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My Story

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Caroline ‘Tula’ Cossey was born with male genitalia but went on to become a beautiful woman with a successful modelling career.

My Story is Tula’s candid thought provoking, enlightening, humorous, heart wrenching and motivational account of her struggles: her troubled childhood being bullied and taunted in East Anglia, her dreams of becoming a woman, the operations that liberated her sexually, and the journey from showgirl to James Bond girl to top international model.

At the height of her career, Tula had appeared in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar and graced the covers of many top fashion and beauty magazines and top calendars around the world. She was also the first transgendered model to appear in Playboy magazine and was featured on the cover of multiple international editions.

After she was twice exposed by the News of the World, Tula’s career plummeted and her marriage to multimillionaire Elias Fattal was annulled. In the spring of 1989, she was forced to make a unique appeal to the European Commission of Human Rights: she was fighting for the legal validation of her marriage as a female and the right to have her birth certificate amended after gender reassignment surgery.

Her activism led to appearances on Donahue, Joan Rivers, Howard Stern, Geraldo, Montel Williams, Maury Povich, Arsenio Hall, Neal Boortz, David Frost, Gloria Hunniford, BBC’s Question Time, Jonathan Ross, and numerous other television and radio shows. She has also often been featured on Entertainment Tonight and had a day named after her in Atlanta, Georgia and was given the key to the city.

My Story is not just the true account of Tula’s battle for the body she needed to survive and her struggle for the legal rights she deserved as a woman. It is above all an inspirational exemplification of the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable adversity and suffering.

Caroline Cossey
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Caroline ‘Tula’ Cossey was born with male genitalia but went on to become a beautiful woman with a successful modelling career.

My Story is Tula’s candid thought provoking, enlightening, humorous, heart wrenching and motivational account of her struggles: her troubled childhood being bullied and taunted in East Anglia, her dreams of becoming a woman, the operations that liberated her sexually, and the journey from showgirl to James Bond girl to top international model.

At the height of her career, Tula had appeared in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar and graced the covers of many top fashion and beauty magazines and top calendars around the world. She was also the first transgendered model to appear in Playboy magazine and was featured on the cover of multiple international editions.

After she was twice exposed by the News of the World, Tula’s career plummeted and her marriage to multimillionaire Elias Fattal was annulled. In the spring of 1989, she was forced to make a unique appeal to the European Commission of Human Rights: she was fighting for the legal validation of her marriage as a female and the right to have her birth certificate amended after gender reassignment surgery.

Her activism led to appearances on Donahue, Joan Rivers, Howard Stern, Geraldo, Montel Williams, Maury Povich, Arsenio Hall, Neal Boortz, David Frost, Gloria Hunniford, BBC’s Question Time, Jonathan Ross, and numerous other television and radio shows. She has also often been featured on Entertainment Tonight and had a day named after her in Atlanta, Georgia and was given the key to the city.

My Story is not just the true account of Tula’s battle for the body she needed to survive and her struggle for the legal rights she deserved as a woman. It is above all an inspirational exemplification of the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable adversity and suffering.


Caroline Cossey

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions, including the;  right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Paperback edition first published in 1992.

Copyright © 2015 by Caroline Cossey



To my family

For all their love and support


List of Illustrations


1 Growing Pains

2 Escape from Brooke

3 The Jigsaw Falls into Place

4 The Showgirl and the Sheikh

5 The Truth Torments

6 Paris – Loneliness and Love

7 Kuwait – a Gilded Cage

8 Variations on a G-string

9 A Stranger in Rome

10 Charing Cross Hospital

11 Tula – International Model

12 The Price of Privacy

13 Spiders and Monsters

14 News of the World Nightmare

15 Glauco and a New Start

16 Elias Fattal

17 11 November 1987: A Sudden Grief

18 A Moment of Truth

19 Rites of Passage

20 A Dream of a Wedding

21 Betrayal

22 Annulment

23 Justice?



My mother in her late teens

My dad in his army uniform

As a young boy with a horrendous short-back-and-sides that did me no favours

Even at four I fantasized about having big boobs!

Getting cuddles from Mum, aged two

One of our regular weekend picnics at the coast

Posing in Pam’s swimsuit, which I much preferred to shorts

In London at sixteen (1)

In London at sixteen (2)

At the Latin Quarter: before my breast operation (1)

At the Latin Quarter: before my breast operation (2)

Able to work topless

With the cast from the Latin Quarter backstage

My first modelling card

Page three shot: one of my first topless photographic assignments (Beverly Goodway for the Sun)

The famous Smirnoff poster and billboard shot (Photo courtesy of International Distillers and Vintners)

Taken by Greg Barratt in Australia for Jane Cattlin in Australian Vogue

Publicity shot for the Bond film For Your Eyes Only taken in Greece (Eon Productions for United Artists Release. Photo by David James)

Above Modelling in Italy for photographer Bruno Oliveiro. Beauty shot taken by Sanders Nicholson

Towering above the local men in the Maldives

On location in Kenya I was befriended by this little boy

Getting away from it all with my Mum in Calabria, Italy

Getting love and support from my Mum and Dad for a photo session for Woman magazine by John Paul after my story first broke in the press

A relaxing meal at a Greek taverna on holiday in Rhodes with (left to right) Paulo, Glauco and Pam

Being serenaded in Venice with Glauco

Taken by a friend of Glauco’s before a cocktail party

Visiting Pam with my mother in Rome

With Dad, Mum and Pam on New Year’s Eve 1986/7 – the last before he died

Photo by John Hedgecoe for one of his books

Modelling for Victor Hromin in Italy

Cover shot for Osrati, an Arab fashion magazine

Cutting our wedding cake in the beautiful Lancaster Room at the Savoy Hotel

Kissing and thanking my bridesmaids and pageboys for handling my train so well

Looking happy and relaxed with my little helpers after the ceremony

Posing for friends in front of the old Rolls-Royce that was to take us to the ball

On honeymoon in Acapulco: a photo taken by me of Elias with my hairdresser Owen and his boyfriend Jonathan

A happy honeymooning couple sightseeing in Acapulco


My childhood was a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces were there, but there was no one to fit them together, no one to make a complete picture. Nothing felt right. I could trust no impulse. All I knew in those early years was isolation and confusion. I see myself as I was then, a small, anxious boy hiding amongst the bean rows, truanting from school, standing alone in the playground. I could make no sense of the world that ran and skipped and jumped beside me. Life was a game that I could not learn to play.

I would lie on my bed and dream that I was somebody else, somebody respected and admired, somebody who belonged. I had no words for my unhappiness, but, with the blind faith of a child, I believed that there had to be a better life for me. What I could not know then, and wasn’t to learn for many years, was that I had been born with a body at war with itself. I was a girl trapped inside a male form.

Had I come into the world a hundred years earlier, I would probably have killed myself. As it was, even in the early 1970s, the problem I faced was surrounded by the mists of mythology and misinformation. Transsexuality was slowly emerging into the light of day, but it was still beset by prejudice and ignorance. Many thought that transsexuals were synonymous with transvestites. Many thought that transsexuals were thwarted homosexuals. Many thought that transsexuals were freaks. Many still do.

As I lay dreaming on my bed all those years ago, I had no way of knowing that I had been born between two sexes, and that one day I would, for the sake of my sanity, have to choose between those warring genders.

I could not know then that the impulse which led me to seek the company of girls, to play their games and to imitate their behaviour, was the irresistible call of my true nature, I could not know then that the force which drove me into the arms of men, which led me to abhor the sight of my naked body, and sent me away from home on a journey that was to lead to London and surgery, sprang from a chromosomal blueprint laid down in the womb.

I now know that I was born transsexual and that I was starved of the formative experiences I needed as a little girl. It took years to fit the pieces together, to understand the past, to make the picture. I wrote this book not as a medical textbook to explain the technicalities of gender reassignment, nor as a legal brief describing the long-drawn-out battle I have fought in the European courts, but as an honest and unadorned account of my life — a life made remarkable by an accident of biology.

I hope that my story may help others who are in search of unity between body and mind, as they struggle to piece together their particular jigsaw in the face of prejudice and ignorance — mankind’s greatest enemy.

Transsexuals are in a minority. But it is a larger minority than many might imagine. To date many thousands of sex-change operations have been performed in this country, and many more abroad. And yet the immensely painful surgery that the transsexual has to undergo is the least of his or her trials. When I had my operation in 1974 I imagined that, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I would spread my wings and fly. Nothing could have been further from the truth. What I did not know then, but have since learnt to my cost, was that as a transsexual in this country I had none of the legal rights of my new sex. I could not marry the man of my choice. I could not alter my now inaccurate birth certificate. If convicted of a crime, I would be sent to a male prison. I could not legally be raped. In those heady days when, rejoicing in my new body, I was accepted by all who met me as female, I could not know what lay ahead. I had no idea that a country which allowed its doctors to perform and perfect this revolutionary surgery would refuse to protect the woman they had helped create.

Once again I was to find myself wandering in no man’s land, a target for the snipers from the gutter press. Without my legal rights to protect me I was fair game for anyone, and consigned to a half-life. ‘Be a transsexual,’ the law said to me, ‘but be silent. Be humble. Be grateful.’

I won’t be silent. I won’t be humble. I won’t be grateful. I did not choose to be born the way I was, and I refuse to be punished for something over which I had no control. And so I have written this book not only for transsexuals but also for the many men and women who have no understanding of what it means to be trapped in the wrong gender, who have no idea of the persecution that transsexuals suffer. I hope that it will teach them to show a little compassion, tolerance and understanding. For, in the words of the barrister David Pannick, ‘The way in which our society deals with minorities is a guide to our civilization.’

This is my story.


Growing Pains

I was born on 31 August 1954 to Robert and Doreen Cossey. My mother had a difficult labour that began at nine in the evening and ended at 7.30 the following morning. ‘You were the only one I had trouble with,’ she told me. ‘The midwife had just produced the forceps, and was threatening to use them, when you finally made your appearance.’ I was a pretty baby, but small and frail. I cried continuously and suffered from colic. But my parents and my older brother, Terry, were delighted with me. Mum had waited six years before having a second child. She and my dad had wanted to have sufficient money and a large enough house before they added to the family. Mum soon became pregnant again, and gave birth to a girl just over a year after I was born. She had wanted a daughter, and now she felt her family was complete. She had her children, a house in the quiet Norfolk countryside, and a marriage to a man she adored.

My parents had met at the Samson Hercules Dance in Norwich. They were instantly attracted to each other. Mum was a tall, pretty girl, with big brown eyes and dark wavy hair. The second of four children, she had led a sheltered life in Norwich, and nursed a secret ambition to become a model. But my dad, with his dark Errol Flynn good looks, swept her off her feet, and they decided to marry. Terry was born just over a year after their marriage.

