before it was due to start, and were met by the whole team who informed us that the race had been cancelled!! It took a while for us to believe them, but the other teams had to pull out and it became a time trial across the lakes . We had to follow the local paddlers most of the way as none of the British team knew where we were going, so after 15 miles  it ended up a 100mtr sprint at the end when we could all see the finish line!

An interesting aside to this was after we got back from the trip, I told L about my Fem side and we had dinner together. She was very annoyed as she said that she wished I had told her earlier as we had two weeks together on the trip and it would have been good to talk about it. Her father was a genetic scientist and was one of the expert witnesses called during the April Ashley divorce case, to explain the relevance of chromosomes in gender identification. Sadly his work was party to blame for putting the whole world on hold for the acceptance of transgender transitioning for many years.

Pastures New
I was really enjoying the London lifestyle and was living life to the full.
I had a nice place to live, great friends, a great job, I had been full time for about a year and was in a new relationship.
J, on the other hand was at the end of her relationship with her previous partner, was tired of her executive job and wanted to leave London.
She invited Christine and I to another of her nieces 18th birthday party in Cornwall, so that weekend right after a late night out at a ball we jumped in the car and drove the five hours arriving at 8am, and just in time for breakfast. The party was fun, if a little reserved from the one we had just attended in London, and we had the following day free to explore the area and visit the beach.

Our hostess, J’s Sister in Law, worked in one of the local estate agents and hearing that J had wanted to leave London and was selling her house, suggested that she may get a lot of property for her money in Cornwall. They discussed work options and fell upon a plan to buy a bed and breakfast that would generate some income and have a place to live as well, for the same price as her house was for sale for in London.

This was another period of change in my life and we had a discussion on what direction to take. So after a lot of sole searching I made a commitment not to progress my transition, put my fem side on hold, and moved to Cornwall with J.
I was still in my mid-twenties, and had not had a serious relationship before. I thought that this relationship would be a short-term event and that it may last for one or two years at the most.

Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Sea Side
We moved in the spring of 1984 into a lovely eight bedroom guest house about 500 yards from the sea, and took in regular guests to pay the bills, and provided respite for people being cared for by the Terence Higgins Trust and Body Positive, as well as arranging a few weekends for people from the Transgender community.
I worked in the nearby hospital to pay the mortgage, while J ran the house. We both worked hard to make it happen and were always looking to expand the market somehow, taking in surfers, school groups and outdoor activity groups. 
North Cornwall 
We sold the guest house after four years as we found we were great at having a fun time with our guests but were awful business people and the costs were outstripping the gains on the property value due to the sky high interest rates at the time. 
When we sold we decided to travel – so we put all the money from the house, bought two bicycles and a tent, and a one way ticket to Spain on the Santander ferry. We left with an aim to be away for about a year, but soon forgot that and ended up cycling round the world for six and a half years – which is another story all together.

Luckily in many respects I was proven to be very wrong and our relationship has lasted over 32 yrs now. We are still partners, and not married, despite her proposing to me many times, we are still together because we want to be together. I’m not sure why I am reluctant to get married, maybe something about another bind to break if I wish to transition.  Who knows or cares. 

It’s a Wrap
So now I am approaching my sixtieth birthday, we are still together and still have a very strong bond. I dress often when appropriate and we enjoy a vibrant social life including burlesque, theater, ballet, cinema and lots of traveling together.
We have boundaries that are often breached and need to be reset, but we understand each other’s needs and that is what makes it work.

Yes, it’s hard at times that I haven’t transitioned, and yes I would love to transition tomorrow, but the joint adventures and benefits we have achieved and experienced have far outweighed my personal gains. It has been my commitment to the relationship that has put me where I am, and I have no regrets.

My life encompasses many aspects, with diverse areas of international competitive sport, travel, heath care work in remote areas, academia and owing a landrover; however my dominant core is my female side, this is the largest part of me, the part that defines me, a part that I never want to lose, and one day hope to bring to the fore.

notes -Yvonne Sinclair’s web page
N.B. Some of the pictures above are from the web, while the others are of mine. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Humble Beginnings - Wandering to Work

Having survived my childhood I thought it was best that I found some employment that would keep me away from the family home as much as possible. But I was young and was never going to achieve a high academic level at school no matter how hard I worked.
I loved aeroplanes and was in the air cadets, so it seemed a natural progression to join the Royal Air Force.
So at the ripe old age of sixteen and a half I took the Queens Shilling and signed up for nine years service.

