Chapter 24 extract ‘Somebody To Love’
We were happy as clams that that first year together, 1992. We had virtually no money except my meagre wage from Diamond Mine, but it didn’t seem to matter. We closed off both bedrooms in the flat and moved into the lounge because that had a gas fire, so we only needed to keep that one room warm. The fridge in the kitchen had packed up ages ago, and the electric cooker only had one ring and the grill working. We slept on the floor on cushions with a small TV set and a record player for entertainment. Most nights we lived by the light of candles and the smell of incense against the warm background of vinyl music, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, The Doors or Cat Stevens, as we snuggled up together to keep warm. Whenever we did have any spare cash we’d get dressed up and go down to the city, clubbing. Our one special treat, if we could afford it, was going to the Griffin pub on Thorpe road for the Sunday lunch. We’d have roast beef, spuds, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. It was a six mile walk there and back, but when you had been living all week on toast and baked beans, this was a sumptuous feast. Nothing has ever tasted better than those Sunday lunches, before or since. We were both as thin as rakes, but blissfully happy.
Alice got a couple of work placement trials through college; she was not expected to gain many qualifications so it seemed like a good idea if she could get a job. The first one was serving in a Spar shop, but she was unable to remember how the till worked. The manager had only spent two minutes running through the keys and then left her to it. It was an impossible task for someone with short term memory problems. They sent her home assuming she was too stupid, but she wasn’t. She just needed proper training with someone who had a little patience. It upset her and she came home to me in tears. The next placement was in an old people’s home, where she was expected to change the beds and help with serving the food and cleaning. But she was sacked on the first day for spending too much time talking with an elderly lady who was upset and needed a friendly shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen. Alice simply could not understand why spending time chatting with someone who was clearly distressed was a bad thing. But the managers of course were more interested in judging her by the amount of bed pans emptied and floors mopped. Compassion is not cost effective and Alice was not suited to the corporate values expected of her. But I still think she was right to do what she did.
An example of how Alice’s mind worked was what happened at Easter of that year. We had been out clubbing on the Friday night. It had virtually wiped us out financially but we’d had a good night. I’d budgeted to keep a few pounds left for the Saturday and Sunday so we could at least eat something and put 50p in the gas meter. I knew I’d get paid some cash on the Monday from the Diamond Mine, so we just had to be very careful till then. As was my usual habit at the time, when we came home I emptied my purse and put the coins on the coffee table so I could see how much money we had, then we went to bed. I was woken up on Saturday morning by an excited Alice kissing me. She was dressed already and had been to the local shop. She presented me with a beautiful chocolate Easter Bunny and a card. I was touched; that was so thoughtful and kind. We hugged, and then I got up and began to dress. That’s when I noticed there was no money on the coffee table. Instantly I knew what had happened, but I had to check. “How could you afford to buy me that chocolate bunny?” I asked Alice. “Oh, I just used the money on the table,” she smiled. “It’s lovely, isn’t it? I knew you would like it.” She was beaming with happiness; nothing pleased Alice more than giving to someone else.
I was infuriated at first. She’d spent all of our money, that was to feed us for two days, on a fucking chocolate Easter bunny! “Why the hell did you do that?” I asked, exasperated. “We’re totally skint now! What are we supposed to eat for the next two days? And if the gas goes out we can’t even put money in!” But Alice hadn’t thought that far forward, she just wanted to do a nice thing for me. The realisation now upset her, her face darkened and she started crying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I’m an idiot” Seeing her tears I melted. How could I be angry at kindness? I knew what she was like; it was really my own fault for leaving the money out without saying anything. I quickly hugged her and kissed away her tears. “it’s ok, don’t cry, we’ll manage, I’m sorry I was angry.” After a time I calmed her down. I realised that this was what I’d signed up for when we got together. I knew Alice better than anyone, and I loved her the way she was. And she loved me unconditionally too. It was part of the process of me growing up and taking some responsibility. For once in my life I had to think about someone else, and not just me. Previously in relationships I’d always had my older partners to deal with that stuff.
As the summer of 1992 approached I was filled with new hope and determination to get back to Charing Cross. My mental health was much better with the stability of being in a loving supportive relationship. I had stopped drinking excessively, and though we didn’t have a lot of money we were happy because our pleasures were simple. We spent a lot of time walking in the countryside. I managed to buy a cheap second hand car and we often drove out to the sticks for a picnic, then Alice would follow her passion for bird watching, logging every different species and the location date and time. In this type of activity she was strictly methodical and impressively expert. It was just a demonstration to me again how her mind worked. To strangers she might come across as scatterbrained, but if you knew her you understood she was just differently focused, a bit like those on the autistic spectrum. She needed support and love to enable her to have the confidence to shine.
