Working Woman

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I was originally going to call this post “Working Girl”, but then realised that particular phrase might suggest that I was a lady of the night, which is not what I was intending at all.  No, this post is about a few things that have been going on in my professional life.

It’s tricky to blog about my work because under my employee code of conduct I’m not supposed to write about my work on social media.  This is why I only ever refer to the “company” which is in the financial services sector.  I can’t really be more specific than that.  I don’t suppose it’s like I’ve ever been particularly critical of the company, quite the reverse in fact.  It’s a decent place to work, I like my job, get on well with my colleagues, and they have all been extremely supportive of my transition.  I think the part of the code of conduct to which I refer is probably more geared to the sort of people who might otherwise go on Facebook and call all their colleagues a right shower of bastards.  Which is not something that I do, because by and large my colleagues are all good people.  So much so good.  But for now I want to talk about some more specific things that have been going on.

I work for an organisation with over 10,000 employees, mainly in the UK and Ireland, but with some satellite offices in the USA.  In fact, it’s an Irish-owned group and I work for the UK subsidiary.  As I have noted before, I manage the relationships with over 80 businesses throughout Northern Ireland, and continue to do so as a woman as I did before.  In the months leading up to me commencing life as a woman, anyone who read this blog cannot fail to have noticed two names; Beth and Kelly.  Beth is my line manager and Kelly is the HR manager who worked along with Beth and me in planning my workplace transition.

A couple of months ago the company announced that it would be seeking nominations from staff for colleagues deserving of recognition at an awards ceremony.  The awards themselves are grouped into three regions of the UK business, all of roughly equal size in terms of staff numbers; Northern Ireland, London, and the rest of Great Britain.  There would be three awards ceremonies, one for each region.  In the main, these awards were recognising excellent customer service, spectacular sales figures, the usual business-ey things that businesses like to reward.  However there was one of the seven categories that caught my eye.  It was termed the “Inspiring Partnerships” award, and they were seeking nominations for individuals or groups who had delivered a project that brought together many different strands within the company and externally with our clients.  I wasn’t sure if it was exactly what they were looking for, but I really wanted Kelly and Beth to receive recognition for the sterling work that they did in preparing the way for my return to work as the woman I am.  So without telling either of them, I submitted a nomination.  I reproduce my nomination here:

“In January 2017 I became the first person (to the best of my knowledge) in [Company] to announce my intention to commence a gender transition.  Making this declaration was something that had worried me greatly, because I just didn’t know how this news would be received.  From the second that I informed her, Beth was never anything other than accepting, encouraging and positive.  A few weeks later Beth introduced me to Kelly and over the next five months we planned how my workplace transition would work.  I am in a client facing role, with internal relationships within [Northern Ireland head office], as well as in regional offices throughout  Northern Ireland, and most importantly with 80+ businesses whose accounts I manage.  Despite the size of the task and the fact that we were often in completely uncharted territory, Kelly and Beth took on this task in a positive and sympathetic manner.  Kelly brought in an external charitable organisation to provide awareness training to staff, and they both engaged with senior management within [UK Company] to agree a detailed communication plan to staff and clients.  Everything was organised so that during my three weeks’ leave my name and logon ID for all IT systems were changed, new business cards and a company credit card were ordered, even right down to the name displayed on the internal phone system.  In consultation with local managers, they rolled out a client communication programme, ensuring that during my leave all of my clients were informed of my transition with a phone call from someone they knew, with an opportunity for questions and feedback, followed up with a letter.  When I returned from leave everything was done, systems were changed, staff pass was changed, and every client knew, meaning that I could pick up with my clients right away without having the worry and awkwardness of having to inform them myself.  The amount of work that Beth and Kelly put in on my behalf over those five months is staggering, and never with anything other than the best possible attitude.  I think the best tribute I can pay is this; I know many other trans women who have gone or are going through something similar to me, and I have no hesitation in saying that my workplace transition has been the most positive, best organised, best supported and smoothest that I have ever heard of.  I will always be grateful to Beth and Kelly for what they did for me, and I would love for their amazing work to be recognised.”

It was an online nomination form, so I hit submit and off it went into the ether.  I received no acknowledgement of receipt, so I didn’t even know if it had been received.

It was about a month ago when the list of nominees was released and yes, there they were.  Since their names were listed together as being jointly nominated, they both worked out pretty quickly that the nomination had come from me, and so they asked the question and I replied in the affirmative.  They seemed rather touched.  However there were a lot of nominees.  In one of our offices in particular, everybody seemed to have nominated everybody else, which seemed to make a bit of a mockery of the whole thing.  But just because someone had been nominated didn’t mean they were going to win.  The email containing the list of nominees then added that the shortlists would be released a week later.  One week later, Kelly and Beth were on a shortlist of five nominees for the Northern Ireland award, with the awards ceremony to take place on Thursday 9th November, at which time I would be in transit to Pete and Nicky’s house in Essex (see previous post for further details on that).

I’m going to park that one for now and move on to some slightly different activity.  The company has recently launched a staff survey, which I completed a couple of weeks ago.  In the main part it was exactly what you would expect from a corporate staff survey, so I won’t dwell on that content.  However on the final page of the online survey was the section asking for “a few details about yourself”.  Question one was “What is your gender?”  There were five options;

  • Male
  • Female
  • Genderfluid
  • I identify as transgender
  • Prefer not to say

You could select one and only one.  I selected female.  And then I got annoyed, which progressed to anger, which progressed to, well you get the picture.  The problem is this.  “Transgender” is not a gender.  It says “F” on my passport, not “T”.  So I clicked on female because that is how I identify.  I am female.  The fact that this survey only allowed the subject to click one option was implying that it was not possible to be both female and transgender, or indeed both male and transgender.  It was saying to me that the writers of the survey viewed trans people as neither male nor female, but something else.  Now if you’re a gender fluid person, then you probably do view yourself as neither male nor female, but something else, but that is certainly not the case for me.  To me the whole thing read like it was written in an attempt to look inclusive, but in reality was done in such an inept way that it would have been better to just state male/female/prefer not to say.  And not only that, it was also counterproductive.  If the object of the exercise was to track numbers of trans people taking the survey, it fails in that regard because I clicked on “Female”.  If they want to know my gender history they need to ask a separate question, something along the lines of “Do you identify as a gender other than that which you were assigned at birth?”  I would certainly answer yes to that, I could still click “female” as my gender, and the survey data would be complete.

I wasn’t really sure who to direct my ire towards, so I put my ire in an email and sent it on to Kelly, asking that she forward my ire to someone who could take action.  I sent that at around 4.30pm one afternoon around a fortnight ago, and got a quick reply from Kelly that she would send it on to the right person for me.  By 9.15am the next day I had a call from the head of “Inclusion and Diversity” for the company all the way from the group head office in Dublin.  She apologised profusely for any offence caused, and assured me that the survey had been changed so that instead of saying “I identify as transgender” the option now stated “I identify as a gender other than that which I was assigned at birth”.  Talk about missing the point!  I told her that that didn’t address the core issue at all, and that I would still be clicking on “Female” and so the survey data would be flawed in relation to trans people.  (I would make the point here that while I know I am the first trans woman to transition within our company, there may be others who had already transitioned prior to commencing employment with the company, albeit I am unaware of any).

She did acknowledge that my key concern hadn’t really been addressed, but that once the survey was out in the wild they couldn’t change the code to add in the extra question about gender history.  Hmm, maybe.  But I had said my piece and she promised that the same mistake would not be made again.  She thanked me for speaking up about this, and went on to say how important it is to get the view of a real trans woman into the company’s equality and diversity programme, and would I be interested in speaking to the chairman of the company’s LGBT network.  Er, OK then.  His name is Kevin.  I walked into that, didn’t I?

I got an introductory email from Kevin that afternoon, and we arranged a time a few days later when we would both be free to talk for half an hour or so on the phone.  When I got the call we had a good chat, and he explained that the LGBT network was only set up in May – in actual fact Kelly had previously advised me that it was set up as part of a slew of actions precipitated by her turning up at Head Office in Dublin asking what she was supposed to do for this person in Belfast who was going to transition and she didn’t have a policy for that?!?  So in a way, the network exists as a consequence of my transition.  And it isn’t called the “LGBT network”.  At first they considered adding all the relevant letters, but when they got as far as LBGTQIA+ they just thought “sod this” and called it the “With Pride” network instead.  I like it!  So as there wasn’t currently a trans voice on the With Pride committee, Kevin asked if I would consider joining.  Oh go on then.  So that’s it, I got an email inviting me to join and I accepted.  I’m on the closed Facebook group for committee members.  I’m the voice of trans people in the group, and as the only committee member from Northern Ireland, I feel I am the representative of all LGBTQIA+ staff in our wee province – well since I am both trans and lesbian, I cover at least two bases.

Now I will return to the matter of awards ceremonies.

Last week while I was on my shopping trip in Essex with Nicky, I remembered that the internal company awards ceremony had been the previous night.  The one for which Beth and Kelly had been shortlisted off the back of my nomination.  I broke off from lunch with Nicky and pulled out my phone to text Beth to see how they had got on.  The answer?  They only went and won the award!  Go girls!  I then got a text from Kelly too saying how thrilled they were to have won, and how grateful they were for the nomination, how they were only putting my plans into action etc.  I was really delighted for them.  But it got better, for me anyway.  I mentioned that there were three regional awards ceremonies.  Well the winners of those regional awards then go forward to a UK awards ceremony to take place in a swanky hotel in central London on 5th December.  Except on that date Kelly will be on holiday (in Colombia of all places!) and so she has nominated me to take her place!  Meaning that Beth and I, as well as a couple of other people from our section, will be flying over to London, be put up in the hotel hosting the ceremony (the 5-star Conrad London St. James) and have a big night out at the awards dinner with time for a bit of Christmas shopping in London the next day before flying home that afternoon, all expenses paid!  Amazing!  Beth also mentioned that although she hadn’t seen the nomination that I had written, some of the people on the awards jury had told her that they had found it very moving and a wonderful tribute.  Which was nice.  She told me I had to get myself a new frock – thankfully not, as I had already purchased one for the Mid-Ulster Business Awards, which took place last Wednesday.

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At the Mid-Ulster Business Awards

Last year I attended the wonderful occasion of the Mid-Ulster Business Awards, at the Glenavon Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.  Sarcasm aside, it was a pretty good night, although as I was attending as Bob, I have a strong memory of putting on my tux in my hotel room and feeling quite ill at the sight of myself in that get-up.  It so wasn’t me.  Fast forward a year and the company had again taken a table at that ceremony and I was invited again to represent our section.  Except this time, I would be going as me.  I had to go and get myself a nice formal dress, a very glittery one, with an appropriate pair of killer heels and all that goes with it.  I was thrilled to be able to go as me, and I was very much looking forward to it.  I might only get to wear the dress once, or so I thought when I bought it (from Quiz, incidentally), but I knew I would feel so much better about myself than I had a year previously.  And indeed I did.  I felt fantastic all night, mixing with the local leading lights of the business community and feeling completely a part of the event.  I even managed to feel fully part of the female group, and we all sat together at one side of the company table, tweeting away with photos of each other in all our finery.  It felt like something of a work-related coming out party and I loved it.  Plus I won a £50 voucher for a homeware store in the charity raffle.

Back in the office the next day and Kelly asked me if I could spare her an hour to run through a policy matter with her.  Of course.  You may recall that when I advised Beth that I was trans back at the end of January, we quickly established that there was no company policy for transitioning staff because I was the first.  I had noted at the time that in parallel with my particular transition plan, Kelly would also be formulating a policy  for those who come after me.  Well that policy was just about ready to be launched for real.  However before it could be launched Kelly wanted me to see it, to run my eye over it and offer any last suggestions for how it could be improved.  What, if I were starting this process again, I would like to see and how it would feel reading the policy.  It was excellent.  In fact, if I could have written it, that’s pretty much what it would have said.  For all that, there were a handful of amendments that I suggested.  Most were of the window-dressing variety, but two were short but corrected what I felt were quite significant matters – not omissions per se, but things which could be misinterpreted by a person considering transition and fearing the worst.  Kelly took my suggestions on board.

There was something else that Kelly needed to ask me.  The organisers of the UK awards dinner in London had asked if they could quote from my nomination on the night, and indeed they want to reproduce parts of it in a glossy programme for the evening.  Of course I agreed.

My first “With Pride” committee discussion also took place on Thursday, although as it was in Dublin I had to dial in.  And the main item on the agenda for my first meeting?  Trans awareness week culminating in International Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20th November.  Which of course meant that yours truly was going to be a prominent part of the discussion.  After all, if you’re planning trans awareness events you’re going to ask the only trans person on the committee for her input aren’t you?  It was all good stuff and I’ll not go into the detail here, but very positive.  Then on Thursday night the draft article on Transgender Day of Remembrance was circulated among six of us from the committee, the rest of whom are all pretty senior people within the organisation, and they were actively seeking my input.  And they got it.  The final draft was agreed on Friday, and it will be posted on the day itself.

Then the final version of my company’s first ever official policy on Transgender Staff and Transitioning in the Workplace arrived later on Friday, still not yet circulated beyond HR and the With Pride committee.  It is a fantastic document.  I read through it and the changes that I had suggested to Kelly are in it.  I wrote part of it.  But not only did I write a small part of it, the entire thrust of what it says is my template.  My initial proposals for dealing with my transition.  Lessons learned from planning my transition.  The importance of everyone’s transition being unique to that individual.  The fact that it states explicitly that the company does not view any medical treatment for transgender people as being either cosmetic or elective.  But the most important thing is the fact that this document exists at all.  Nobody else out of the 10,000+ staff in my company will ever have to endure the long period of fear and doubt that I had because of lack of information.  Nobody else need worry that they will have to change their job because of their transition. Nobody else will not know who to turn to within the organisation for advice.  There is a plan, a programme, an easily-accessible, well written, well thought out, sympathetic and consultative template for them to follow, with confidential points of contact for that initial discussion when you feel that the world is about to cave in.  And it’s being launched on Monday 20th November.  It is being launched, of all days of the year, on International Transgender Day Of Remembrance.  This is happening because of me.  I did this.  I feel for once in my life that I am really making a difference.

