He used to watch, transfixed, as his mother prepared for a night out. There was such an attention to detail, even an artistry about it: hair just so, lipstick shade precise, shoes to match the bag. Knowing she found it difficult to apply nail varnish to her dominant hand and that her favoured method of dressing her hair would often come unravelled before she could apply sufficient spray, he often wanted to ask if he could help, but he knew that the topic was somehow taboo.
He’d asked to help with dinner once and had been met with glances that wavered between surprise and derision from his father and brother before his mother had laughed and informed him in no uncertain terms that the kitchen ‘wasn’t his place.’ Neither was his mother’s small dressing room, which always felt so airy and smelt of floral perfume and lightly scented powders, ‘his place.’
Instead, ‘his place’ was a world of greys and browns. Of itchy wool and uncomfortably starched shirts which were as stifling to him as most other aspects of his gender enforced domain. There was no soul to his father’s world: unvarying routine- work shoes, Sunday best, slippers, pipe. Always the same, cloistered and drab. He learnt to equate the term ‘respectable’ with another adjective altogether: hateful.
And so it was that Douglas Richardson began his apprenticeship in the art of deception. At home, he would pretend to be a model son but outside of the house and within his own mind he would be someone quite different indeed. A few small playground trades- marbles exchanged for necklaces, sweets for eye shadows- and some minor sleights of hand later and he had his first full outfit.
Standing on a footstool to see himself fully in the bathroom mirror, Douglas had experienced his first taste of freedom. Sitting on his bed later that night, stomach tight and empty from a lack of supper, he had experienced his first taste of shame. Tugged into his room by an ear still ringing with enraged remarks, he was given ample time to reflect upon his recently discovered ‘perversion.’ He didn’t need to know what that word meant to understand the implications of its application.
Tears that had originated of shock and misery at having so disappointed his parents, soon became those of frustration before drying in their tracks, thwarted by the fierce determination that even at this young age had always been his bailiwick. In the dead of night he snuck downstairs and stole back a pink beaded bracelet from the bin and he fell asleep with a hand curled tightly around it.