One day I was at work when Alice arrived unexpectedly at Diamond Mine around lunchtime. She seemed upset and said we needed to have a talk. I told Mary I was going for my break and we made our way to a cafe. I knew this was something serious because her face was dark and she was tearful. Once we’d sat down I asked her,”What’s wrong?” She replied, ”I’m two months pregnant, the baby is due at Christmas.”
Wow! This was a real shock, not least because Alice was on the pill and we were only very occasionally intimate. She wanted to know what we should do, meaning obviously an abortion. My view was that it was up to her, it was her body and I’d support whatever decision she made. I did make it clear that there was no pressure from me not to have the baby, because I loved children and I was sure we would manage ok, somehow. Secretly I was delighted, but I didn’t want her to feel she had to go through birth if she wasn’t ready herself. I’d sorely missed Joseph, I’d only been able to see him rarely and each time when I had to say goodbye it was heartbreaking. The thought of us having our own family and the chance to be a parent again was fantastic. But I also knew a baby would present problems for me at Charing Cross. To be selected for surgery it was not a rule that you cannot have children, but it was understood it would put you down the waiting list. As would being in a relationship with a female. Charing Cross dictated that, for people like me, once post op I would be expected to become a heterosexual woman and attracted only to men. In fact any male to female sex change candidate who was previously married would be required to get a divorce before the NHS would consider surgery. Bizarre as it would seem today, back then the Gender Identity Clinic were very homophobic and child unfriendly; even they considered their own clients too unusual to be considered good parents. It’s almost as if they preferred patients to come to surgery with no ties, and once castrated and sterilised they would be safe, and be incapable of passing on their unnatural genes to their offspring. The transsexual ‘perversion’ would die with the patient. Nowadays, things are so different; transsexual people are encouraged, pre hormone treatment and surgery, to store eggs or freeze sperm, and I would absolutely agree with that. We should not be forced to give up our reproductive rights as a condition of medical treatment. Thankfully, Alice decided she wanted the baby. I was delighted.
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The first sign of things to come was when we signed up for antenatal classes. We went along in good faith as a couple, but right away my position was queried in public. Before the rest of the class I was asked whether I was a friend or a relative. I tried to discretely explain to the tutor that, no, the baby would be ours. Despite my female appearance I’d contributed equally to the forthcoming birth. She demanded,”What do you mean?” I tried again quietly to explain that my sperm had been utilised and the baby was mine too. She was shocked, “oh, you’re the dad, Ok!”. It was not the term of address I preferred, but I didn’t argue. During the rest of the classes I was segregated to the role of ‘father’ or more usually, generally ignored.
To access more convenient GP care, Alice changed her address officially to the flat. She had signed up to my doctor’s surgery which was two minutes from where we lived on the Heartsease estate. This meant my own GP, who I’d previously asked to refer me back to Charing Cross, knew that we were a couple. And, perhaps because of that, he didn’t seem to be willing to pursue my request. In fact I never did get that re-referral from him at all. Probably, and maybe understandably, he thought he was doing the right thing. Bearing in mind the Tory party’s Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was still very much in force, and it prohibited local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality or gay #pretended family relationships’ it’s no surprise, really. I also faced open hostility from the health visitor who was assigned to us. When she came to visit us in the flat she would only speak directly to Alice and completely ignored me, or any questions I asked. It seemed Margaret Thatcher had succeeded in her aim of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for people like us.
In fact this prejudice even extended to the local council housing area office when we went along to register the fact that Alice had moved into my flat as my partner. The housing official simply refused to accept she was my partner, or pregnant with our baby, and would not register her as a joint tenant. He got extremely angry and worked up about the whole suggestion and opened the door of his office and told us to get out. As we left, I paused as I passed him, and I told him he would regret this as I’d seek legal advice as I thought he was acting discriminatingly towards us. In response he went berserk and followed us out into the open plan office, where his colleagues were all sitting at their desks, and tried to attack me and (pregnant, let’s not forget) Alice by swinging punches at us. One of his co-workers, a big burly bloke, had to intervene and put him into a headlock to stop him from hitting us, telling him, “I’m sorry, I know you are my boss but I have to prevent you from doing something you will regret.” I simply turned to the whole office and said, “You have all witnessed that. I’m going straight to Bethel Street police headquarters now to report this incident.” After I had reported the matter to the police, they reluctantly agreed to charging him with assault (he had managed to land a blow to my chest). In the end a convenient compromise was agreed and the housing officer was given early retirement. And in return for dropping the charges, both Alice and I were given £50.00 each compensation by the council. We needed the money so we accepted it. But he effectively got away with a violent attack in full view of dozens of his co-workers.
These days Norwich City Council is very LGBT inclusive. I personally know a lot of officials and councillors who are themselves gay. But it was not that long ago that things were very different. Back then, I was beginning to think it was time to get out of my adopted city and start somewhere fresh to give our forthcoming little family a chance!
