My friend R--- and I have a regular weekly badminton session well established now. R---'s real game is tennis, but she has been borrowing one of my badminton racquets and we've been having a useful thrash most weeks for a couple of months. Gradually we are both becoming better players.
For me it's a slow rediscovery of the standard I had back in the 1980s and (particularly) the 1990s, when I belonged to two clubs in Horsham. I am not sporty, not even especially competitive, but badminton has always appealed to me. I think that's because you can have a goodish game with a wide variety of other players, on several levels. I don't mind a knockaround, whether it's with children, beginners, or experienced players. And the occasional chance to have a game with a Championship-standard player has always taught me something new, which I then work into my own more humble game.
The other draw of badminton is its strong social side. It attracts nice people who like to play skilfully and seriously, but in between games also like to chat, and who tend to organise extra-court social events. I wasn't ever up to throwing marathon birthday parties (except my 40th), but I became adept at getting the lads and the girls down to the pub after two hours of hard exercise, to slake one's thirst and enjoy the interplay between people. It was the same after a session of fencing, also at Horsham. In the 1990s I had a friend called Will who was totally amazed at how I managed to persuade girls to come to the pub, especially as he suspected that I was gay. I wasn't, and famously denied it one night when we went over to Lockwood (Phil Collins' territory at that time) for a Christmas disco, but I think he was never quite convinced. Looking back at the photos of the time, I can see why: I looked pretty androgynous.
This mention of badminton and photos prompts me to show you this one, taken in November 1982, when I was aged 30:
I'm the person on the far right. Shiny boxer shorts were 'in' that year. I loved the look and feel of them, and the way they showed off your legs. But I couldn't help being secretly wistful about the girls' whites. These girls, Nessa and Barbara, were lovely people, both fit and friendly. Barbara (middle) was a no-nonsense Scot who eventually emigrated to New Zealand to marry a sheep farmer. I don't know what ultimately happened to Nessa (left). I hope life treated her kindly; she had an 'English Rose' complexion and her nature was the same: fragrant, delicate, but with a little thorn to prick you if you went too far. Hmmm, November 1982: within three months I'd be married, and set in a new direction.
Here's a shot from July 1978, taken on an afternoon off from a management course in Hastings. I let myself be cajoled into playing a football match in a local park. I only agreed because the two girls on the course were also playing:
I'm back row, far left, and looking a lot slimmer than at most times in my life! But then I was 26 and jolly well ought to have been in a good physical state. I remember that I didn't know the finer rules of the game and made a mess of it all. I was much better at the theoretical stuff back at the hotel. Sobering to think that everyone in that picture must either now be retired, or getting close to it. One or two might even be dead.
Getting back to badminton, I was always frankly envious of the lissom, graceful way the girls moved, and the way they spoke and behaved, and I wasn't just envious of the young and pretty ones. I chiefly identified with the 30- and 40-somethings. I imagined being like them. Futilely at the time, but that didn't quell the longing to be more girl-shaped and girl-mannered. I remember one 40-something lady, with a most attractive personality, who had real problems as the menopause started to grip her. She got very hot and red-faced, and couldn't help perspiring so much that she literally dripped sweat. She practically steamed. I was so sorry for her, for you could see how much she enjoyed playing. But after a few weeks of this she had to give up. And yet despite the clear discomfort she was experiencing, and the way that getting hot made her look less than her best, I would have given anything to have her body shape, and simply be her.
Nobody knew that. For me a change of body was the stuff of science fiction. Without the internet, it was impossible to know what had been happening for transsexuals in, say, America, and what could already be done in the UK. I didn't even know I was transsexual. Without the concept, there is no realisation, and therefore nothing to be done about it. I always think it is blindingly significant that as soon as I had my Eureka Moment in 2008, as soon as I realised what had been bothering me all my life, I acted without delay and with completely certainty.
And now I'm back doing badminton again. I'll keep this up now, and after my post-op convalescence, use badminton - and maybe other forms of exercise - to get fit again and keep fit. Nice to think that one of the little benefits of the surgery will be the ability to wear shorts on court, and who knows, one of those cute little skirts as in the top photo. But only if they're in fashion, m'dear.