And I have to stop now because I’m in tears.

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Essex Girl

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Yes, that’s me.  Temporarily at least.  Regular readers may recall me writing about my old friends Pete and Nicky, to whom I tried and failed to come out aaages ago, then successfully came out via Facebook Messenger just before Christmas 2016, and then who finally met the real me at a restaurant in Belfast earlier this year.  Yes, those two.  Pete was my best friend in school and through into my mid-20’s when he left Northern Ireland only to return for a few brief interludes, albeit one of those interludes was long enough to meet and marry Nicky.  So I have known Pete for around 35 years, and I have known Nicky for close to 20 years.  Old friends, as I say.

They now live in Essex, in the town of Witham (pronounced Wittam) and for quite a while there had been an open invitation for me to go over and stay with them for a few days.  Finally, I have been able to take them up on their offer and I have to say I am so glad I did.  What a lovely few days I had with them and their three children.  Strap in, this is going to be a long post, mainly because I have so much else to write about that I can’t linger over this too long, tempting as it is to give it the multi-post treatment.

Thursday

Although I wasn’t flying over until Thursday evening, I booked the whole day off work in order to get ready.  I had planned to pack on Wednesday night, but as the agenda for the long weekend was somewhat nebulous, it was hard to work out what to bring to cover all eventualities so I spent such a long time planning what to pack that by the time I was ready to pack for real it was bedtime.  I think I was slightly startled when I asked Pete where we might be going as I didn’t want to overdress or indeed underdress.  His reply?

“This is Essex, love.  It’s impossible to overdress.”

OK then.  But I still brought jeans, jumpers and trainers too.

As it happened, Pete had been at a conference with work in Barcelona all week, and his flight to Stansted was due to arrive five minutes after my flight from Belfast.  After a visit to the lovely Danielle to get my nails done (sparkly pink, it is Essex after all) and for the first time, my eyebrows shaped and waxed (ow!), I was collected by my sister Patsy around 4pm to be dropped up to Belfast International Airport, which is only a 20-minute drive from my house.  As I was en route, Pete texted me from Barcelona to say that he was boarding his flight.  He also texted a photo of his beer glass.  He was starting early.

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, dropped my bag at the check-in desk, where I was able to use my new driving licence as ID.  Then it was off to security where I had to remove my boots due to the block heel (men and flat-shoed women got to keep their footwear on), but for all that I got through quickly and with little fuss.  Although I have used this airport on many occasions, it was the first time as the real me, and it felt rather different.  I was slightly nervous about being scanned or frisked, but there was no problem whatsoever.  My flight wasn’t due to be called for another hour, so I made my way to one of the airport bars where I got myself a bottle of lager and found an unoccupied table where I could read a little of my book for a while.

We boarded the flight with no delays, and I am happy to report that I didn’t detect any unusual looks or glances from any of my fellow passengers.  After another hour of book-reading, the flight touched down at Stansted.  As soon as the cabin crew announced that we could turn off flight safe mode on our phones, I did just that to receive a text from Pete advising that he had just landed and his plane was still moving.  I think he must have landed right in front of me!  However he had the joys of passport control to negotiate, whereas I was on a UK domestic flight so I got through the domestic arrivals very quickly.  It then turned into a bizarre role reversal, where I had come to England as Pete’s guest, and yet it was me who ended up meeting him off the plane.

When he arrived, it became immediately apparent that the beer glass that he had texted me earlier might not have been the only one.  He was in fact in a fairly advanced state of “relaxation”.  Despite this, we made our way to the airport Marks & Spencer, where we purchased two cans each of gin and tonic to sustain us on the 40-minute taxi ride back to his house.  We had a good chat during the ride back, although I felt unable to speak completely freely due to the presence of the taxi driver.

I arrived to a welcome hug from Nicky, and greetings from the two older of their three children (the youngest and only girl being already asleep).  She had prepared a very tasty chilli for our arrival, and it was very welcome as I hadn’t eaten since a cheese and ham toastie at lunchtime.  More gin followed, and while Pete continued to be relaxed, Nicky and I sat on the settee and talked.  And talked some more.  Followed by a bit of chat.  At one point, around 10.30, I was telling her the rather upsetting news of a member of the Belfast trans community (nobody I have ever mentioned on this blog, but I knew her) who very sadly passed away a few weeks ago.  At this point, Pete raised his relaxed head and exclaimed “You can’t do that in the airport!” while Nicky and I looked utterly bewildered.  He had become so relaxed he was asleep and so went off to bed, while Nicky and I continued talking.  Honestly I have known her for nearly 20 years, I was best man (hah!) at her wedding and we talked more that evening than we had done in the rest of the time we had known each other.  Suddenly it was approaching 1am and I hadn’t even carried my case up to my room, never mind unpacked it.  So it was bedtime day 1 when I realised I had spent so much time thinking about what to wear each day, I didn’t think about what to wear at night and so had forgotten my pyjamas.  Vest and pants to bed then!

Friday

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With Nicky in Wildwood

Pete was working on Friday, so once the kids had been shipped off to school Nicky and I jumped into the car and made our way to Freeport, a shopping outlet centre in Braintree, for a girly shopping trip.  First priority for me – buy pyjamas!  I found a nice warm
fluffy pair in M&S, should keep me warm in Winter.  I also got myself a nice white jumper while I was in there.  We went round lots of shops, trying on a few items and comparing likes and dislikes.  I came close to buying a beautiful cream sleeveless blouse for work in Phase Eight, but they didn’t have my size.  I tried on a 14 and it was too tight across the chest, and I tried on an 18 and it sagged under the arms.  Still, £30 saved.  We went for lunch together just after 1pm in Wildwood, where I had a delicious bowl of mussels, and we continued the chat from the previous evening.  We sat there nattering away until after 3pm, by which time we thought we had better return home.

We had originally intended to go to the pub on Friday evening, but by the time we had had a couple of early evening gins and devoured an Indian takeaway along with son number 1, it was gone 9.30 and we decided to just stay in.  We stuck on some music and sat up drinking and talking till the early hours.  In fact, while Nicky passed out around 3am, Pete and I were still talking after 4!  One thing he did ask was if I fancied going to the cinema the next evening.  OK, I thought.  Depends on the film.  Then he casually dropped into the conversation that the film had been directed by a friend of his.  Wait what?  Turns out said director’s son and Pete & Nicky’s no2 son are best friends at school, and this is how they know each other.  Well it will be interesting if nothing else.  It’s a small independent British film and only has a limited release, so we would have an hour’s drive to go to a cinema in Barking to see it.  And the director would be there.  So I’m going to see a film with its director?  Well how often do you get to do that?  Count me in.

Saturday

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With my new friend Ginger

After a long lie-in on Saturday morning, we went out for a stroll around Hylands Park with the kids and the family dog Ginger, a Jack Russell / Pomeranian cross, who had taken a bit of a shine to me.  It was cold.  No more to add than that.  So Saturday evening approached, I put on something a bit more glamorous (although still casual) and we were ready to go.  Pete had mentioned going for dinner first, and as Nicky was staying at home with the kids, I had assumed that it would be just the two of us.  No, Pete told me

“John and Jo are coming too”

John is the film director, John Adams.  Jo is his wife.  And they were driving.  So not only am I going to see a film with its director, I’m having dinner with him first and he’s driving!  Wow!  I never get this treatment from Steven Spielberg.  After a bit of searching on Trip Advisor, I discovered that their No1 ranked restaurant in Barking was a steakhouse called Cristina’s, so I reserved a table for 4.  Pete let John know, and came back to say that I should cancel the booking, because they had now made their own booking for the same restaurant, but for 6 people this time.  John’s parents were coming too.  Pete then mentioned

“Oh yes, John’s dad wrote the film”

Hang on!  I’m going out for dinner with the director and the screenwriter of a new film before they drive me to the cinema to watch it.  Talk about surreal!

At this point I suppose I had better talk about the film.  It is called Aux, which is short for “Auxiliary Reserve”, a real but previously highly secret part of the British Home Guard in the early part of World War II.  The film is in the horror/slasher genre, but doesn’t overdo that aspect and includes a bit of intrigue and investigation too.  It stars John Rhys-Davies, best known as Gimli in Lord of the Rings and Sallah in the Indiana Jones films, as a WWII veteran who knows the secret of who or what might be carrying out a series of gruesome murders in an English forest.  Here’s the trailer

It was a 10pm start for the film, so we were collected around 7pm for the one hour drive to Barking.  John’s parents were coming in their own car, so we had agreed to meet them at the restaurant.  However things went a bit awry when we arrived to find that nobody in the restaurant had looked at their online bookings in the last couple of hours, were completely unaware that we had booked, and the restaurant was already full.  However to give the staff their due, after about 10 seconds of rabbit-in-the-headlights, they did some speedy table reshuffling and managed to find 6 spaces at a table for 4, where I was introduced to John’s mother Val and his father (and screenwriter), another Pete, whom I will refer to as Peter here in order to differentiate him from “my” Pete.

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With Pete in Cristina’s

First things first, the food was fantastic.  Everyone had steaks and my medium rare rib-eye was excellent.  Cooked to perfection, well seasoned, and the cheesy onion ring side was spectactular.  Everyone else seemed to feel the same way about their orders too.  I learned a lot about the British film industry around that table.  John is a partner in a film production company, and while he has a producer credit on a number of films, Aux is his directorial debut.  The nature of funding films such as this means that in addition to a small theatrical run, the film is also launched as a digital download to rent from the usual places – Amazon, Sky Store, iTunes, XBox, PlayStation etc.  A DVD release will follow in the next few months.  Peter also expressed a little concern that Pete and I might think him a bit twisted for thinking up some of the things that happen in the film.  I like the sound of that!

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(l-r) John Adams (director), me, Pete Adams (screenwriter)

We got to the cinema for 10pm, I got myself a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and the film came on.  It was… well, it’s not going to rival the box office receipts of Avatar, but I enjoyed it greatly.  In fact, after 5 minutes I forgot the circumstances of me watching it, and just took it at face value as a film.  I genuinely learned things about the UK in WWII, and I wasn’t bored for a second.  Yes, the low budget is apparent in a few scenes, but the main actors gave good performances and I would watch it again.  In fact, I will be buying the DVD when it comes out.  I felt disappointed for John that there were very few people in the cinema, but he didn’t seem too bothered.  The theatrical release was more of a contractual obligation, and it’s downloads and DVDs where a film such as this makes its money.  I really hope it does well, and I can honestly say that it one of the most memorable nights at the cinema I have ever had.

Sunday

I had planned Sunday as a day to meet some other friends.  The first of these is someone who until recently was another WordPress trans blogger.  At least until she took it down because, well that’s her business.  I’m talking about Nour, who began blogging in Cairo around the same time as I did here just outside Belfast.  We had become friendly through commenting on each other’s blogs, then by email and finally she came over to visit Belfast in June last year to coincide with the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the Belfast Butterfly Club.  She has been living in the South of England for the last couple of years, and I had always said that if and when I get over there we would have to meet up.  And so on Sunday afternoon, that’s what we did.

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With Nour at Westfield

Pete drove me to Witham train station after a nice late cooked breakfast, and I took the train to Stratford, from where I switched to the tube to take me to Shepherd’s Bush and the huge Westfield London shopping mall.  I arrived shortly ahead of the 3.30pm time I had arranged with Nour, and on entering the mall I was immediately struck by how far out of my price range everything was, as the first shops I saw were Prada, Louis Vuitton, Versace and Gucci.  Thankfully there were other shops suitable for mortals, although really I didn’t end up going in to any of them.  Just as I was milling around in a central concourse area I got a call from Nour to tell me that she and her girlfriend Ada were just looking for a parking space and would be along shortly.  I didn’t have to wait too long.  The two of them appeared soon enough and there was Nour, as beautiful as ever, and just like before we immediately got on like a house on fire.  It was really nice to meet Ada too, they are a lovely couple.

We milled around for a while looking for a coffee shop to sit in, but all seemed full, so we grabbed a take away coffee and took a seat in the general seating area, and we stayed there for a couple of hours catching up on what has been going on in our lives over the last year or so.  I think we both recognise that it’s quite an unusual friendship, in that we come from such different places, and it’s only the second time we have met, but I feel sure we will meet again.  However as the time approached 5.45 I had to go and catch the tube to my next destination…

If you read the story of how I ended up coming out to Pete you will have read that another friend called Caroline kind of played a part in that.  Caroline is the person to whom yet another friend Vin, who had known about my trans nature from quite early on, had drunkenly blabbed something along the lines of “shssdfBOBlfkkfbkkfSPENDINGTIMEkjuikfbfbjsjKIRSTYnvfbleeeurrghhhh”, which had resulted in Caroline believing that Bob was having an affair with a woman called Kirsty, which Caroline then informed Pete about.  So when I told Pete my chosen name nearly a year ago, everything slotted into place.  So I had had to contact Caroline to clear up any misunderstandings.  Caroline and her partner Chris (whom I have also known from various social gatherings for nearly 20 years) live in London, and are longstanding friends of Pete as well as of me, so when I knew I was coming over to visit Pete, I made sure to arrange some time to meet up with Caroline and Chris too.

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(l-r) Me, Pete, Caroline, Chris

After leaving Nour it was back on the tube again to Holborn, from where I made the short-ish walk to Covent Garden and the pub in which we had arranged to meet, the Marquess Of Anglesey.  I walked in to see Chris at the bar, so I got my order in and went to greet Caroline.  Pete arrived direct from Witham about a minute after me.  It was great for the four of us to meet up again and do you know the best thing of all?  Caroline and Chris just treated me as me, there was no probing about my transition, no slightly patronising “Oh, you look so amazing” or anything like that.  I was just their old friend that they hadn’t seen for a while, and although I look fairly different I’m still the same person.  After a couple of drinks in the pub, which was busy but not claustrophobically so, we took a very short walk to the restaurant of choice, the Boulevard Brasserie, for some French cuisine.  For the second night in a row, a magnificent meal.  Baked brie in filo pastry, confit duck leg with lentils, shallots and dauphinoise, and a spectactular apple tarte tatin to finish, along with a couple of bottles of wine between us.

