It’s my first year of school. I remember all sorts of things; so much impressed itself on me. The climbing frame in the playground was a welded metal pipe affair in the days before soft ground, of coloured coatings, and attractive shapes like tanks. (Why, dear god why, do we make tanks for kids to play on? Or tractors, or why not animals?) Anyhow, I remember the cold metal, how brown and shiny it was in all the places most played on. Looking at it today it would be maybe five feet tall, mainly cubic in design with a high point. That was for king of the castle. For boys to shout from, while girls used the swings. They brought their own skipping ropes. I had one, with blue handles, because I asked for one, and didn’t see why only my sister should have one.
I think that one day I may have got to the top, and thought it bravely high, but I didn’t go on the climbing frame with the boy swarm. There was a bar instead that girls swung around. It once had attachments, but no more; just the same brown-shiny, hand-polished, tummy-buffed bar. Girls at least used to do that: swing upside down from their knees, and show their knickers because this was before they wore trousers. And I am in this playground, walking around the perimeter kerb between grass and gravel, talking to a girl, sharing biscuits, belonging.
People still ask me: ‘When did you know?’ Of course I didn’t ‘know’, I just didn’t feel the same as everyone else. Thankfully at home I didn’t have many expectations placed on me, and had the freedom to play with dolls, at house, anything my sister and the girl up the road wanted to. I didn’t especially do boy stuff, other than that is what I was given, so a boat with a motor that went the length of the bath in two seconds and had to be turned around, was just as fun, if limited to weekly bath times. Mixing cement was no different from mixing a cake (both when very young). It was just joining in.
My first year of junior school, placed me in a grim and blackened old building, where entrances were headed ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ in sandstone swirls, behind which lay girls’ and boys’ cloakrooms. Separate playgrounds prevented boys from being too rough around girls, because their games were so different. I never did find the playground where I could feel safe. This same year saw our one family holiday, conceded with yellow holiday forms during term time. There was special pocket money budget for the week in mixed-weather Wales, and my sister chose a toffee coloured bear (actually he was chocolate and I remember the smell of his fur, but ‘toffee’ made a better name). That bear was loved and hugged every day and went everywhere. I chose a yacht with red sails called Diana. I can’t remember the choosing process much, but my dad enjoyed it, sailed it, reinforced the rigging because the weather wasn’t very good, had to buy a boat hook, then a ball and string in order to retrieve it after the wind blew it (of course) from A to B, where B was the other side of accessible. I can’t remember how many times it sailed, but it must in all have been about half a dozen times I stood and watched my boat. I got what boys got. Yes I felt a proud owner, but it wasn’t, in so many ways, mine.
A visiting aunt bought us a little present to come home to, and they were little pairs of dancers about two inches high. My sister’s were ballet dancers. Mine were Hawaiian and I loved them; especially the girl, for the swirl of her hair and blue skirt, the smoothness of her body, the sway of her arms. There was more liking and meaning in that tiny figure than any boats and rockets. Maybe I was already dancing inside.
My first year of (single sex) grammar school has featured in another blog, but for the first time I was in a place without rescue, where the expectations, academically, socially, behaviourally, were fairly plain, and this was where boys became men. Thus undistracted by everything most of my peers liked to do in breaks, after school or at weekends, I kept my head down and simply did very well. It was the year I was ill with scarlet fever, self-diagnosed by intuition, guided by goodness-knows what, but which took me into isolation for a number of weeks. I think it was the last time I had an illness that really grounded me for more than a couple of weeks, until pneumonia this month. It was about the same time of year as this. I read, copiously. It snowed.
My first year of university was probably my lowest ever point. I scraped in on clearing, separated from my best friend, my girlfriend, and entered a men’s hall of residence, with the blokiest blokes you can imagine, sharing a study with one, and understanding nothing of their way of life. By now feminine urges were long in place, but this was scary. I could be found out, and I was completely alone.
My first year in employment wasn’t good either. Sending a fresh creative postgraduate to Stockton on Tees (no offence, I’m sure it’s much improved!) into then somewhat gender-segregated management isn’t clever, especially when they have chosen office management (a largely female domain at the time) and are expected to do the male things outside work in a competitive commercial environment. I did not fit, was not well-trained or supported and found my way back into publishing in order to retrieve my integrity and self-esteem. And can you imagine an unknowing trans 20-something having to stocktake women’s clothes? I felt extremely vulnerable.
Of course since then there have been other first years, with better outcomes, but just as equivocal. However, being more of my choosing, at least were moderated with some small sense of security.
But of course the significance really, having just been asked again yesterday: ‘When did you first know?’, is that this weekend is my first anniversary. One year ago I kicked over the traces and forever left the presumption of male. One year ago I was truly freed, not with permissions (that was very mixed) but with complete certainty and conviction. The year between is largely in this blog. Some bits I intend to feature more carefully in weeks to come (now that I feel I can), and some are quite sensitive. But as it is now, I’ve gone through so much, and every single potential challenge to my transition has been as mist. Clinging, maybe, dragging on, but finally, I feel now, laid to rest. I am where I want to be, and when I walk into my next gender clinic assessment in just over a month, there will be a very settled and ordinary woman with things to discuss about her future.
It may have been a traumatic year, but it has all come good so far. No climbing, no kings and castles, no more struggling to fit into behaviours and roles that were never mine, and life is very much my choice.
Happy Anniversary, Andie.