Nearly seven months have passed since I started writing this blog, and nearly six months have passed since I wrote a blog entry called “Making Friends” about my first visit to the Belfast Butterfly Club. The reason I mention it now is because I want to pay tribute to some trans* women without whom my life would be immeasurably different, and in particular Andrea and Michelle.
Andrea and I regularly refer to each other as “BGF”, in other words our Best Girl Friend. We hit it off at that first meeting at the end of March. Andrea was the first person I ever met in real life who self-identifies as TS. The first time I met her I was envious of her certainty in her identity as a woman. At that time I was taking my first tentative steps into a wider world as a woman myself after decades of intermittent dressing and suppression behind closed doors. When she walked into the Butterfly Club I was amazed at her bravery in going out in public presenting as female. Don’t get me wrong, she looked and still does look every inch the woman that she is, but the way she walked in with tales of having just come from a shopping trip in the real world was a real inspiration. At the time I didn’t really believe that I would ever be able to do the same, even if in reality it took me barely another month to do it, and not much more than another month after that we would be dining out as two women together. She was and continues to be an inspiration to me.
I can’t help but wonder if I had joined an Andrea-less club, with nobody who regularly went out in public as a woman, if I would have been as quick to do the same myself. Maybe, maybe not, but to this day and hopefully for a long time into the future I love being in her company, and she showed me what was possible. She seems to be irrevocably on the road to transition now, and I am certain it is the right thing for her, as it may well be for me too in time.
We have had several similar experiences on our journeys, although they seem to be diverging a little. I am not transitioning for now, much as the thought of it appeals to me greatly. On the other hand, she is pressing ahead with all that entails, and I am in many ways jealous of her determined pursuit of her ultimate goal to live her life in the gender which she always should have been. At the very least I feel fortunate to have a close friend going through this process as it will undoubtedly be an education for me too. The day may still come that I decide to set myself on that path too, and having watched Andrea go through it, I am sure successfully, then I will have a much better idea of what is involved.
But for all that, we just have fun together. Our occasional shopping trips together are a blast, my weekend at her house was wonderful, and our regular Wednesday evening pre-Butterfly Club visits to Costa Coffee are something I look forward to all week. Just sitting there doing something as run-of-the-mill as drinking a coffee with my friend is a sign that a normal female life is possible, and I treasure it.
Just one more thing about Andrea – she gets a bit annoyed when my blog gets more hits than hers, so you’d better visit her blog now so she doesn’t get upset.
And then there’s Michelle. Michelle has been a stalwart of the Butterfly Club for many years and hasn’t ventured out in public be very much at all recently. I also met Michelle on that very first night at the end of March, and in fact she was the first trans* person I actually had a conversation with who was presenting in their preferred gender, and later on she was the first person other than my counsellor to whom I disclosed that I was TS. Even on that first night at the club, we discovered a shared love of music and several singer/songwriters (Bob Dylan and John Prine mainly although she has also introduced me to the joys of Neil Young). It’s always good to establish common interests with someone on a first meeting, and from that start Michelle has been someone I have always found it very easy to talk to.
I suppose in a way Michelle is the yin to Andrea’s yang in my mind. The voice of reason and restraint. That is not a criticism in any way, Michelle is a dear friend, but what I mean is that she will remind me of my obligations to my family, and indeed of my deep love for my family, which has been critical in my decision for now not to proceed with transition. In fact, I would say that several of my conversations with Michelle were a significant part of my thought process towards that decision. I am very grateful that I didn’t just get encouragement along the lines of “You go for it girl”, but more considered advice. I felt, and still feel, that I should be a woman all the time, but I know that if it meant my family was destroyed or my kids suffered at the hands of bullies, I would feel worse as a transitioned woman than I do now as a part-timer but with my family intact and two happy kids. And Michelle, as someone else who has a family to go back to as Bob, helped me realise that.
I was so pleased a few weeks back when Michelle agreed to come out to dinner with Andrea and me. She is always perfectly presented at the BBC and clearly takes great pride in her appearance, so when I discovered it was about three years since she had been out in public I was shocked. So when she agreed to step out the door again, I was really chuffed, and I took it as quite a tribute to Andrea and me that Michelle was prepared to be seen in public with us. I have already written about what a good night that was, so I hope it’s not going to be another three years before Michelle comes out again.
Michelle and I were both very concerned last Wednesday night, as Andrea was going to tell her gentleman friend about her trans history. When I say very concerned, I mean very concerned, I was on standby to go and rescue her if things didn’t go well. The clock drifted well past 9pm and still there was no sign of Andrea. I was nervous for her, but as I said to Michelle on a text earlier, no news is good news. Then at about 9.15pm while Michelle was on the phone (she and Linda take turns answering the club’s helpline) the doorbell rang. I knew it was almost certainly Andrea, and I was so nervous for how it had gone. I needn’t have worried. I went to the door to let her in and as soon as I saw her it was clear she had had a very good evening. I gave her a congratulatory hug and welcomed her in. I’m not going to go into the detail of what happened to her because she wrote about it herself, but I am so pleased for her that it went so well.
So why did I choose now to write about these two ladies? Well before going along to the club on Wednesday night, I stopped off at a supermarket to buy a birthday cake. Michelle and Andrea’s birthdays were on consecutive days last week, and so I thought it was only right and proper that we had a cake to celebrate. If you look carefully at the picture of me accompanying this blog, you can see Andrea in the background cleaning up her plate. Or perhaps in search of a second slice. Regardless, it was good to be able to have a little celebration with both of them. My friends, without whom much of what has happened in the last six months would have been very different.
Happy birthday ladies!