But it wasn’t really about the food, it was about catching up with old friends and it was such a fun and enjoyable evening.  They are all very interesting people and the conversation was stimulating and enjoyable.  Then back to the Marquess Of Anglesey for a final drink before heading off our separate ways.  Except Pete and I managed to sneak into a Wetherspoon’s for one more G&T before our train was due to leave.  And then another nightcap G&T before bed once we got back home.  A lot of G&Ts on this trip!

Monday

Time to go home.  However, there was still time for a quick trip out with the girls.  After the cinema trip on Saturday Jo had suggested that she, Nicky and I go for a Saturday morning coffee before I had to leave.  By the time we set off, Nicky had also invited a neighbour, Carol, and so the four of us headed out to a picture-postcard quintessentially English village by the name of Little Braxted to the Braxted Bakery.  Quaint wouldn’t even begin to describe it.  It was a fun and enjoyable way to round off the trip.  And a nice lunch and a bit of a giggle too.

My final significant experience was yet to come.  Although the significance might depend upon how much you like Game of Thrones.  Pete drove me to Stansted airport, and after getting checked in and going through security (again fairly painless) I made my way to the airport Starbucks franchise for a coffee.  As is the way with Starbucks, they ask you your name so they can misspell it on your cup.  And so I became Carsty.  Or possibly Cersty.  I had only just got my coffee when the flight was called, so I made my way down to the gate to await boarding.  I was sitting there in the seating area (I don’t see the point in queuing for boarding when you have a reserved seat on the plane anyway) and I was observing my Starbucks cup.  I was looking at my misspelled name, and the thought occurred to me that Cersty was getting perilously close to Cersei, the not-very-nice queen  of Westeros in Game of Thrones.  Just as I had my mind drifted on to GoT I looked up and there standing about six feet away from me in the queue for speedy boarding was Jon Snow himself, Kit Harington.  Really.

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He knows nothing

Well a lot of GoT is filmed in Northern Ireland, including the studio sets, and someone else I know had sat next to Hodor on a plane before, and I had seen Theon in Belfast City Centre once.  But this was Jon flipping Snow!  Jon.  Snow.  Right in front of me.  I was all a-flutter.  Although really, without the big fur collars and costumes that he wears in the show, he’s just a short-ish skinny beardy bloke.  But still, Jon Snow!

The flight home was fairly uneventful apart from the fact that I left my favourite purple scarf on the plane.  As I was waiting for Patsy to arrive to collect me, Kit Harington walked past again, and I was pleased to see that he wasn’t too big of a star to carry his own case despite having a couple of flunkeys with him.  But Patsy arrived soon enough and before I knew it I was home again.  And after no heating for four days my house was freezing.  But you don’t need to hear about that.

What a wonderful few days I had had with great people doing fun and sometimes unexpected things.

And Jon Snow!

Strong and Warm and Wild and Free

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“Sexuality”, sang the Bard of Barking Sir William Bragg back in 1991, “Strong and Warm and Wild and Free”, ably backed up by my namesake the late Kirsty MacColl.  Well that’s all well and good, but just what is this sexuality of which he sings?  And more to the point, what does it mean for me?

It’s an awkward thing to write about, all the more so since the recent expansion of my readership list to include some family members and people who have known me since long before I outed myself as trans.  But I feel like over the last few weeks and months I have come to a realisation about myself.  And it’s a realisation that has in many ways surprised me, but in other ways is so flipping obvious I can’t believe it has taken me this long to realise it.

I think before I get into the meat of what I’m going to write about, I’m going to rewind back to 2014 to a post entitled “Who Do You Love?“, itself another music reference, this time to “Behind The Mask”.  This was at a time when I was still at a very early stage in finally coming to terms with myself as a woman, and so the corollary of that was the relationship between sexuality and gender.  It was really precipitated by an aborted attempt to come out to my old friend Pete, after which I had told my then counsellor that I suspected that he thought I was going to tell him I was gay or bi.  Which lead me to the conclusion that the terms gay and straight assume that the person is cis; as I said at the time, was I a straight man or a gay woman, or something else?  My feelings on the subject have moved on somewhat in the intervening three years.

I now take the view that the terms gay and straight apply to people who adhere to the gender binary, which I do.  Gender history, whether trans or cis, shouldn’t be important in this.  It is non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer people for whom the terminology of sexuality becomes inadequate.  If someone is neither male nor female to begin with, how can their sexuality be defined as gay, straight, or bi?  Pansexual?  Omnisexual?  Multisexual?  I’m going to stop myself disappearing down that particular rabbit hole.  Anyway, it is for people such as this that we now have the Q after the L the G the B and the T.

Back in 2014 I wrote about how, despite the fact that I didn’t find men attractive, I would love for men to find me attractive.  I suppose I still feel that way, but my need for affirmation isn’t quite what it was before.  It’s different anyway, in that I just love the simple affirmation of being addressed as “Madam” in a shop, or hearing an old man tell his grandson to “let that lady past” when he is blocking my route through a shop.  That’s the affirmation I need.  I can live without being catcalled and wolf-whistled, not that it’s much of a problem for me compared to many other women.

Something else that I wrote about in that old post was the fact that many trans women experience a “flip” in sexuality when they transition, or they begin to take hormones.  In fact I have seen it for myself with my good friend Andrea, who recently had her first romantic relationship with a man – I’m not betraying a confidence writing that, she wrote about it herself on her own blog.  In fact for a long time I thought it would happen to me.  I wanted it to happen to me.  The logic goes like this:

Since I was very young, I have known that I was in some way trans.  Even when I didn’t know the terminology, I knew that I wanted to be a girl, to dress and present in a feminine manner, to do the things that girls do.  So I have always thought of myself as at the very least being a latent trans person.  However, because it took me until well into middle age to accept myself as actually being a woman, I have never thought of myself as gay.  I never was attracted to men.  I was exclusively attracted to women.  And since I was to the outside world male, I was a straight man.  I never thought any more about that.  I might be a bit trans, but I’m not gay.  Well not a gay man anyway.

Once I finally decided around two years ago now that transition was the path I had to take, I sort of assumed that I would eventually end up in a relationship with a man.  If any of them would have me.  Because I had been so focused on my gender identity for so many years, I had never really given any consideration to my sexual identity.  I was, as far as I was concerned, heterosexual.  So if I was straight and I was a woman, that means I am attracted to men, right?  Right.  Plus I felt that if I was going to be fully female, I needed to find a way to be both attracted and attractive to men, because otherwise I wouldn’t be fully embracing my female identity.  This is of course utter nonsense, as if gay woman aren’t every bit as female as straight women.  My mind was working in a strange way.

I tried.  I genuinely tried to find men attractive.  I looked at them.  I sized them up.  Blokes in the street, sports starts, actors, anyone, desperately looking for one that I could imagine snuggling up to on a couch.  I didn’t find anyone.  Certainly I can look at a man and know if he is attractive or not, if he has endearing qualities, and in fact some men can have quite compelling physical features.  But not once in my 47 years have looked at any man on the planet and gone “Phwooar” or words to that effect.

Meanwhile, I was still looking at other women and finding them beautiful and fascinating and enchanting and everything that I was draw to.  And so did I realise that it was my own gender to whom I was attracted?  Of course not.  I convinced myself that it was all to do with jealousy and role models.  I was fascinated by certain women because I wanted to be like them, to have their lightness and beauty and I was jealous because I’m always going to be this rather large galoot of a woman.  And at the same time I was worried that the only man who might be willing to take a chance on this galoot would be someone whom I just wouldn’t fancy.  But considering I fancy neither Brad Pitt, George Clooney or David Beckham, that’s probably a safe bet.

My Road to Damascus occurred a few weeks ago and it’s down to Andrea that it happened.  She had just crossed from the Friendzone into the Girlfriendzone, and had mentioned that she wasn’t sure how she would react kissing a man, however she was pleased to report that she enjoyed it immensely.  My reactions to this were twofold.  Firstly, I was happy for my friend.  As any good friend would be.  But the second reaction was just “Yuk!”.  When someone who has been a close friend for a few years experiences that, it was somehow easier to imagine myself experiencing the same thing, and it was not a pleasant thought.  In fact, the thought of becoming physically intimate with man was fairly stomach-churning.  Almost in an instant, this idea that I might one day find myself a nice man and settle down (again) evaporated.  I know that I just couldn’t be in that sort of relationship with a man.  Which by a process of elimination means…

I am a woman.  I am exclusively attracted to other women.  There’s a word for that isn’t there?  A word beginning with L.  Really?  Me?  This is going to take some getting used to.  I’m trying out the word for size and it sounds very very strange when I say it.  In fact, for a few weeks after I thought it I couldn’t say it.  Me?  Gay?  No, I’ve never thought I was gay in my life.  Except that was when being gay meant being attracted to men.  Now when it means being attracted to women it’s a different story.

It’s a term that I have been reluctant to use about myself.  I thought no, this isn’t right.  I can’t walk into a group of gay women and announce that I was one of them when six months ago I was living as a man with my wife.  How can that be right?  I didn’t have those experiences of finding myself attracted to the same gender in childhood, I didn’t have to deal with family, friends, denial, acceptance, discrimination, fear, coming out.  How can I count myself as one of them when I don’t have that commonality of experience?

Then I realised I was talking bollocks.  I was talking such bollocks that I was in danger of sounding like Germaine Greer saying why I can’t be a woman, and let’s face it, nobody wants to sound like that out-of-touch has-been.  And anyway, if you’ve been reading this blog over the last year you will have seen plenty of me dealing with family, friends, denial, acceptance, discrimination, fear and coming out.   Huge quantities of it.  So I have earned my stripes, just in a different way from others.  And that’s ok.

So three years and five months after I first admitted to myself and my counsellor that I was a transsexual woman, I am just about ready to make another declaration.  It’s an odd feeling, because this is not something I have carried around with me waiting to finally burst out in a hurricane of self-awareness like the trans declaration was.  This is more a case of if x and y then z.  So I’ll say it now.

I am a lesbian.

 

#winning

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An unusual title for a rather unexpected post.  I have been gestating a couple of posts over the last few weeks dealing with (a) the fact that my daughters are now living with me in alternate weeks and (b) sexuality.  But then something popped up and I just had to write about it instead.  So here we go…

I have written many times about my friend Alice, oh hell let’s just name her properly, Ali.  So Ali has another friend called Jane.  The two of them have been close friends since childhood, and indeed I have met Jane several times and consider her my friend too.  Jane is a businesswoman, a business owner, and her business is a shop and online retailer of what is loosely termed “adult” items.  In old parlance, a sex shop.  However it really couldn’t be further removed from the old-fashioned image of a seedy little emporium frequented by dirty old men in macs.  It’s bright, colourful, welcoming and almost celebratory in the image it projects to the world.  It is call Misstique and if it’s the sort of thing that you’d be interested by all means click on that link to see what they have to offer.

As a bit of an aside, I did have a little wry grin looking at the website listing the various items for sale and it struck my that anyone who didn’t know what poppers were would be fairly bewildered to find “Room Aromas” on sale alongside the massage oils and anal beads.  If you don’t know, I’m sure you can work it out.  Google is your friend.  End of digression.

A week or so back I received a message from Jane on Facebook asking if I could help her secure her business a few extra votes in the 2017 GNI awards.  So what are the GNI awards, I hear you ask.  I asked myself the same question.  GNI term themselves “the local homocultural magazine”.  It’s quite a success story.  In six years it has gone from a simple website to become a glossy mag and large social media presence covering all aspects of LGBT culture and lifestyle.  And to give them their due, the T is very much a part of their content.  Managing to grow and sustain a glossy magazine in any sphere is an achievement in itself these days, but in a wee country with a population of less than 2 million, many of whom are rampant homophobes, it is truly remarkable and very much worthy of celebration.

In 2016 they had their first gala evening for their awards ceremony, and this year is the second.  Categories range from the mundane (Best Financial Services Provider, for which I am ashamed to say my employer did not even receive a nomination) to the silly (Best Drag Act, which if you have been reading my posts recently you will know is akin to asking me to select my favourite yeast infection) and the touching (Personal Contribution to the LGBT Community).  One of the awards categories is for Best Independent Business, and one of the nominees for this award was none other than Jane’s business, Misstique.  So Jane was asking if I could perhaps encourage some of my friends to vote for Misstique for this award.

When I went to the awards website I noticed that there were a few other nominations that I would have been happy to see succeed.  In particular, and considering how much amazing work they did in preparing my workplace for my transition, SAIL were nominated for best LGBT charity, and their director Ellen Murray was nominated for personal contribution to the LGBT community.  So I put up a post on my own Facebook asking my friends to consider voting for Misstique, SAIL and Ellen and providing a link to the awards voting page.

What Jane also said in her message was that Misstique were sponsoring one of the awards, and as part of the sponsorship package they had a table at the awards ceremony, and would I like to come along.  Would I ever?  A chance to get all dressed up?  Just show me where to sign.  Since I have had the kids all week, I needed to arrange babysitting but my big sister Patsy was happy to help, so I had the all clear to go out.