My dad brought his ‘city’ bride to live in Brooke, a tiny village deep in the Norfolk countryside. His family had lived in East Anglia for several generations, and there was even a rumour that the Cosseys were related to the hero of that area, Lord Nelson. Dad had been born in Brooke. He was the youngest of three boys, and his father was the village blacksmith. He had a rough, tough childhood — shooting, working for pocket money on the local farms, and fishing for eels on the Broads. He was very much a countryman, and he spoke with a broad Norfolk accent. Although he didn’t have a great education, he was clever, quick-witted and humorous. He had a strong sense of personal integrity and placed great store on honesty. As a child I looked up to him, but was always afraid of his anger. It wasn’t that he was a disciplinarian, far from it; he was firm but always fair. However, I was a highly sensitive child, and felt even the slightest reprimand keenly. Dad had no idea of what I was going through during my early years, and I had no way of explaining. He was aware I was a troubled and unhappy little boy, but very often his concern manifested itself as disapproval. I felt that I was a disappointment to him, and this placed a constraint on our relationship. We loved each other, but lacked the language to express that love. In later years, when I was able to share my understanding of transsexuality with him, he showed a compassion and tolerance that was remarkable in a man of his background and nature. It was his acceptance and his courage that inspired me to fight for the cause I believed in.

Dad had served as an ambulance driver in the Second World War. The four years he spent driving the sick and the dying through the battlefields of northern France had a profound effect on him. He saw terrible suffering, but, like so many of his generation, he kept those sights and sounds a secret. He would never talk about the war when I was a child. He had a little box in which he kept all his mementoes of that time — photographs of friends, postcards and letters. I suppose he wanted to protect his wife and children from his memories.

Mine was a country childhood. I remember long, hot summers spent playing in the fields and woods. I slid down hayricks, raced my bike along the flat Norfolk roads, and swung on farm gates watching the cows driven in for milking. From the front of our house you could see for about five miles to the villages in the distance. Their church spires offered the only landmarks in an otherwise flat landscape.

My home and the land around it have remained important in my life. I have always returned to Brooke whenever I felt cornered or low. Its tranquillity helps to calm my mind. Although many of my childhood experiences were troubled, Norfolk has never ceased to offer comfort. Much has changed over the years. When I was small it was still possible to walk to the village across the fields. You could climb over the fence at the bottom of our garden and then run through the corn to Brooke. But later an old people’s home was built at the back of the house.

Our home was set slightly apart from the village, at the end of a small lane. The lane led off the main Norwich road, where, when I was at secondary school, I would wait for the bus. Norwich was only seven miles away, but it seemed like another world. Walking in the opposite direction to that distant metropolis, you passed the church, and the farm where Mum would send us for eggs or extra milk, and arrived at the centre of Brooke, where there was a mere, two village pubs and the local primary school. Opposite the school was the forge where my Uncle John worked as the village blacksmith. He’s retired now, and the forge is deserted – boarded up and empty.

We were not a poor family, but with three children my parents had to work hard. My dad left the house each morning at seven to travel to Norwich, where he worked as a coachbuilder for Eastern Counties Garage. He was employed there for thirty-nine years, and his work was very important to him. When the story about my transsexuality broke in the press he suffered terrible anxiety about how his workmates would react. He was a private man, and found it difficult to confide in people outside the family. Luckily his colleagues were supportive. Dad was popular at work, and had earned their friendship and admiration.

My mother was a traditional mum. While we were young she stayed at home and devoted herself to our welfare. She liked us to look smart and fed us on good, healthy country food — lots of soups and stews in the winter, to stave off colds and influenza. In the summer she would take us fruit picking to earn a little extra money. As a small child I hated to be separated from her, and followed her wherever she went, sitting at her feet while she cooked and cleaned.

Pam, my sister, I adored from the moment she was born. Terry was too old to be a real playmate, but with only just over a year between us, Pam and I became inseparable. She never made my being a boy a reason to exclude me from her games, and even shared her toys with me. She gave me one of her dolls, which I named Cynthia. Pam’s favourite doll was Susan, and we would dress Susan and Cynthia in their finest clothes and play make-believe with them.

From the very first, there was an air of secrecy about these games. Both Pam and I knew instinctively that Mum and Dad would not approve of my playing with dolls. We took an oath never to tell them, and from that moment Pam became a fellow conspirator. She accepted me as I was, and treated me exactly as if I were a sister, but she was careful never to tell Dad about Cynthia and our playtime.

I still have Cynthia. She sits on my dressing table — old and bald and adorable.

Our favourite game was dressing up. We loved climbing into Mum’s best dresses and staggering around the room in her high heels, our faces covered in powder and our mouths red with shiny lipstick. Grown-up women seemed such elegant, mysterious and glamorous beings. I would become so engrossed in my make-believe that I would lose all sense of being a boy — I felt like any little girl posing before the mirror in her mummy’s clothes. But as I approached my fifth birthday I was in for a rude awakening. School loomed on the horizon, and with it came the growing awareness that I was not like the other boys. The rough world of the classroom was to teach me some harsh lessons. The real traumas of my childhood were about to begin.

I loathed school from the very first day. My mum walked me to the gates, and I clung to her and wailed. I didn’t stop crying all day, and my face was still wet with tears when she came to collect me at 3.30. The teacher told my mother not to worry. ‘They’re often a bit upset to begin with,’ she said. ‘He’ll soon get used to it.’ She was wrong. Every day my mother had a battle to get me to school. It was a battle she fought on her own. She didn’t like to worry Dad with stories of my hysteria, and so she would sit me on her bike and wheel me to school each morning. The following year, when my sister joined me, Pam would sit in the bike basket and Mum would push us both the short distance to the gates. The other mothers were puzzled. ‘It’s only a little walk,’ they said. ‘Why don’t you let them go by themselves?’ My mother made some excuse, but the truth was, if she hadn’t taken me, I would never have gone at all. Until I was eight, when Pam and I began to walk there by ourselves, I cried each and every morning when Mum left me. I can still remember the distress I felt as I watched her walk away. I would shout and struggle to reach her. Many mornings I was not the only one with tears pouring down my face. It hurt Mum to see me so unhappy.

Terry had been a successful and popular boy in his class. He was good at sports and quick to learn. As his brother, much was expected of me. I disappointed those hopes at every turn. I was small, painfully shy, and terrified of sports. From the first day I knew that I was a misfit, and in such a tiny village school it wasn’t possible for me to melt into the crowd. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Even in the infant classes I failed to integrate. In the nativity play at Christmas I was utterly humiliated to be playing the part of a shepherd, dressed in a tea towel, or a wise man with a false beard, carrying a cardboard box covered with gold foil. I longed to be cast as Mary, or at least as one of the pretty angels all in white with wings and tinsel haloes. I identified entirely with a female world, but in Norfolk in the 1950s, boys were very much boys and girls were girls. It was not acceptable for boys to play girls’ games. As I got older the sexes drew even further apart, and my confusion became even more apparent.

I was bullied. The bane of my life was the headmaster. He knew I was shy and under-confident, yet he was forever calling me out to stand in front of the class. He’d ask me to read, or to perform some calculation on the blackboard, and when I made a mistake, he slapped me round the head, or threw the board rubber at me. I lived in a state of perpetual terror, and would often go home at night with my ears red and stinging from his smacks. There was one other boy in the class who got picked on; his name was Matthew and, like me, he was small, weak and lacking in confidence. The headmaster had it in for both of us. I suppose he despised what he saw as our ‘weakness’ and thought it was his job to turn us into tough little boys. In our peer group the ability to fight for yourself was a vital part of attracting friends. Needless to say, Matthew and I stood alone and ignored in the playground.

I longed for the afternoon bell, when I could escape and run home to the safety and security of my family. Soon I wasn’t even able to make it through the day. I began to play truant.

My uncle’s forge was directly opposite the school. My desk was by the window, and I could see the people coming and going with their horses. If my mum came to call she would lean her bike against the wall and take the path down the side of the forge to my gran’s house. The sight of that bike would set my heart racing. I would ask to be excused, sneak out of the door, and creep past the classroom window. Then, running like the wind, I would dash across the road and hide behind my uncle’s big, black dustbins. When Mum emerged from the bungalow, I would plead illness and beg her to take me home. Other times I would find my way back to our house, and hide in among the bean rows at the bottom of the garden. One day I was spotted by a neighbour, and my mother hauled me out and dragged me back to school. The headmaster was always very understanding while she was there, but the minute she left he would whack me across the legs.

I was no dunce at school, but the headmaster did ask to speak to my parents. ‘Barry has trouble concentrating,’ he told them. And he was right. Most of the time I felt too intimidated by him and by my classmates to focus on my schoolwork. My sister became my protector. I believed that she had magic powers and, by repeating certain spells, could shield me from the terrors of the day. We walked to school hand in hand, and I would beg her to ‘spirit the day away’. ‘Make it go as quickly as possible,’ I pleaded. ‘Don’t let anyone pick on me.’ We developed a ritual, and I made her repeat certain magic incantations over and over, checking that she didn’t omit anything and leave me vulnerable to attack.

If primary school was bad, secondary school was a nightmare. I was forever getting beaten up. I was punched and kicked, and often sported a black eye or a split lip at the end of the day. ‘What happened to you?’ Dad would ask when I got home. I would lie. ‘I tripped,’ I’d say. ‘I fell off my bike.’ If I told him the truth, he would try to toughen me up. But it was no use. I couldn’t fight; aggression made me feel sick.

I began to bribe my way out of trouble. My dad collected coins and the cards from cigarette packets. I stole them and offered them along with money, in the hope that the bullies would leave me alone. I pretended it was no big deal.

‘I’ve got plenty of money,’ I said, handing out my savings from my paper round. They took the ‘gifts’, but the persecution continued. On autumn nights a small gang of village boys would wait in the lane leading to my house. ‘Cissey Cossey,’ they chanted. I can still feel the terror today. Even when I grew a few feet, they wouldn’t leave me be. I may have been tall, but I was skinny with it, and no match for their strength.

It was in sports that I suffered the most. The other boys had begun to develop hairy chests, but I stayed smooth and girlish. In the changing rooms I was pushed and shoved. Boys would run past me and give my balls a sharp squeeze. I was a disaster at football. If the ball came towards me, I’d run the other way. ‘Kick it, Cossey,’ the teacher screamed. ‘Kick the bloody ball, you imbecile!’ When I did make an effort, and got the football, some large, sweaty boy would descend on me, kick me swiftly on the shins, and disappear with the prize. I hated it.

