I have had quite an eventful week since my last blog entry, and I had thought of trying to fit it all into one post, but there’s just too much. So in deference to finite attention spans, this one just deals with my first counselling session. Another will follow soon afterwards about other good stuff.
Last weekend I finally got word that my first session with a gender identity counsellor was going to take place on Wednesday 25th June. What I didn’t expect to hear was the location of that session. To the best of my knowledge, the counselling organisation that I am using (Gender Essence) are based in Antrim town, about 20 miles north-west of Belfast. I had fully expected my session to take place there, and had anticipated going along in full Kirsty mode. The thought of going as Bob just seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I even emailed my counsellor in advance to make sure it was ok for me to present as female in our session, and I got a nice reply saying I could dress in whatever way was most comfortable for me – this definitely meant going as Kirsty. But then I got a follow-up email from my counsellor Colleen confirming the location as the Rainbow Project, an LGBT charity in central Belfast and most critically, quite close to where I work. This threw my plans into disarray. Surely I couldn’t now go as Kirsty, there was too much of a risk of me being seen by someone who knows me professionally, and I couldn’t take that risk. If (and it’s still a huge “if”, despite what my wife might think) I ever come out at work, I want it to be in a manner of my choosing, where I can control as much of the scenario as possible. I definitely to not want to be outed by someone spotting me in the street. So I reluctantly resolved to go as Bob.
Wednesday morning dawned, and I was overcome with a horrible feeling that going as Bob was the wrong decision. It just seemed to me to be completely the wrong approach to go along and say “Here I am, I feel very strongly that I need to be a woman” while looking like a middle-aged bloke in a suit. So while driving into work with my wife that morning I told her that I was considering leaving work early so I could go home and get changed before meeting my counsellor. This also meant that if she wanted a lift back home with me, it would be a lift back home with Kirsty. I don’t think she was hugely enamoured of the idea, but she didn’t say much.
A week earlier I had spoken to my boss about my upcoming counselling. I didn’t out myself to her, I simply took her aside after a meeting which we were both at, and told her I had a personal issue for which I was going to have to attend counselling. I said that I couldn’t tell her what the issue was, but it wasn’t work-related. She was very concerned for me, asked if there was anything she or anyone else could do to help and so on, but I just said that the appointments were going to be during working hours so I would need to get out. She assured me that this would not be a problem.
At 1pm (my session was at 3pm) I took her aside and told her that the thing that I had told her about the previous week, was happening now and I had to go. So off I went. My friend Lauren, who knew about where I was really going, wished me good luck. Another colleague asked if I was going to meet a client, or if I had a half day. I tapped my index finger against the side of my nose and said “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you” and walked out. Not a bad exit. I wonder if they wondered where I had really gone or if they just forgot I had left at all. I do worry if all these little clues are going to build up to a picture – going off to secret appointments, the nail varnish incident, and I have even noticed that my body language at work is becoming more feminine. Bits of Kirsty keep spilling over into Bob, a couple of times Lauren has pulled me up on it, I’ll be talking away and she’ll just say “Hands!” and I have to do a quick readjustment.
I made it home by about 1.30pm having eaten a cornish pasty lunch on my way round to the car park. Then a quick transformation ensued. Instead of just shaving and putting the clothing that couldn’t be seen under Bob’s jeans & jumper, which is the usual extent of my at-home transformation, this time I did my nails and all my make-up apart from lips. It was a pretty miserable afternoon, with a constant drizzle, and there was nobody about in the street and little chance of kids coming out to play. So I just stuck a pair of sunglasses on to cover my eye make-up and left the house by the back door. I went straight to my usual lay-by to complete the transformation, which only took about 5 minutes as all I had to do was stick on a bit of lippy and change my shoes. I had gone for the casual look, the sort of thing I imagine I would wear on an afternoon off if I was full-time. Leopard print top, denim mini skirt, black cardie and black opaque tights with my little black leather ballerinas with a gold bow.
