OK, strictly speaking it’s not quite Christmas yet, still four days to go, but that title needs to be shouted in the voice of Noddy Holder from Slade as heard at Christmas parties throughout the land. Also, “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade was my first ever record, bought for me Christmas 1973 when I was the very tender age of 3. I still think it’s the best Christmas song ever. Noddy’s legendary shout is at 3:03
Everyone in the Christmas party mood now? Good. Then we’ll begin…
A couple of months ago, just after my big trip to Eastbourne with Andrea and Ruth, I had spent a pleasant evening at the home of another trans woman, Andrea D (as opposed to my best friend Andrea L) in the company of Andreas D & L, and Andrea D’s neighbour Natasha. During that evening Andrea D had mentioned that she was trying to organise a bit of a Christmas bash for some friends, and would I be interested in going along. I gave something of a non-committal answer and really didn’t give it too much thought. I like to feel comfortable in who I go out with, and I didn’t know who else would be going to this event, and at the same time I didn’t feel completely comfortable with the venue – a boutique hotel that doubles up as a very busy bar and restaurant, right in the centre of Belfast’s “Golden Mile” nightlife district. In very blunt terms, Belfast has two nightlife areas. Cathedral Quarter, which tends to attract an older and more bohemian crowd, and the Golden Mile, which tends to attract, to put it bluntly, chavs. Add into the mix the fact that it’s the Friday before Christmas and the copious levels of alcohol consumption likely to be on display and I felt quite nervous about my ability to go unnoticed and unremarked-upon. I had no desire to walk into danger. So I told Andrea D a quick “maybe” and thought no more about it.
A few weeks after this I finally joined Facebook (as Kirsty, Bob already has his own profile) and one of the people I friended was Andrea D. She soon messaged me to ask if I was going to go to this Christmas dinner, and in a dramatic change of heart, I just said yes. I thought “what the heck, just do it” and the booking was made. There were six of us going, in addition to myself there were both Andreas and three of Andrea D’s friends from work – all women, it was to be my first girls’ night out.
I spent Thursday evening getting ready, packing bags, having a full body shave and all round doing everything I could do to facilitate a quick getaway on Friday evening. Which I managed ok. By 6.30pm I was walking into Andrea D’s apartment (as Bob), where I would be spending the night (not as Bob). Andrea had considerately left the front door unlocked for me so I could go straight to my bedroom without her gazing upon my male form. I spent over an hour getting ready and finally, at about 7.50pm, I emerged from my room in all my glory to actually see my host for the first time. She was wearing a striking strapless dress, short at the front, longer at the back, with some monumental platform heels. I had gone for something a bit more conservative, if still quite elegant I hope. And I really have got my money’s worth out of that dress.
Andrea D informed me that Andrea L was on her way, but was delayed by a late train. She was cutting it fine but at about 8.20 she arrived, just in time for the three of us to catch a taxi into the centre of Belfast for dinner.
The taxi deposited us in Shaftesbury Square, the bustling heart of the Golden Mile. There were people everywhere, all in various states of inebriation from stone cold sober to lying on the ground paralytic. Although I had had a glass of white wine in Andrea D’s apartment prior to setting out, I was still very much at the sober end of the scale. Andrea L and I made our way across the road to use an ATM, got our money for the evening, and then made our way back to Andrea D waiting outside our venue, Benedict’s of Belfast.
The previous day I had had a long talk with my work friend Lauren. She was aware that I was going for a night out with the girls, and she asked where we were going. When I told her it was Benedict’s, she replied “You’re braver than me”. This did not fill me with confidence. It was the bar downstairs that was the problem, according to her. Apparently the clientele are a bit, ahem, rough around the edges. Upstairs in the restaurant, though, was fine as it was relatively private and restricted in numbers. And we were going upstairs. So that was ok. Except in order to get upstairs, we would have to fight our way through the bar.