There was a fair amount of indecision on my part about what to wear.  A red dress, a blue dress, a black dress with gold foil print, a black one with orange and pink panels up the side, a black and white check dress.  I narrowed it down to the first three and did a fashion show for my daughters.  The received wisdom was… unclear.  Amy liked the black/gold and blue dresses, Melissa liked the red and blue ones.  I took some pics in the mirror and sent them to my new friend Charlene, whom I met through the women’s group that I mentioned briefly a few posts back, and she reckoned the red one.  In the end, I think that I liked the red one best so I plumped for that, with some floral patterned fine fishnet tights, my competition-winning shoes, and a black & white clutch bag.  I was ready to meet my public.  A quick word about that dress, it was actually given to me by my friend Michelle on my birthday back in 2014 and I think I last wore it when Andrea and I went to Eastbourne later that year.  I was wearing it the first time I ever met Ruth.  And now it has finally been brought out of storage.

Thankfully on the day of the awards I was at a meeting with work fairly close to home and was able to get back an hour early.  I completely removed my work make-up, did a fresh shave to ensure the smoothest face possible for the big night out, and reapplied my foundation.  The my wonderful daughter and budding make-up artist Amy took over.  I sat on the chair in her bedroom while she fussed around me with all her best make-up giving me the best possible look for the night with all her skills (which are far in advance of mine) while Melissa looked on enthusiastically.  It was such a great experience and something I could barely have dared to dream would ever be possible a year ago.  My daughter was doing my make-up for me!  And she is good.  Contouring, highlighting, blending, all the techniques.  I must admit I wasn’t overly enamoured with the eyebrows which I thought veered a little too close to Groucho Marx territory for my liking.  But she did tone them down a little when I voiced my concerns, and they were largely hidden by a combination of my fringe and the frames of my glasses.  Her eyeshadow was really great though.  It came out of a palette called “Chocolate Bar” which is actually made from cocoa powder and I could really smell the cocoa in the air as she went about her work.  Overall I was very happy with the result but more than that it was such a joy to be able to go through that with her.

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With Ali just after arriving at our table

I had to make a hasty departure as soon as she was finished, and I went straight to our venue, the Clayton Hotel in Belfast’s Ormeau Avenue, where I had arranged to meet Ali and Jane in the lobby.  I walked to in find Ali with a man I had never met before.  He was Jane’s business partner Steve.  We waited for Jane for a while but eventually gave up and walked in to the bar area where all the guests were congregating prior to going into the function room.  Oh my goodness there were a lot of people about.  I very quickly saw Ellen Murray seated on a bench and wished her good luck for her nomination.  Then another leading figure in the local LGBT community appears, Colin Flinn.  Colin is a current director of Cara-Friend and former trustee of the Belfast Butterfly Club.  He is also a very interesting man, just a really genuinely engaging person to speak to, and soon he and Ali were deep in conversation.  We were shortly approached by the official photographer for the evening, who got Ali, Colin and I to pose for a photo for the magazine.  Fame at last!  After partaking of the free champagne at the reception, we made our way into our table, where we finally found Jane.  I took a quick selfie with Ali and we settled down for the evening.

It was a big function room and there were a lot of tables in it.  If pushed I would guess there were around 250 people there and we were all very well turned out.  We had a nice bunch at the table, as well as Ali, Jane and Steve, there was Jane’s partner (life not business) Guy, a few staff from the shop including the nicely co-ordinated names of Aaron and Darren and a couple of people to whom I never managed to get introduced.  I could have introduced myself I suppose, but I’m quite a shy girl underneath it all.

img_4767There was a goodie bag for everyone at the ceremony.  I mostly contained various flyers and vouchers, although there was a box containing a little cupcake, some rather fetching plastic sunglasses, some shampoo and shower gel from the Malmaison Hotel, and a little package from Misstique that I haven’t dared open yet.  Although it does contain some cash; a 1 billion Zimbabwean dollar note!  The food was decent for a mass-catered event, although the service was very slow, and I was grateful not to be a vegetarian.  Ali and Jane on either side of me weren’t so lucky and received a risotto that smelt like old socks and looked like a plate of sick.  But the meal wasn’t really the point.  The craic was great and I had a lovely time, but we were there for the awards and they finally arrived.

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Reading all the best words, about to present the award for covfefe of the year

There were two comperes for the awards.  Local TV personality Julian Simmons, who has been doing ultra-camp continuity links on UTV since I was a small child, and a drag queen by the name of Trudy Scrumptious.  I rolled my eyes.  Why oh why.  However I must admit, Trudy was a great host, funny and warm, with a quick ad-lib whenever necessary (although the best ad-lib was from an award-winner later on).  Julian Simmons on the other hand was very disappointing.  Reading everything from a sheet of A4 paper held close to his nose, stumbling over his words, rushing through the nomination way faster than they were appearing on the video screens.  Just seemed very under-rehearsed.  A shame, as he really is a bit of a star in these parts.  Try this clip for a taste of Julian in his prime.   Also, in profile he looks disturbingly like Donald Trump.

One of the first awards for for business contribution to the LGBT community, which was the award sponsored by Misstique.  Jane got up from beside me to go on stage to present the award.  I wasn’t expecting this and was slightly surprised, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been.  There was a smattering of polite applause for each nominee until the final one came around, the vodka brand Smirnoff, who received an enormous cheer.  A few people obviously fond of a wee voddie from time to time.  Unfortunately Smirnoff hadn’t bothered to send a representative, probably too drunk to reply to the invitation, so Jane took the award back to our table.  We had an award at the table!

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With Jane and Smirnoff’s award (she wouldn’t let me near her own one)

However the next award was the biggie, for us at least, Best Independent Business.  The nominees were all read out, and you could hear all the cheers erupting from the various tables where people from those businesses were seated, including our own.  And finally the winner was… Misstique!  We all stood and cheered as Jane and Steve made their way up to the stage to receive their award.  Steve made a gracious short speech and they returned to the table.  There were now two awards at our table.  The winningest table in the hotel.

The awards went on for around 45 minutes.  Unfortunately neither Ellen nor SAIL won the awards in their categories, but the winners (Cara McCann and the Rainbow Project) were very worthy indeed and I couldn’t fault the voters’ choices.  However the comedy highlight of the night was when the award was made for LGBT Style Icon.  The winner was BBC NI weatherman Barra Best, and when he accepted his award, drag queen Trudy asked if he had the latest weather forecast available.  Barra replied that for Trudy, he was forecasting some golden showers later.  He wouldn’t get away with that on the breakfast news report!

In the middle of all this a young man approached me and asked “Excuse me, what is Misstique?”  I indicated that the two owners were sitting next to me so they could answer the question.  Jane described it as an “adult shop”, and so I told him that if ever he wanted to buy an adult, now he would know where to go.  He told me that he was definitely in the market for an adult, male, mid-20’s preferably.  Very good.  Actually, the aforementioned Darren and Aaron were great with him, assuring him that he would be very welcome and he would find plenty of “toys for young gay men” in there.  I’m sure he will.  Always the salesmen.

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“I would like to dedicate this award for best trans blog on the internet to all my lovely readers.  The not-so-lovely ones can get stuffed.”

All too soon the awards came to an end, and quickly before we had to go I grabbed the spare award that was temporarily on loan from Smirnoff and ran out the the bar area where there was a place set up for the official winners’ photographs.  The official photographer was there taking official photos of some winners with their awards, but he nipped off for a moment.  Right on cue, I handed Ali my phone and asked her to take a picture of me with “my” award.  Except the photographer returned.  But he was a good sport and took my phone from Ali so he could take my photos himself.  And I have to say they are a lovely memento of the evening.

When I put the photos on Facebook later on a few people congratulated me on winning an award.  And I even told Michelle I had won an award for “Most Gorgeous Babe” and she believed me!!!  Of course I did put them all right.  But they were still some photos that I will really treasure.  A lovely, fun evening, and far from the T being very much the afterthought in LGBT, I truly felt like part of this community.  But I suppose that’s to be expected since I’m just about ready to identify as the L as well as the T now.  But I’ll save that for the next post.

A Wider Readership

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Something astonishing happened last week.  Well, astonishing to me anyway.  This blog clocked up its 100,000th view.  That is absolutely remarkable.  How on earth did that happen?  I suppose when you break it down over the 3½ years that I have been writing the blog it works out as less than 80 views per day, but that is still pretty incredible.  I’m astounded and I don’t mind admitting suffering from a touch of imposter syndrome – why me, surely people must be confusing me with someone else.  Anyhow, I was so astonished that I put a short post on Facebook stating that my blog had just passed this particular landmark.  That’s when things took an unexpected, if in retrospect predictable, turn.

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It really happened!

The thing is, having been in the closet in work, to family and a number of older friends whom I don’t see so often until earlier this year, this blog had been known to just my closest real-life friends.  This is obviously in addition to those of you whom I know primarily from interacting online.  But family, work colleagues and those other friends had never seen it.  I do know that my siblings were aware that I had been writing a blog, and similarly I had mentioned in work that it existed, but these verbal disclosures seemed to have bypassed people.  When I came out to everyone in early July, I did get one message from a more geographically distant friend that she had discovered the blog, and complimenting me on it.  But that was it.  Those other groups of people had been generally unaware of its existence.  With that one Facebook post, it changed and I’m not quite sure how to feel about it.

Within a few hours of that Facebook post I had received messages from around 10 people asking if they could have the link to the blog.  In fact, I was comfortable enough with sharing it with those people and so passed on the details.  But then one night last week I was on the phone to my sister Hilary and she mentioned that her daughter (my niece) had found it, and they were both reading it.  This instantly made me feel very uncomfortable.  I’m not exactly sure why, although I think it’s a combination of me feeling that they are too close to me to look at the blog objectively, plus it felt a bit odd to know they were reading a blog where I had written about them albeit in pretty glowing terms.  So I told Hilary that I would prefer if she didn’t read it, which took the wind out of her sails quite a bit.  This in turn made me feel bad because I now fear she thinks that I’m hiding something from her, or there’s some further dark secret that I don’t want her to know about.  However I didn’t actually share the link publically on Facebook for a reason.

Then on Friday in work my friend and colleague Graham casually mentioned to me that he had seen what I wrote on Facebook, and he didn’t realise I had been writing a blog and how long had I been writing it for?

“About three and a half years”

“Wow, I had no idea.  And do you mind if…”

“No, you can’t.  I’m not sharing it with work and family.  Too much personal stuff on it.”

And he was duly crestfallen.  I did let him see this post because he features prominently in it, which I hope sated his curiosity, although the script-like format of that post is a bit of a stylistic outlier compared to my usual rambling prose.  I had previously let Beth see the same post, and indeed I had also told her and Kelly that I had blogged about our planning for my workplace transition.  They had both seemed quite excited to be featured, but again at the time I told them that I wouldn’t be sharing the details other than to let them know that I wasn’t using their real names (shocker!)

Finally last night I received a text from my other sister Patsy stating;

“I’ve just read your blog and I’m so proud of you xx”

To which I replied that I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, and that I was rather embarrassed because I write about her on it from time to time, and I had already told our other sister that I’d prefer she didn’t read it.  I was as apologetic as I could, saying she couldn’t have known how I felt about this etc.  She replied back quickly;

“You have nothing to be embarrassed about.  It is so good and should be a great benefit and comfort to anyone who is transgender or their family.  The more I know and understand the better I can support you.”

So what on earth could I say to that other than “OK”.  I still feel distinctly unnerved by the whole thing but of course what Patsy said was correct.  Maybe I will let the rest of the family read it if they like.  Although I’ll be sending them the link with a grimace on my face.  However work remains strictly out of bounds.  Unless of course they find it for themselves, which I don’t imagine would be too difficult.  Google “Kirsty transgender blog” and I’m probably the top hit.  And if that happens, then what?  I know that one friend has already taken down most of the posts from her blog because too many of the wrong people were starting to find it, but I really don’t want to go down that road.  I would miss the ability to talk out into the ether like I do on here.  I just hope that the knowledge that this whole new group of people are reading doesn’t blunt my blogging pencil too much.  I have never written with any audience in mind other than myself, and I really want to keep it that way.


Since I mentioned Kelly and Beth in passing, I’ll also mention something else.  From February through until the start of July, the three of us had very frequent planning meetings in work in advance of my transition becoming public knowledge, and we all gelled very well.  So much so that with the planning over I kind of miss that interaction.  It would appear that Kelly did too, because she arranged for the three of us to go out for coffee last Friday morning.  It was a really nice catch-up, just the three girls out for a natter.  Very little of it was to do with my transition (it can’t be all about me all the time!) but Kelly did mention that she was still working hand in hand with the people in head office on finalising the company HR policy on trans staff, a process that was begun by my disclosure of my intention to transition.  Our head office is in Dublin, and Kelly mentioned that she had a meeting with the Head of Diversity (yes, we have a Head of Diversity) coming up in Dublin.  She then asked if I would like to go along in order to give input from the point of view of someone who is actually doing what they are writing about.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.  So some time in the not too distant future, yours truly will be off to meet the bigwigs in head office to help formulate company policy.  I’m really looking forward to it.


And now, more frivolous matters about a nice bit of good luck that I had recently.  Those of you who are active on Facebook will no doubt have seen those “Like and Share to win” posts that businesses put up from time to time.  You know the sort of thing, hotels putting up a free night for one lucky winner, like and share to enter.  You get the idea.

My favourite shoes that I own are my Ruby Shoos.  I love them.  In fact, their entire range is so far up my street that they are practically parked in my driveway.  I love the style, and I love that just about their entire range is available in a size 9 that is a very good fit for my feet.  I “like” the official Ruby Shoo Facebook page, and I duly swoon over every picture of their shoes.  Around 3 weeks ago Ruby Shoo did one of those Facebook competitions, “To celebrate the launch of our autumn 2017 collection, we have 3 pairs of Ruby Shoos to give away.  Comment on this post with hashtag #rubyshoo then like and share to be in with a chance of winning.”  Oh well, why not, I thought.  So I said something about loving the one pair that I already own, and I’d love a new pair to keep them company #rubyshoo.  A couple of friends liked the post that I shared and that was about the end of that.  I didn’t give it much more thought.

Around a week later I was at my desk in work when my phone made the Facebook Messenger noise.  I looked at the notification.  “You have a connect request from Ruby Shoo.  Do you want to accept?”  Well yes, obviously.

