One morning in the East End of London . . .

My story began where I was born in London in 1952. When I was finally aware of my surroundings, I discovered that I lived in a flat in the East End of London just off of Brick Lane and featured at the top of this article. A red brick building with black iron railings along the balconies that ran along each floor where the entrance to each flat was. One of my earliest memories was of Jack Frost who I believed I had seen at one of the windows in the flat. I also remember my fascination with the television and was strangely attracted to the controls at the back of the set. Unlike modern TVs the back of a television then had a number of knobs that allowed the picture stability and quality to be seriously compromised by a child. I was constantly dawn to these and adjusted them regularly to the despair of my parents. I also had a ‘need to know how things worked’ approach to toys and more, putting this to the test on countless toys. I dismantled them only to learn that I could not reassemble them to my dismay and frustration.

We moved to a terraced house with a garden in the outskirts of East London on the border of Essex when I was three years old. The style of house was know as a two up, two down which had a very small front garden and slightly bigger back garden. It was the house where I would try on female clothing for the first time.

Before I continue with my story I will provide you some insight into my early life as a child…

An eye on the advice of doctors

I have worn glasses for as long as I can remember. I have photos of me probably about three or four years of age with glasses that were tied on, as I was too small for conventional glasses.

I think it was around the age of five that I was made to wear a patch over my left eye for days/weeks at a time. I suffered from a lazy eye that turned inward when I was tired. Wearing the patch was supposed to make the right eye stronger, but not the most confidence building thing for a four or five year old to wear. Having no choice, I got on with it the best I could.

Pictured with my older sister near our grandmother’s house in Stepney.
My glasses strangely appear as if the lenses are opaque which they were not!

At the age of nine and to add to my already ‘feeling different’, my parents were advised that I should have an operation on my right eye to correct the lazy eye problem. I could go into detail about my views on this but choose to on this and focus on the story.

So one operation later, the good and the bad news! The good news – they did resolve the problem of the eye turning inward. The bad news – they had not been 100% successful as now I don’t have parallax with my vision. Plus my eye turns outwards all of the time now and when I am tired it is more extreme and far worse than a lazy eye that turned inward occasionally. By the time I was old enough to understand what had happened it was too late to have corrective surgery.

In case you are wondering why I have included this, it’s to illustrate the affect that it had on me at the age of nine. I was now visually different to anyone else apart from how I felt inside. My little bit of confidence that I had managed to scrape together by nine had been crushed. I’ve always felt so conspicuous from that point in my life as a child and into my adulthood. I did learn not to worry about it but have always been self conscious of my right eye throughout my life.

First signs

I cannot say honestly what age I was when my mother found me wearing her stockings in her bedroom. My tiny legs didn’t come close to filling  the stockings and they simply shrouded my legs with a large degree of baggy. She just laughed it off as something, but can’t imagine she didn’t have any thoughts of what exactly drew me to the act. Neither did I! Somewhere around the age of seven or eight I recall trying on some of my older sister’s clothes when I was alone in the house. I liked the idea of looking like a girl and discovered how it felt to dress as one. I can’t say exactly when I recall when I first went to sleep at night hoping that I would wake the next day as a girl. I had dreams where I was taken to an island where I would be made to remove me clothes and dress and live as a girl which I was very happy about. Even at that age I felt it my feelings and actions were something to hide from everyone else. Something that I was drawn to do by some compelling urge within me. I don’t believe that I had any idea why or what drove me to wear my sister’s clothes or that I questioned it. It was just something that I wanted and enjoyed doing. How nice I felt being dressed as a girl. The only item of clothing that I can actually remember trying on was a light blue check lined skirt and matching jacket that I particularly liked. I think they had been either made by our mother or bought for an occasion such as a wedding as they weren’t worn often by my sister and of very good quality. Everything was with such innocence. Words such as gay, transgender, cross dressing, homesexual etc, were not in my vocabulary or understanding until I was in my twenties.