All through secondary school I remained a solitary child, eaten up by my sense of shame and failure. If it had not been for the love I found at home, I might have gone under. Mum and Dad may not have understood what I was going through, but they worked hard to provide a good life for Terry, Pam and me. We were a very close family, and I have happy memories from my childhood as well as sad ones.

At home, insulated from the pressures of the outside world, life became more bearable. Pam and I would wander through the fields lost in games of make-believe. In her company I felt relaxed and accepted. On Saturday mornings we raced down to the church to watch weddings. Afterwards we collected up handfuls of confetti in paper bags. We rushed home, wrapped ourselves in Mum’s lace curtains, and tossed the confetti up into the air.

Pam had a friend called Jennifer, with whom I became close. Jennifer lived on a farm at the opposite end of the village, and I visited her. I suppose she thought of me as a kind of boyfriend. We were very young, and it was entirely innocent. Going to her house was a real treat. I loved farms, and she had a black pony that I was allowed to ride. But, best of all, she had an older sister. Jennifer’s sister was heaven. She wore bright-red lipstick, hairspray and stilettos. In the farmhouse was a boxroom where Jennifer and I played, and, tossed among the boxes of old clothes, were a pile of her sister’s discarded high heels. We would try them on and clatter up and down the room. I loved the clicking noise they made on the bare floor.

As we both approached puberty, dressing up became a more serious business for Pam and me. I loved Helen Shapiro, and we had all of her records. Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black were also favourites. We’d put the records on the gramophone, stand on the table, and mime to them. Pam wound a long, black scarf around her head in imitation of a beehive. I found a brown scarf and imagined myself to be Ms Shapiro. We dressed in two of Mum’s pretty summer dresses, and covered our faces with make-up — lipstick, false eyelashes, rouge. Giggling like mad, we would wiggle our hips, flutter our eye lashes, and sing our hearts out.

‘Don’t tell Mum,’ I warned Pam afterwards. But I didn’t need to say it. We shared a secret pact.

‘You’re going to have to watch that one, Bob. He could grow up funny.’ I remember these words, spoken by a well-meaning uncle one Christmas time. They filled me with dread. The fear that I would turn out to be gay must have been in my dad’s mind. He was a conventional man, and in the 1950s homosexuality was a great taboo, and the thought would have alarmed him. If I was showing signs of effeminacy, it was his duty to toughen me up, and if I was physically weak, he must teach me to defend myself. To Dad’s mind, the male world was a tough place. He wasn’t going to stand by and watch a son of his persecuted. He encouraged Terry to teach me boxing moves. ‘Take him outside,’ he said. ‘Teach him how to punch properly.’ Reluctantly I followed Terry out into the garden. ‘So you can look after yourself,’ explained my brother, putting up his fists. It was hopeless. I would never defend myself, and I’d get clobbered and start crying. Mum would come running. ‘Leave him alone,’ she’d shout. It wasn’t Terry’s fault. I know he still feels bad about it to this day, but he was only trying to help me get by. He was my older brother, it was his job.

Dad had a licence for two guns and, like most countrymen, he’d walk over the fields looking for rabbits and pigeons. Terry loved to go with him and, when I was old enough, Dad took me along too. I hated everything about those expeditions: the smell of the cartridges, the sight of the dead and bloodied pigeons the crack of the shotgun. In the fields the young bullocks would come crowding around us, their eyes wild and their nostrils flaring. I would run away in terror, with the sound of Dad’s laughter ringing in my ears. Myxomatosis was rife at that time, and Dad killed the blind, diseased rabbits to put them out of their misery. He didn’t like to waste valuable shot on them, and clubbed them to death with his stick. I would turn away, sick to the stomach.

At home Pam and I kept pet rabbits and, of course, they bred. Dad was a practical man with a family to feed and so, when the baby rabbits grew up, he killed them for the pot. I was appalled. One time I caught sight of his silhouette on the shed floor. He was holding a rabbit by the back legs and chopping at its neck with his hand. I can still hear the rabbit scream. To the other village boys all these things were perfectly normal. They liked to hunt, they adored football, they even enjoyed a brawl. I couldn’t seem to adapt to the world in which I found myself. I felt as though I were being brainwashed.

Dad earned a little extra money on a Sunday by cutting men’s hair. It was a skill had learnt from his father. He’d put down some lino in the shed at the side of the house, and on it placed an old dressing table. He set out his brushes, combs and electric clippers with neat precision, and we were told never to touch them. It was a place of great mystery and dread to me. The local farmers and men from the village would come along in the morning, and sit smoking and laughing in the shed while they waited to be trimmed. Dad kept a pile of pin-up magazines to amuse them, and I’d hear the deep and secret laughter of these adult men as I lay hiding in my bedroom. I always felt profoundly inadequate, and the idea of speaking to them terrified me. Terry had no such qualms. Dad would invite him in and boast a little about his son’s academic and sporting achievements. When they caught sight of me their faces fell. It was probably my imagination, but nonetheless, I was crippled with a sense of failure and shame.

With the advent of puberty, my isolation from my peer group became even more pronounced. In my last year at school I had begun to experience dizzy spells that were close to blackouts. I lost my vision, shook, and had to grip on to something to stop myself falling. The dizziness would pass, but it left me drained and drenched in sweat. Initially Mum and Dad thought that this, like my other illnesses, was a way for me to grab attention. But when these ‘spells’ continued they took me to a local doctor, who referred me to a specialist in Norwich. They took tests, asked a hundred questions, and even stuck electrodes on my head. They asked me about my sexual feelings, but, with my mum present, I didn’t feel able to express myself. The conclusion of the doctors was that it was something to do with ‘growing up’ and ‘hormones’. ‘It’ll cure itself in time,’ they said. Looking back, I now see that those dizzy spells were the first signs of a hormone imbalance in my body, rather like the hot flushes that some women experience during the menopause.

My first sexual experiences were with boys from the village. I must have been about thirteen years old. Ben was older than me, and he had a dog which he took for regular walks. I liked his company. He was a good-looking boy, with a cheerful and frank nature. When I saw him pass our house in the direction of the fields, I called my dog, Tiger, and ran to catch up with him. His dog was a bitch, and she and Tiger would sniff around each other, growing ever more excited. The bitch had been spayed, so it wasn’t necessary to separate the two animals.

One time Ben began to play with himself as he watched the dogs. He turned to look at me. ‘Don’t it turn you on?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied, staring in fascination at his erection. He let me watch while he continued to masturbate. I had no urge to touch myself, but couldn’t take my eyes off Ben. It was as though I had never seen a penis before.

The next time it happened my sister and one of her friends were with us. I nudged Pam, my eyes alight with innocent enthusiasm. ‘You’ve got to see this. It’s incredible!’ But Pam was not impressed. She and the friend bolted, their faces white with shock, and I was left with the unabashed Ben, wondering what it was I’d said to upset her.

The second incident was with a local boy called Robin. Again, he was older than me, but we were both still very young. This experience was more explicitly sexual, and as such was fraught with guilt and secrecy. My brother had a rather tattered copy of a nudist magazine. Like my dad’s magazines, this was less pornography, more pin-up. But at that time the mere sight of the naked female body was enough to send any country lad into spasms of ecstasy. Any lad but me, that was. To me women seemed familiar and safe. They were certainly not the objects of curiosity and desire. Boys were the focus of my erotic imaginings.

In a bid for Robin’s attention, I stole the magazine, and we took off into the fields to read it. In the camouflage of the waist-high corn, Robin lay down and began to masturbate. ‘Why don’t you do it, too?’ he asked. Desperate not to lose his friendship, but utterly incapable of touching my own body, told him that I hadn’t had an erection as yet. Innocence was my cover as I exclaimed about the size of his penis. ‘I hope mine’ll grow that big,’ I said. Flattered, and lordly with the wisdom of his few extra years, Robin lay back, closed his eyes and graciously allowed me to play with him.

My arousal disturbed me. I knew that it wasn’t right for me to want to touch other boys, and I felt guilty and ashamed. Running against these negative feelings was the thrill and excitement I had felt. I had initiated a pattern that was to run throughout my adolescent sexual experiences; as I touched Robin I thought of myself as a girl touching a boy. I looked down at his face and imagined that the hand he felt caressing him was a woman’s hand. It was that fantasy, of me as the female offering sexual pleasure to the male that gave me my own erotic thrill.

At school we started sex education classes. They were an innovation of the new curriculum, and caused much excitement. The teacher pinned two large pictures on the black board: one of the male genitalia, the other of the female. The facts of life were news to nobody; we were country children after all, surrounded by fields of procreating animals. Nonetheless, there was a great deal of giggling and shuffling as the teacher stepped back from the anatomical diagrams. I stared with fascination at the picture of the adult male genitalia. It didn’t strike me as strange that I displayed almost no interest in my own penis. When I did masturbate, I did it lying face down on the bed, rubbing myself against a pillow. The idea of actually handling myself repulsed me. I even sat down on the toilet to urinate in order to avoid contact.

When I got home, Dad questioned me closely about that class. ‘How did it make you feel?’ he asked. Instinctively I lied. ‘It made me feel excited, Dad,’ I told him. ‘Good,’ he replied. ‘That’s good. It’s natural to feel that way.’

I did have one heterosexual experience around this time. Cathy was a friend of my sister’s, and I’d known her throughout my childhood. She found me attractive and made no secret of the fact. She was sexually precocious and, one day when my parents were both out, she took me upstairs to my bedroom and closed the door behind us. We ended up having intercourse with her lying on top of me. I find it hard to relate to the memory of that sexual encounter. I do remember that she produced a Durex that seemed to me to be impossibly large! I didn’t climax, and remained distant from the entire event. I do remember being intrigued by her breasts, however. She was a chubby girl and, compared with my sister, had a well-developed chest. I felt envious. It was a brief encounter, and I mimed pleasure, sustaining an erection by role reversal — I imagined that I was her being made love to by a man. We were both tender and gentle with one another. But, after it was all over, I felt sad, confused and disappointed. Once again I stood outside conventional experience. I was on my own.

At school my behaviour became more and more singular. I was obsessed by hair — hair on legs, hair under arms, pubic hair. The gym master had a wonderfully hairy chest, and I would stare at him longingly, aching to reach out and touch his dark curls. Teased by other boys about my own lack of body hair, I had tried to encourage it to grow. I shaved my legs with Dad’s razor, and, being unfamiliar with the process, had cut my leg, leaving a deep scar. But I soon began to relish my smooth skin. I liked to imagine that men were admiring my long, hairless legs.

I began to make subtle and then not so subtle adjustments to my school uniform. I wore a shirt with a large, floppy collar instead of the regulation kind. ‘Why are you wearing that?’ demanded one master, pointing at the offending garment. ‘My other one’s in the wash, sir,’ I lied.

