Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
RAPHAEL / RACHEL SPICER (# 09)
Raphael / Rachel Spicer
Some changes have been made to protect the sitter’s identity.
Born in Croydon, England
Father & Mother both born in England
Ethnic heritage / Father & Mother: Jewish (Ashkenazi)
RAPHAEL / RACHEL'S STORY:
Raphael was born in Croydon and, together with his brother, grew up in a fairly orthodox (but not ultra-orthodox) Jewish family. He attended primary school in Thornton Heath and went to a local Croydon secondary school. For a short time after that, he studied Pure and Applied Mathematics and Engineering Drawing at Croydon Technical College when his uncle suggested that Raphael train as an accountant.
At the age of 18, he started work with a small firm of accountants in the City. Raphael studied to become a Chartered Accountant and during his five years there he passed most of his professional examinations. Having moved on to his second accountancy firm, this time in South London, Raphael qualified, continuing to work for the rest of his career in the field of accountancy. Indeed, even after his retirement, he has continued in private practice.
Raphael had a quite conventional upbringing in a professional, middle-class family and during the early years of his boyhood, he can recall nothing untoward happening at all. However, he does remember that around the age of 8 or 9, he developed a fascination for women’s underwear. Raphael felt like a boy and felt comfortable with himself being a boy, but he continued to be fascinated with women’s underwear, wearing lingerie clandestinely whenever possible. This habit persisted during his teenage years and into his early manhood but, of course, he kept it a deep secret. He remembers liking and dating girls but, like most young men of his time, he was quite shy and sexually inexperienced - he would certainly not have described himself as a ‘Don Juan’ type.
At the tender age of 21, he started to date his wife to be and, after a lengthy courtship, married at the age of 25. Raphael and his wife had two children, a son and a daughter, but also in the marriage was Raphael’s dark secret. He felt unable to share it with his wife, perhaps always hoping that this desire to wear women’s underwear (later to develop into full-scale cross-dressing) would wane with the passing of time.
Then one day, while the children were still quite small, Raphael’s secret was discovered, by his wife - a significant shock but one that was ‘contained’. Raphael was thus able to disclose some of his desires but with lots more remaining hidden. A sort of equilibrium was re-established and they both weathered the storm. In what was a conventional marriage, with Raphael working in a very conventional profession and working environment, there was little scope for even relatively small aberrations - one’s deepest emotions and intimate personal desires had to remain invisible.
Until a few years ago, Raphael felt he had to restrict his desire for cross-dressing to wearing women’s lingerie; these illicit garments could be worn under his normal men’s clothes and while this gave him a great deal of satisfaction, a thrill even, no-one else knew or even suspected. A few years ago a close friend underwent gender reassignment: this was the first person with whom Raphael could discuss his deep-seated desire to cross-dress. He was prompted into contacting the Beaumont Society which offers help and support to the transgendered community (including cross-dressers and trans-sexuals). This was just over just over 5 years ago. “Of course,” says Raphael, “I had been aware of the existence of this organisation for some time but I had never had the courage to make contact with them, not until I was 65 years old.”
Raphael maintains quite firmly that he has always been comfortable with being male, being a husband and a father; there is nothing ambiguous about his sexuality. He does not feel himself to be obsessed with the idea of cross-dressing - he “can take it or leave it” - but there is no doubt that he enjoys it greatly and does cross-dress whenever circumstances permit. “The children are now adults, of course, and whilst my son has flown the nest, and has his own family, my daughter is still, so to speak, ‘roosting in the loft’.” His son is totally unaware of this aspect of his father’s life while his daughter knew and was at first disapproving; initially, her presence stopped Raphael from cross-dressing at home more often.
For Raphael, the monthly meetings in London organised by the Beaumont Society, occasionally combined with weekends away, provide the opportunity for socialising with others in the cross-dressing community, opportunities to feel comfortable in one’s own skin, to dress completely in women’s attire, and even to look as convincing as he could. It took some years for Raphael’s wife to learn to live with this situation and to grow to accept that her husband’s desire to cross-dress was deeply wired in his psyche and thus unlikely to change.
She now joins Rachel for the monthly meetings organised by Beaumont Regional Organisers and has made a great many friends amongst this new community. Her attitude is remarkably liberal and pragmatic and, while she does not fully understand her husband’s desire to cross-dress (Raphael confesses that he does not fully understand it either) she stands by her husband, recognising the real joy and contentment it has brought into his life. They both recognise the need for discretion and Raphael is out as a cross-dresser only to a limited number of close friends.
