I have written a few times about my regular dinner dates with my very good friend Andrea, and jokingly referred to ourselves as The Lisburn Ladies Fine Dining Club. Well, as of yesterday, the club’s membership has expanded to three with the very welcome addition of my other closest trans* friend Michelle (the three of us also known as the 10 O’Clock Girls, where do I get these names from?)
We had asked Michelle if she would like to join us some time ago, but being a bit of a nervous girl (and not having been out in public for several years) she took a raincheck until the evenings were beginning to darken. So when Andrea and I had decided upon 30th August as our next evening out, we asked Michelle again, and this time she agreed. In fact, she pointed out that it is a very good time for us all to go out, as it is a week after my birthday, and about a week and a half before both Michelle’s and Andrea’s birthdays – theirs are on consecutive days. The plan was made, and in order to help Michelle feel a bit more comfortable, we decided to go back to The Potted Hen, in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, which was actually the first place that Andrea and I had dined out together back in early May. This was chosen not just because we knew we liked it, but because the Belfast Butterfly Club had had a Christmas dinner there before, and had advised the restaurant in advance that a number of trans* persons would be coming in. This means that we knew that the restaurant was trans*-friendly, which is important if you’re a bit nervous. It was certainly part of my thought process in choosing that restaurant for my first time dining out as Kirsty, although I don’t really think about such things much any more.
A week ago Michelle surprised my by getting me my own key cut for the Butterfly Club’s premises. This gives me a lot more freedom to be Kirsty without a lot of the skulking about that I sometimes have to do. Aided with this new base, Andrea and I had arranged to have a shopping day beforehand. I had been out shopping as Kirsty (as myself!) in the city centre a few times before and after my counselling sessions, but Andrea had never done this. To be fair, she does live a lot further from Belfast than I do, and as I also work there I know the city very well. My initial response was that I wasn’t sure it was something I would be comfortable doing. When I was out in Belfast before, it was on a Wednesday afternoon when I knew that all my colleagues, family and friends would be at work, and so I would be unlikely to bump into them in the city centre as I walked round. Going out on a Saturday afternoon when the town is at its busiest is a whole different matter and I was quite concerned that I would be seen by people who know Bob and that I would be outed. But I reflected upon my plan that I arrived at with my counsellor, and one of the key points was that I was not going to allow fear to stop me doing things that I wanted to do, so I decided that yes, I was going to go shopping with my friend, why shouldn’t I?
For the first time I was able to leave my house in complete male mode, drive over to the club premises and let myself in with my new key. I spent about an hour getting ready, just jeans and jumper along with a new pair of ankle boots for shopping, no point overdressing. Andrea came along and met me, and after she had taken a cold remedy (aww poor hun) we set off and arrived in town before 4pm. I won’t go into the details, but we spent a couple of hours going round various shops, and we had a great time. It is just so liberating to be myself, and not have this constant feeling of dread that I’m used to carrying round when I’m in those same locations presenting as male. Neither of us sensed any negativity, any bad reactions or funny looks, and I genuinely felt that we were a couple of girlfriends out for a fun afternoon. Which is in fact what we were. I did have one moment of doubt when we were in Evans – not somewhere Andrea would ever need to shop for herself! – and I realised that standing on the opposite side of a clothes rail to me was a woman that I had worked with for a couple of years about 10 years ago. But I didn’t walk out or panic, I just faced the other direction and walked calmly off to a different part of the shop. To be honest, it’s long enough ago that even if I had been presenting as male I’m not sure she’d have recognised me, but just the one little hiccup.
My wife had given me a Next gift card for my birthday last week, in the full knowledge that it would be spent on items for Kirsty. This really did mean a great deal to me. She does try to be supportive and accepting of my trans status, but it doesn’t mean she likes it and it is a struggle for her, so the fact that she would contribute to me expanding my female wardrobe a little was very significant to me. Obviously, this meant that we had to go to Next, and I found the two things that I had been looking for. A casual coat and a top that would go with a new skirt I bought a few weeks ago but haven’t worn out yet as I didn’t have anything to go with it. When buying the coat, it was really useful to have Andrea with me. I knew I liked it and it was the sort of thing I was looking for, but having a friend you trust tell you it looks good on you is what a girl needs to hear. Off to the counter I went to be served by a really lovely, chatty sales assistant. I have to say, full marks to Next, that is now the third time that their sales staff have engaged me in nice friendly conversation in their stores and it really does make me feel positive about the place. Plus I like their clothes too, which helps.
