This is basically about going back to old haunts, and risking recognition. And even if one could get away with it, whether it would be right to try.
Not being recognised might seem to rest on whether there had been sufficient physical changes, but I think the issue is more complex than that. For instance, if your demeanour and attitude and degree of self-confidence have all markedly changed, these things can disguise you as much as how you might look or sound.
I must say at once that I owe a huge debt to my ex-wife W--- and my long-term ex-partner M---. Both showed me how to tackle many things that, left to myself, I would have shrunk from doing. Both were, in their different ways, feisty people who would not be rebuffed, nor take 'No' for an answer if they felt that they were in the right, and could make it a 'Yes' by pushing a bit.
M--- was especially good at weighing up a situation, seeing the justice of the matter, the strengths and weaknesses of a strategy, and persevering to obtain the result that she wanted. She took on care homes (neglect of an elderly aunt in their care), difficult tenants (who left a rented house in a dreadful state), and belligerent neighbours (thwarting their unreasonable planning application, taking it up to Government Inspector level).
I can't remember W--- embarking on anything so spectacular, but she too had steel in her and would not be put down. I think her main specific achievement was surviving a series of appalling temp jobs that started well but turned into nightmare assignments. I do recall wondering how anybody could put up with her bad treatment: the commercial world seemed full of selfish and backstabbing go-getters, who would trample on anyone, and betray trust without a qualm, no matter how hard and meritorious the work done for them. Not that the Revenue was free of obnoxious and over-ambitious folk: but compared to the commercial sector, Civil Service conditions were benign and congenial and utterly fair, with everyone abiding by the rules, even if the financial rewards were distinctly less. I had plumped for safety, and being a sheep suited me much better than being a tiger. I was glad of my choice. I never thought I could be other than a sheep.
Neither of these women in my life, whom I knew and observed over a long span (from 1982 to 2008, taking them one after the other), achieved their triumphs unscathed. All the battles they took on and fought wore them down, and used up their stock of personal strength and courage. It was clear that nobody could come though periods of unrelenting stress without some damage. But they still considered the effort well worthwhile, even if their resilience and stamina had taken a battering.
M--- especially would take on big battles, never with any relish, but she had determination and a high sense of what was right or wrong, and although I sometimes thought (and said) that she ought to say 'sod it' and not pursue a matter further, that was the timid me speaking. M--- was not timid. It was not her way at all. If she felt she was morally and legally right, she would persist to the end, and had the knack of presenting a very good case at a hearing. I could only admire this, and wish that I were as strong. It was not lost on me that clear thinking, good organisation, foreseeing different outcomes and what to do next, all won battles, just as much as a stomach for conflict. It was really what my own Revenue job was all about. But here was a woman of no special training taking on issues that disadvantaged or threatened her, or her nearest and dearest, and winning. And showing a degree of moral courage that I had never shown.
My own role during these ongoing troubles was to remain a background support, just to be there and see them through each contest (whether chosen, or thrust upon them), and comfort them in those moments of frustration and doubt. I did not think myself capable of ever standing up to the kind of situations they faced up to.
M--- was undaunted by strange and novel situations. I saw how, in New Zealand, she would speak to Maori landowners, seeking permission for us to take the campervan along some farm track to the sea. And when in Hong Kong, when we were looking for something to eat for lunch, and we strayed into streets where only the locals went, she overcame the language barrier with a mixture of pidgin English and gestures. I stood by amazed. But I took note. Nothing was impossible, given effort and daring and a need to succeed. Well, one thing defeated her determination: my gender dysphoria. But then it wasn't a challenge she or anyone else could have overcome.
And now, on my own, and facing challenges all the time, the strong examples that W--- and M--- set me have been an inspiration. My attitude now is: I do need, I will ask, I am determined to get. In two words: I can.
That's so different from my former wishy-washy approach, where I was putty in my parents' hands, or happy to leave it all to the stronger women in my life. So different, that on attitude alone I don't think anyone who knew me ten years ago would realise that the confident person before them was in fact that amiable but insubstantial person they once knew. Add to that the different voice, the different clothes, and the physical changes, and I do wonder whether I would ever be recognisable as J---.
Naturally, W--- and M--- would always instantly know me; but what about the owners of hotels, guest houses and caravan sites that M--- and I used to visit together? Because I'd like to go back to some of them.
We had some favourite caravan sites, usually farms in lovely spots. M--- didn't ride, but she loved horses, and there was for instance a farm to the east of Salisbury whose owner bred racehorses, beautiful creatures, and even employed his own jockeys. She would haunt the stables. There was another farm, nestling against Maiden Castle south of Dorchester, that didn't have horses, but it was in magnificent countryside, a sunny place, and so convenient for the coast. Closer to home, there were two favourites, reachable in only an hour: one near Wadhurst, with a horse and chickens; and one run by an old lady down near Polegate, with fields of fresh-mown hay and a delightful pond. In all these places, M--- built up a friendly relationship with the owner, which made our frequent visits all the nicer. I am sure that when our visits ceased after early 2009 all these owners must have thought it very odd. None knew the reason. I had kept in the background, just as I usually did, but I felt for a long time that if I had returned on my own it would have caused consternation. I would have been recognised. And I couldn't count on Lucy Melford being welcome.
And yet these were such pleasant places...
It's 2013. Do I now dare? I certainly think I might try the one near Dorchester again. The others? Well, I think those 'belong' to M---, and I don't want to take them from her. I can do what I like, of course, but even if I booked a few days over the phone, turned up, chatted with the owners, and remained unrecognised, I would still somehow feel that I had stolen something from M---. I'm not prepared to do it.