“Hi Kirsty, I’m pleased to tell you that you have won a pair of Ruby Shoo’s (sic) in our recent Facebook competition!  Please let me know which pair you would like as your prize (you can check online at www.rubyshoo.com) along with your shoe size and address for delivery.  Congratulations!  Regards – Carla from the Ruby Shoo Team x”

Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod I’ve wooonnnnn!!!!  I was ecstatic.  I just couldn’t believe I had actually won something.  In fact, I couldn’t believe that anyone had won something in one of those Facebook competitions, let alone me being that person!  I had a huge grin on my face as I sat in the office.  Then the big brain weasel kicked in.  You know that saying “If something looks too good to be true then it probably isn’t true”?  Well I thought of it very clearly as I noticed that the profile picture on the “Ruby Shoo” that had messaged me was not the same as the profile picture on the “Ruby Shoo” Facebook page on which I had initially liked and shared the post in question.  So I clicked on the name in Messenger.  It took me through to an options page, from where I clicked on “View Facebook profile”.  When I did this I felt rather crestfallen.  It was a personal Facebook page, first name Ruby, surname Shoo, which had last posted anything in 2012.  It was undoubtedly not the “real” Ruby Shoo.  Joy to despair in around 30 seconds.

90% convinced I was being scammed (let’s face it, it wouldn’t be too hard to message anyone who had commented on that post) I was tempted to just ignore the message.  However, that 10% of doubt remained so I replied in a very cautious manner;

“Hi Carla, that’s great news however I am concerned that this message has not come from the same Ruby Shoo Facebook account that I liked the post on originally.  This FB profile hasn’t posted anything since 2012.  I really hope I have won but I would like a message from the official Ruby Shoo Facebook account before I give out my address.”

Of course as soon as I sent this a different brain weasel began running rampant around my head.  One that kept telling me that I really had won a pair of my favourite shoes but thanks to me being such a suspicious bitch I had lost them again, and they would just go to someone more trusting than me.  I had, not to put too fine a point on it, looked this particular gift horse much too closely in the mouth.  However when I didn’t see a response for the next couple of hours I became more confident that my assessment of the whole thing as a scam was in fact the correct one.  I then had to go out to visit a client about an hour away, so between the drive and the meeting itself, it was well over two hours before I got to check my messages again.  This time there was a reply;

“Hi Kirsty, this Facebook accout was originally set up under my colleague under this account and then the Ruby Shoo business page was added afterwards – happy to contact you on email if you prefer?  My name is Carla ******** and I’m the Marketing Manager for Ruby Shoo.  Thanks Carla.”

Here we go again!  Is this legit or just a very sophisticated scam?  I had a secret weapon – LinkedIn!  Now that I had a name, I looked her up on LinkedIn and there she was, Carla, UK Marketing Manager for GH Warner Footwear plc, the parent company of Ruby Shoo.  So it’s real!!!  Oh hang on, if I can look her up on LinkedIn, then a scammer could look her up too.  So am I really any the wiser?  It did seem like an unusual level of detail for an internet scam though so I messaged back again;

“Hi Carla, thank you so much for your understanding – I’m thrilled to bits to actually win!  If you could give me your email address I’ll send you through my details.  Thanks, Kirsty.”

That was at around 4.20pm.  When it got to 5pm and I hadn’t had a reply I thought “Oh no, I’ve blown it again and this time it’s probably real” so I messaged one more time that alternatively she could email me and I gave her my email address.  I was taking a bit of a chance giving out the email address but less so than giving out my home address.  Then I spent the night panicking that either I had opened myself up to some horrible identity theft scam or else I had wantonly thrown away the chance of a free pair of my favourite shoes.

img_4722Shortly after 9am the next morning I got her email, and it was definitely legit.  It was @ghwarner.co.uk so I finally believed.  I really had won something!  And I got to go to their website and pick literally any pair of shoes that I liked and they would be mine for free.  I really was the proverbial kid in a sweet shop.  Since the pair of Ruby Shoos that I already owned are probably not work appropriate (although they do look great with my dusky pink jeggings on casual days) I decided to pick something that were work-appropriate while still lovely and stylish.  I picked a pair of “Charlottes” in great big size 9 and gave Carla my address.  Within two hours I had a DHL tracking number, they were coming for delivery the following Monday when by good luck I was off work.  And by bad luck I was off work because it was the day before my laser assessment appointment and I hadn’t shaved for three days so I ended up answering the door to the DHL man displaying a fine bit of designer stubble.  But my shoes arrived.  And here they are.  I love them.

Something’s Burning

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Nearly eight months after my initial appointment at the Belfast Gender Clinic finally the treatments are beginning to arrive.  Following seven months of sitting in a room with first one therapist, then the consultant director of the clinic who has taken on my case personally, I’m finally starting to see other people in other places.  Within the last two weeks I have had my first sessions at both speech therapy and laser hair removal.  And with only a couple of days to go until I clock up three months living full time as a woman, it feels like my transition is moving up a gear.

I had received a letters from both Belfast City Hospital (for speech therapy) and the Ulster Hospital (for laser) in late August.  Pleasingly, Belfast City Hospital managed to send the letter to me in my new name at my new address.  Less pleasingly, the Ulster Hospital managed to send it to my old name at my old address, which is still my ex’s address.  And worryingly, they stated on the letter that if I didn’t confirm the appointment within 7 days I would be discharged.  My ex remembered to hand me the letter on day 6.  I queried the incorrect name and address when I called to confirm the appointment and was told that they always use the name and address quoted on the referral letter.  Which was sent in April.  It’s almost as if nobody there has realised that people commencing gender transition quite often have changes in personal details.  At least Belfast City Hospital, who were sent a referral letter at the same time, seem to know how to read the current details off a computer screen.  At least they were a bastion of NHS efficiency, right?  Wrong.

My first speech therapy appointment was scheduled for 10.30am on Monday 22nd September.  I still have the letter to prove it.  I went into work for an hour beforehand and then arrived at the Speech & Language Therapy centre around five minutes early.  There was no receptionist, simply a sign on the door which read “Welcome to Speech & Language.  If you have an appointment please take a seat and your therapist will be with you shortly.  If your haven’t been seen by 15 minutes after your scheduled appointment time, please call 028 90XX XXXX.  So I sat in the deserted waiting area.  And I sat.  And I sat some more.  The clock ticked past 10.45am.  I called the number.

“Hello, Belfast City Hospital, Speech and Language”

“Hi, my name is Kirsty Roberts.  I have an appointment with Catherine for 10.30 but I haven’t been seen yet.”

“Oh, right…  er…  she’s just finishing up with her previous patient, she should be with you shortly”

“OK thanks”

And I sat on.  And sat on.  The clock drifted towards 11am.  A woman emerged from a different door and asked if I was Kirsty.  I replied that I was.

“Hi, Kirsty, it was me on the phone a few minutes ago.  There’s been a terrible mix-up.  All of the speech therapists are at a conference today, so you might as well go.  Catherine isn’t here and she won’t be here.’

“But I’m here at the right time, here’s my letter”

“Yes, I know, you’re right.  It’s our mistake.  I’m really sorry.  Can you come at the same time next week?”

“Well yes, but er…”

“OK we’ll see you next week then”

And with that she was off, just before the thought occurred to me that she had blatantly lied to me about 15 minutes earlier.  Not a lot I could do, but it was pretty annoying to have two hours wasted at a time when I am pretty busy in work, not to mention a couple of quid of car parking charges.

One week later on Monday 29th September I found myself in exactly the same seat in a similarly deserted waiting area.  But this time at around 10.29, a different woman emerged from the correct door.

“Kirsty?”

“Yes”

“Hi, I’m Catherine, come on through.  I’m so sorry about the mix-up last week, it was my fault.  Did you get the message I left on your voicemail apologising for the mistake?”

“No.  No voicemails.”

“It was on your landline”

“I don’t have a landline”

She had left the message on my ex’s landline.  So the ability to read update names and addresses doesn’t extend to phone numbers.  Still, at least she was able to update phone and email contact details while I was with her.

Now, with all that out of the way, I have to say that Catherine was lovely.  Really friendly and encouraging, and very empathetic.  I was very surprised by the content of our discussion and what she was aiming to achieve.  What I expected was a lot of actual vocal exercises, what I got was something more akin to a “how to pass” workshop.

Catherine began by saying that she felt my voice sounded reasonably feminine anyway.  It’s ok I suppose.  One thing I do think is that it’s fairly consistent.  In the early stages of going out into the world as a woman I hadn’t learned what my female voice was going to sound like, and so consequently every time I opened my mouth it was a little adventure.  I never knew who was going to pop out.  But over time I gradually learned my voice and began to get a sense of what “my” voice sounded like.  However, she did ask if there was anything in particular that I wanted to work on.  My two responses were apparently far and away the most common two answers that she gets.

  1. Fewer telephone misgenderings
  2. More volume

She said that she had a few techniques that we can try that might be of use.  She seemed particularly confident that she could help with the telephone voice.  If that happened, if would be a major result.  I live in hope that one day someone will madam me rather than sir me on the phone.  In fact, I have taken to pre-empting that now by commencing phone calls with “Hi, my name is Kirsty” before the other person has a chance to say anything.  Although once or twice even that has elicited a quizzical “Kirsty?” in response, as if to say “Really?  Are you quite sure about that?”  Anyway, she asked me to give her a bit of detail about how my transition was going, or indeed if it had even commenced, which I’ll not repeat here as there’s well over three years’ worth of blog posts to answer that question.

She then had a questionnaire that she went through with me, asking if my voice caused me anxiety.  Apart from on the phone, no it doesn’t.  She asked about what I did in work, if it was just office-based.  I think she was quite taken aback when I told her that I manage around 80 client relationships throughout Northern Ireland, and I go and meet these business owners in their premises, and they have so far all been very supportive of my transition.  Then she asked if there were any other situations in work where my voice was critical

“Well I’m giving a presentation to a room full of business bankers tomorrow morning”

She was definitely taken aback by that.  (It went fine by the way).  So she seemed quite pleased and impressed with how I was approaching integrating myself back into my personal and professional life as the new me.

I spoke for a while about the phone being a problem because the person on the other end of the call is missing all the visual cues to tell them that I’m female.  All they’ve got is the voice.  And this is when things went off in an unexpected direction.  She said

“The visual cues are important.  Probably more important than the voice.  So I try to help my patients not just with their voice but with the other aspects too.  I see some women coming in here at the same stage as you early in their transition, or even just before starting it, and there’s so much else to work on.  The way they dress is not right, the make up is either badly done or over the top, the way they walk, the way they sit, their body language, hand gestures… but I don’t need to worry about any of that with you, it’s all as it should be.  I mean, it’s just really obvious – you are female”

And with that I became rather emotional.  She asked if I needed a tissue.  Just about not.  But I had to take a moment.  Just to hear someone in her position say that to me.  It meant so much.  I mean, it’s obvious to me that I’m female, but affirmation like that just gives me so much more confidence.  It was definitely the most emotional response I have had to anything that has happened in any sort of session via the Gender Identity Service. Much more so than the actual therapy, probably because it was so unexpected.

At last I did get some exercises to do, but they were silent.  Running the tip of my tongue around my teeth for a minute, 30 seconds one way, 30 seconds the other.  Then exaggerated open-mouthed chewing while rotating my jaw, like a cow chewing the cud for another minute, then another minute of closed-mouth pretend chewing, 30 seconds each side, like I had an invisible toffee in my mouth.  Designed to loosen the back of my tongue to open up a larger cavity at the back of my mouth which will both help higher the pitch of my voice as well as helping my voice resonate there to aid with loudness.  I’ll give it a go.

I have homework for the next appointment.  I have to observe one man and one woman, and make notes about how they speak, variances in pitch, their body language, posture, gait, hand gestures etc.  I’m going to us Graham and Beth from work as my guinea pigs, as they are the two people with whom I work most closely.  I hope they don’t find out.


Just over a week later, on Tuesday 3rd October, was my first appointment at the laser clinic at the Ulster Hospital.  I had been somewhat apprehensive of this, because my big fear has been that I was simply going to be told that my facial hair was too blonde/grey and there was nothing they could do for me.  A year or so ago, before I had commenced electrolysis treatment, I had walked into a beauty salon (as Bob) who were advertising laser beard removal for men as a cost-effective alternative to shaving.  I asked if they could do it for me.  The woman took one look at me and said “No, you’re too blond, you’d need a lot of treatments and would spend a lot of money for probably not great results”.  So the fear of being refused treatment was actually based upon a real experience.

When I phoned to confirm my appointment at the laser clinic once I had got the letter from my ex, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to shave for five days before the appointment.  This frightened the life out of me.  I would have, if not a beard, at the very least some 1986-vintage George Michael designer stubble after that length of time.  Then when I actually got the appointment confirmation letter sent out it said I must not shave for a week before the appointment.  An effing week!  I have a job in a busy city centre office and need to present in a professional manner, I can’t be a bearded lady!  I mentioned this to Dr Ingram at my last therapy session at the clinic, and he was fairly dismissive of the laser clinic’s demands.  He pretty much said a week was ridiculous, and if my growth was any way strong (according to Lynda the electrolysist it is, worse luck) then 2 or 3 days would do them fine.  So I made the appointment for a Tuesday, booked the Monday off work and resolved to have my last shave the previous Friday before work.  In practice, I had a shave on the Saturday morning too because I had to go out, and it meant that I would also be reasonably presentable from a distance on the Sunday too.  I also had some good indoors activity planned for the Monday, which I imagine will feature in my next post, but for now suffice to say that by the time I got up on Tuesday morning for my laser appointment I had if not quite a luxurious beard, certainly a very definite growth, to the point where my chin had ceased to be sandpapery and was verging on the furry.