Back off we went up to Lisburn to get changed into our dinner outfits, to find Michelle already there waiting for us and almost ready herself. Michelle had given me a mini-fashion show the previous Wednesday as she tried to work out what outfit to wear for her first public appearance in a long time, and she had stuck to her choice of a black top and black, white and pink flared skirt with her usual choice of black court shoes. Andrea had gone for a cream blouse with a black lacy jacket and black trousers with black t-bar heels, and I was wearing, well what you see in the picture. Stupidly, I forgot to take any photos of us in our glad rags, and this picture was taken at home while I tried to decide what shoes went with what dress. But you get the idea anyway. When I emerged back into the sitting room, Andrea commented “Well they’ll remember you anyway”. Turns out it’s the same dress I wore the last time we were in the Potted Hen. Oops! Different shoes though, last time I wore flats, but I’m much more confident wearing heels in public now and have a bit less of a hang-up about my height.
Off we went back into Belfast in time for our dinner booking. Because this was the first time I had been back to somewhere we had dined before, it was very obvious to me how much I have progressed in terms of my confidence, and just feeling like I have as much right to be there as anyone else. Four months earlier, I had been so nervous walking from the car park to the restaurant, and so nervous about speaking that I had to get Andrea to ask for the table for me, even though it was me who had booked it. This time, I didn’t worry at all about the walk and I didn’t give a second thought to speaking to the waitress. As her first time out in so long, Michelle seemed quite a bit more nervous, but I’m waiting for her blog to start to find out her side of things (come on Michelle, your public is waiting!)
We had a lovely meal, mine was potted salmon for starters, a main of ox cheek ragu, and chocolate and hazelnut fondant for dessert. The restaurant was crowded but I noticed only one single look in our direction, which could have been anything. I know that four months ago I would have been convinced that we had been read but I don’t think you can assume that any more. And even if we were, so what? It was also very nice to see Michelle’s nerves melt away over the course of the meal, and seeing my friend re-emerge by the time the main courses came round. Plus, our waiter called us “ladies” all night – he must have really wanted a tip!
Now this is going to sound odd, but I had a really nice feeling as I walked to the toilet. The loos (unisex) were upstairs, where there is a more casual bistro and a bar, both of which were fairly deserted in contrast to the busy restaurant downstairs. But there were a few people about, both diners and staff. There was a reasonable length of walk from the top of the stairs to the toilet and as I walked along, hearing the click-clack of my wooden heels on the wooden floor, I just felt completely happy and confident about how I looked, how I felt, how I moved, even how I smelt (Noa by Cacherel, if you’re interested). I had this wonderful feeling of everything being just right, the way it’s supposed to be, and I loved it. And I only went up for a wee.
We settled our bill, walked back to the car and drove back up to the Butterfly Club premises again, where we sat talking for nearly two hours before going our separate ways. At this point things took a turn for the worse. I had driven back to a lay-by near my home, where I could wipe off my make-up and cover up with male clothing before returning to the house. I was almost completely finished, all make-up removed, male hair, no jewellery, jeans and trainers on, the only thing that I had left to do was to put a jumper on over the top half of my dress that was still showing. At this point another car pulled into the lay-by and drove slowly past me. The internal lights were on in my car so I could see what I was doing as I transformed back into Bob, but this of course also meant that the people in the other car could see me, looking like a man in a lacy dress. Then the other car stopped and reversed back until they were right alongside me. They must have had their windows rolled down because I then heard several young and yobbish male voices hurling abuse at me. I say abuse, the truth is I couldn’t make out individual words, but they certainly weren’t being said in a friendly tone. It sounded like “Rant rant rant rant gay rant rant rant”. It was to say the least quite unsettling. I hit the ignition and drove off immediately, leaving the neanderthals behind. The whole thing can’t have lasted more than about 20 seconds, but it was horrible.
Thinking about it now a day later, I don’t feel quite as bad. The thing is, what the yobs saw was quite clearly a bloke in a dress. It’s not like I was being subjected to abuse because I had been read or failed to pass, so it hasn’t affected my confidence in the slightest. What is has done is made me question if these roadside transformations are such a great idea. Now that I have the key for the Butterfly Club, I might just get changed there. I don’t know. Really, the ultimate solution would be to be Kirsty all the time, but that’s just not an option right now. Maybe one day, but not for the foreseeable future. But I’m not letting that bad experience spoil my memories of a wonderful day with my friends. More of the same please!