Fingers and Thumbs
At first I studied to be an aeroplane mechanic and learnt all about the bits that keep an aircraft up in the air and let it land safely … nuts and bolts and wire locking .. but the spanners and I didn’t gel …I was all fingers and thumbs, (and often butter fingers at that…)  so after a while I released that this was not for me.
I discussed my predicament with one of my former school teachers, who said that I should go for a trade that would always be in demand, and have a civilian qualifications. He thought that Mechanical, Medical, Builder or Catering were the better ones to go for, not the highest paying, but I’d never be out of work.
My Grandmother suggested that I tried nursing as I seemed to have the right temperament for it, and it fit the recommendations for something always in demand and gaining a civilian qualification – so I gave it a go!

Hospital Corners
The RAF nursing services gave a good rounded training in service hospitals which had a higher staff to patient ratio than what was found in the NHS at the time, and we has smaller classes and an apprentice style training in those days. We were put to work on the wards after a four week basic nursing introduction period, (where we learnt to make beds, perform bed baths and warm bedpans) with a new ward allocation every 12 weeks. 
It was all exiting stuff and I really enjoyed the role.

Around this time I found that I needed to have some form of transport and had an in come that was burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought a motorbike to zoom all over the UK on, visiting places and exploring new areas. My first bike was a 2 stroke Suzuki 250 twin, it was fast and noisy, and all mine!
My Mother was horrified and tore me off a strip when I first bought it as she associated it with ‘mods and rockers’, ‘hells angels’ and high speed death, but the very next month she tore me off a strip again that I hadn’t used it to come home and visit her.
I could never win!

Mr and Ms Smith
Part of the training was to gain experience in sexually transmitted diseases, so I was sent off to Bristol for a two week period to learn how to take samples, case histories and identify common illnesses of the private areas.
It was at this time in the late 1970’s that I met my very first transsexual.
The STD clinic was set up so that boys looked after boys and girls looked after girls. There were two waiting rooms with treatment rooms for the boys and girls, with a central lab where we tested all the samples.
This particular day I had been taking samples from one of the many ‘Mr Smith’ characters we seemed to get and was asked to help one of the female nurses to help take a sample from a ‘Miss Smith’ on the girls side. This happened every now and then when they thought that I would gain some educational benefit from the examination, or practice my record taking.
We entered the treatment room and there was a lady who looked very sophisticated, well dressed and very stylish. (Think ‘young Joanna Lumley’ and you get the picture). I started to take her history, and she said she was a professional escort and had several partners a week with regular unprotected intercourse, and that she was getting a discharge now and had had this before etc etc.
This was in the days long before AIDs and HIV, Hep C et al, where we were most concerned about Syphilis, Gonorrhea  and spread of non-specific urethritis.
At this point the nurse with me asked me to take the sample and I was a little confused, as I was not expecting to take a sample from a woman, but that all became clear when she lifted her dress.(!) She was totally passable and I had spent 30 minutes getting her history with no inclination that she was Transgender.  
It was a ‘the world stands still’ moment and I sat there stunned with a million questions ready to bust forth… but then I did my professional procedure and thanked her for her time.
I sat and relived the interview, her looks and voice were perfect and nothing that I could see gave her away, even though was ‘in the same trade’ so to speak.
I was in awe and jealous, and had lost my opportunity to sit and chat to her by circumstances and fate.
Yet another lesson gained to late through hindsight.   
To put this into perspective, this was in the 1970’s. There was no internet buying of hormones, no gender identity clinics, no laser hair removal, no quick trip to Thailand or Poland for breast and face operations. This woman was just so amazingly convincing even by today’s standards.

Bits of Metal
After my nurse training I was put to work on the surgical ward and intensive care unit. That summer we had a skirmish that involved a conflict on the other side of the world that was soon resolved but it kept the medical services busy for over a year, long after peace broke out.
Our hospital was the main receiving unit for all the casualties and we had a wide range of injuries flown in in waves every few days.
Some of the injured I cared for then are still in full time care today nearly 40 years after the event.
It’s terrifying to see what devastation a small single piece of metal can do to every aspect a persons life.