We went through the front door of the bar to be confronted with a sea of humanity. People were packed in tighter than tight, and I felt like a salmon swimming up a waterfall trying to fight my way through the crowds to the staircase up to the restaurant. We had only managed a handful of steps into the bar when a man who looked to be in his mid-twenties touched my arm and said to me
“Lffftm bbiiuuu ainkk”
At least that’s what it sounded like. The background music was very much to the foreground. I looked blankly at this person, and he tilted his head slightly, held up his index finger, gave me what appeared to be his best puppy dog look and added;
“Just the one. Go on”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but fearing that I was being read and ridiculed, I just shook my head and moved on. Eventually we reached the foot of the staircase to discover that the staff hadn’t quite finished clearing up the restaurant area after the 6pm sitting, so we would have to stand around for a few minutes. Just then, Andrea L leaned over to me and told me;
“You know that guy was asking if he could buy you a drink?”
Really? REALLY? Hang on a minute! I wasn’t being read or ridiculed, I was being seen as an attractive woman. What an amazing feeling. I’m still glad I turned him down, but I get a glow even now writing about it.
Then just as the realisation that I had managed to attract an obviously desperate younger man was sinking in, another guy approached from behind me, put both his hands on my waist, one on each side, and said “excuse me, love” and moved on. Well OK, he wasn’t exactly making a move on me, but I was clearly passing again. And also, do women have to put up with this sort of thing all the time? I can imagine it would get old very quickly.
As it turned out, one of Andrea D’s friends was laid low with the lurgee and so there were only five of us for dinner. One friend, Cathy, arrived shortly after us and we soon made our way upstairs to our table in the restaurant. The other member of our group, Rasa, had let us know that she was on her way, and to carry on without her. Gradually the restaurant began to fill up, until there were lots of people all round us. Everyone was looking their best, Andrea L in a black velvet dress with lacy shoulders, Cathy in a lovely sparkly top. I was of course sitting next to my best friend Andrea L, and we had a great chat waiting for our meal. We took a joint selfie, which I think turned out rather well.
The meal was surprisingly good, and featured a more varied menu than one would normally expect at this sort of thing. I had confit duck leg with mash and lentil & chilli jus, which was delicious and rather spicy. My main course was pan seared chicken, also on mash, with a rosemary jus and some very very tasty garlic potatoes and slightly overcooked veg. For dessert I had baileys cheesecake and vanilla ice cream, which was perfectly acceptable, although I was a little jealous of the chocolate torte that a couple of the girls had chosen.
We were sitting enjoying our meal when I heard a clatter and a shout from the next table. I looked across to see a gap where there should have been a diner, and a pair of legs with pink stilettos attached waving around in the air. One of the women at that table had had a little bit too much Christmas spirit, and had decided to do a bit of impromptu involuntary acrobatics. As I looked across, one of the men at the table saw me looking and struck up a conversation – “Did you see her falling?” he asked. Well no, but I did see the aftermath. We had a nice little jokey conversation and I felt great about myself just being able to do this, as if I were a normal person. Which I am. Obviously.
Before this Christmas dinner there was one thing about which I had been slightly apprehensive. Toilets. Now I have been in women’s loos many times, and with no problems. In fact, I feel more comfortable there than in the men’s. But being somewhere like this, with young women some of whom were likely to be quite drunk and/or raucous, felt like it was an altogether different challenge. But after Andrea L and I had polished off most of a bottle of chardonnay during dinner, I couldn’t sit with my legs crossed any longer. Off I went through the restaurant, walking the length of the bar area, past lots of people with no reaction. There was a group of men standing talking (or whatever it is that men do instead) outside the toilets, so I pushed through them and went into the ladies. There was nobody in, and I went straight inside a cubicle and did what was required. Then a lot of people came in. Loud, boisterous women, talking and shouting away. A cry came from the cubicle behind me – “Do you have any toilet roll, there’s none in here” and a hand appeared in the gap under the dividing wall. I tore off some paper and passed it across with a quick “There you go” in my best girly voice. I was just on the point of walking back out again when I realised that I pulled my panties and tights back up again but left my special padding (to give me hips) on the cistern. So I had to pull everything back down again, replace the pads, then pull it all back up. By the time I had done this, another woman had gone into the cubicle next door, discovered the lack of toilet paper, and shoved her hand under the dividing wall looking for some more of mine. I duly obliged, but I was starting to feel like I was never going to get out of this cubicle. I was getting a little bit nervous but I opened the door and emerged. There were two other women standing waiting for a cubicle to come free, and the three of us looked at each other, nodded and smiled, and I went to wash my hands and then leave. Nothing from them suggested that I was anything other than one of them. I left with renewed confidence, feeling that I was passing like I’d never passed before.
