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Note: I have no photos of me as Martine prior to 1980. The one above was taken in 1981 in Sheffield

The earliest recollection I have of wishing I had been born a girl was when I was a young boy, I guess aged around about 7 or 8, at a birthday party of one of the neighbourhood kids. I felt intensely jealous of the little girls in their pretty party frocks. Oh, if only I was a girl like them, I too could wear a beautiful dress instead of the boring boys’ clothes that seemed to be the only option for me to wear.

From that day, the wish that I had been born female has never left me and has only been reinforced by the other major factor that has influenced my whole life: my shyness. I can point to a single incident when it suddenly became an overwhelming problem for me. It was the day I started at secondary modern school at age 11. I can still remember the occasion very clearly: I was standing by the school gates at the bottom of some steps that led up to the playground where a crowd of the other kids gathered at a higher level above me. I felt very isolated and alone as none of my neighbourhood friends, nor anyone from the primary school that I had previously attended, had been sent to this new school.

Me as a boy aged 12

One of the boys from above asked me something, I can’t remember what, but I found the situation rather intimidating and I did not know how to answer immediately. The boy was probably only trying to be friendly but when I hesitated to respond he said something like “can’t you speak?” Very quickly more boys gathered around the top of the steps, joining in with calls like “this boy doesn’t speak” which just made me clam up all the more. From that day at that school I never spoke to any of the other boys, only the teachers. I wasn’t bullied but was just completely ignored and I’d spend playtimes in the school yard alone in silence. I couldn't speak to any of the boys because I knew that if I did, they would all gather round chanting things like "Hey, he's speaking!" and "He can speak after all!". I just couldn't face the scene.

Out of school it was rather different. I still played with the local kids I’d grown up with through primary school. I have very little recollection of my time in primary school but I don’t think I was unduly shy then though probably quieter than the other children. I did have one or two friends in primary school but I lost contact with them when I left that school as they all lived some distance away from my home. It was unfortunate that throughout my school days none of my local friends went to the same school as me. I may have developed quite differently if only there had been at least one boy I knew when I moved into a new school environment.

Playing with the local kids, I was perhaps a little more creative than most. I remember getting the kids together to put on a circus in our back garden with each of us attempting some sort of circus act. Yes, I had some grandiose, totally impractical projects even in those days! Also, a precursor of what was to become a major part of my adult life, I actually produced a magazine single-handed. It was only a single A4 sheet of paper folded with a hand-drawn strip cartoon on the front and back pages and jokes and other written material on the centre pages. The cartoon was of a spaceman inspired by Dan Dare of the then popular Eagle comic (which I think was the greatest comic aimed at older children ever produced). I only did a few copies which I gave to the local kids but with no copying facilities available, it was so labour­-intensive­ I gave up after one issue.

I enjoyed doing things like that and would actually welcome rainy days so that I did not have to go out and play with the other kids but do something creative indoors like model-making. I also developed a great interest in photo­graphy and created a darkroom in my bedroom with an elaborate wooden shutter to black out the window.

I was becoming a loner, preferring my own company and didn’t really mind too much when, over the years, the number of my local friends dwindled as their families moved away. But I was sad when my best friend, fortunately the last to go, moved away towards the end of my school days.

My Education
Though socially the move to secondary school was disastrous for me, academically I really blossomed. In primary school, in classes of about 30-plus pupils I tended to be only a few places from the bottom, but in secondary school and throughout my further education, I was regularly top of the class. True, the secondary school only had the boys who had failed the 11+ examination (those who passed went to grammar school) but the improvement in my performance was remarkable. I suppose not having the distraction of any friends in school my whole attention was devoted to my studies. The system in those days was to have a second chance of getting into grammar school after two years. I passed the 13+ exam with flying colours and got transferred to the technical side of the grammar school. After one year there, pupils were further sub-divided into ‘Building’ or ‘Engineering’ streams. I chose building purely because I did not fancy engineering and there were no other choices. This in turn led me into going to the Liverpool College of Building when I left school.

After a couple of years at the college I had to make another choice: architecture or structural engineering. For reasons I cannot remember, I chose the latter but in retrospect I wish I had chosen architecture. I had never planned to be a structural engineer but I just seem to have drifted into it by being presented with only a couple of very limited choices each step of the way. I did well though. After four years of full-time education at the College and another year part-time I became fully qualified as a structural engineer entitled to have AMI Struct E after my name! This at the age of 21, a very young age to be so qualified as normally it takes years of practical experience in work. I think my uncle was rather miffed as he had only just got a similar qualification when he was well into middle age. But I had the fortune of being tutored by an extremely good teacher at the College, who also gave me excellent practical experience whilst I worked part-time at his private consulting practice in Liverpool. He also happened to be an examiner at the Institute of Structural Engineers so he was able to tutor me exactly how to do well in the exam.

I was always good at what I call the ‘logical’ subjects like maths and science but relatively poor at the ‘illogical’ ones like English and History. I needed a GCSE pass in English to qualify as a structural engineer and I had to take the exam three times before I got my pass in that whereas the other five subjects I needed I got easily first time. But though English was my weakest subject, I am amazed at how incredibly poor at English many people are these days. I do enjoy writing though and I feel I can communicate far better in writing than in speech.