I drove back into Belfast and parked in my usual spot in Castle Court, a large shopping mall on Royal Avenue in the city centre. I park there every day for work. Then I did something I hadn’t done before. I went out in the centre of Belfast in the daytime as Kirsty. Several months earlier when I had first joined the Angels forum, someone had asked on my introduction thread if I had been out in public yet. At the time I hadn’t, and I said that while I would love to, it would have to be at a very safe location and at an appropriate time when there would be few people around. I then added jokingly that it’s not as if I would be walking down Royal Avenue in a mini skirt, as if that would have been completely unthinkable. So on Wednesday afternoon, I walked down Royal Avenue in a mini skirt. Twice. And as usual, nobody batted an eyelid.
I made my way round to the Rainbow Project and buzzed the intercom. I said I was here to see Colleen from Gender Essence, and I was buzzed up. I reached the first floor entrance and was met by a couple of men I hadn’t seen before. “I’m here to see Colleen”, I said. They wandered off and came back around 30 seconds later with an older man. “Hello”, he said, “I’m Colin”. I explained again who it was that I needed to see and was greeted with a sea of blank expressions. I was lead along a corridor, while my chaperones asked everyone they passed if they knew a Colleen. After what seemed an eternity, finally someone knew who she was and showed me upstairs to a meeting room where she was waiting for me. I was about 10 minutes late. I didn’t feel this was the best start, but in I went.
Colleen is a very calm, friendly young woman, and she made me feel welcome right away. We still had a good 75 minutes left and I was going to use that time. I’m not going to into all the detail of everything we spoke about. To be honest, if you have read all my blog posts then you probably have a good idea of what I spoke about anyway. Also, what’s wrong with you? I’m not that interesting!
It wasn’t quite what I expected. For some reason I had braced myself for a series of difficult, probing questions designed to test whether or not I really was what I feared or if I was just a very enthusiastic cross dresser. But it wasn’t like that at all. Colleen just kept me talking, encouraging me to expand on what I was talking about, leaving silences so that I was forced to go deeper into my thoughts. There was quite a lot about my childhood, about dressing behind my parents’ back in my teens, and even something that only came to me during the session and that I had practically forgotten for over 30 years – my male name is easily feminised, like Robert/Roberta, and when I was little I can remember writing an “a” at the end of my name in very faint pencil so I could be a girl for a little while, then rubbing it out again so nobody would know.
We talked about my feelings about how I mix with men. I find it very hard to talk to men on a level, particularly in groups. I just can’t do the joshing, blokey conversation at all, but I try to do it and then end up making a mess of it and looking like an idiot. It’s like I can’t actually be myself around men, and instead I’m putting on a rather unconvincing performance of how a man is supposed to act. I’m pretty sure it’s why I have very few male friends, and none that I have known for less than about 20 years. By contrary, I always feel at ease with groups of women, but if I had female friends that I socialised with regularly that wouldn’t be fair on my wife. So I don’t really have many friends at all, at least not until very recently when I started to be the real me.
Overall, though, there were two big things that I’m taking away from my first session. The first is resolving to stick to something I had said to my wife a few weeks ago. I have progressed at such a pace in the last five months that if it has been a whirlwind for me, it has been a ever spiralling nightmare for her. I need to give her time to catch up. So I have promised not to escalate anything further for the rest of this year. That’s not to say that I’m going to stop, but the current situation of being resolutely part-time, going out weekly to the BBC and the odd occasion out for dinner or some other activity, will continue and I will be satisfied with it. This will also allow me to rule out the infamous “Pink Fog”. Of course, from my wife’s perspective me saying I’m not escalating anything this year is taken as code for “I’m going full time from 1st January” which is not the case at all. I may never go full time. But I will definitely not be going full time in 2014.
The second big thing I’m taking away from my first session is really just a word. A word that has loomed ever larger in my thoughts for the last couple of months as the slow, or not so slow, realisation has dawned on me. Something that friends have said to me but that I have refused to say, for fear of the implications for me, my family, my job, my entire life. But I have come to the realisation that it is not saying it that is the problem, it’s what I’m going to do about it. And that is very far from being determined, and saying this doesn’t make it any closer to being determined nor does it commit me to any particular course of action. So, in the knowledge that in order to deal with a situation you first have to recognise just what that situation is, I’m going to say it now.
I am Kirsty. And I am a transsexual woman.