I was desperate to have breasts, and convinced myself that they were growing. My nipples were larger and more sensitive than most boys’. I stuffed the top pocket of my school blazer with pens, pencils and erasers, to create a bust’. I liked the sensation of weight, the feeling of movement against my chest.

My hair became a battleground between Dad and me. ‘Get your bloody hair cut,’ he would moan. ‘Cut’ meant short back and sides, but I hated to show my ears. When I reached my eleventh birthday, I persuaded him that it was fashionable to have longer hair. Secretly, I longed for hair like Pam’s, that would reach down below my shoulders, but for the time being, just getting Dad to agree to a length that covered my ears was a big enough battle. When Mum had her hair cut, I collected up the clippings and created my own idiosyncratic fantasy. I would tie up the strands with an elastic band, and then attempt to grip it under my own locks.

Pam was beginning to wear make-up — despite Dad’s complaints — and I copied her. I put a little mascara on my lashes and darkened my eyebrows with kohl. There was no sexual thrill for me in this, nor had there been in dressing up. In fact, the make-up, the long hair, and the refashioned school uniform cost me dear in taunts and bullying. But my instincts to be female, to behave and be accepted as a woman, were so strong that I had no choice. Being a ‘boy’ and all that that entailed was far more painful than trying, in my own rather stumbling and inarticulate way, to be a girl.

While I was still at school, I started a part-time job at a butcher’s in the next village. The butcher was a quiet and rather gentle man, and I quite enjoyed the Saturdays I spent in his shop. I cleaned out the displays, stocked the shelves, and, best of all, made the sausages. I put the meat into the top of the machine and then watched it emerge as one long, smooth sausage. Then, one hand’s length at a time, I twisted the meat and tucked it through. I liked the sensuous feel of the cool meat. I think I must have found it erotic, for my sausages grew steadily longer each week!

One day at school, our teacher asked what we intended to do when we left. It was possible to leave at fifteen in those days, and although I would be fifteen that summer, I was hoping to be allowed to finish my education at the end of term. Everyone had a definite idea of what they wished to do: some were staying on and going into higher education, others were joining family trades. As usual, I hadn’t a clue. One by one the teacher went round the class, and I knew that whatever I said would be met by sniggers and laughter. Then I had an inspiration. ‘I’m going to be a butcher, sir!’ For a moment there was a stunned silence. Cissie Cossey, a butcher! The giggle started, but I felt I had surprised them. They expected me to say, ‘Hairdresser, sir’ or ‘Fashion designer’. To their minds I was the epitome of camp.

Mum and Dad encouraged me. ‘If you like it well enough, why don’t you stay?’ said Mum. So it was decided. I would be taken on full-time as a butcher’s apprentice.

It was so obviously a bad idea — a last-ditch attempt to prove myself a normal adolescent boy. I didn’t last more than two months. It was horrendous. No more shelf stocking or sausage making — now I had to learn how to butcher meat properly. I had to know how to dissect a pig’s head, cut it in half and dig out all the meat from the various sections. I remember holding this head, the glassy eyeball staring straight at me, and with one or two sweeps having to sever it in two. I used to perform the operation with my eyes shut! It would have been only a matter of time before I lost a finger.

As an apprentice you had to have your own set of knives. These were bought for me, and deducted from my first week’s wages. That Friday I went home with less money than I had started with! The only compensation for working was the thought of the financial gain. Now all I had was a set of repulsive knives, and blood under my fingernails. I began to look around for something else. Norwich was the obvious place to start.


Escape from Brooke

Norwich was the big city, and offered an escape from the tiny world of Brooke. Every day I scanned the newspapers looking for a job. I was a little over fifteen years old, with no qualifications and no particular skills. But when I saw an advertisement for a shop assistant in a men’s boutique, I thought it was worth a try. At school I had been mocked for my interest in fashion; now that interest might be of use.

The shop was one of a chain of three. Not exactly high fashion, it sold army surplus alongside the tie-dyed T-shirts and flares that were the style of the 1970s. Workmen bought their overalls there, and they even stocked wellington boots. I wasn’t about to complain. After the butcher’s shop, with its trails of blood-stained sawdust, this was Mecca. Taking a deep breath, I marched in.

‘I’ve come about the job.’

The manager, Mr Hunt, looked surprised, ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘We’re looking for a young boy.’

‘But I am a boy!’ I exclaimed, blushing fiercely. He apologized.

‘With that long hair and all, I took you for a girl.’

I didn’t know whether to feel elated or ashamed.

He must have liked the way I looked, because he offered me the job on the spot.

And I loved it. Dad was none too pleased. ‘Bit of a cissy job, isn’t it?’ he grumbled. But after the traumas of the butcher’s shop, he was relieved to see me smiling again.

I got myself a bus pass and caught the Norwich bus every morning from the bottom of our road. As soon as I was out of sight of the house, I would take out a small hand-mirror and ‘do my face’. My make-up was very subtle: a little mascara, eye pencil, and a touch of rouge. But it gave me the confidence I needed. Opposite the shop there was a building site, and the workmen would whistle as I passed. Perhaps they were sending me up, but since so many people mistook me for a girl, I liked to think their admiration was genuine.

I worked hard at my new job, and was popular with customers. After a few months the manager transferred me to a smaller branch, specializing in army surplus. I was given the key to the shop, and entrusted with the task of cashing up at the end of the day. It was quite a responsibility for a boy of fifteen, and my self-confidence began to blossom.

The assistants at the main branch were all a good deal older than me, and, to my young mind, they seemed remarkably sophisticated. When I delivered the takings at the end of the day I would often hang around and listen to their chat. It was on one of these occasions that I first heard the Mischief Tavern mentioned.

The Mischief Tavern was Norwich’s one and only gay pub. Homosexuality was a great mystery to me. I knew no gay people, and at home the subject was rarely mentioned. When it was spoken of, it was in tones of the fiercest disapproval.

The Norfolk I knew was very working class, and homosexuality was a taboo subject. The pub in Norwich was probably the only gay meeting place in the entire county, and it was under constant attack. The windows would be smashed by gangs of youths, or the police would threaten a raid. Most homosexuals at the time were closet, and that was how society wished them to stay; silent and ashamed. I remember that there were two gay men who lived together in a nearby village. They were pointed out to me as ‘dirty queers’ or ‘disgusting bastards’. ‘Don’t you ever speak to either of them.’ Dad warned me. I was never left in any doubt that homosexuality was unacceptable to my father, and would shock even my more lenient and understanding mother. As my dad got older, and was able to understand more about the subject, he became increasingly tolerant, but when I was fifteen, to have been gay would have brought disgrace to the family.

I was left with a dilemma: my sexual desire for men led me towards the homosexual community, but my fear of exposure urged me to stay clear. In the end any thirst for knowledge won the day. I had lived in isolation so long, not understanding my sexual urges, that I was hungry for the society of others like myself. All adolescents need to define themselves socially and I was no exception.

I walked past the Mischief Tavern a number of times before I plucked up the courage to go inside. It was a quaint pub by a bridge, and I saw hardly anyone going either in or out. There was a bar at the front of the building, but it was the lounge at the back that was designated a ‘gay bar’. To get to it you had to walk down an alleyway and through a side door. The minute you turned off the main street, it would be obvious where you were headed. I stood there one lunchtime, my heart pounding, working up the nerve to open the door to this new world. I looked up and down the road, anxiously scanning the passers by for any familiar faces. ‘My dad’ll kill me,’ I thought. It felt like that moment when, standing on the edge of a pool of freezing water, you steel yourself for the dive and the rush of cold on your skin.

Well, I did it. I don’t know quite what I expected. Scenes of wild debauchery? Loud music? Drag queens? Inside, it was quite an ordinary little pub. The decor was tasteful but slightly theatrical, with signed photographs of celebrities on the wall. There were one or two men sitting at tables drinking. The landlady, Billy, had a brusque manner, but she must have realized that it was my ‘first time’, for she softened her tone when speaking to me. She was a Londoner, and had been quite a society girl in her day, running a nightclub. She had retired to Norwich to take charge of this pub. I sat down with my shandy and looked about me. The men in the bar seemed perfectly ‘straight’, and not the effeminate creatures of my imagination. I was surprised by the discovery. I had thought that all gay men would act like Kenneth Williams.

That was my introduction to the gay world. Despite my feelings of paranoia I felt safe in the Mischief Tavern. It was a great relief to be amongst people who, like myself, would have been described by society as ‘abnormal’. I began to drink in there regularly and it was there that I made my first gay friend, Adrian.

Adrian was a hairdresser. He was a few years older than me, but we had a great deal in common: we were both tall, pretty and effeminate. We were also terrified of being ‘found out’ by our families. We started meeting for lunch, and then in the evenings. Adrian owned a car and would pick me up at the top of the lane near my house. I didn’t introduce him to Mum and Dad; I was scared that he might seem too obviously effeminate. We went to the cinema together, or, when we could afford it, to a restaurant. There was no sexual relationship between us. We were more like girlfriends out on the town for a night.

Dressing for those evenings was an exercise in diplomacy. If I wore anything too outrageous Dad would protest, but I needed to look my best. I compromised with chest-hugging multi-coloured T-shirts and tight white jeans. Dad still complained. ‘I don’t know how you can go out like that,’ he moaned. ‘You look like a poof.’

Now that I worked in fashion, I could blind him with science. ‘It’s the trend, Dad,’ I would explain, and he was forced to concede.

As soon as I got into Adrian’s car, I put on my mascara, rouge and lip gloss, and we would speed off into the night. We were desperately inhibited, and never actually did anything on these trips. We were quite happy sitting in some coffee house staring at the attractive men walking past.

Although Adrian and I got on well, the differences between us soon became apparent. Adrian never wore make-up and couldn’t understand why I did. He was a pretty boy, but, unlike me, he had no desire to be taken for a girl. ‘If you look too feminine, you’ll never meet anyone in the gay scene,’ he explained. ‘Gay men like men. That’s the whole point.’ But I enjoyed going to pubs and clubs looking like a girl. I had no words to explain the compulsion, and he was unable to change my mind.

The two of us became familiar in the small and highly secretive homosexual community. We received invitations to all sorts of parties. Traditionally, these celebrations took place on a Friday or a Saturday night, and they were highly clandestine. I felt as though I had joined a new sect. One Saturday Adrian rang me up. ‘There’s a party tonight in the outskirts of Norwich. It’s quite a smart do. Can you come?’ I said yes, told Mum and Dad I was ‘going for a drink with my mates’ and did my best to dress up without incurring Dad’s wrath.

The house was set in huge grounds with tiered gardens, and inside it was spectacular — a blaze of crystal chandeliers. In one room there were men dancing together, and in another, tables loaded with drink and food. The people were amazing — all types, from the camp to the conservative. I recognized familiar faces from the local TV station, hairdressers, shop assistants, and even two very strange-looking women who I now realize must have been transvestites.