Outside the small circle of local friends, of just a few boys, I became painfully shy, especially with girls. My younger sister had a few girlfriends but sadly they tended to play separately from the boys. Education of boys and girls was separate in those days so I had very little contact with girls apart from with my sister and I developed a fear of being in the company of them. I remember one occasion at a relative’s home when I found myself sitting on a sofa next to a female I did not know who was about my age, perhaps a bit older. I was inwardly quaking with fear that she would speak to me. I believe the circumstances of my upbringing, which gave me little opportunity to socialise with girls, had created within me a fear of being in close proximity to someone of the opposite sex.

Fortunately this fear diminished when I reached puberty and I began to develop a desire to have a girlfriend like other boys of my age. But my shyness and lack of opportunities to actually meet girls prevented me having any sort of a relationship with a girl until my late twenties. This reinforced my wish that I had been born a girl because I felt that if only I was a reasonably attractive girl, boys would approach me. It was not that I wanted a sexual relationship with a boy but just that, much more so in those days, it was always expected that a boy should make the first move, which for me was something I just could not do. To be shy as a girl would not be so much of a handicap, but for me as a boy it was crippling.

I was probably aged about 13 when I first started to try on women’s clothes. Sunday night would be bath night and one week after my bath I thought I’d just try on one or two items of my mother’s and sister’s clothes, mostly underwear, that were just lying there in the laundry basket. I don’t know why I tried it but once I did I was hooked. It felt good and sometimes, but not always, curiously mildly sexually arousing, though that was not the reason I did it.

It became a weekly ritual but soon that was not enough. Whenever I knew I was going to be alone in the house for some time, I became more adventurous, taking clothes from my mother’s and sister’s wardrobes and drawers, dressing up more fully as the girl I wanted to be. I would always take care to put everything back exactly as I found it and though I had one or two close shaves I was never discovered. Instinctively I knew it was wrong but I did not know why. Boys simply did not wear girl’s clothes and I knew there would be trouble if I was found out. I’d never heard of transvestism and thought I must be the only boy in the world to have such an inexplicable desire to put on female clothes.

I was unable to dress for a year or so whilst I lived as a lodger with my aunt in Chester so that I could complete my studies at the Liverpool College of Building. My parents had moved to Bedford because my dad’s job was relocated but I rejoined them after I became qualified as a structural engineer. I got a job in London and the daily commute took at least four hours a day so I didn’t get much time to ‘dress’. I’d cycle three miles to the station, the train to London took an hour and I’d have a half hour journey by underground to my job the other side of London. If I missed a very tight connection the journey would often take even longer but this problem was alleviated when I got another job nearer to St. Pancras. Also I learned to drive, passing the test first time, and bought my first car, a Mini, which helped by saving me the bike ride to the station in all weathers.

It was just as well I had my car when we moved to a cottage in a village north of Bedford which was even further from the station. The cottage was in need of renovation and I don’t think my parents would have chosen it if it wasn’t for my enthusiasm and vision for the potential of the place. I was a keen DIY’er and loved drawing up plans. We had looked at various properties and I had even drawn up plans for a house for a plot of land we had considered before getting the cottage. Dad did most of the building work on the cottage with help from me but I did all the plans.

By this time I had become so fed up with the daily commute I felt I was merely living to work and working to live. So I came to an arrangement with the firm I worked for in London to do the same work from home as a freelance. It would save me the huge amount of time and money I felt I was wasting by commuting. From that day on, for the rest of my life, apart from some casual work, I have always been my own boss.

Working from home and having the freedom to work when I wanted had the huge advantage of giving me much greater time to indulge in my cross-dressing. Both my parents worked and my sister had married and lived elsewhere so I had the house to myself during the daytime on weekdays. My discipline to do work suffered as the temptation to cross-dress became ever stronger. I created some secret hiding places for the items of female attire I was beginning to accumulate.

I squirrelled away any cast-off clothes from my mum that I could salvage and I taught myself sewing to alter them to fit me. I also made some items from any material I could lay my hands on such as old curtains, but I did not have access to a sewing machine so it was all hand-sewn. There was no way I could go into a shop to buy anything female but I bought a few items by mail order as I was usually home alone when the post came.

However, one day there was a near disaster! A parcel for me arrived on a Saturday, my mum got to the postman before me and opened it as it was addressed to Mrs R (I had not wanted to order the items as a male)! She was shocked and mystified as one of the items was a sexy basque – not something she would ever purchase! She had no idea it was meant for me and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her. Somehow I managed to salvage the situation. When my mum came home from work on Monday I said I had met the postman who took back the parcel as apparently it had been delivered by mistake. It was implausible but my mum was just relieved that the mystery package had gone away and I had my lovely basque!

During this period my interest in photography grew and I built a dedicated darkroom in the cottage to do my own colour processing. One summer I did an extensive camping tour of Yugoslavia in my Mini Cooper taking hundreds of photos which I misguidedly hoped to sell. But it took so much time to produce the individually enlarged professional-sized transparencies from the many rolls of colour negative films that I only got around to doing a fraction of them. I also made 8mm cine films and added soundtracks using a complicated system of synchronising a tape machine to the cine projector (sound on film was not available for amateurs in those days). I even made a simple 3D camera which took stills on cine film but again it was such a time-intensive job to mount the stereo pairs on to card discs to view in a ViewMaster hand viewer that only a small proportion of them ever got to be seen.

I never did have enough time to do even a fraction of what I had wanted to do and my whole life is littered with unfinished projects and ideas for other things I never even had time to start.

Martine Rose

Part 2 In Part 2: I set up a travel business to meet people and try to overcome my shyness