Raphael now cross-dresses sometimes two or three times a week and boasts an extensive wardrobe of clothes, not to mention an amazing collection of vintage stockings, accessories and jewellery (more extensive, indeed, than his wife’s) but the need to keep this activity under cover remains paramount. He is now aware that his desire is unlikely to diminish - in fact, with advancing age it has seemed to grow stronger - and though Raphael remains largely in the closet, he is no longer in denial. “During past crises,” he says, “I felt terribly guilty and went through periods of despair. I destroyed my collection of women’s clothes, hoping somehow that such an act would draw a sort of line in the sand, but I know now that none of that could have changed anything.”
The fact that his wife has learned to accept this facet of her husband’s nature and is so supportive of him has made all the difference, not only to him but to both of them. When one sees them together, this rapport is almost tangible. Even his daughter is now largely reconciled: “She doesn’t mind seeing me in my female attire as long as I do not venture out dressed up in our immediate locality and neighbourly respectability is maintained,” says Raphael.
“During occasional weekends away as part of a transgendered group, staying in hotels, I have even mustered the courage to go shopping with my wife, the way two ladies would, and we have been known to dine in restaurants too, feeling quite comfortable as female companions. I no longer feel that people are always staring at me; most people are usually preoccupied with their own lives and their own problems.”
In his male persona, Raphael comes across as a rather shy, reserved, almost introverted and intensely private individual; in his female role, as Rachel, the transformation is extraordinary: almost immediately, it is as if his/her spirit has been liberated and Rachel appears confident, outgoing, chatty and extrovert. His wife comments amusingly that if she is coaxing him to do something about the house, his transformation to Rachel is the key: “The required jobs and chores get done without fail and he even has a smile on his face - enter the maid!”
In response to being asked why he sees himself as an outsider, Raphael comments: “Of course one felt on the outside; the desire to cross-dress had to be kept as a deeply held secret and having to hide part of oneself felt deeply uncomfortable, painful, and the burden of guilt was oppressive.”
“The main disadvantage of being an outsider is not being able to be oneself,” says Raphael. “On a very practical but perhaps amusing note, having to go to a public WC is a conundrum. I can’t go to the men’s toilet, of course, and going to the Ladies can raise eyebrows - some women even take exception - so invariably, I will look for the disabled toilets, as this saves embarrassment on both sides!”
Raphael observes: “To be honest, I cannot think of any advantage in being an outsider. But having said this, when I’m in my female persona, as Rachel, I feel liberated and I do see the world from a rather different perspective. Being responded to, and perceived as a woman, is deeply satisfying to me and so very different from when I am in my normal male role, as Raphael. Dressed as a woman, I feel liberated. I can open up. I feel more confident; it is the OTHER me, me in full flow. I am Rachel and I like myself more!”
Asked if, given the chance, he would opt not to be an outsider, Raphael replies: “No, I like who I am. I don’t wish to change, particularly now at the age of 70. And I like cross-dressing.”
Interview Date: 24th May 2013
Updated: 5th June 2013
The Beamont Society is national self-help body run by and for those who cross-dress or are transexual. They can be contacted on the Web at:
Update (November 2016)
We have to report the sad news that on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016, Raphael/Rachel Spicer passed away; he was 73 and had been suffering from cancer for some considerable time. As the images above vouchsafe, Raphael/Rachel was a unique mixture of the delightfully colourful and the quietly conventional; he will be greatly mourned by everyone who knew him and who valued his warmth, his kindly charm and his gentle wit. May he rest in peace.
Born: 1943; died: 22nd November 2016.
Raphael is a retired chartered accountant, a happily married father of two children, but from an early age, he secretly harboured a rather unconventional desire. Having had a conventional upbringing in a professional, middle-class family, Raphael can recall nothing at all untoward happening during the early years of his boyhood. However, he does remember that around the age of 8 or 9, he developed a fascination for women’s underwear. Raphael felt like a boy and was comfortable being a boy, but his desire for cross-dressing persisted and he wore lingerie clandestinely whenever he could. Now enjoying the freedoms of retirement, and with his wife’s support, he is periodically transformed into Rachel, a change that not only alters his appearance but also seems to liberate his pent-up inner self
Photography: London 24th May 2013