I was asked to dance by men who in the outside world would have passed for ‘straight’. As I moved around the room, slightly high on wine, I felt as though I were in a dream. There were many things left for me to resolve about myself but this freedom was dizzying. I revelled in it.

Adrian introduced me to two people who were to play an important part in my life: David, who had been brought up in Norwich and now lived in London, and the host of the party, Neville.

Neville was a wealthy man in his early forties. He owned a chain of businesses in Norwich, dressed immaculately, and liked to be thought of as ‘straight’ by his business associates. He was to have a profound influence on me, and give me my first taste of a life of elegance and sophistication. That evening he was dressed in a finely tailored Italian suit and a silk shirt. We began talking and got on well. There was never anything sexual between us; I think Neville felt sorry for me. I was young and painfully shy. He took me under his wing. Besides, it did his ego good to be seen with an attractive teenage boy. ‘Pretty little chickens’ we were called. I became Neville’s ‘little chicken’, and he introduced me to a brave new world.

Neville was not overly fond of the gay scene in Norwich. When he wanted to go clubbing he drove up to London, where he had a flat and a lover. Back in Norfolk, he preferred to drink in the straight pubs. And it was in one of these bars that he introduced me to a friend of his called Alan.

I was sweet sixteen and had never been kissed. Alan was handsome, rugged, and solidly heterosexual. I fell in love at first sight. He knew Neville through business, and often teased him about his homosexuality. So when Alan was as smitten as I, Neville found the situation hilarious. ‘But I thought he was a girl!’ Alan protested after he had shown his admiration. This cut no ice with the beaming Neville. ‘There you are,’ he crowed, ‘I always knew that you were one of the guys!’ Perhaps Neville had deliberately set the whole thing up. Desperately flattered, I sat in silence as Alan defended himself from Neville’s onslaught.

When Neville got up to buy the next round of drinks, Alan leant across the table and whispered, ‘I think you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen. I would like to see you again. Would you agree to meet me on your own?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded.

We arranged the time and the place. ‘Don’t say anything to him,’ hissed Alan, as Neville returned to the table.

We decided to spend a weekend together in Alan’s caravan. I told my parents that I was going to a party in Norwich and would be back late Sunday afternoon. He picked me up near the bus station and we drove to the coast. It was a bizarre experience. We were both desperately shy, and knew almost nothing about each other. I was so engrossed in the Mills and Boon fantasy playing in my head that I hardly stopped to consider how strange a situation it really was. I had never had sex with a man and neither had Alan; we had no idea what to expect. I know now that he was working out some homosexual feeling, but at the time I convinced myself that he fancied me as a girl. In my mind we were a man and a woman embarking on a passionate affair.

I made few demands sexually. The exhilaration of being kissed and held were enough for me. I knew that in homosexual relationships there was an active and a passive partner, and I supposed that I would be passive. But I had absolutely no interest in anal sex. I had tried at home to prepare myself for penetration, and had found it unerotic and unpleasantly painful. As Alan and I drove away from Norwich, the caravan in tow, I didn’t know quite what to expect.

He parked in a corner of a quiet trailer park. Since I never stepped out of the caravan for the entire weekend, I have no memory of the landscape of the place. I was terrified of being seen, and stayed away from the windows when Alan ventured out to get food or drink. The sky was overcast, and the caravan small and stuffy. But I couldn’t have cared less, I was with a man who found me attractive. A heterosexual man who wanted me!

In the end, the sex was rather inhibited. I so disliked my genitalia that I refused to let him see me naked. I took off my trousers, but kept my pants on. He lay on top of me and rubbed against me. Since this was the way I masturbated, I was more than happy. I was also glad to touch and caress him. ‘I’m in love,’ I thought, as I nestled my head against Alan’s hairy chest and smelt the warm, musky scent of his neck. I felt something approaching sexual happiness for the first time in my life. That night I lay awake and watched him as he slept. He was beautiful, so beautiful, and he found me attractive! He wanted me!

The dream did not last. We saw each other a few more times after that weekend, but Alan’s interest had waned. The episode had alarmed him, and caused him to question his masculinity. It was also obvious that I was infatuated and, as it later transpired, he couldn’t afford to get involved.

It was a sobering experience. My involvement with the gay world was by no means over, but that relationship had sent out signals that were, with time, to become ever clearer. I was turned on by men, yet I could not function properly in a homosexual relationship. I was not interested in anal intercourse, and although I fantasized about penetration, that fantasy was of heterosexual intercourse. It was sex in the head. I was stuck in a no man’s land. Later Neville told me that Alan was married. I had been lied to and spurned. I felt doubly betrayed.

I lived with the constant fear of exposure, and I began to dream of leaving Brooke. Neville had a flat in London, and he promised on several occasions to take me there. I’d been to London as a kid on school trips to the zoo or Madame Tussaud’s, but I was hungry for a very different city. A city that only the sophisticated Neville could show me.

After much pestering, he agreed to take me. We drove to London in Neville’s car early one Sunday morning, stopping off at his flat for a late breakfast. ‘We’ll go to the Pig and Whistle for lunch,’ he announced. ‘It’s a gay pub in Victoria.’ I was delighted, and slipped away to the bathroom to fix my face. Neville followed me, and stood at my shoulder as I painstakingly covered each lash with its coat of mascara. ‘Take a piece of advice from me,’ he said. You don’t need all that stuff on your face. Men don’t like it, and, in any case, you’re beautiful as you are.’ Normally I listened to Neville’s every word, and followed his advice slavishly. But on this matter I refused to be moved. Looking feminine was too important to me. It gave me my sense of liberation.

Nothing I had seen in Norwich prepared me for the cultural shock of the Pig and Whistle. Back at home there were perhaps thirty or forty people on the gay scene, but on that Sunday in Victoria the pub was so crowded that men were flowing out on to the streets. There was another gay pub twenty yards away that was every bit as full. Everywhere I looked I saw gay men — laughing, talking, drinking. I was stunned. There was such an open, easy atmosphere, so different from the quiet paranoia of the Mischief Tavern. Here nobody seemed to mind who saw them or what they thought. They were free to behave as they liked.

I received some admiring glances, and soon got chatting. I was invited to drinks by one man, and to dinner by another. I had to be back in Norfolk that night, so I was unable to accept, but the readiness of these people to befriend me was very significant. I began to see that living in London might be possible. Here was a social life all ready and waiting.

As we drove back up the darkened motorway, I had much to think over. Not least on my list of concerns was the strain of the double life I was leading. Nobody in my family knew the first thing about this secret social life. I needed to explain the very complicated emotions that I was experiencing, but was too terrified to speak out. That evening I made a decision. I would take a risk; I would talk to Terry.

If I had been an ordinary boy, Terry would have been my hero. He was good at sports, rugged, smart and popular. I admired him terribly, but I was also in awe of him. I should have been a proper brother, I thought to myself, instead of which I’m an embarrassment. Terry sensed my awkwardness and took it upon himself to encourage me. He wanted us to become real ‘mates’. Much to Dad’s delight, we began to make a real effort, and started going out together regularly on a Tuesday night. We went bowling, or for a drink in the pub.

Those evenings weren’t easy for me. Terry urged me to chat up girls. ‘She’s pretty, isn’t she?’ he would say, eyeing up a passing woman. ‘What d’ye reckon, Barry?’ Feeling awkward and embarrassed, I was stuck for words. Terry sensed my embarrassment and I felt bad for him. ‘If only I had the courage to tell him what’s on my mind’, I thought. But I was terrified of his rejection. What if he thought me disgusting? What if he told Dad?

Things came to a head when I developed a crush on one of Terry’s friends from work. He was tremendously good-looking, and came bowling with us on a number of occasions. He was always polite, but in his eyes I was just Terry’s little brother. I was smitten. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, and he became aware of my admiration. He caught my idolizing gaze and frowned a little before turning away. In that one glance I was destroyed. I saw myself with blinding clarity as a pretty, effeminate boy whose attentions were not wanted. I blushed a deep red and longed for the ground to swallow me up. ‘What’s wrong, mate?’ said Terry, noticing my discomfort.

‘Nothing,’ I mumbled, reaching for my drink. I began to make excuses to get out of the Tuesday night meetings. Terry was puzzled. He had no idea of what it might be that was troubling me. We had grown up together. He didn’t see me as the outside world did. I decided to confide in him. We were sitting in a pub, and I’d had a few drinks to give me courage. I began hesitantly: ‘Terry, I want to talk to you about something. It’s something I find difficult to explain.’

‘Go on,’ he encouraged.

It was now or never. ‘I’m attracted to your friend . . . in a sexual way!’ I had said it. I sat back in my chair and waited for the storm to break. But nothing happened. Terry was looking at me sympathetically. ‘Is that all?’ he asked. He told me not to worry. ‘All boys go through that stage, it’s quite normal.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s more serious. I fantasize about being a woman, not a man. Are those homosexual feelings?’

My brother reassured me. ‘It’s nothing, Barry. You’ll grow out of it in time.’

His advice may not have been expert, but it hardly mattered. It was such a relief to talk to someone that I felt quite exhilarated. I wanted to believe that he was right, that this was just a phase, and that one day soon everything would slot into place, and I would no longer feel isolated. ‘Terry’s older than me’, I thought. ‘He knows what he’s talking about.’

‘Have you told Dad?’ he asked.

‘No, I daren’t.’

He was reassuring. ‘I’m sure he’d understand.’

But I wasn’t so sure. ‘No, I can’t. I really can’t.’ We left it at that. The conversation brought us much closer, but it failed to make life any easier. Terry had no idea of how involved I was in the gay scene. And he was wrong on two scores: firstly, Dad would not understand what I was doing, and secondly, this was not a phase that I was about to grow out of.

I spent more time with Adrian’s friend David. He came home to Norfolk at weekends, and I loved to hear him talk about his wild London life. David kept his homosexuality a secret from his parents but, unlike me, he was free to do as he liked in the metropolis. I lay in bed at night and dreamt of London. There I could wear the clothes I liked, smother my face in make-up, grow my hair down to my waist. I plotted my escape in elaborate nocturnal fantasies. Then two incidents occurred that convinced me that escape might be more necessary than I’d thought. I was living on borrowed time.

One afternoon I was delivering the takings to the main branch when ‘Peggy’, the bus driver, came whizzing past at the wheel of his bus. Peggy was a friend of Neville. ‘Watch out for him,’ he’d warned me. ‘He’s too outrageous for his own good.’ He was a big, roly-poly bus driver who seemed perfectly straight until he opened his mouth. His voice was high-pitched and camp in the extreme. Peggy never shouted, he screamed.