I arrived a little early at the hospital and frittered away 15 minutes sitting in the car playing Words With Friends on the phone before braving the walk through to the hospital building.  I say braving, because I was dressed in my usual manner, girly hair in place, block heel boots, handbag, eyeliner, mascara and, er, something approaching a beard.  I don’t know if the people loitering around gave me funny looks because I resolutely didn’t look at anyone.  The admissions office directed me down a long corridor towards the laser clinic, and I entered at around 9.05am for a 9.30 appointment.  Two nurses, one of whom was a sister leading the clinic, were seated in the waiting area, and I immediately admitted I was very early.  Not a problem, they said, but they were still waiting for the laser to warm up.  They gave me an information sheet to read, and I sat for about 10 minutes before they called me in.

Almost immediately my worst fears were dispensed with.  They were happy that there was plenty of darker facial hair for them to be working on, so they explained that I got 10 sessions, which would be 6-8 weeks apart.  I mentioned that I have been undergoing electrolysis for the last 9 months to pick off the lighter hairs, and then I got a surprising reply.

“You’ll need to stop that for the duration of your treatment with us”

I did a quick bit of mental arithmetic.

“So that’s about 15 months?”

That was correct.  I had heard both from Lynda at the electrolysis centre and also anecdotally that you couldn’t have electrolysis for 2 weeks before and 1 week after laser but none at all!  This is going to extend out my facial hair removal even further.  But what choice do I have?  The sister then asked if I had started my hormone therapy yet.  No, not yet.  I was referred at the end of July and was told the waiting list was 4-6 months, so hopefully before Christmas but January at the latest.  In that case, my “proper” laser treatment wasn’t going to start until January.  Seems reasonable I suppose.  Beginning the treatment while I still have testosterone-fuelled facial hair growth might be a sisyphean task.  The good news is that they only needed me to have some facial hair growth today so they could actually see the pigmentation.  When I’m doing it “for real”, I should shave the previous evening.  Thank goodness for that.

“So we’re going to be trying a couple of test patches today”

OK.  For some reason I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen.  The nurse produced a plastic disposable razor, the sort that costs about £3 for a pack of ten in your local supermarket.  The sort that I wouldn’t dream of using in a million years.  She informed me that I should shave two patches of around a square inch each on either side of my chin.

“Fine.  Do you have any shaving cream?”

“No.  Just use the hand wash in the toilet”

For crying out loud, if I’d known they were going to do that I would have brought my own razor and gel from home.  So much for looking after my skin!

I emerged with two bald patches on my face and was lead through to the treatment room.  I lay down on the treatment bed, and the sister explained that she would be doing two patches.  The left patch would receive IPL, Intense Pulsed Light, the type of “laser” that you would get in a beauty salon.  The right patch would receive the full medical grade laser.  OK.  The nurse asked my to remove my glasses and put a pair of completely black goggles over my eyes, securing them tightly round the back of my head.  I asked them to count me in so I knew when it was coming”

3.. 2.. 1..

The IPL was painful enough but oh my god the laser was excruciating.  People have told me that if I can stick electrolysis, laser is not as bad.  Utter nonsense.  It is so sore, like someone flicking a very strong elastic band at your face over and over and over again, and you just have to take it.  The pain was terrible.  But what was even more frightening for me in my darkness was the almighty smell of burning.  It was overpowering and unpleasant.  How the hell am I going to stick a full-face session lasting 20 minutes?  Every time the laser pulsed I pulsed, and reeled from the aroma of burning hair.

And after about 30 seconds, it was all over.  More unpleasantness in that 30 seconds than in 9 months of electrolysis.  I didn’t enjoy it at all.  And to add further ignominious insult to injury, the nurse whipped off the goggles and took my wig with them.

It was over.  See you in 3 or 4 months.  I was given some more information sheets, and a letter for my GP.  The letter was asking him to write me a prescription for EMLA cream, an anaesthetic cream that should numb my face for the next time.  I wonder can you get something that temporarily dulls your sense of smell too.  They also gave me a small tube of factor 50 sunblock to rub on my beard area before putting on my make up every day.  There is to be no sun damage on my face at all.

I felt slightly better about the smell a few days later when I was at electrolysis (avoiding the test patched areas).  Lynda told me that the burning was good.  It proves it works.  It’s burning hair.  If my hairs weren’t being affected by the laser, they wouldn’t burn.  So burning smell = effective treatment.  I’ll try to embrace it in future.

Officially Female

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Kind of.

I know that in the eyes of the law, in the UK at least, being legally female means having obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate which is realistically at least two years away.  However, for the time being at this early stage in my transition, I do have the next best thing.  A new passport.  A new passport that says the all-important “F” in the “sex” field.  Interesting that the field specified “sex” and not “gender”.  Still, I’m not too worried about that particular piece of terminology.  Unfortunately I look like something of a sweaty-toothed madwoman in the picture, but that’s practically de rigeur for a passport photo, isn’t it?

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A half decent driving licence photo

The passport photo is still pretty frustrating though, because the photo on my driving licence is pretty good.  I was very pleased with it when I had it taken.  The booth takes up to 3 digital photos, you pick the one you like best, and it then prints five identical copies of that photo.  I only needed one attempt.  Out came the five prints and I looked, as my good friend Michelle put it, “all woman”.  Two went off for my driving licence and a couple of weeks later the new licence arrived.  Driving licences don’t have a specific gender marker, although it does say “Ms Kirsty…” which is the next best thing.

I sent two more prints of that photo off with my passport application, feeling rather pleased that I was going to have a relatively decent picture of myself on these two important documents.  A week later, I received a letter in the post from the Passport Office.  The photographs I submitted were unacceptable as I appeared to be too far from the camera when the photo was taken.  Never mind that the seat in the booth can’t move forwards or backwards, and that my face filled the template on the screen in the booth in exactly the indicated places, the photo that was good enough for the Driver and Vehicle Agency was not good enough for Her Majesty’s Passport Office.  Fussy bastards.  So the next day I headed back to Boots with another £5 for another go at the photo booth.

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The passport of a sweaty-toothed madwoman

This time I deliberately leaned forward.  I was determined to fill the screen with my gorgeous visage, and since the booth had taken a decent photo first time round, surely it would do a reasonable job second time round too.  It’s all about the lighting, right?  Wrong.  I fixed my hair, touched up my lippy and pressed the button to indicate to the electronic Mr DeMille that I was ready for my close-up.  Click, flash, sweaty-toothed madwoman.  Oh no, I thought, must have got the angle wrong.  The screen asked if I wanted to accept or reject this photo.  Reject, obviously.  I’ll try opening my eyes a bit wider.  Click, flash, slightly startled sweaty-toothed madwoman.  Reject again.  The screen informed me that this was my last attempt.  I looked at myself on the screen.  I looked fine.  I couldn’t see anything that was in obvious need of fixing, it was just going wrong in that split second when the image was taken.  I crossed my fingers.  Click, flash, sweaty-toothed madwoman.  The screen then asked me to indicate which of these three delightful images of a deranged lunatic I wanted it to print.  It might as well have asked me for my favourite venereal disease.  With no enthusiasm whatsoever I plumped for the third, and out it came.  And now I’m stuck with it for the next ten years.  Great.  But at least it says “F” on the passport.

As well as the sense of affirmation that I get from having my new driving licence and passport, they also open up the world of travel to me.  I hope to be getting my first flight as the real me within the next month or so, and I am planning on going over to visit my old friends Pete and Nicky in Essex once we can sort out dates that suit us all.  I’m also hoping to use this opportunity to meet up with a few other friends who now live in the south of England, so all in all I’m looking forward to it a great deal.  Might get a blog post or two out of it as well, you never know.


Since I’m here in front of a keyboard, I’m going to recount a couple of incidents that happened in work over the last two or three days.  They wouldn’t merit a post of their own, but I think they’re worth recording anyway.

ANECDOTE No. 1

On Wednesday I was chatting with a couple of female colleagues, and the conversation veered on to the subject of hair.  One of the girls asked me

“I haven’t asked you this before Kirsty, but I’m assuming you’re growing your own hair underneath that?” (indicates wig)

“Yes, of course”

“So a day will come when you come in here and the wig’s gone and it’ll be all your own hair?”

“That’s the intention, yes”

“And have you any thoughts about what sort of style you want?  Will it be similar to the wig?”

“Fairly similar, I want a bob, more cut in at the back that this, you know, shaved up my neck, and longer at the front so it curls in at my chin”

“A bit like Jennifer’s then?” (she indicates a colleague)

“Yes, a bit like that, but shorter at the back and with a fringe” (A fringe in the UK is what Americans call bangs)

“So how long is your hair now?”

“Well if I pull it down at the front it covers my eyes and if I pull it down at the sides it covers my earlobes” (Bob used to get a No3 at the sides and back)

“And what colour is your hair?”

Slightly incredulously I replied, “It’s the same colour that it was three months ago the last time you saw it!”

“What colour is that?  I can’t really remember what you looked like before”

And there it was.  Eight weeks back at work as the real me and a woman I have worked with since 2004 is starting to forget the male version of me already.  How great is that?

ANECDOTE No 2

I was at my desk yesterday morning when a male colleague, Paul, came over to me clutching a post-it note bearing the name of one of my clients along with a mobile phone number.

“Des wants to speak to you”

“Can you not just transfer the call?”

“I didn’t like to.  He was asking for you by your old name”

“And did you say anything to him?”

“No.  I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.”

Oh.  This wasn’t good.  I have written on this blog about the very detailed transition plan that I had in work.  That during my three weeks of leave in July, all my clients were supposed to be contacted by phone and in writing to inform them of my transition.  Had Des been left off the list?  Had I forgotten about him when I was compiling the list of clients to call?  I dug out the list and there he was, plus he had been ticked off by the person making the call as having been spoken to, and having had the follow-up letter issued.  So why was he asking for Bob?  Had he forgotten?  Or is it possible that the person who was meant to make the call didn’t actually do it at all, despite what she had said previously?  The whole point of this exercise was to avoid putting me in the position of having to explain my transition to my clients myself, as well as allowing them to respond to the news in their own way without awkwardness on their part of having me be the person hearing their response.

I explained the situation to Beth, my line manager, who had co-ordinated all these calls in my absence.  She was certain that he had been contacted but suggested I could contact the person who had actually made the call.  I looked up her number and gave her a ring.  Straight to voicemail, out of the office.  So the choice was to ask Beth to call this client, or to grab the bull by the horns and do it myself.  Beth pointed out that he might just have forgotten, although that seemed unlikely to me.  Could it even be possible that he was refusing to acknowledge my transition and deliberately continuing to use my old name?  Maybe.  I decided to just do it myself, for better or worse.

Ring, ring

“Hello?  Is that Bob?”

“Not any more.  This is Kirsty Roberts.”

“Is this not Bob?”

“No.  I used to be Bob, but now I’m Kirsty.  Did you not get a call from Sinead about me?”

“Sorry, I’m confused.  I was looking to speak to Bob.”

“Yes, that used to be me.  You were supposed to have had a phone call and a letter from Sinead about me back in July.”

“Sinead?  Yes, I know Sinead but I don’t need to speak to her, I’m looking for Bob”

“As I said, I used to be Bob, but now I’m Kirsty.”

“Kirsty?  Are you the girl I was talking to earlier about buying Japanese Yen?”

“No, this is Kirsty Roberts, from [name of company]”

“Sorry, Kirsty, I don’t understand”

By this stage Beth was standing beside me, looking at me quizzically.  I mouthed something like ‘He hasn’t got a clue” towards her, and she motioned for me to give her my phone.  I said to him

“Des, I’m going to pass the phone over to Beth, she will explain.”

Beth took my mobile from me and shuffled off into a side office in order to have “the conversation” with the client.  Around three minutes later she returned with a big smile on her face.

The good news is that he was definitely aware of my transition.  He had received the phone call and the letter, and he said he had no problem with what was happening, I had his support, and he was more than happy to continue to deal with me in future.  The reason for his confusion was down to something else altogether.

When Paul had brought me the name and number on the post-it, he had also remarked that Des had phoned in on the unused number of a former colleague who had retired a year or so ago.  When Paul had asked Des why he was using that number, Des replied that he always used that number.  It turns out he doesn’t always use that number.  That was an old number for our company that he had stored on his phone, and he accidentally selected that number instead of the one next to it in his contacts list.  And the number he actually wanted to dial wasn’t my number, or even the number of anyone in my department.  It was the number of someone else who works in our company, but in a different department on a different floor.  And this other person whom he meant to call in the first place before dialling the wrong number is called, you guessed it, Bob!

The poor man, that might have been one of the most bizarre and confusing conversations he has ever had in his life.

More amusing anecdotes next time!

Kirsty

Rearranging Preconceptions

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I have considered writing a post along these lines for a while, and always reined myself in.  However something happened last weekend which caused me to possibly re-evaluate a few of the things I’m going to say in the first few paragraphs.  Not all of them, but a few of them.  But please understand that the reason I’m writing them down now is to demonstrate how the weekend’s events changed some of these views.

I have a problem with drag queens.  I don’t like them.  Individually they might be very nice people, but the concept thoroughly riles me.  Firstly, they are not part of the transgender spectrum.  I don’t care if they appear on a widely-circulated cartoon showing all these various terms under a big umbrella called “Transgender”, the cartoonist was wrong.  Drag queens are putting on a character, and that character is to put it bluntly, a vicious and sexist pastiche of women cis and trans alike.  I feel about drag queens the way I imagine a person of Afro-Caribbean descent might feel about the Black & White Minstrel Show.  Even if it is unintentional on their part, and I am perfectly happy to believe that many drag queens are lovely human beings, I believe that they reinforce horrible transphobic prejudices that (a) we are all just blokes in dresses and (b) that is inherently funny.

