All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 26 Another step towards a new life
Back at Stratford life returned to normal, well as normal as it gets for an actress. I asked Cassie how Jemma had performed in the matinée.
“She was nervous of course, but she seemed to be able to convert that into the intensity of her performance. Don played Romeo. It was his first public performance too and I think that was David's idea, not putting added pressure on Jemma by having Richard perform with her. Anyway it all went very well,” she paused. “How did things go for you at Blackpool?”
“Well enough. I got through watching the love of my life marry someone else without having a screaming fit, and I convinced the bride and her father that I'm in love with Dale and Reggie is no longer of any interest to me – a bit like Romeo and Rosaline when Juliet comes along. Isn't it amazing how parts of Shakespeare's plays can be relevant to real life?”
Cassie laughed when I told her about the unexpected breakfast at the hotel.
“I'm sure it was to check if Dale and I were really an item and I'm equally sure that what the maid saw and reported back convinced Sid that it was true. I don't suppose she really knew what it was about. She probably thought it was a jealous husband checking up on a straying wife.”
“Well, sharing the flat with Dale helps to confirm your story too,” said Cassie.
I was determined that I must keep things together. There were two things I wanted most in the world, well three if you count having a successful career on stage; I wanted Reggie as my partner in life (and I was still convinced that I would eventually have that), but the other thing was to continue with my transition and have my surgery. The one thing which would put paid to it was if my specialist thought I was having mental issues. In my view that would only happen if I was prevented from having a body which matched my mind.
I was still visiting Dr McLeish on a regular basis, and was very pleased when at my November appointment she said she was close to preparing the necessary paperwork for me to have Gender Confirmation Surgery. This was very good news after all I had been through recently.
“However, you do need a referral from a mental health specialist as well as from me. I have been looking up specialists in the Stratford area since I know it's difficult for you to come down here during the week. I've spoken to a Dr Lina Schwartz who I think would be a suitable person for you to see since she has had experience with transgender patients. Would you be happy for me to write you a referral to see her?”
“Certainly,” I replied. “Anything that helps me achieve my goal.”
“Very well, but remember, if you do not feel she is the right person for you, just let me know and I can arrange for you to see someone else.”
“How long will her assessment take?” I asked.
“There's no set minimum or maximum time,” said Dr McLeish. “She will tell you when she is able to write you a referral for surgery. By the way, are you planning to go to a private clinic or the National Health Service?”
“I'm saving up for a private clinic,” I replied. “I imagine they would be able to give me an appointment sooner than under the NHS.”
“Yes, you are right, probably within six months after meeting the surgeon, as opposed to maybe eighteen months or two years with the NHS.”
“I've been looking at some websites and the Tower Bridge Plastic Surgery Clinic looks good. Another advantage of a private clinic is that even if someone who knew me became aware that I was receiving treatment there, it could be for anything plastic surgery related, and I hope the last thing they would think of is what I'm really going there for.”
Dr McLeish smiled. “I happen to know Mr Edgar Summers who performs the GCS there, and he's very well respected. You couldn't be in better hands.”
“Once I get the referrals, I'll ring them up and make an appointment to see him,” I said. “At present I don't have any parts lined up after 'Romeo and Juliet' finishes in mid-December, so maybe he could do my surgery in the first half of next year?”
Meanwhile, I wanted to see my family if only for a day, to tell them what had happened and the reason for it. I phoned Mum and told her I would be driving up the following Sunday morning and staying overnight before returning to Stratford on Monday. Mum, however, had some news for me which made it all the more important that I see her.
“I ran into the Stauntons at the shops this week, and they told me that Reggie had married some girl at York University. I must admit I was totally shocked, darling. What's that all about?” said Mum.
“I can't explain right now Mum, but I'll tell you all about it when I see you,” I replied.
It wasn't a very satisfactory answer, but fortunately Mum was too sensible to try grilling me about it over the phone.
Despite performing on the Saturday evening, I was up early on Sunday morning. I had packed the previous day, so I was on the road by eight o'clock, heading for Bridchester. The trip passed without incident and I arrived at Mum's house about noon, just in time for lunch. I must say her self-restraint was remarkable, as she served lunch first and we confined our conversation to small talk before we retired the the lounge room for coffee. It was only then that I related the whole sorry saga, including the implied threat to me.