He slowed the bus down as he passed me and, leaning out of the window, let out a piercing whistle followed by a stream of lewd jokes. I laughed and waved, but the smile froze on my face as I looked up at the rows of passengers staring out at me. ‘What if they are from Brooke?’ I thought, and scuttled on, head down, my face as red as a beetroot.

A few months later I had an even bigger scare. Adrian and I had been out for the evening and, as his car was being serviced, I had to catch the bus home. I missed the last bus and was forced to hitch the seven miles to Brooke.

With my long hair and slim figure people were always mistaking me for a girl, and on that dark night it must have been hard to tell the difference. I walked on in silence through the dark, my thumb stuck out hopefully. A car drew up. ‘Where are you going, love?’ The man at the wheel was large and rugged. I realized at once that he too had mistaken me for a woman. ‘Oh, well’, I thought, ‘a lift’s a lift’, and hopped into the car.

As soon as he saw me in the light he registered his mistake. But he seemed unperturbed, and carried on chatting. He told me that he had just been visiting his wife in hospital. ‘She’s having a baby,’ he told me. As we drove on the conversation took a more sexual tone. ‘A man with a pregnant wife gets very frustrated,’ he told me. Shortly before we reached the village, he turned off the road and pulled up in the entrance to a field. He switched the lights out and we sat there in the dark. I was both thrilled and alarmed. He asked me to touch him and, unable to restrain my curiosity, I complied.

Looking back, it seems very sordid. But I was young, only sixteen, and hungry for male attention. I closed my eyes and imagined that I was a woman touching him. I blocked my mind to all thoughts of homosexuality. He’s enjoying the caresses of a woman, I told myself. These were elaborate fantasies I ran in my head. I hated to touch my own genitalia — my pleasure was all in giving, not in receiving.

When it was over we sat in the darkness, talking quietly. The peace was rudely interrupted by a sharp rap on the window, followed by the dazzling beam from a powerful torch. We both froze.

It was a policeman, and, as my eyes recovered from the glare, I recognized my local bobby. He lived in the village and had known me from childhood. He asked us to get out of the car. My heart was thudding. I had never felt so scared. All I could think was, ‘What if he tells Dad? What if he tells Dad?’ He questioned the driver of the car, and asked him where he was from and what had been going on. He was clearly suspicious, but both of us swore blind that we had just been talking. He took down the name of the driver, warned him and let him go.

Then he turned to me. ‘Come on. I’m taking you home. We’re going to tell your father about this.’ I pleaded with him, my face clammy with sweat, blood pounding in my ears. ‘It’s not what you think,’ I said. ‘We were just talking.’ I told him that it would never happen again, and that I had a girlfriend. ‘Dad’ll kill me if he finds out,’ I cried. In the end he relented, but he insisted I come to see him the next day at the station.

As I let myself into the house that night, I knew I’d had a lucky escape. The house was quiet, everyone asleep. I looked around at all the familiar objects, the things Mum and Dad had brought together to make a warm and loving home. ‘They don’t deserve this,’ I thought. I knew if I stayed in Brooke I would embarrass and humiliate them. The idea appalled me. I couldn’t sleep that night.

The next day I went to see the policeman, who gave me a stern warning. He told me that if it ever happened again he would have to speak to my dad. His manner was harsh and, as I listened to him, I saw the beginnings of a kind of contempt in his eyes. Later that week he saw me walking to the bus stop with one of Pam’s friends. I deliberately slipped my arm around her shoulder. I knew it looked good, and that he had taken notice. But this double life couldn’t last for long. Hurting my family was unbearable to me, but so was living a lie. I hated my body, I was attracted to men but so far had found gay sex unsatisfactory, and I fantasized about being a woman. I was in a mess. Only one thing was clear — I had to get out of Brooke.

That night I told Dad that I had decided to go to London. Both he and Mum were very upset. ‘Why do you want to go to London? You’ve only just got into this new job.’ I told him that I had met someone through a mate at work who’d told me jobs were easy to find and that there were more opportunities. ‘I want to see a bit of the world,’ I said. ‘Make a bit more money.’ I had been spending a lot of nights away from home, and I think my dad could understand it when I told him I felt trapped.

It took a good two months to convince them both. I was still under age, and my dad could have forbidden it. But they had my happiness at heart, and finally they agreed. Before I left Dad gave me some advice. ‘If you don’t like it, or anything bad happens, for God’s sake come home. You’re not to go short of anything, and you’re to call us regularly. Remember, we’ll always be here for you.’

With those words ringing in my ears, I set off for London and a brave new world. I had no idea what I would do when I got there, but I did know that I would have the freedom to try to untangle the troubled knot of my childhood. What I couldn’t have realized was just how prophetic my father’s words were to be. ‘We’ll always be here for you,’ he said. But as a sixteen-year-old, sitting on the London-bound train, I had little idea of how much his love was to mean to me, or how complete the support my parents offered was to be. I had a long journey to make before I could come back home.


The Jigsaw Falls into Place

I arrived in London with no job, few friends and £50 in savings. David came to my rescue. He arranged for me to stay in a bedsit in Ravenscourt Park, near Shepherd’s Bush. He lived in the same street, three or four doors down.

The bedsit was in a small terraced house owned by an old couple. I had a bedroom upstairs and a kitchenette where I could cook. My culinary skills just about stretched to boiling an egg.

The bedroom was tiny, but I didn’t care. It was my first home, and to me it felt like a palace. Now I had to find a way to support myself. In the local paper I saw an advertisement for a job serving in a Jewish delicatessen in the Goldhawk Road. It paid £15 a week and, with my rent set at £8, I thought I would be able to manage. I liked the idea of a shop. In Norwich I had been good at serving customers.

I applied and got the job. I worked behind the cheese counter. They taught me to cut slices from a whole cheese, how to cut smoked salmon, and how to make the counter look attractive. It was hard work, with long hours spent on my feet. But I enjoyed it. Now, when people mistook me for a girl, I didn’t feel paranoid. I grew my hair even longer, wore mascara, and invested in a pair of bell-bottoms. I really thought I had arrived.

With David as my guide, I began to explore the gay world. Together we went to clubs and discos. I was amazed at the size of the gay community. Looking for a sense of identity, I was anxious to fit in, to be accepted. But I had difficulties forming friendships. David explained it to me.

‘It’s the hair and the make-up, Barry. Gay men don’t want to look like women. You make them feel uncomfortable.’ Even when I did manage to form a brief attachment to a man, I always felt less than satisfied. I couldn’t enjoy my body, and I was only truly excited by heterosexual men.

It wasn’t long before money became a problem. With the rent paid, I found it very hard to survive until the end of the week. It was spring, and the weather was warm, but I couldn’t afford a bus pass, and the thought of walking to work on winter mornings was not a pleasant one. Also, my landlady didn’t allow visitors to the house after 10.30 p.m. To get to my bedroom I had to pass hers. Revelling in my new-found freedom, I didn’t want any prohibitions.

David and I decided to rent a place we could share. We found a bedsit in Fulham for £10 a week. The room was in a converted loft at the top of a big house split into bedsits and owned by an Irish landlord. It was poorly furnished and, with no insulation in the roof, would be freezing in the winter. But we were young and desperate. We took it. It was to be an important decision, for it was here that I met Polly, the woman who was to have such an effect on my life.

We met over the gas meter. I had noticed her a few times in the hallway. She was a striking Eurasian, with long golden hair and an eccentric dress sense. I thought her glamorous, with her bold print blouses, loose cotton trousers, and wide ethnic belts. She had style. But I was shy, and would never have spoken to her. Still, one day, as I bent over the meter in the bathroom, trying to extricate a sixpence, she stopped to help me and we got talking.

The feeling of friendship was immediate and mutual. I suppose she took me for a quiet and gentle gay guy. She must have felt sorry for me. I had few friends — David and I were drifting apart — and I was unused to fending for myself. I learnt that she was a design student finishing an MA and had come from the Far East. She seemed tremendously sophisticated. What I didn’t know, and was soon to learn, was that she was a transsexual.

Her birth name was Ronnie. Listening to me speak about the confusion I felt, and about my desire to be a woman, she decided to confide in me. I was dumbfounded. I’d had no idea and was both fascinated and excited at the thought of a man being able to live as a woman. As she told me her story, I realized just how tough her struggle had been.

She had been born in Singapore and, like me, had grown up feeling confused and unhappy. She had left home and come to London to study art. It was while she was here and enjoying the freedom of student life that she decided to change her name by deed poll and begin the long process that would lead to surgery and a sex change. Not only did she have to prove to doctors that she could live and work as a woman, she also had to find the money. At that time her mother was supporting her through her education, but there was no possibility of further cash. And she was unable to go home. Her life as a woman had been kept a secret from the rest of the family. In the meantime she worked hard at her studies, lived determinedly as a woman, and tried to survive with dignity. Although her work was admired by her fellow students, I had the sense, as she talked, that they humoured her and looked upon her as something of a freak.

That conversation with Polly changed my life. Until that moment I had never heard the word transsexual, and had no idea that people could have an operation to change their sex. Polly was careful to explain the difference between transsexuals and transvestites: ‘Transvestites get sexual pleasure from dressing up in women’s clothes, but transsexuals actually wish to be women.’

It was as though she had taken an X-ray of my heart, so completely did she describe my own secret thoughts. At last I had found someone in the world who understood what it was I was going through. Polly saw nothing wrong with my wanting to live and work as a woman, and she understood why I could not adapt to the gay community. That night I was unable to sleep. My mind teemed with thoughts and possibilities.

We became the best of friends. In the evening, when I got home from work, I would knock on her door, and she would cook for me while I sat and watched. The windows would steam up and the smell of garlic filled the room. When we could afford it we went out for the evening, mostly to clubs or discos. Restaurants were too expensive. On these outings we both dressed as women, and Polly helped me to choose an outfit from her more extensive wardrobe.

She introduced me to the drag world, and together we bought tickets to the Butterfly Ball. We dressed up and went along to gawp at the extravagant costumes. There were drag queens of every description: burlesque, transvestite, gay. They were all costumed outrageously, with huge hats and layers of make-up. It was not a world with which either of us could identify. There was an air of comedy about the whole event, but Polly and I felt serious about dressing as women. We couldn’t think of it as ‘drag’. I had to think of a girl’s name for the evening, and, on the spur of the moment, I came up with Caroline. The name stuck!

Polly was right. Transvestism is often confused with transsexuality, but they are two entirely separate things. When I dressed as a woman I didn’t experience sexual excitement from my attire, nor did I wish to draw attention to the disparity between my gender and my clothing. My dream was to pass through the clubs, pubs and discos undetected. The greatest pleasure imaginable at that time was to sit in a club and be asked to dance by a good-looking man. I was always careful to leave it at that, just a quiet drink and a chat. Somewhere in the conversation I would mention ‘my boyfriend’ and, going home alone that evening, feel elated at my success.

