If you were to look up the definition of ‘coordination’ in the dictionary, you wouldn’t find a picture of me beside it. Coordination isn’t a word in my vocabulary. Coordination and I aren’t friends. Coordination and I aren’t even on speaking terms.
The problem with having problems with coordination was never more apparent than when it came to doing PE at school. Team sports like cricket, volleyball, and basketball are the stuff of nightmares for the uncoordinated. I couldn’t do them which resulted in me getting a lot of balls flying at my face. The flashbacks! Oh, dear God, the flashbacks! At that time, it has to be said, I really didn’t appreciate any balls in my face. (Luckily I grew out of that aversion.)
Why this was all a problem was because PE is a mandatory part of the curriculum for some unfathomable reason. And despite my occasional (read: pretty fucking regular) arguments with my PE teacher, Mr Daniels, about the futility of me needing to learn how to avoid balls flying at my face when my aspiration was to become an Evil Empress Of The World when I grew up and left school, I was still forced to take PE lessons unless I had legitimate (medical) reasons not to.
So what I did, and I’m not proud of this… okay I’m a little proud of my 16 year old self’s ingenuity, I started to forge my mother’s signature on notes to get out of doing PE.
But this left me with the teeny tiny problem of where to go when I played truant because the borough my school was in was occupied by truant officers which ruled out me being a lurker anywhere near the vicinity.
I ended up letting myself into my… let’s just call him “uncle” Billiam so as to protect his good name in the face of my forgery confession. So I ended up letting myself into my “uncle” Billiam’s house which was only a five minute walk from my school. This worked out perfectly because PE was the last lesson of the day and I more often than not spent afternoons after school at his house anyway because he got home from work earlier than my parents did.
My master plan lasted one week and then things changed forever.
A week goes by and I let myself in. I had ear buds in so I didn’t hear the music that was softly playing (Coldplay! Yuck!) but something felt off. That should have been the point I did a runner because, y’know, that’s what a smart person would do.
But I wasn’t smart.
I pulled out my ear buds, went down the hallway, and then took a right into the living room where the source of the music (still Coldplay! Yuuuuck!) came from. And that’s when I saw a stranger–specifically a quite muscly woman in a sequined red dress bent over polishing the goddamn television–in “uncle” Billiam’s house.
Now this should have definitely been the point where I did a runner, or at least grabbed something that could double up as a weapon, but seeing as I didn’t unfortunately obtain any smarts in the 10 or so seconds it took for me to walk from the front door to the living room, neither thing happened. So intead I ended up screeching like a banshee on helium (honestly there is no other way to describe the sound that came out of my mouth at that moment), “Who the fuck are you?!”
The muscly stranger in the sequined red dress visibly startled, straightened, then turned around, and that’s when I saw my usual quite masculine looking “uncle” Billiam.
My first thought was: Fuck. He’s at home and he’s going to tell my dad I bunked off school which would result in me being grounded until I’m 35.
Then: Fuck. He’s wearing a dress. And heels. And a wig. And make-up–a lot of make-up.
Then: Fuck. He’s wearing a red (a colour which is forbidden in my family due to our allegiance to our football team) dress that was covered in sequins.
Then: Fuck. He listens to Coldplay (YUUUUUUUCKKKKKKK!!!) on the sly? I can’t even with that shit.
To say both of us were shocked was putting it mildly. He also had the appearance of someone who was terrified and it made my heart hurt. He looked at me as though he wanted me to say something. I looked at him thinking I should say something. Then he finally said, “Say something… Please.”
The ‘please’ cut through my shock and gutted me. I really didn’t know what to say because I had a million and one questions running around my head fighting to be spoken first. So I ended up just blurting out what seemed to be my most pressing concern and that was why was his dress red (seriously, he knew that colour would always be dead to us) and covered in sequins–a material that, up until that point, I hadn’t realised I had a lot of opinions about with none of them being remotely good.
He then visibly relaxed and I felt secretly pleased for obviously not saying something too monumentally stupid.
I’d known “uncle” Billiam for 16 years, but on that rainy, slightly chilly, October afternoon, I got to meet him properly for the first time.
Turned out the reason he’d reached the age of 48 without settling down was because he hadn’t found the right man to settle down with, although there was someone who he had a relationship with shortly after he’d left the army that had blossomed into love but ultimately fizzled out. He knew he was gay before he joined the army at 18. He wanted to do drag for almost as long as he’d known he was attracted to men. My dad, grandfather and grandmother (his brother, father and mother) had no idea about his sexual orientation. Ditto about the drag. He said nothing about about either because he was scared of getting a negative reaction. He had no intention of telling my grandparents anything for the time being. He planned to tell my dad and sorely regretted never having already done so. There was one friend who knew everything and that was it.
