In yesterday's post I celebrated the girls I knew thirty to forty years ago, who all helped to shape me into the relatively capable, confident and grown-up person who later married W--- and then, later still, the person who became the long-term partner of M---.
Those more recent relationships were a lot more enduring, and certainly involved a degree of personal commitment that I simply could not have mustered when younger. I contributed good things to that marriage, and to that partnership, only because of the prior education and moulding I received from the people who filled my life from 1974 to 1982. I owe them all such a debt.
Do I also owe them an apology?
As I emphasised yesterday, all those girlfriends became 'ex'. The happy beginning fizzled out in every case, sometimes amicably, sometimes not so well. The same with W--- and M---. A promising start, a period of contentment (very prolonged in M---'s case), but in the end a collapse into nothingness.
Whether the relationship lasted weeks or years, is a case to be made against me for wasting their time? Indeed, where W--- and M--- are concerned, is there a case that I wasted the best years of their life? It's a troubling matter.
Let me say at once that if I'd known, in my twenties, that I was transsexual - meaning specifically that a medical expert had diagnosed gender dysphoria in me that needed treatment, or that I suspected this to be precisely my problem - then all these relationships would have been on a completely different footing, if they had existed at all. I would at best have been just another female friend. (And of course my whole life would have been profoundly different)
But no such diagnosis was possible in 1974, certainly not by timidly approaching an NHS doctor in a Southampton suburb. The family doctor I have in mind was a very nice man, and he might well have known something about the common neuroses of young persons. But although Harry Benjamin had been publishing papers and giving lectures on transsexuality for years before, and had written a book about it in 1966, I doubt whether our family doctor would have been familiar with gender dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder as it was termed in the early 1970s. He would instead have gently talked me round into accepting that I simply had worries on my mind, concerns and feelings of inadequacy that made me want an escape route, a way out. Thinking that I might be female was simply a straw I was clutching at, a fearful hangover from childhood or an uncomfortable puberty.
He would reassure me. He was a very nice man. He would have suggested good ways to get a grip. I would have left the surgery convinced that there was nothing to be concerned about: work pressures, or low self-esteem, or still being a virgin, were my real problems. All I needed to do was face up to my challenges at work, and get myself a girlfriend without delay. So in that light, it was natural to pluck up the courage to ask a girl out, and then see what happened. And lock all the nagging questions up in a box. I could be normal. There was no need to mention my doubts to anybody. No need to air those deep reservations about the male role I felt forced to develop. Indeed, best not - it put girls off.
So I set to. And didn't do badly after a while.
Was I unique? I bet I wasn't. Even so, I took up the time of several women during the four decades to come, and stopped them finding anybody else while I was around. I also tugged at their hearts. If a man did that, it would be bad enough. But someone who turned out to be a woman?
Did I waste their time? I can't evade the question. It's especially acute in the case of W--- and M---.
Well, I brought many things to the table. Love, cash, mobility, the will and means to have a great lifestyle that might go on indefinitely. I also brought emotional support, empathy, company, and I was there through thick and thin. I was above all The Partner, the person on the arm, the one who could give and receive cuddles and embraces.
Are good times and lovely memories really spoiled because a medical condition is discovered a long way down the line? I can't agree that any of the shared enjoyments have vanished without trace, as if they had no reality. One sees them in a fresh light, no doubt, but for me at least they are not poisoned or tainted memories. And I don't feel like a horrible person who has killed the past, binned it, and soured it with deceit, or whatever the accusation might be.
There's another side to the issue, of course. I devoted myself to being a 'good chap' for nearly forty years. Done because I went along with a male role assigned to me at birth, apparently without the possibility of appeal or revision, and lived up to everyone's expectations. Where is my compensation for the awful consequences of that initial mistake, and all the misdirected effort that followed? I'm not saying that the time given to playing the man was completely wasted, because I learned so much. But look at my position now: two thirds of my life gone. It's like having served a very long prison sentence in the belief that one was justly convicted - and then finding out that one need not have gone to prison at all. Should one feel embittered?
I think the best thing to do is move on, make the very most of what lies ahead, and sidestep any blame game.
Mutual accusations of timewasting can achieve nothing. They can't alter the past. They can't pay back lost months and years.
And who is to say that the alternative life, the one not lived because I 'stole' the time for it - the life that might have been - would have been a better one? Impossible to know.
Just as I can't know how an alternative life as a 1970s Lucy Melford would have been. But I suspect that the grass would not have been greener. I would no doubt have lost my job, fallen into sex work and drugs, become infected with HIV, and end up an early victim of AIDS. If I were not battered to death first. How could I have avoided it? Think of the prejudice, the hate, the lack of understanding, the hopelessness of a 1970s tranny down in the gutter. No-one would have been my friend and protector. I'm glad that I at least tried to live the life people wanted me to.
Any amount of regret is better than being dead and beyond feeling anything at all.