I was posted to several bases in the UK and did some detachments to a couple of overseas bases too. One summer I was sent to work for the Red Arrows as their medical cover and found myself in heaven!
Sleek red shiny aeroplanes, and lots of them and my own landrover ambulance.
I had a great time there and enjoyed the job immensely. The aircraft were all prepped early in the morning, then the pilots were all briefed on the days events before taking off for what ever shows they were performing that day. 
I saw them off by sitting next to the fire tender at mid point on the runway and when all had gone we went back to watch telly for the day till they all came home. A quick check to see everyone was fine then it was off home for tea! 

Up North
I had a two year posting to the northern Isles of Shetland, which after my hospital work was a totally new world. I had a whole island to look after for emergency care and found it a wonderful challenge.
The base was very small, and we had a great social life. I was a focal point for many of the events out side of the base as I never drink and had an ambulance … so was often called on by the local policeman to run down to the local bars to pick up some overindulged individuals and bring them home.
Part of the social life was the annual 'Station Review', were each of the base departments put on little sketches. I was drafted into the Electrical teams sketch as they did a take off of Chirs De-Burg’s song ‘Delisha’ and needed a ‘stripper'. Needless to say I had a great time.

Commuting back and forth to Shetland was a 14hour drive and I made the most of it and dressed the whole time I drove each way. 
On one journey I had been driving for some time and needed some fuel. It was about 2am in the middle of Scottish nowhere and I pulled over, filled up with fuel then paid. I moved the car to use the bathroom, only to find that I had locked the keys in the car !
I tried all ways to get the car open and then resorted to picking up a brick and smashing a small window to get in.
I had just stuck the window when a police car cruised in and they stopped right next to me, asking what I was doing.
So, here I am, in a pink and gray cowl dress, brown bob wig, gray tights and matching heels, breaking into a car at 2am in front of two board scots police officers, who politely ask me for some identification and insurance.
I passed them my paper work and said that I was on my way to work and had been ‘practicing for a role’, hence my outfit and pointed to the keys in my car explaining why I had broke the window.
The discussions were all fine and friendly, and I was just about to drive away when the blue lights came on the car and I was asked to ‘step into the back for a chat’. My heart went into overtime, and I started to think the worst.
They took all my details down and took and official statement from me about my journeys up and down from Shetland, including my RAF id number, and explained that they were looking into some of assaults on women that had been linked to someone regularly driving up and back from Scotland.
So I fit that profile. After about half an hour I was free to go but they said that they would follow up their enquires with the RAF to verify my story.
South Again 
After a few months anxious waiting I had heard nothing from the police and forgot about it.  My two years in Shetland came to an end and I was soon on the move again. My next base was in the south west of London where a joint service rehabilitation unit was located. This had various service personnel who were recovering from injuries and medical conditions that impaired mobility. My job was help the clients manage their daily physiotherapy and fitness regimes according to their specific requirements.
During this time I had a surprise visit from the ‘special investigation branch’ of the RAF police regarding the incident where I had been caught dressed by civilian police in Scotland. It was an intense day where I was searched and questioned about how I was dressed, was I gay, did I have any relationships etc etc. I answered as honestly as I thought I should, and seemed to pacify the officer. I was not perused in any further investigations, but I thought that after 11 years service it best that I leave while I was still ahead.  
Again, as this was now the early 1980’s and there wasa zero tolerance to anything not 100% macho and stiff upper lip in the British Forces at that time, and any thing else was subject to a dishonourable discharge.

Pastures New with Pandora
On leaving the RAF after eleven years service I took a position in London at a Neurological intensive care unit, which cared for patients with brain injuries and illnesses. The team on the unit were a great hard working bunch, and we all had great fun working together.

I had moved into in a house in West London with a TG friend who traveled away from home a lot and wanted a housemate to keep the place clean and secure.
I let Pandora out of the box me and started to dress full time, loving being me for the first time in my life.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Humble Beginnings - Growing pains

Promise I wont drown .. 