The red sequin dress was from a ladies plus size shop online and was bought because he liked the style and that was the only colour they had. There’s speciality drag make-up which included stuff that would conceal beards. He was unapologetic in his love for Coldplay and thought I was a fine one to talk when I’d once been obsessed with the Spice Girls. He was thinking about making his drag name Roxie Harrrd (a terrible nod to Chicago) but that was not for definite. He hadn’t performed publicly as his alter ego but he thought about doing it in an upcoming open mic/cabaret night at someplace in the West End. He was still, and always would be, my “uncle”. Happiness and relief replaced sadness and loneliness at finally being able to talk about everything and, if it were possible, he loved me more than he already did because he got to talk about it with me.
I went to school that day thinking I had an uncle who was an eternal bachelor with an underlying sadness. I went home knowing I had an uncle who was gay, had aspirations of performing in drag, listened to Coldplay and acted as though he had been finally awakened after the longest slumber.
Two weeks later he performed for the first time and after some white lies told to my parents as to my whereabouts and covert arrangements with the man at door because I was underage, I was allowed to go and watch him on the provisos I behaved myself (I kinda did) and didn’t touch any drink (I definitely did).
He made sure I was settled and being looked after by a friend before going and getting ready. The place was packed and waiting for him was nerve wracking and made me feel sick. After what felt like an eternity, proceedings started up and people started taking doing their thing. I never knew it was possible for there to be so many sequins, feathers and wigs in one place. Then the MC announced they had a virgin queen and the crowd should go easy on him because it was his first time.
“Uncle” Billiam aka (for one night only) Wilma Ballsdrop took to the stage resembling what a drag queen made out of wax that had begun melting in the sun might look like. His lipstick had smeared, a false eyelash was hanging off one eyelid, and he was missing one eyebrow. His nerves coupled with the heat turned him into a horrible, sweaty mess. Too compound his look, you could see his chicken fillets poking out from the front of his dress.
When the piano intro started to ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago he looked like he might be sick and missed the start. They started the music again and that time he started to sing–not lip sync–actually sing, and he put his own spin on it by changing the first line of the song to:
“Come on, Kat, why don’t we paint the town, and all that drag!”
I was beside myself with joy. People were a mixture of confused and amused. His voice was terrible and he couldn’t carry a tune but it mattered not a bit because he was happy. He was him. He was free.
Nine years later – which brings us to now – finds my “uncle” Billiam in a place of contentment. He strutted his stuff as a (not very good) drag queen for two years at various bars and working mens clubs around London before retiring at 50 due to a dodgy hip brought about by wearing dizzyingly high heels. He came out to our family and they took it way, way better than he thought they would. Any upset was down to him keeping the fact he was gay a secret for all that time rather than actually being gay. They don’t know about the drag and he’s not sure if he’ll ever tell them, something that makes him feel guilty. He met and married a wonderful man (with my dad acting as best man on the day) and they are the proud parents of a shih tzu that is a right little shih tzu. I argue frequently that it’s more than okay to keep a secret like his one because it’s his choice to do so now as opposed to feeling as though he should, which I think is markedly different.
He really is the bravest person I know and I feel enormously grateful and honoured that I get to be his niece.
If my post last year was for my friend, my godson, and future generations, then this one is definitely for Billiam and those who think it’s too late. It’s for those who think it’s too late to begin their next chapter; too late to tell their story; too late to just be. Because the truth is, it’s absolutely never too late for any of those things. It isn’t. It really isn’t. I promise. And do you want to know something? There are those of us just dying to meet, learn, and hear all about who you are whenever you’re ready.
“When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.” – RuPaul
Kat’s Queer Romance Recs
As it’s coming to the end of the year, I’ve decided to recommend my favourite books of 2015.
For Real by Alexis Hall: Subversive, clever, sexy, kinky, swoonily romantic… basically it was just utterly gorgeous. It also succeeded in ruining me for all other BDSM stories.
My favourite book of the year without question.
Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell: After I finished SB, for a short while I was inexplicably mad at Santino for writing it. I saw too much of myself in the story and that hurt. A story about friendship, family, trust, grief and love is going to hit home for so many people and it’s such a testament to Santino’s mad skills as a writer that he could do that. Please read this one if you haven’t already.
The Mnevermind series (book 1), Channeling Morpheus series (part 1 & part 2), The PsyCop series (book 1), Meatworks and Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price: I went from never having read one of her books, to her now being my most read author. JCP’s stories are unique, romantic, sexy and always so spectacularly written. I cannot recommend any of them enough. 2015 has definitely been The Year of JCP.
Muscling Through by JL Merrow: I’ve read this three times and every time my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest with love for it. It’s charm and loveliness personified and in Al you have one of the most special, memorable characters you could ever wish to meet. The perfect novella.
I’d love for you to tell me your favourite books of the year in the comments.
Also dislikes Ed Sheeran.