I’m always so glad when January finally comes to an end. I hate Northern Winters with a vengeance: Cold stinging rain and cutting north easterly winds. The very far distant Summer currently looks like a damp mirage in a desert of of grey melancholy. Come February 1st it was time to celebrate and have an outing. ‘Outing’ is an interesting word considering where we went: ‘it is a term and concept that still sends a chill through me especially when coupled with words like ‘Gay’, ‘Trans’, ‘newspaper’, ‘social network’, ‘magazine’ and ‘so called friends’.
Our destination on Feb 1st was he banks of the cold grey Mersey; that windswept seaport, maritime city and hub of music culture; Liverpool. Liverpool is home, until September this year, of the April Ashley Exhibition (Museum of Liverpool). The occasion was my boyfriend’s ‘Tranniversary’. It was three years since he began to be out and proud as a CD/Crossdresser; a good reason then to celebrate. We looked back through photographs at three amazing years in the life of Tina Marina; my boyfriend’s alter ego. I marvelled at the distance travelled from unpractised hesitant dressing to the polished, convincing and lovely Tina who is my best friend these days. Even in the time I have known (and shopped with) her (a little over 13 months), she has changed and ‘grown up’ into such a confident, relaxed woman. I find myself reacting to her in a way very different to the one I have with my boyfriend. Indeed, I find myself behaving much as I would when out with my other girl friends. It seems strange that well chosen clothes, expertly applied makeup and a wig can change my instinctive reactions towards him so significantly. It is an amazing testimony to how far she has come in 3 years.
There I go interchanging pronouns again. I never before realised the extent to which male AND female pronouns could apply so comfortably to the same person, especially given the hatred I used to reserve for those who mis-gendered me years ago. The reality of the transformation is watching chick flicks with Tina, sharing girlie gossip & lunches, going shopping and out on GNO’s. She is the perfect best friend. However when she is back as my beloved Martin he’s such a guy and I can’t keep myself from kissing him and cuddling up in his arms. Am I the only girl to be enjoying these amazing experiences or do any of my readers out there have them too?
I digress. Back to April Ashley (pictured above). I’m not going to provide a biography of that wonderful lady here; you can fill that information in by searching online. Suffice it to say that those of us of a certain age, born in the fifties or early sixties, could hardly escape being aware of this iconic lady and the way she was treated by society and the press. The exhibition currently on show in the Museum of Liverpool chronicles her life from humble beginnings in Liverpool in 1935 to her MBE and official recognition of her womanhood in much more recent times.There are so many striking things that emerge from revisiting April Ashley’s personal history. Everybody viewing the exhibition will take away something new and personal. For me, one thing in particular stood out. It humbled me greatly; a total admiration for someone who had come through so much and done it with great dignity and fortitude.
Now the Fifties might have been fabulous, I don’t know. My Mum certainly looked fabulous in her Horrocks Summer Dresses. Even so I barely remember the decade, being a little over two years old when it ended. The Swinging Sixties was my childhood. Far from being permissive I found those 10 years to be one of increasing intolerance towards kids like me. ’69 when I started High School was the start of the worst bit of all. For me, growing up Transgender in the 60’s and 70’s was no picnic. Running the gauntlet of intolerance and hatred at school as well as daily beatings and bullying taught me to hide. I learned not only to tuck myself physically but to to tuck myself away as much as I could. Once I had taken an interest in newspapers, the things I read about women like Ms Ashley (and others) only served to alarm me. The way in which society took an unhealthy, over curious and intrusive interest into these women’s lives frightened me more than anything. I could never imagine putting myself in that position and inviting such devastating public exposure.
Having worked so hard at concealment it would be a long time before I dared to come out. Indeed it was changing public awareness and the passing of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act that convinced me attitudes were changing. By the time April Ashley had officially become a woman I had been living full time for almost 2 years. I received my own Gender Recognition Certificate a couple of years later. April had however really been a woman since her transition in 1960. She was WAY ahead of her time; a trailblazer and someone truly great to look up to. The rest of us owe so much to her.
Hugs, Jane x