There is a popular gay bar in Belfast called Union Street.  Every Saturday afternoon they run a karaoke event hosted by the a drag queen going by the delightful name of Tina Leggs Tantrum.  Why can’t they just call themselves Susan or Mary?  The event is called – and I’m only going to write this once because I thoroughly despise the term – “Tina’s Trannyoke”.  Ugh, my keyboard feels dirty now.  The T-word has been used to belittle, ridicule and marginalise trans* people for many years, and including it in the name of an event is perpetuating a transphobic term.  I don’t care if some, cross-dressers in the main, use it about themselves; Uncle Toms the lot of them, part of the problem.  To me, having a drag queen front a karaoke event and calling it T*****oke is morally equivalent to having a blacked-up white guy doing the same event, telling a bunch of Jim Davidson “Chalky White” jokes from the 1970s in between the songs and calling it N*****oke.  Unacceptable.  However despite this, T*****oke remains inexplicably popular.  In fact, I was invited to go to it a few weeks ago, and I may have had a bit of a rant at the inviter.  Such is the price of being true to my beliefs.

As well as the downright offensiveness of the name itself, up until last weekend I had never darkened the doors of Union St or any other gay bar simply because that’s not really a world that I have any interest in.  I am transitioning to be a woman, not to be a trans woman, and so I remain highly reluctant to do things or go places that mark me out as not quite like other women.  Quite a while ago I wrote a post entitled “Russian Closets“, and I think most of what I wrote then still stands.  I can get the appeal for the L, the G and the B of LGBT.  Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual are sexualities, so if for example a gay man went into a mainstream bar, he would need to be extremely careful about hitting on a guy there as it could not just cause offence, but cause a violent reaction.  So there’s a lot to be said for LGB people having a safe venue where you don’t have to rely on “Gaydar” to know if someone is likely to be of the same sexuality as you.  However my part of LGBT is about gender, not sexuality.  In fact, I’m not sure what my sexuality even is any more and it doesn’t particularly interest me anyway.  So to me, a trans person going into a gay bar is just a slightly bigger closet.  I don’t want to be in the closet.  If a cis woman of my age wouldn’t do it on a regular basis, I don’t really want to do it either.  To do otherwise would be to have what seems to me to be an inauthentic transition, not fully living as a woman, but as something slightly different.  It’s not for me.

Now on to the events of the weekend.

Over the last four or five months I have got to know another trans lady called Karen.  She is one of the loveliest, friendliest and most positive and upbeat people I know. Oddly enough, I have got to know her because our weekly electrolysis appointments are very close.  Hers finishes 15 minutes before mine begins, and almost without fail by the time I turn up at 5.15pm the electrolysist is running at least 15 minutes late, so I arrive just as Karen is emerging from her appointment.  We then have a 15-minute chat on the sofa in the waiting area before I go in for my weekly 30 minutes of torture.  And this is where it gets a bit odd.  I only went full time in July.  Karen has not yet gone full time, and is targeting October for her full time date.  This means that, rather bizarrely, for the first two or three months that we knew each other, we had only ever seen each other presenting as male.  Now that I am full time, Karen sees me presenting female every week, but up until a week ago I had still only ever seen her presenting as male.

A couple of weeks ago I had mentioned to her about the “Transphobia:  How The Police Can Help” event being run by the Belfast Butterfly Club that I mentioned briefly in my last post, and she said she would come along.  It was there that I finally saw Karen as Karen for the first time.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had seen photos I don’t think I would have recognised her.  She looked great.  Anyway, we were chatting after the talk had finished and she asked if I would like to come with her to dinner on Saturday night.  She even offered to give me a lift.  How could I refuse?

By 6pm on Saturday Karen arrived at my house, bearing a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine for my new home.  She said she would be a little early so we could have a wee tipple first.  And since she was driving, she suggested going to her favourite bar; Union Street!  And thanks to the joys of social pressure, I said ok then.  And in we went to find in full flow… T*****oke!!!

Except it wasn’t T*****oke, it has been renamed T-Oke.  That’s a good start.  Still an effing drag queen running it though.  Why?  He would be just as entertaining and a lot more inclusive presenting as himself.  Karen seemed to know a lot of people, including our host, but chaperoned me upstairs to a quieter balcony area.  Quieter, as in less busy.  We could still hear some appalling caterwauling from downstairs, but thankfully not to the extent where our conversation was drowned out.  Karen asked me the question

“So, what do you think of Union St?”

Well, I must admit that I told her.  I told her pretty much what I wrote in the first three paragraphs of this post.  And then I heard her side of things.  I thought her defence of drag queens was fairly weak (“They’re just making a living” – yes, and so were the blackfaced white men on the Black & White Minstrel Show, that doesn’t mean we should bring it back) although she does share my distaste for the t-word.  However what was more interesting for me and really did cause me to rearrange a few prejudices was her story of how she came to be a regular in this bar, and how she ended up knowing everyone.

Karen is of a similar age to me, and while she is not fully out to everyone and full time yet, she does plenty in female mode.  Probably a lot more than I ever did as a part-timer.  But round about the same time as I was beginning to take my first faltering steps out into the world as a woman, she was too.  Except for me it was a case of making contact with a trans support group, going there a few times and going home again before eventually striking out from there into the real world, Karen approached things differently.  In her mind, the safest place for her to present female in public was in a gay bar.  Union Street, to be precise.  So back at that same time when I was starting out, she put on a dress, heels, wig and make-up and drove herself to Union St, walked in the door, stood inside the bar but right beside the door for about 20 minutes, walked back out again and drove home without speaking to a soul.  She laughed when I told her that my first “in public” experience was walking into Tesco and back out again.  But not to be deterred, she tried again the next week, and this time as she was standing alone a man approached her.  He introduced himself as Mark, and said that she looked like a lost sheep and would she like to join him and his friends.  Mark and his friends are a group of gay guys, and they took Karen under their wing, listening to her story and bringing her into their group.  They became fast friends, they made her feel safe when she was just starting out and in their own way they became her support group.  They have all even gone on holiday together, with Karen in male form.  So in fact for Karen, coming to Union St isn’t hiding away in a closet any more, it’s where she goes to meet her friends.  It’s no more a closet for her than a support group like the Belfast Butterfly Club or SAIL is for me.  And I think I finally understood that this place could be a good place for a trans woman to come.  I still wasn’t keen on the drag queen though, and the singers were without exception dire.

About 45 minutes later I had finished my glass of Sauvignon Blanc and we were back in Karen’s car heading off to an Indian Restaurant in the Dundonald area of Belfast to meet a group of female friends.  This group is actually another Meetup group, just like the one of which my book group forms a part.  This group however is an LGBT women’s group.  I don’t have a problem with that at all.  I am an LGBT woman.  I’m definitely a T, and I might also be an L or even a B but the jury is still out on that one.  Now that I think about it though, surely by definition it must be an LBT women’s group, right?

There were only five of us there, Karen and myself included, and we had a really lovely evening.  The food was pretty good, although I do love Indian food anyway, and the company was great.  I felt like I got on well with the other three women too, and I really must join the group.  They do meals once a month, but also cinema outings and other events too.  It was good fun.  However at the end of the meal at around 10.30, Karen asked if I wanted her to take me home or did I want to go somewhere else.  I said something I could never have imagined myself saying even five hours previously;

“Let’s go back to Union St.”

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Karen and I return to Union St.  I’m the pretty one 😇

By this time the T-Oke had thankfully finished and of course Karen’s friends had all arrived and I got to meet them all.  They were without exception, genuinely lovely people and easy company.  I met the aforementioned Mark, and also Charlie, Simon, David and a bunch of others whose names escape me.  I got into a good chat with Simon in particular, who I have to say is one of the funniest people I have ever met – as camp as a row of tents, and absolutely hilarious.  He is the only person I have ever met who can call you a “f***ing c**t” and your reaction is “Aww, sweet”.

Karen had mentioned to her friends that I was a “Union St Virgin”.  This was of course true, however it lead them to believe that I was a complete novice at being out in public, and that Karen had taken me under her wing and lead me out on my first ever expedition to a public venue presenting female, just as she had done by herself a few short years ago.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

“So is this your first time out then?  You look great!”

“No, not at all.  I’ve been living full time as a woman since the start of July.  I go to work like this.  I just haven’t been here before”

“Why not?

“Er… it just never occurred to me.”

As the evening wore on and more wine took effect, we moved downstairs where I ended up in an impromptu conversation with a Catalan (not Spanish!) guy, who was from a small village close to Tarragona, where I worked as an English language assistant on summer camps for Catalan kids during the summer breaks when I was a student.  I think he was quite taken aback when I dropped in a few words of Catalan that I had picked up way back then.  At this point Karen had been deep in conversation elsewhere but came over and told me there was someone she wanted to introduce me to.  She brought me over to a table where a small woman with short black hair was seated.  “This is Mary Ellen”, Karen told me.  We said hello and shook hands.  “Mary Ellen was Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast last year”.  Say what?  I didn’t expect to be getting introduced to dignatories.  It seems she has been a great advocate for LGBT rights within Belfast City Council, so go her!

My final conversation of the evening was with Charlie, and was quite sincere.  He told me that he had been around the gay “scene” in Belfast since he was 15, and he is now 31, and that Karen was the first honest-to-goodness-not-a-drag-queen trans woman that he had ever met, and I was still only the second, and that over the last few years she has completely changed his understanding of trans matters.  The friendship between all of them really is genuine.  Karen has done so much to educate so many people in that group about what it means to be trans, why it’s completely different to being gay and definitely nothing like being a drag queen.  And though I didn’t ask her, it wouldn’t surprise me if Karen was at least part of the reason why the former T*****oke is now T-Oke.

As we finally left and Simon gave me his surname so I could look him up on Facebook, I think I really did get the appeal.  It’s not hiding away, it’s just a completely different atmosphere from your average city centre bar.  At no time did I feel unsure of anyone, threatened, cautious or afraid.  And that’s nothing to do with being trans, it was the same when I was living as male.  Look at the wrong person the wrong way and you could end up with a punch in the face or worse for your trouble.  No, my evening in Union St made me think of no bar other than “Cheers”

Where everybody knows your name
And you’re always glad you came

I was so, so wrong about that place.  Preconceptions rearranged.

Fame, Fame, Fatal Fame

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I have been living full time as a woman for two months now.  I have been back at work for a day over six weeks.  In that time I have encountered nothing but positivity from friends, family and colleagues alike.  But more than just those three categories.  In fact, I have encountered huge amounts of positivity from people who, if not complete strangers, are only barely known to me, in work at least.  Thanks to my employer’s sterling efforts in briefing all the staff in my building (several hundred of them), my clients (approximately 80 small and medium sized businesses), key staff in the company’s 40 or so other offices throughout Northern Ireland and the cumulative effect of the bush telegraph, I now find myself in the rather surprising position of feeling like I am the most famous woman in the world.  Or at least in my little part of it.  It’s odd, to say the least.

I have always valued my anonymity.  I don’t particularly like being noticed.  I don’t mean being read; even before I commenced my transition when I was still “him”, I always preferred to go unnoticed.  I hate getting engaged in an off-topic conversation with a sales assistant or service provider.  I’m not great at small talk.  I thoroughly despise fawning American-style customer service, which always strikes me as deeply fake:

“Hi, my name is Bob, I’ll be your server.  I hope you’re having a good day.   Isn’t it a lovely day?  Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?” (reads name on credit card) “So Kirsty, what can I do for you today?  I can recommend product x, y or z.  Have you tried product q?  It’s amazing, I love it.  Well Kirsty, have you decided what you want? And would you like fries with that?”

Just stop it!  It makes me uncomfortable.  I want good old-fashioned British/Irish-style customer service:

“What do you want?  There you go.  Now f*** off.”

No hidden agendas, I like it.

So where am I going with this?  Really just to say that I feel uncomfortable being engaged in conversation by strangers whom I wouldn’t normally expect to attempt to engage me in conversation.  Which brings me to work…

Suddenly I find the everyone knows who I am.  Within the first couple of days back at work, there was a steady stream of people coming up to me at my desk to wish me well and ask how I was faring with my transition.  Everyone who approached me did so with the purest of motives.  However when people who didn’t even acknowledge my existence as Bob, wouldn’t have even nodded in acknowledgement when we passed in the street, suddenly decide to come and say hello with a “Hiya Kirsty, how are you settling in?”, well it makes me feel quite awkward.  I mean, obviously it’s better than people telling me I’m a disgusting pervert and that hell would freeze over before they think of me as female.  I’m not complaining about the support.  I’m complaining about the social awkwardness I feel when people that I don’t know, and whom I feel don’t know me, are suddenly calling me by my first name and asking how I’m doing as if I was a long-lost friend.

I did a professional exam last weekend (Monitoring and Identifying Early Warning Signs of Financial Distress – bet you’re jealous), and as I was standing nervously outside the exam hall a woman whom I didn’t recognise at all, offered a breezy “Hi Kirsty!” as she walked past.  Who on earth is she and how does she know me?

Our office cleaner, who hasn’t said “Boo!” to me in 5 years, struck up a conversation in the lift yesterday.  Actually, that one was really nice, she said that I “even walk happier” since beginning my transition.  Which of course put even more of a spring in my step.  So it’s not all bad at all.

On another positive note in work, the woman who had previously turned around and gone into the disabled loo any time she saw me in the ladies, appears to have got over herself and started to come in while I’m still there.  Thank goodness for that.


img_4692In my previous post I wrote about my birthday party at my sister Patsy’s house.  In a way the best part of my birthday was yet to come.  On the day itself my daughters presented me with a card addressed to “Mum”.  On the front it said “Wonderful Mum”.  I’m Mum.  My ex is Mummy.  They are still finding it a bit weird to say it out loud, but receiving that card, for a female parent, well it meant everything.  Probably cost 29p in the Card Factory.

It wasn’t just my birthday at the end of August, a week after my own birthday is my younger daughter Melissa’s big day.  She is now 8.  Back at the end of the previous school year, as Bob I had made a reservation for a kids party at a local indoor play centre.  It’s a good place, fun for the kids, a reasonable coffee shop for the adults, and the staff take orders for the McDonald’s next door so all the kids get a Happy Meal after they have finished playing.  A lot less hassle than having a crowd of 7 and 8 year olds in my house!