Living in a house

Home had become a two up two down with garden and an outside toilet, but it was home. A tin bath came down from the garden wall every Friday and in placed in the ‘scullery’ as it was called, where we took our turns bathing. Down two step into a small room at the back of the house, you would normally refer to as the kitchen, housing a cooker, washing machine, sink with draining board and adjacent ‘ascot’ gas water heater. A door to the garden and a short walk around the back of the kitchen, would get you to the toilet, which has two planks of wood with a circular hole cut out for the seat. The join between the two planks would pinch your bottom occasionally. No electricty in there, so lighting a miniture paraffin lamp or candle was needed during each late night visit.

A virus that brought more changes to my life

Around the age of 13 or 14, I managed to contract the virus Mumps. Something that affected my testicles badly. My right testicle swelled to the size of a beefsteak tomato and was a quite painful for a week or so. I didn’t inform my parents immediately oddly, but I recall visiting the doctor with my mother. However the virus had done it’s damage by then. I was always a very quite and private child. After about two weeks or so the swelling had reduced. The size of my right testicle continued to shrink to the size of a large grape. Simply one more thing to make me feel forever different!

Redevelopment and a new home

I think I was 15, when I first noticed the construction of a new block of flats begin to rise above the rooftops of the houses across the road. Little did I know that we would be re-housed in one of those flats on the 11th floor in the near future. The houses around us became hollow shells as families were moved out. Some to newly built properties in the local redevelopment or to new towns in Essex. Slowly a community, no matter how dysfunctional, was deconstructed and broken apart to make way for modern housing.

The day arrived, we had to move out of our house and into an 11th floor flat. My sister had married before our move and lived a few miles away. I am uncertain, but I may have stopped dressing at some point before puberty and the move to the new flat. However I did return to dressing again, but in my mothers clothes. Something that I am not proud about to this day. Around this time the experience I felt became different. I had also discovered my sexuality and masturbation – as a teenager does.

Modern life on the 11th floor wasn’t so bad, not if it meant an indoor toilet, a bath and under-floor heating. This was the life – well for a short while! At that time I was involved with a film and photography club run from a local secondary modern school. I somehow had an idea to make a short film about life on the estate. I had no previous experience of using a 16mm cine camera, there were no camcorders at that time. So with the help of a friend who was appointed as my cameraman due to his superior knowledge of a camera, we set about shooting scenes to edit into a short film. Looking back now I can see that it was sarcastic in it’s views which did not go down well with the Mayor. He walked out of a viewing for an invited audience, muttering that is was propaganda. The film was entered into a competition organised by the British Film Institute and won an award. It also managed to get featured in an early evening BBC news programme with a brief extract from the film. My one and only venture into the world of film making.

Caught in the act

One day my parents had returned home unexpectedly when I had been dressing. I was in the bathroom… the clothes were strewn about in the lounge. I was too embarrassed to leave the bathroom and took a bath giving myself time to think how I was going to deal with the confrontation. I could not avoid the encounter and decided I needed to face my parents. A quick exit and to my bedroom. I quickly got dressed and entered the lounge where my father sat in his armchair looking quite serious. To my surprise he told me that he had discovered the clothes before my mother had entered the lounge and he hid them away.  He was under the impression that I was just a frustrated young man and asked if I had been with a girl. He then gave a very unhelpful father, son talk. I was not able to tell him what I had actually been doing, but this did not stop my activities at home which continued, but more carefully.

Life on a new estate marked the beginning of many new things – the first being my attraction to dress again. It never occurred to me at the time that I should have my own clothes at this stage. The second was my father recovering from breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident that was about to change his and our lives for ever. My sister had married a couple of years earlier before we had moved to the flat and was living a few miles away. My father began to show signs of strange behaviour that neither I or my mother could comprehend. So we observed the changes unfold in ignorance but learning daily. Looking back it is so much easier to see what happened as he slipped into a poor mental state. Medically he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic after disappearing for two weeks. He returned home after sleeping in a disused signal box somewhere. He had experienced hearing voices and seeing shadowy images of figures in the flat. These had disturbed him causing him concern and confusion understandably. Who wouldn’t be affected in the same way?  If only I had the knowledge and wisdom I now posses, things may have been very different. But I never learned what troubled him to reach the point of driving him to such a troubled mental state. Maybe it was as simple as him loosing his status as the bread winner in the family. I will never really know. During recent times for me, I could not help but wonder if he too had the same personal conflict as I have about my gender?

Part 2: Becoming a man, or not

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