There were dangers in appearing dressed as a woman. Polly told me that the police could arrest you for female impersonation. One night, at a club in Covent Garden which entertained a mixed clientele (both gay and straight), Polly and I were asked to dance by two men. I had been on my feet all evening and I was hot and tired. I refused their invitation. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the manager, a friendly Spanish guy, gesturing frantically. I nudged Polly and we headed for the ladies.

He followed us in and warned us that the two men were plainclothes police. They had been asking questions and he had covered for us, vouching that we were girls. We were both shaken as we slipped out of the back door. The manager had ordered a car, and we sped away feeling like criminals.

It should have been safer to stick to the gay clubs. But even there we experienced hostility. There were few places that would let us in dressed as women, and those that did were not overly friendly. We belonged nowhere.

I decided to change my job. The delicatessen was too far away, and I was spending a fortune on travel. I wanted to work as a beautician or a hairdresser. There was a job being advertised at a salon in Baker Street. I applied, and they took me on. But the money was not good, £12 a week, and so I started an evening job at a theatre, working as an usherette. I sold ice-cream in the intervals and made a little extra from tips.

It was a hard life! But I was still only seventeen, and I was desperate to prove that I could make it on my own. I often felt lonely. Polly had a boyfriend, and when he was with her I didn’t like to intrude. Sometimes he would turn up drunk, and they would have screaming rows. I would lie on my bed, listening to them shout. It made me wonder if I wasn’t better off on my own.

I was spending more and more on clothes. I bought myself a pair of high heels and learnt to walk in them. They made me taller than ever, but it was worth it. I had a few dresses but, as unisex fashions were coming in at the time, I could look like a woman wearing shorts or jeans. My legs were hairless and I loved wearing hot pants — the big fashion craze of the early 1970s. But makeup was my real extravagance. Lipsticks, foundations, blushers — to me they were the essence of femininity. I spent hours in chemists looking at all the different bottles, testing fragrances and colours.

When my parents came to visit, all the toiletries were hidden, and the dresses stored in Polly’s room. Mum and Dad weren’t much impressed with my new home. ‘It’s a dump,’ said Dad. ‘It’s so cold,’ said Mum. I reassured them that I was fine, but it was freezing, and in the winter I had to feed the meter and sleep with the electric fire on.

I was so taken up with establishing my life in London that I’d had no time to learn more about the possibility of a sex change. In my heart of hearts I thought it an impossible dream.

One night Polly gave a party and introduced me to a ‘woman’ whose décolletage revealed a magnificent cleavage.

‘She’s a transsexual,’ Polly whispered, as I poured myself a drink. I was bewildered.

‘But they look so real’ I muttered.

I sat opposite her, mesmerized. I longed to ask about her breasts, but it was hardly a great opening line.

A few days later she came out for the evening with Polly and me, and I was able to get to know her a little better. By now I was convinced that the breasts were real. I asked her.

She told me that she was taking hormone tablets, and gave me the name and address of the doctor who was prescribing them.

Since adolescence, when I had so envied the development of my sister and her friends, I had wanted breasts. My nipples had always been large and sensitive, but it was obvious that my breasts were not going to grow on their own. Now that I was dressing and socializing as a girl, I thought that I might have a strong case to present to a doctor. The excitement I felt as I lay in bed that night is difficult to describe. ‘I may not be a fully functioning female,’ I thought, ‘but at least I can look and feel like one.’

The next day I made an appointment to see the doctor (a psychiatrist whose name I’ve been asked not to reveal) at his surgery in the Edgware Road. I took great care with my appearance. I curled my hair to make it soft and bouncy, and I wore a half-cup bra padded out. Polly wished me luck. ‘He may ask a lot of questions,’ she warned. ‘Don’t be fazed.’ She reassured me by telling me that he was very understanding, and used to dealing with problems like mine.

‘Just tell him what you told me,’ she said. ‘You’ll be fine.’

Despite her kind words, I was very nervous as I sat in the waiting room.

‘What if he laughs at me?’ I thought. ‘What if he says No?’

But Polly was right. The doctor, a small, elderly man, was both kind and sympathetic. I was able to tell him exactly how I felt; how I had always been happier dressed as a girl and thought of myself as female. He listened to me talk, nodding every so often, and watching me closely. When I had finished speaking the questions began. He asked me about my childhood and my early sexual experiences. He particularly focused on my childhood homosexual experiences. Clearly it was vital for him to establish that I was a transsexual and not a transvestite.

‘I feel attracted to men.’ I explained, ‘but to heterosexual men. I have tried anal intercourse, but disliked it. I feel utterly unfulfilled sexually, and torn apart by living a double life.’

I was honest about everything but my age. I told him I was twenty when I was in fact only seventeen. I was desperate that he should think me mature and responsible. I was afraid that if he knew how young I really was he’d tell me to go away and think again, or ask to speak to my parents.

He did neither. Instead he declared that he was certain that I was transsexual; not only would he prescribe hormone therapy but, if I would agree to see him for more counselling, he would be happy to recommend me for gender reassignment.

I was hungry for information. He explained that it was possible to have a sex-change operation done in this country, but that you needed a psychiatrist’s recommendation. You also had to prove that you could live and work as a woman for three years before they would consider surgery. ‘Do you think this is a path you would want to go down?’ he asked me. ‘It will not be an easy course of action.’

But I was in no doubt. As soon as the operation became a real possibility and not just a fantastic dream, I knew the direction my life would take. There was not only light at the end of the tunnel, there was a choir of angels singing their hearts out!

As I sat there trying to contain my excitement, he told me more about the hormone therapy. ‘You’ll need to be on the treatment for a while,’ he said. ‘And it may make you sick. Also you shouldn’t expect too much, or you’ll be disappointed.’ He pointed out that, since I was very thin and had very little fat displacement, I was unlikely to grow a very large bust.

‘Damn,’ I thought. ‘If only I’d been short and fat.’

I had to go back a few times before the doctor would prescribe the pills. In the meantime Polly had told me how important it was to keep his goodwill. Without his go-ahead it would be very difficult to get surgery. Casablanca was talked about as a place to go and have the operation, but I wanted to keep all options open. Polly told me some real horror stories about transsexuals who had become so desperate they had castrated themselves, or gone to back-street surgeons and suffered from terrible infections. ‘Once they’ve neutered themselves,’ she said, ‘the NHS is obliged to perform the op.’ But I didn’t want to get that desperate. With a psychiatrist’s letter and the money I was determined to save in the next three years, I would have my gender-reassignment surgery performed in England.

Finally, I got my prescription. I was to take two pills a day, one in the morning and one at night. I deliberately avoided the local chemist’s shop, preferring to go further afield and avoid embarrassment or hostility. Times have changed, but in those days homosexuality had only recently been made legal between consenting adults. Transsexuality was stuck in a shady half-world, hovering between legality and illegality. Most people, including myself, at that time were ignorant on the subject.

The doctor was right, the tablets did make me sick. He changed them to a different kind but to no effect. I still threw up every morning. I tried everything: eating late at night and then taking them, not eating at all, taking them with milk. I felt it was worth the nausea. My breasts did grow, though not as noticeably as I would have liked. But it was psychologically that the hormone tablets made the greatest difference. Taking them brought me closer to my goal, and with every passing day I felt more feminine and more at ease with the world.

I shall never be able to describe the great joy I felt in those first few months in London. I had no money and few friends, but none of that made the slightest difference, for suddenly, after seventeen years of wandering in the wilderness, I had purpose and the hope of a better, brighter future. From the moment I realized that gender-reassignment surgery was a real possibility for me I had no doubt that it was the perfect and only solution to my distress.

I was desperate to talk to someone who had had the operation, and when Polly told me she knew a girl who had undergone successful surgery I begged her to introduce me. She arranged a meeting, and we went together to the woman’s flat.

The door was opened by a petite oriental. She was five foot two, with very long, dark hair. I towered over her, feeling large and clumsy. Her flat was immaculate, and everything about her was neat and stylish. We sat and talked about her experiences. She was happy to explain and, without my asking, to display the results of her surgery. I was impressed. She looked utterly female and spoke with glowing pride about her life as a woman. Not only did the operation appear to be an unqualified success, but it was clear that it had also given her a great sense of personal dignity. I left the apartment with my resolve strengthened.

The problem would be money. I already had two jobs and could barely make ends meet as it was. I didn’t see how, in the foreseeable future, I would be able to save sufficient funds. I was still working in the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. The musical Hair was playing and I enjoyed the show. I was friendly with all the staff, and the box-office manager, Nick, named me Myra, after Myra Breckinridge. I discussed my hopes and ambitions with him and the rest of the front of house staff. ‘How will I ever earn enough money?’ I wailed.

Somebody up in heaven must have been looking after me, for, out of the blue, came the most extraordinary lucky break.

One evening I was standing in the bar with my tray of ice-creams slung over my shoulder, when I noticed a man staring at me. He came up and introduced himself as the choreographer David Toguri. I had heard of him and knew that he was a highly influential man in show business. He came straight to the point.

‘Have you ever thought of being a showgirl?’ he asked.

I was stunned. ‘But, I’m a boy!’ I exclaimed, blushing furiously. He didn’t even pause for breath. ‘Yes, I know that,’ he said. ‘It makes no difference. You are tall and beautiful.’ He went on to explain that in several shows in Paris some of the most successful showgirls were actually boys.

‘I’ve heard you are contemplating a sex change,’ he continued. ‘That makes no difference to me. I would still like you to consider coming along for an audition for a new show I’m choreographing at the Latin Quarter in Soho.’

I stammered something about having no confidence and two left feet.

‘Just think about it,’ he said. ‘I’ll be in touch.’

A week later he telephoned and gave me an audition date. I had talked to Polly and she told me to give it a try. ‘What have you got to lose?’ she said. I knew that I was no natural performer; I was too shy for that. But the idea of being offered a job as a woman, and such a glamorous job at that, was a great attraction. I needed my ego boosting and I needed to prove my femininity. I wanted to be more of a woman than most women do! I told him I would be there and then began to panic.

‘What should I wear?’ I asked. ‘Do you want me to buy a wig?’

He laughed as he tried to calm me down. ‘Just come as yourself. You’ll stun them.’

‘But what about make-up?’

‘You wear enough as it is,’ he exclaimed, and we both began to giggle.

The rest of that week I spent in a state of high anxiety. I was terrified that I would make a fool of myself but, deep down, I was desperate for the job. It would mean a lot more money. And more money meant moving one step nearer to my goal.