“I can hardly believe this,” said Mum. “It sounds like something out of a 'penny dreadful'.”
I should explain that Mum was here referring to the cheap paperbacks with lurid descriptions of crime published back in the Victorian era. I had to agree that it seemed a fairly accurate description of what had happened, and how much I wished that it was fiction.
“We've been brought up in a nice steady middle-class culture, Mum, but there are people out there who will do that sort of thing, and it doesn't pay to mess with them. The good guys don't always win.”
“Poor Reggie, what a sacrifice he's made. I thought his parents didn't seem too happy about the situation,” said Mum.
“Yes, it's ironic but I think they would actually have preferred him to marry me if that had been possible. Of course I'm sure he hasn't mentioned the threat to me, or they'd really hate me and think that in some way this was all my fault.”
“Speaking of that, darling, when are you proposing to have your surgery?”
I'm sure Mum found it difficult to ask that question. While she fully supported me in my transitioning, she belonged to another generation, and I don't think she found it easy to think about what my surgery entailed.
“I saw Dr McLeish, my specialist in London recently, and she told me I need a second referral from a mental health specialist. It's not because she thinks I'm disturbed, it's a prerequisite for getting the surgery. I'm going to see a specialist in Stratford, it will be much easier than going to London. Once I get the two referrals, then I'll make an appointment to see a specialist surgeon.. I hope the surgery will take place in the first half of next year.
“It's better for me to go to a private clinic, so I'm busy saving all the money I can, and obtaining a starring rôle in 'Romeo and Juliet' has certainly helped. I have a great agent in Richard Green and I have Dame Emily to thank for that. The money he obtains for me is more that I would ever have dared ask on my own.”
“What about post surgery? How long does recovery take?” asked Mum.
“As I understand it I will be in hospital for about a week, stay in a London hotel close by for another week or so for more post op checks, and then spend another six weeks or so recovering.”
“Would you like to come here to stay while you're recuperating?” said Mum.
“Oh Mum, could I? That would be brilliant,” I said, tearing up a bit.
“Of course you can. You'll need someone to look after you.”
There's no-one like your Mum.
That afternoon we went to see Emma and baby Elizabeth who was growing fast. Emma seemed so content as a mum, that I think I could be forgiven for feeling just a tiny bit envious of her. Still, we can't have everything.
On this occasion, Emma had a surprise for me. “We're thinking of organising Elizabeth's christening soon, and we'd like to invite you to be her godmother,” she said.
“Oh goodness!” I exclaimed. “Am I the right sort of person to be that? I'm not a regular church-goer.”
“Well David and I think you are exactly the right sort of person,” said Emma.
I looked a Mum. “Did you know about this?” I said accusingly.
She laughed. “Of course I did, and I completely agree with Emma and David's choice, but it was up to Emma to ask you, not me,” she replied.
“Well, what can I say but 'yes'?” I said. “And I'm very honoured that you chose me.”
“It will be on a Sunday afternoon in about three weeks. Can you make it then?”
“That will be perfect,” I replied. “I know it sounds like everything revolves around the theatre, but it will be the day after I perform in the matinée, so I'll have more time to rest before I drive up.”
My visit to Bridchester was only brief, but it had a wonderfully soothing effect on my mind, and when I drove back to Stratford the following day, I was actually singing along with the car radio.
The next day I rang Dr Schwartz's office to arrange an appointment, explaining that I had a referral from Dr McLeish. I was fortunate in that she had a cancellation and could see me the following morning.
When I was shown into her office I was quite surprised how young she looked. I handed over the referral from Dr McLeish, sat in the chair she indicated and crossed my legs while I waited for her to read it. Since it was cool I was wearing my tartan wool skirt with black opaque tights and three inch heels and a silk blouse over my camisole. I wanted to look feminine but still keep warm.
She looked up and smiled. “Well Miss Stow, may I call you Harriet?”
“Please do,” I said.