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I can’t remember who came up with the plan, but we both agreed enthusiastically with the idea once it was raised, that it would be the right thing to do. Alice and I decided to get married. I hoped it would provide some protection to our unborn child and our relationship. It would show the officials that we were committed to each other and the baby. I knew once married my access to Charing Cross would be very unlikely, but by now my focus was on Alice and the baby, and surgery was put on the back burner. It had not gone unnoticed by me that the health visitors thought I was some kind of transsexual pervert, and Alice, for having the audacity to want to stay with me, must be simple in the head. Also, to be completely frank, another reason for getting married was that we thought we might get some wedding presents or money that we desperately needed for the baby.
The immediate problem was who would marry us? A register office ceremony wouldn’t do. Alice had always wanted a proper church wedding, with the white dress and reception afterwards. But, the situation was that she was 6 months pregnant and showing, while I was already divorced and a transsexual woman. We had virtually no money. It was not going to be easy to find a church or a priest willing to accommodate us. I did try though, phoning round several churches in Norwich, but we were politely turned away by them all. That’s when I came up with a crazy idea.
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I’d never forgotten my cousin Richard Holloway, the Bishop of Edinburgh, hosting that TV show I’d watched years ago when he had probably the most famous British transsexual woman, and author of the book ‘Conundrum’, Jan Morris, as a guest. He had become even more prominent in the media as the years had passed, as a strong advocate for LGBT rights, and was pushing for equal marriage long before any of his contemporaries in the Church of England or the government. It seemed like a mad improbable idea, but I felt we had nothing to lose and I always did like taking a chance, so I decided, fuck it, I’d ask him to perform the wedding. I contacted my mum to see if she had a phone number for him, and when she heard what I was planning she was shocked. “You can’t ask our Richard, you’re divorced and she’s up the duff, it would be a disgrace. He’d never agree to it and you will be embarrassing us by even asking.” However, reluctantly, she eventually gave me the phone number.
When we had announced to our respective families and friends that we were getting married it was it was met by most with indifference or even ridicule. In fact the only people who were truly supportive were Alice’s parent’s Sue and Les. My own parents thought it was laughable, and Alice’s real dad, Neil, who was a big shot in IBM computers and lived in Wales, laughed too. His actual word to me, when we phoned him with the news, was ‘claptrap’. An unusual form of dismissal, but fitting for him. He’d always seemed to me very unfriendly and snobbish whenever we’d met.
I called Richard, the Bishop, one evening from the local phone box. Alice and I were crammed in together as she wanted to hear what was said. It took a bit of nerve because I didn’t know him apart from through our family connection. I started by telling him who I was, and he remembered. I’d been a little kid when he’d last seen me, but of course he knew my parents and my grandparents. He said it was lovely to hear from me, he didn’t know I’d moved to Norwich, and he asked how he could help me. I took a deep breath, and said I wondered if he would consider marrying my fiancee and me. I quickly followed up with the details of how she wanted a proper white wedding, but she was six months pregnant, and that I was divorced; I didn’t mention the transsexuality at that stage, trusting god and gossip to inform him! I also told him we’d been refused by everyone in Norwich and he was our last hope. Would he consider perhaps a quiet private ceremony in the Vale at the small C of E chapel? Richard said he would have to look at his schedule, and he’d get back to me. Could I call him back the next day? Of course, I agreed, and put the phone down with a sigh of relief. At least he hadn’t said, “Eh, who are you?” I called back the next evening at the agreed time, and Richard had some news for me. He said, “Let’s not bother with the little chapel in the Vale. Come to my church, Edinburgh Cathedral, and we’ll do the wedding there properly”. He then suggested a couple of dates within the next month and we picked one. And that was it, easy. We now had a white wedding planned at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. Edinburgh. And, it would be performed by the Bishop of Edinburgh. Alice would get her white church wedding after all, and then some!
It’s funny how much interest and enthusiasm followed for our wedding day, once it was known that the Bishop and the cathedral would be involved. Suddenly we had good wishes from my family and even Alice’s shallow and dismissive dad in Wales was busting a gut to get in on the action, and have the opportunity to hobnob with Bishop Richard. ‘Claptrap’ indeed! And it was wonderful and generous of Tanya that once we’d told her about the wedding she wanted to get involved too. She was fantastic and offered to make Alice’s wedding dress, customised of course to allow room for the bump and not to make it look too obvious in the photos. On the big day the ceremony went very well. We had a lovely service surrounded by family and friends. Bishop Richard made sure we had the full works with the cathedral organist playing our music with gusto as it echoed around the beautiful building. When the service ended we exited the building to the ringing of the bells and on to the cathedral steps for photographs. The spectacle stopped the Edinburgh rush hour traffic as drivers paused or slowed down to get a view of what they thought must be a famous or well connected couple getting married. Alice got her white wedding.