Part four; in which I break with tradition and read the signs
A while ago I got a call from my sister to say my Dad had fallen over and would I come up and help and by the time I got there he was dead.
It’s hard to pin down the exact point, but from then on I was different. For a while my emotions were on a bungee and there were so many things that could set me off; six months later and the wrong phrase in a song could reduce me to blubbering, emotional jellyfish on the nearest horizontal surface.
It took me a year to figure out what was happening. I realised that I’d spent my adult life dressing like him, in jeans, polo shirt, baggy tracksuit top or sweater. Since his passing, I’ve worn slim fit chinos and trousers, tight sweaters and short sleeved button-downs, only resorting to jeans maybe half a dozen times. Chunky trainers were replaced by Cons and tan brogues.
I shaved my permastubble and set to work on skin that was oily, dry, dark, red and sallow in various measures. It was the dark circles that really set me off. I’ve never really got the hang of sleeping and trying to find a short-term fix for my dark circles found me on a stool in Boots being fussed over by a matronly No. 7 demonstration lady.
“I’ve had more men on this stool than you’d ever believe!” she squawked, and somewhere Sid James did his trademark guffaw. “No one will even look twice!”
They didn’t. I walked out with a liquid concealer and before I knew it, I had to buy a discreet makeup bag to hold my highlighter, concealer, mascara (clear and black), kohl pencil… Superdrug and elf cosmetics were my saviours in the early days, because they’re cheap and decent enough quality. I experimented with concealers and colour correctors and BB/CC creams, and who knows what else. I learned terms like ‘dewy’ and ‘matte’, I discovered Wayne Goss’ YouTube channel, and then I made the mistake of walking into a Bobbi Brown studio just for a look round. Even anonymously nothing will make me admit to you how much I have spent in their shops (or how many times I’ve had a makeup lesson in them)!
Online personality tests have always been a weakness. I can pass up – just – the chance to do a BuzzFeed test to find out which member of Scooch I am, but anything more scientific and I’m done for. The first surprising result was a Kinsey Scale test, which told me I was a 2, meaning ‘more than incidentally homosexual’. I mean, I always thought ‘Animal Nitrate’ era Brett Anderson was strangely alluring, and everyone my age has looked at David Beckham a little too closely and for too long at least once, right?
I took the SAGE test and it told me I was in a minority as a bisexual androgynous male to female crossdresser. “Your motivation for crossdressing may be driven by the binary nature of your sexuality as a way to explore the female gender role”, it added helpfully. Wow. Ten minutes earlier I was just that guy you talk to in the office canteen; now I was Grayson Perry.
Thing is, deep down I knew it was telling me a lot of things I had previously suspected but – crucially – never had the language to express. Agender was just a squiggly red underline in Word telling me the word to describe a list of items for discussion in a meeting was incorrectly spelled. Neutrois, he was that French-born defender who played for Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup, right?
But I read, I read everything I could find. I kept an open mind because I knew I was on the path. And it was hard, because I had to face up to things that I’d never consciously avoided thinking about, and I knew I would have to make some hard decisions. My mental health has never been great and I was prone to periods of melancholia (1988, for example), insomnia, drinking, medication abuse, questionable relationships, and some lavishly poor hairstyle choices.
I don’t think of myself as bisexual. Whether anyone cares to prove to me otherwise, I don’t personally believe anyone is truly a 0 or a 6. I think there’s a little situational homosexuality in all of us, and moreover I think that’s healthy. In fact if I was going to label my sexuality, demisexual would be more accurate. There’s a word I’ve only learned in the last few months, but I can retrospectively apply it to my whole life.
I was never comfortable with ‘androgynous’ either, for some reason. Androgynous conjured up the idea of someone trying to be both binary genders to me, and that’s not me. Bowie was androgynous, Brian from Placebo was androgynous. They were beautiful, wonderful, mysterious creatures who were all things. I was the opposite – I felt like an absence of. But I continued educating myself and the more I read concerning ‘agender’, the more I knew that that was me.
And that’s a key point for me. I’ve read plenty of opinions, which people are entitled to have, talking about special snowflakes just wanting to be more special and more snowflake and making up genders and sexualities as they go along. Hell, if you are the person who thought up ‘swampgender’ and ‘vapogender’ then yes, I admit that I even thought it, uncharitably and fleetingly. But I don’t feel like I have picked being ‘agender’, it’s more like being agender picked me. As soon as I discovered it, I just knew. I didn’t pick it because it sounded cool or because I wanted to stand out (I can feel almost cripplingly self-conscious alone in bed, I don’t want to stand out). I knew it the way you just know what name you’re going to call your child, and then every other name sounds wrong after that.
I’m not doing it out of convenience either, far from it. My therapist costs me £45 per therapy hour, and although she’s definitely worth it, aint nothing convenient about that. The problem is, to use a phrase that occurred to me in my last session with her, I’d read myself into a cul-de-sac. I’d taken on so much about gender and sexuality that I needed someone to help me separate the trivia and the good stuff.Also, I wasn’t sleeping or eating, and I’d lost three stone in as many months (and it’s not like I had the weight to lose in the first place. Maybe I could have lost half a stone, even a whole stone, but I’ve lost four inches off my waist and six inches off my chest. I’ve had to replace clothes that I hadn’t even had chance to wear that I’d only bought in the last month to replace other clothes that were now too big, and I’m paying to take in clothes that still have the labels on because it’s cheaper than buying more. Nothing convenient about that either).
While we’re on the subject of clothes,I feel I should say that I’m not a crossdresser either, but I understand why the test thought I was. Frankly I have always been a little jealous at the sheer amount of different things that women can wear. I’ve sometimes (not seriously) wanted to wear them just because I can’t, which is me to a T, although in truth the idea of gendered products seems stupid. I fear that I may be becoming a makeup addict though. My blending skills are pretty fierce and the girls recognise me immediately in two different Bobbi Brown stores now.
But having this self revelation is both the best worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I now have an identity that wholly makes sense to me and of me in a way I’ve never known in my life, and it’s a secret to all but four people. It’s cost me my relationship, because I can’t cope with living as a regular straight man 24/7 – I need to be me sometimes. And while we’re still negotiating, it looks likely to cost me my home and we’ll have to sell up. But it’s what it is.
This is something I have to do.