Back at the table, the cocktail menu was being requested. Andrea D and I both ordered strawberry daiquiris, suitably girly (I’m such a cliche) and gently sipped at them. Andrea L, who had only ordered a coffee, tried a sip of my daiquiri and threatened not to return it. All good fun.
Gradually over the course of the evening the music volume had been slowly increasing, and we realised that the open space next to which we were seated was in fact a dancefloor. As is my wont, I had been making jokes to Andrea about dancing round our handbags, but it seemed an age before anyone actually started to dance. Once the dancefloor started to fill, I would have been quite happy to join in and dance, but there didn’t seem to be any enthusiasm for it in our group, so instead I sat dancing in my chair, wiggling my shoulders and waving my arms about. Eventually, at after midnight, Andrea L decided that she would like to dance after all, and no sooner had she said this than the DJ decided put on a song (Uptown Funk) that cleared the dancefloor. Next one, we agreed we would dance to. Except the next one was “Blurred Lines”, which I refuse to dance to on general principles – it’s a bit too rapey for my liking. And then Andrea D leaned over and said “We need to get going, our taxi will be here in 5 minutes”. So Andrea L never got her dance. Next time, Andrea, next time.
We got back to Andrea D’s apartment by around 1am, and more wine was consumed. Well, consumed by me and Andrea D anyway, Andrea L is a delicate flower and headed off to bed around 2am. Andrea D and I sat up till gone 4am drinking yet more wine, and eating my own body weight in crisps (Tayto hand cooked roast beef and peppercorn sauce flavour if you’re interested) and doing a lot of talking. It was really nice to hear her experiences of going into work as her real self, integrating into her neighbourhood and finding some level of acceptance, as well as how much further she has to go. How much further I have to go, well that’s anyone’s guess. Finally enough was enough and we went off to bed. It seems that we might have been keeping Andrea L awake though, as I have a text from her at 4.29am which says simply “:-(”
I arose at 11am, although I had been awake for a while before that. I felt surprisingly ok, not really hung over at all, just tired and a little drained. Then, for the first time since the Eastbourne holiday in October, my morning routine included putting on my make up and making myself as beautiful as possible, emerging from my room shortly before noon ready to face the day as a woman. I want that every day. I so much want that every day. I want to face the world as my real self, and it kills me not to be able to do it. I sat with the Andreas eating a breakfast of soda bread with bacon and fried eggs, which really was just what the doctor ordered. Andrea L left to go and deliver a Christmas present to her hairdresser, but not before we had exchanged Christmas gifts and cards. I will save her gifts until Christmas day, although I can’t exactly open them with the rest of the family, but I’ll manage. She departed, and about ten minutes later it was my turn. I gave Andrea D a huge hug goodbye, and thanked her for her hospitality. Out I went back into the real world as a woman.
As it happened, that wasn’t the last I saw of Andrea L that day, but that will be a whole other blog post in itself. As for the whole Christmas dinner experience, it was a mixed bag. The music ended up being annoying in that I couldn’t actually speak to my companions for large swathes of the evening, but there were so many positives that I can’t help but view the evening as a huge success. First time in a taxi as Kirsty. First time out in a Belfast bar as Kirsty. First time a man has tried to chat me up (sort of). First time I have gone out and had a few drinks with friends and not had to worry about driving home and getting changed back again. So many positives, and no negatives at all. It just gets better and better.