As I said, I had booked the party back at the end of June so the invites could be given out to Melissa’s classmates before school finished, as the party would be just before the new school year began.  When school finished at the end of June I was still living as male.  None of Melissa’s classmates nor, significantly, their parents, would have been aware of my transition.  When we have had Melissa’s birthday party in previous years it was always me and my ex there, and there is no doubt that the other parents would have been expecting Bob and Mrs Bob yet again.  So as the day of the party approached I grew increasingly nervous about how they might react when suddenly confronted with the person they knew as Melissa’s dad looking let’s say surprisingly feminine.  I was even playing out worst-case-scenarios with some of them refusing to leave their kids in my presence.  I was concerned.

In any social group there is usually one person who is the alpha, the group’s leader, the one with the highest social standing.  Not necessarily highest social class, but the person who leads the conversation and gives direction to the group.  The undoubted alpha female in what my ex calls the “Mummy Network” is a woman called Anne, who is the mother of one of Melissa’s closest school friends.  As the time of the party approached my ex and I were seated on a bench at the side of the lobby area at the play centre.  The first people to arrive were Anne and her daughter.  Melissa leapt up enthusiastically to hug her friend, whom she hadn’t seen in nearly 2 months, and my ex got up to greet Anne while I continued to sit sheepishly on the bench.  I heard Anne say hello to my ex, then she looked over at me.  I was terrified.  I waited for her to exclaim “OH.  MY.  GOD.  What the hell are you dressed like that for Bob???”  But that’s not what she said.  She turned back to my ex and asked her

“Is this your sister?”

Despite the circumstances, Melissa’s birthday party, with Melissa and my ex, Anne didn’t recognise Bob at all.  And not only did she not recognise Bob, she didn’t see me as anything other that completely female.  Which I am, obviously.  My ex pretty much ignored her question.  Anne asked my ex once more if I was her sister and looked over at me again.  I smiled and beckoned her over to me, but she didn’t move.  My ex clearly was trying to ignore the issue.  So I got up and walked slowly across to Anne, who had turned away from me by this stage.  I tapped her on the arm and she turned back towards me.

“Anne”

“Huh?”

“I used to be Bob”

Anne did one of the all-time greatest comedy double-takes in history.  Her jaw literally dropped.  She couldn’t speak.  She was in shock.

“I’m in shock”

Yes, I kind of gathered that.

“But how?  When?  Oh my god, you look amazing, I would never have known.  I really just thought you were [my ex]’s sister.”

So I explained a little about how I had reached this point, that I had been living as a woman since early July, and that I had been back at work as a woman for four weeks.  That my ex and I had separated and would be divorcing, that Melissa had been aware of my transition since early February and seemed fine with everything.

“I just can’t believe it.  I’m in shock.  I mean, congratulations, I’m really happy for you.  I hope it all continues to go well.  And well done to you both for dealing with this so well together.”

And that was that.  My secret was out in the Mummy Network.  As it happened, Anne was the only parent who stayed with my ex and me for the duration.  Other parents dropped their kids off and left, to return to collect them later.  I am convinced that not one of them recognised the old me, believing me to be probably Melissa’s auntie.  I spoke to many of them, interacted with them, handed out slices of birthday cake.  Not one noticeable reaction.

As I was heading over to pay for the party, Anne called out to me by my new name.  It was so nice to hear.  She bought me a coffee.  As we were sitting back at our table, Anne’s daughter came over.  She pointed at my cup and asked her mum

“Whose coffee is that?”

“Kirsty’s”

“Who’s Kirsty?”

“This lady here that’s sitting with us”

“Oh, ok”

That made me smile.

As I was unwinding at home later that night, my phone beeped with the Facebook Messenger noise.  It was a message from a “new contact”.  It was Anne, but at first I didn’t recognise her surname.  Only when I read the first line of the message did the penny drop.

Just wanted to say a big well done for what you did today, … u both did fantastic & thank you for being so open with me, you looked fanastic & so proud that you have found the courage to be you

I mentioned in reply that I had been a little nervous but I was very grateful for her positive reaction, and at least now she would know who that big tall woman collecting Melissa from school was.

I’m a tall person (she’s at least 5’10”) so u r not a big tall person, please don’t ever think that just be proud of being tall that’s what I tell [her daughter] all the time … I am really so so proud of u for the courage uve shown, I know u have ur own circle of friends but I’m here if u ever want a chat xx

People can be so great.


One further very small comment.  On Tuesday night I went to a talk by two police officers entitled “Transphobia:  How the Police can help”, which had been organised by the Belfast Butterfly Club.  It was well-attended and pretty interesting.  But I mention it not because of the content, but because as we left the large room where the talk took place and moved downstairs for a cup of tea, a person whom I hadn’t met before and who was presenting male said hello.  I said hello back.  Then he said

“I read your blog.  It’s very good.”

Aw, thank you.  And if you’re still here, hello!  Thank you for reading.  Turns out this was the first time he (or maybe that should be she, but he told me his name which I won’t repeat here, and it was a male name) had ever come to any sort of trans event.  So if I played even a tiny part in helping someone start to acknowledge who they are and begin to do something about it, well it’s very gratifying indeed.  This type of “fame” I can cope with.  He did add

“I don’t think I’m quite at your level”

“I didn’t used to think I was at my level either”

Ain’t that the truth!

Birthday Girl

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Can’t believe it’s three weeks yet again since I last wrote a post on here.  It’s almost as if I have got a load of stuff going on that’s a more pressing use of my time than writing this blog.  But of course we know that’s not the case.  The truth is that my daughter Amy has had my laptop in my ex’s house for the last 3 weeks as she has been using it for a bit of online gaming with some of her school friends, and I didn’t have the heart to take it off her.  So faced with the choice of maintaining blogosphere silence or making her a social outcast, well you know the result.  So here we are at last.

The difficulty with this length of a gap between posts is that it’s hard to remember what I have been doing over these last three weeks, so I expect this will necessarily focus on more recent events.  As well as those first couple of days that I wrote about in my previous post, I have now had three full weeks back at work, and it has begun to settle back down into some sort of routine.  Most significantly, I have got back into the swing of visiting clients.  This was probably the one thing about work that had concerned me the most prior to coming out.  I always knew that my immediate colleagues would be ok because ultimately they are bound by the company’s very strong code of conduct.  With one minor exception that I will deal with later, everyone in work has been tremendously supportive, although we’ll see how that develops in the coming months as I emerge from my transition honeymoon period.  However clients are bound by no such code and so I was concerned at how some of them might react to the new me.  So far my fears seem to have been largely unfounded, a sentence which I’m pretty sure I have written many times about many worries over the last three and a half years that I have been writing this blog.

Since my return from leave and the commencement of my transition, I have had five meetings with clients, and every one of them has been just as they were before.  Professional and businesslike.  I have had a meeting with a new client who had never known me as anything other than Kirsty, although slightly annoyingly one of the people from this company misgendered me during the meeting, albeit she very swiftly corrected herself.  And rather gratifyingly, later in the same meeting one of the client’s employees barged into the office we were using, realised she was interrupting something, and said “Sorry ladies!”, so that got them a few brownie points back.

I had another meeting with a client to whom I had spoken on the phone before, but never met in person.  This business is owned by a married couple in their sixties, and they were just perfect in how they dealt with me.  Correct name, correct pronouns start to finish.  Plus, they are a firm that distribute drinks and snacks to bars and off licenses throughout Northern Ireland, and as I was leaving they gave me a box of gourmet crisps to take away with me – mmm!  Gin next time, please.

Other meeting were with clients who have met the old me several times, but there were no slips.  All was as good as I could ever have hoped it would be.  I even feel good about little inconsequential things, like asking to use the loo at a client’s premises and being directed to the ladies’.  As I said, all good.

That one slight exception to all this is one woman who works on my floor, although not in my department so she doesn’t really know me.  Twice just in the last week I have been in the ladies’ loo in work, just washing my hands at the sink, and she has opened the door, seen me there, shut the door again and gone to the disabled toilet instead.  I think that says a lot more about her than it does about me, although it is annoying.  I mean, what is she actually thinking?  Does she think that I have taken this massive step, changed my name and all my details, run the risk of being ostracised by family, friends and work, undergoing the pain of electrolysis, changing my body with hormones and potentially risking my life on an operating table just on the off chance that I might catch a glimpse of her taking a dump?  But she is very much the exception.

And speaking of changing my details, I am now the proud owner of a driving licence bearing my new name and address, with the correct title “Ms Kirsty..”.  There is no gender marker on driving licences so the title is as much as I can get from that.  In contrast, a passport does have a gender marker, so when I get my new passport I will feel officially female.  And that is coming, I have a letter from Dr Ingram at the gender clinic verifying that I will be living permanently in the female gender role, for inclusion with my passport application, so that will be getting sent off in the next few days.

For the first time in my life, I went to Belfast Pride a couple of weeks ago and it was… rather dull.  My daughter Amy was going anyway, her best friend is a gay boy and she went with him last year too, so this year there were about six of them from her class at school draped in rainbow flags and sporting rainbow face paint on their cheeks.  So after some encouragement from friends at the SAIL support group, I decided that I would go along and that I would bring my younger daughter Melissa, as Amy had told her how great it was.  To be honest, she was a lot more enthusiastic than me about coming.  I very much resent how drag queens seem to dominate the coverage of Pride events, and I want to disassociate myself from such people as much as possible.  I am not a drag queen, I am a woman and I don’t like doing things that mark me as “other”.  Plus, in my humble and possibly controversial opinon, drag queens are the blackface of gender politics.

In reality, Melissa and I arrived at the start of the parade at the appointed start time (“1pm sharp”) and waited with increasing levels of boredom for the parade to actually begin, which it finally did a full 25 minutes later.  What did surprise me was the number of people lining the streets waving their rainbow flags.  At least I was able to point out the trans flag to Melissa, which she said was prettier than the rainbow one.  At one point I heard someone call my name from the side of the road, and there were my friends Joanne and Gary, so we shuffled over to the side for a hug and to introduce Melissa to them.  Further along, I heard something akin to a scream from the side of the road and this person walked into the middle of the parade heading straight for me, shouting my name.  It was the woman who works on the till in our staff canteen in work, who hadn’t yet seen me in the flesh but was obviously aware of my transition and recognised me immediately.  I actually saw her in work on the Monday, and she confessed that she ended up three sheets to the wind in Union St (a gay bar) and doesn’t remember going home.

We also met several people that I know through the SAIL group, including Claire, who has become a lunch buddy since my return to work.  Overall however we walked round, got to the end, and went home.  I completely appreciate and indeed support the need to be visible and make our voices heard, and in that respect Pride is very important.  But the whole carnival thing, not for me.  I spend so long trying to blend in, to be seen as the woman I am, and yes, to pass, that it just feels wrong to march around marking myself out as trans.  But each to their own.  And I didn’t see a single drag queen.

I had been growing my nails out since going full time.  In fact, they were last cut in mid-June, so they had reached a respectable length by last Wednesday.  Then disaster struck.  I was assembling my new IKEA wardrobe with my brother-in-law Frank on Wednesday night, and in the course of trying to hang the sliding doors I broke the nail on my right index finger right into the quick.  Urgent action was required.  I had promised myself that at some point I would try acrylic or gel extensions, and this seemed like the universe was telling me now was the time to give it a go.  I messaged my three nieces who live locally to ask if they could recommend anyone, and they came up with a friend of theirs called Danielle who operates out of her own house.  They were quick to stress that she was a qualified nail technician and not just some mate though.  So I contacted her via Facebook and she gave me an appointment for 10.30am on Saturday, yesterday morning.

img_4658On Friday evening I removed all nail polish and cut my fingernails down to a length Bob would have sported.  Then I drove up to Danielle’s house on Saturday morning and she took me up to her back bedroom, which she has converted to a mini beauty salon.  She was lovely, really friendly and very chatty.  I was with her for an good 90 minutes and it was a pleasure to watch and artist at work.  Not to mention the fact that I felt so girly, so feminine just being there.  She gave me a choice of either colour or French polish, and I went for colour.  A sparkly golden orange.  I got the full extensions which look fabulous although to be honest they’re not the most practical.  For one thing, I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be the most typo-riddled blog post I have ever written.  I’m back in three weeks for “maintenance” and I might get her to cut them back slightly.  We’ll see how it goes.  But they do look amazing.

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Three Roses Between Two Thorns:  Me and my siblings (l-r John, Hilary, Kirsty, Patsy, Brian)

And finally, just this afternoon my sister Patsy hosted a birthday party for me.  It’s not my birthday until Wednesday, but this weekend seemed as good a time as any.  I was the last to arrive (it was arranged that way) and all four of my siblings were there (including two who had travelled 100+ miles to be there) plus their spouses, four nieces and three nephews-in-law, two great-nieces, two great-nephews, as well as my own two daughters.  I arrived at Patsy’s house to see a big “Birthday Girl” banner on the front door, and as it was dry everyone was sitting out the back, which was festooned with more banners and pink balloons.  It was a very special day, an acknowledgement of my new self, and an acceptance of me as a sister and aunt.  Overwhelming in fact.

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Loads of lovely pressies!

After nibbles, birthday cake, party games and several glasses of Prosecco, we retired indoors where Patsy’s dining room table was completely covered with bags of presents.  I opened them one by one, something from everyone there and a few others from other family members who weren’t able to be there in person.  Every single present was a present for a woman.  It was like they were giving me a “woman starter kit”.  Lotions and potions, several pairs of earrings, a jewellery box, a beautiful chiffon scarf, a nice cream top and two gorgeous handbags.  Many hugs were given and a chorus of “Happy Birthday dear Kirsty” followed.  I have arrived and I feel so loved and accepted.  When I think back to when I started writing this blog in February 2014, or even to when I did the coming-out road trip round my four siblings’ homes in February this year, how can I even have thought anything like this could happen to me?  Has there ever been a trans woman who got a better reception?  I’m so lucky and I’m so happy.