During my schooling I was awful at sport, often being given to the best team as a handicap. I was put out past the boundary in cricket, behind the goal for football, and right back on the touch line in Rugby. Anything with a ball was bad news for me!
So when one of the teachers started a canoe club in the school and I said  ‘’yes please – what is that ??’’
I remember taking a note home for my Grandmother to sign that said my parents would agree that it would not be the schools fault if I drowned! I told her that it wouldn’t cost anything as I would be using all the schools equipment. How wrong I was !! (– but more of that later!)

Gang Shows
I was a member of the local scout troop and enjoyed being ‘part’ of something. Each year the troop would put on a ‘Gang Show’ and we all had to perform on the stage in little sketches and comedy routines. I loved it as I was able to volunteer for all the girls’ parts, and they gave them to me!  
I was about 12 at the time, my voice hadn’t broken and I was still singing soprano in the school and church choirs, also being very slim (skinny!) and about mid height.  So I was a natural choice for the parts. (Probably the fact that no one else wanted to dress as a girl may have been in my favor as well …)
In one show I played a house wife, school girl, Florence Nightingale, and the Queen !
I was in seventh heaven!  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was following in the footsteps of many great female impersonators of the past.
One of the scoutmasters' wives was the costume mistress and was able to find outfits and wigs that suited my shape and size, and she had a great time transforming me when doing my make up for the shows. This lasted for two wonderful years when I would look forward to the shows and rehearsals, counting the days till they started.

Then it all came tumbling down …
I often stayed at my grandmothers at the other end of our small town, closer to the town center. My grandmother had some old clothes stored in the room that I used when I stayed with her, and I used to try them on at night when everyone had gone to bed.

At first I was content to see the transformed image in the mirror and feel contented, but as time went on I wanted more.
I think that most TG’s know this feeling, I call it the ‘Pandora Paradox’, the more you let Pandora out of the box, the harder it is to put her back, and the next time she wants to start where you left off, so the boundaries get pushed and have to be re-set.
So after a few sessions dressing in the bedroom at night I wanted more, and with the bedroom being on the ground floor, I used to pop out of the window and go for a walk at 2am. First this was just in the area around the flat, then after a few nights, I stated to venture into the town.
On one particular night I was wearing a long roll neck jumper with a belt that looked like a dress on me, with a pair of tights and some flat white sandals. My hair was very sort at that time, but I found a fluffy hat that looked like a wig and wore that. My boobs were my rugby socks in one of my grandmothers old bras and I felt feminine and it was an amazing feeling.
Window Shopping  
The night was dry and not too cool. I wandered into the town looking in the shop windows and enjoying being ‘me’ for the first time on my own terms. The town was very quiet and after about an hour I was making my way home when a car came passed. I just kept on walking, ignoring it as I was not concerned, but it pulled over and 2 police officers got out, concerned that a young girl was walking about the town alone at that time of night.
They took me to the police headquarters and sat me down and talked to me, asking me who I was and what I was doing out at that time of night. I was in tears and couldn’t say anything. Then after a little while  one of the women officers pulled my hat off and showed my boys hair cut to the world. It was then that one of the officers recognised me as living near him, and called my mother.

So arriving in a whirlwind at 3am at the police headquarters to find me dressed as a girl was one very unhappy mother.
I was taken home, changed and put to bed after receiving some corporal punishment.
The following day I was driven to school late, and told to sit outside the headmasters office for a long time while my mother was discussing the situation with him. Some time later I was put in a room with a child psychiatrist who had me do all sorts of mind games, drawings, and story telling. After a while another psychiatrist came in who was more direct, asking ‘why’ questions, ‘how did I feel’, ‘what made me do it’ etc.
This all concluded in having my mother and headmaster in the room with the 2 psychiatrists and the direct one asking me to explain my reasons for dressing and going out. Was I trying to pick up men? Was I attracted to men? Did I know what a homosexual was?
I was in tears and shouting that I didn’t know, I just wanted to ‘do’ it, but no one was listening to me. He then accused me of being sick, and he asked me if I actually wanted to be a ‘little girl’. (I had no idea if this was actually possible, as April Ashley hadn’t hit the headlines at that time). I was distraught, I was freighted that I would upset my mother again and disgrace myself in front of my headmaster, so screamed ‘NO’ in answer to the question to please them…not myself.

(Isn’t hindsight a marvelous thing….)

Humble Beginnings

As many of you know, we all have to start somewhere and this is my first jump into writing a blog, so bare with me and my misguided steps in...