“Dr McLeish phoned and asked me if I would speak to you with a view to providing your second referral, so that you can be a candidate for Gender Confirmation Surgery. I wondered why your name was familiar to me, but reading her referral, when I came to the part where Dr McLeish says that you're an actress, I realised that I had seen you in the local production of 'Hamlet' some months back. If I may say so, you performed very well.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I've been very fortunate in obtaining work with the ISC.”
“Why don't you start by telling me your earliest memories of feeling that your body did not match your perceived gender?”
So I started retelling the story of my early days, all of which has been related in my first memoir 'The Might-Have-Been Girl', and continued in the present memoir.
Dr Schwartz listened intently, making notes and asking the occasional question to clarify a point. When I reached the present day and what had happened with Reggie, I was tempted to self-censor, but realised that if she later found out what had happened, that might make it seem of more significance, so, hard though it was, I related the story.
“And how do you feel about that?” she asked.
“Well, I'm learning to cope with it. Reggie is my first love and the first man I've ever been intimate with, so it's natural that I should feel upset. I still believe we will be together one day but it may take a lot longer than I had hoped. In the meantime I want to be the most complete woman I can be before we are together again, as much for myself as for him.”
“When are you hoping to have your surgery?” she asked.
“Early next year would be good. I know I have to take about two months off altogether, and after that I hope to secure another rôle in Stratford, but if it doesn't happen then I will have to look elsewhere. Performers live rather a gypsy lifestyle, it goes with the territory.”
Dr Schwartz smiled. “Well we've been speaking for an hour and I think that's enough for today. I'd like to see you again. Can you make it next week?”
“Yes of course. The current season of 'Romeo and Juliet' is coming to an end and at Christmas I will be going up to Bridchester to spend it with my family, so if it's possible to get the referral before Christmas I would really appreciate it, but I realise that I'm in your and Dr McLeish's hands.”
“You're performing as Juliet?” she enquired. I took it for granted that she knew, but of course it's easy to forget that most people have other priorities in their lives than what is happening in the local theatre.
“Yes, well I'm sharing the role with Cassie Good. We do alternate performances.”
Dr Schwartz smiled. “Well, see my receptionist and ask her to fit you for an appointment next week.”
The following week I saw Dr Schwartz again.
“Good morning Harriet, please come in and take a seat. I've been reviewing the notes I made at our last meeting and there's a few points I'd like to clarify with you. I'm sure Dr McLeish has already spoken to you about this, but I need to hear it from you as well. You do understand that the surgery you are proposing to have is irreversible?”
“Yes I do, and I'm perfectly happy with that. I know that I was always meant to be a woman, but somehow I ended up with the wrong body. I want to take steps to correct that mistake as far as I possibly can.
“You also realise that this surgery will make you sterile?”
“Yes I do. I know that as a woman I can never have children and that is a source of regret to me, but perhaps I may be allowed to adopt a child one day if things work out with me and Reggie. For now, all I can do is accept things as they are.
Dr Schwartz made a few more notes and then sat back in her chair seeming to relax.
“I saw you perform in 'Romeo and Juliet' last night and I was very impressed.”
“I hope you enjoyed it,” I said. “Acting is what I love doing, but I hope you don't think I'm acting when I say most sincerely that even more important to me is becoming as a complete a woman as I can be.”
She laughed. “I have been trained to differentiate between acting and genuine feelings. In my line of work, some people try to pull the wool over my eyes, but they rarely if ever succeed. I'm sure there wasn't a single member of last night's audience (and I include myself in that number), who didn't think that they were watching a young woman performing that rôle. When you first saw me last week it was immediately apparent to me that in appearance, speech and mannerisms your true gender is female; all you need is the surgery.
“I normally see people in your position for at least three sessions, maybe more, but in your case I do not see the need. I am quite comfortable in writing your referral for surgery and also writing a report for Dr McLeish.”
I was thrilled at her remarks but did my best to keep my emotions under control.
“Thank you very much Dr Schwartz, I really appreciate it,” I said. “That's the best early Christmas present I could receive.”
I was walking on air when I left her rooms. As soon as I received the two referrals I would make an appointment to see the surgeon Dr McLeish recommended - Dr Edgar Summers.
To be continued.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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