The big day arrived.

I took David’s advice and wore a pair of hot pants and a halter neck. I tried to restrain myself on the make-up, putting on just a little more mascara and lipstick. At the rehearsal studios there were half a dozen other girls, all getting changed. We didn’t speak, and the air was electric with tension. Several of the girls were wearing bikinis, and I felt gauche in my shorts. I could hear voices and music coming from the auditorium. My stomach lurched, and I felt sweat prickling on my skin. One by one we were called up on to the stage.

‘It’s your turn, Caroline.’ David took my arm and led me into a pool of blazing light. He gave me a reassuring squeeze and then turned to go. I was left standing alone in the middle of a vast space.

I heard David announce, ‘This is Caroline.’ From the darkness he told me to walk up and down with one hand on my hip and one held out, in true showgirl style. I could hear people talking, but peering into the gloom I couldn’t make out their faces. My knees began to shake.

Then David came back on to the stage and taught me a few simple step routines. Showgirls are not truly dancers — they are there to provide spectacle and to decorate the set — but they do have to be able to move gracefully, perform high kicks, and follow basic dance routines. That day I was all left feet. David was very patient, but it took me forever to pick up the steps. I couldn’t even manage a smile, I was so nervous.

‘I’ve blown it,’ I thought, and was about to call it a day when a man leapt on to the stage and introduced himself as John. ‘Hi, Caroline,’ he grinned. ‘Could you take off your top and hold your arms above your head?’ I was a little taken aback by his request, but it seemed rude to refuse.

‘Hmm,’ said John, chewing the end of his pencil. ‘You’re right. They aren’t too big, are they?’

David nodded in agreement.

‘I am taking hormone tablets,’ I told them. ‘They might get a bit bigger . . . ’

John interrupted me. ‘It makes no difference. You look amazing under the lights, and you’ve got the height. You’ll develop grace when you feel a little more confident.’

‘You mean I’ve got the job?’

He nodded and smiled.

That night Polly and I celebrated. ‘In less than one month,’ I thought, ‘I will be performing as a woman in front of an audience.’

‘Oh God!’ I exclaimed, and poured myself another glass of wine. ‘I’m terrified.’

‘Don’t be daft,’ said Polly. ‘This is just the beginning, Caroline. You’re on your way!’


The Showgirl and the Sheikh

With the start of my new job, my life changed utterly. I handed in my notice at the beauty salon and started rehearsals for the show. I was now earning as much as both of my previous jobs put together and I could afford to move into a nicer place. I found a room at the top of a house in Wetherby Gardens. It was small, but it did have a private bathroom and a kitchenette — a big improvement on Fulham.

I had introduced myself to my new landlady as Caroline, and now seemed as good a time as any to make a break with the past. I threw away the bulk of my male clothes. I intended to live as a woman twenty-four hours a day. As I parcelled up the remnants of that past life, I felt liberated. The next step was to tell my doctor the good news.

He was delighted for me, but he was also careful to explain the legal position.

‘You can appear on stage as a woman,’ he told me. ‘But the minute you leave the club you will have to dress as a man.’ Clearly this was impossible. I was not appearing as a drag artist, and the audience must not discover the truth about my gender. The doctor came up with a solution. He furnished me with a letter confirming that I was undergoing treatment prior to a sex-change operation. He then suggested that I change my name by deed poll. I was called Caroline on my contract, and I would need to make it legal to safeguard my position.

The process was simpler than I had imagined. By merely paying a fee and instructing a solicitor, I legally became Caroline Cossey. I was never to introduce myself as Barry again.

Rehearsals were gruelling. We had three weeks to get the show into shape. For me it was the first few days that were the hardest. I was paralysed with nerves and certain that I must seem ridiculous. There was one other showgirl – a woman called Diana. The rest were trained dancers, all old friends, and dressed in leotards and tights. I had turned up in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. For most of that morning I sat alone in a corner watching them glide effortlessly through their routines.

Then came the dreaded moment; it was my turn. As I stood up I felt all eyes on me. The dancers, taking a break, were ranged around the room chatting in small groups, drinking coffee and eating chocolate. David took me slowly through my first steps. He had it all written down on a piece of paper — turn, count, stepball, change — but I couldn’t concentrate. Every so often one of the dancers would burst out in a peal of laughter at some private joke. I was certain they were laughing at me. ‘They know about my past,’ I thought, shaking with nerves. ‘They know I’m still a boy.’ David tried to reassure me. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘You’ll be just fine. You’ll look marvellous.’

And my costume was extraordinary. Red, with sequins, it had a huge three-foot headdress, tail feathers, and a silky shawl to drape across my shoulders. Diana performed topless, but my breasts were nowhere near large enough to impress an audience. I wore a padded bra to boost the little I had, and, by dint of Sellotape and inspiration, created a cleavage for myself. That was the least of my problems.

Wearing minuscule red bikini pants, how was I to conceal my penis? It wasn’t exactly large, but it would still leave a rather disconcerting bump. This was a problem I was to learn to live with in the next three years, and I tried a variety of solutions. One of the most successful strategies involved sticking plaster. I would tuck my penis back between my legs and tape it flat. Effective but excruciating! The sticking plaster would leave sores on my skin, and every night I would have to lie in the bath soaking it off. It also made urination an impossibility during the show. If I drank too much before curtain up I was in big trouble!

Eventually I found a kinder solution. All the girls wore G-strings under their costumes, and I constructed my own personal G-string from an extra-strong elastic material. I could keep this valuable garment on throughout the show, thus saving Diana and the other girls any unnecessary embarrassment.

After the ordeal of opening night, I soon settled into the show. I acquired the skill of smiling and moving at the same time, and soon didn’t even need to watch my feet as they found their way around the stage. The atmosphere backstage was good, and soon I felt relaxed enough to open up a little and talk to some of the girls about my transsexuality. I made a firm friend of the other showgirl, Diana. She had known about me from the beginning. She wasn’t bothered in the slightest. Before the show a few of us would get together in one of the dressing rooms and split a bottle of wine. I loved the backstage life, with its laughter and camaraderie. After we finished the second show, we went to eat breakfast in one of the all-night clubs. The Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street was a real favourite. It was open until six in the morning, and we would pile in there at about 2.30 a.m. to join London’s night creatures: the bunnies, clubbers and party animals. It was a strange and heady atmosphere. I remained very shy, but I began to relish the adrenalin of performance.

Diana and I spent much of our time together, visiting each other’s flats at the weekend, and cooking meals for each other. I was still lonely, and felt grateful for her company and her easy acceptance of my transsexuality. Diana had been a model, and one of her boyfriends was a photographer. She had confided in him that I was, in fact, a boy, and he’d come to see the show. If he was expecting some kind of freak, then he was clearly surprised. He asked Diana if I would be willing to pose for some photographs. ‘I’m interested,’ I told her. But, as she explained more, my enthusiasm dissolved.

It was a scam to make money from the gutter press. His idea was to sell the photographs to a tabloid and then take another set of me as a boy and offer them to a rival newspaper. I rejected the idea outright, and refused to meet with him. Diana was in no way to blame, but her connection with that photographer was ultimately to prove fateful.

I was still so innocent. Privately I was mortally ashamed of my sexuality. It was a secret that I wished to conceal for the sake of my family. As yet I had no idea that my gender might become the object of morbid curiosity, or that my personal history might bring the tabloids flocking.

Until I began the hormone therapy, I had returned to Norfolk every three months or so to spend the weekend at home in Brooke. I looked forward to those visits, but on the journey from London to Norwich I had to transform my personality. I tried to dress more to my father’s taste, and, although I could do nothing about my hair, I assumed what I thought was a manly air. I was unable to talk about whole sections of my life and had to invent suitable anecdotes to amuse them. Now I was a showgirl and living entirely as a woman, I agonized over how to bridge the gulf between us. How could I tell them about my life in London and my hopes for the future?

Once again it was my brother who came to the rescue. He rang me up to say he had a few days’ holiday and could he come and stay with me in London? After I had put the phone down, I went back upstairs to my bedsit and looked around the room at the dresses, shoes and make-up. I began to pack them away. But this time I stopped myself. Why should I pretend? Why should I have to live this double life? I had trusted Terry before and now I was about to trust him again. I decided to let him see me as I was.

Terry realized by now that I hadn’t ‘grown out’ of the feelings we had discussed. He never questioned me about my life, but I sensed that he accepted me as I was. How would he feel when I told him about the hormone tablets and my plans to have gender-reassignment surgery?

That evening I made myself look as feminine as I possibly could, taking extra care with my hair and make-up. Then I sat down in a chair, lit a cigarette, and waited for him to arrive.

As he walked through the door I stood up to give him a hug. He stopped dead and just stared. We both stood frozen, then, after a long pause, he spoke: ‘My God, that’s amazing! Is it really you?’

We began to smile.

We talked all evening. I told him about my job at the Latin Quarter and the money I was now earning. I referred back to our earlier conversations.

‘I don’t feel hopeless any more, Terry. This doctor has given me so much support. I feel I can look forward to true long-term happiness. I know this operation is right for me.’

‘Are you really, really sure?’ he questioned.

Positive,’ I replied. ‘But Terry, I’m scared of telling Mum and Dad. What do you think I should do?’

His reply was music to my ears: ‘I’ll tell them for you.’

As I said goodbye to him at the end of his visit I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and love. He could have rejected me, been appalled or mocking. Instead he had listened with patience and understanding as I explained my feelings.

As I watched him walk away down the road, I knew he would soon be back in Brooke, and my only thought was, ‘Will my dad feel the same way? Or am I about to lose my family?’

The call came early the next morning. It was Dad, and he sounded angry.

‘What the hell are you doing with your life, Barry? What are you getting yourself into?’

Immediately I was on the defensive, ‘Dad, you don’t understand,’ I protested. But he didn’t want to hear. He ordered me to cut my hair, put on a suit, and get my life in order. He made light of my new career.

‘I hear you’ve got yourself a Danny La Rue job,’ he said. ‘Is that right?’ I stayed silent. He knew he had hurt me, but he was still too damaged himself to be able to rescue the conversation, ‘I want you to come home to Brooke. This nonsense has got to stop.’

Those were his parting words, and we both put down the phone in anger.

If I had been just a little older, I would have been able to understand his reaction. He was in shock and anxious for me. But I was young and headstrong and we were both very stubborn. I had expected rejection. ‘And now,’ I thought,’ I’ve got it.’

All my father needed was time. But it was too late for me. I decided to cut myself off from him. I didn’t go home, and would ring only when I knew he wouldn’t be there. Even with Mum I was careful never to stray on to the subject of my operation. I would tell her I was OK and working hard, but no mention was made of my new life. ‘Send my love to Dad,’ I said, and left it