Before I start with an account of what I have been up to, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post, or contacted me directly afterwards. It did seem to provoke quite a reaction, and I feel touched to have been the recipient of so much sympathy – I think it has broken my record number of comments in fact. The issues are still there, but I feel a little less isolated. Plus, I had a good long talk with Mrs Kirsty the evening after I wrote that post, and maybe I was wrong when I said there was nowhere else to go. There was a little progress, nothing concrete as yet, but a feeling that some things that I believed to be definitively off the agenda are perhaps maybe possibly very tentatively on the agenda for the first time. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave that quite cryptic for now, as it really is very tentative. And no, she isn’t ready for me going full time. That is still not an option if I want us to stay together, which I do.
So what have I been up to since that post? Quite a bit really. On Wednesday evening I had another very pleasant couple of hours with my old friend Jonathan in the same hotel bar that we met in last time. I’m sure spending a few hours in my company is quite a different experience for him compared to the old me that he has known for over 20 years, what with how I look, the change in my voice, and the fact that I no longer have to suppress my more feminine gestures and body language. But for all that, I don’t feel that it has made any difference to how he treats me – well that’s not completely true, he does try to be the gentleman and hold doors open for me and saying “ladies first” and so on. Bless.
He did come off with a wonderful piece of understatement. I was telling him about my experiences at the Christmas dinner a few weeks earlier, and specifically about how in no more than 5 minutes in a crowded bar I had one man offering to buy me a drink and another putting his hands on my waist and calling me “love” as he walked past. I wondered aloud if women have to put up with this sort of thing all the time, to which Jonathan replied that yes, they do. In fact, he said that men do this sort of thing to women all the time. When I remarked that as a male I have never done such a thing, he made the immortal response “Well you’ve never been exactly what you’d call an alpha male”. I wonder what prompted him to say that. Probably the skirt.
Jonathan had to get the 9pm bus home, so I left him with a hug at the bus station and returned to the Butterfly Club to find Michelle waiting with two occasional visitors, Deborah and Mandy. They were actually great company and we had a good chat for more than an hour. It was the first time I had seen either of them since Andrea and I had returned from our holiday at Eastbourne, so it was an excuse for me to relive that whole experience. In fact, the whole evening was great for my ego as they were both very complimentary about not only my look but in particular my voice. What girl doesn’t love a compliment? Now I don’t really think my voice is any great shakes but it definitely helps with my confidence to have people tell me otherwise. They even asked for tips on what I do to make my voice sound as feminine as it does (to their ears). I really don’t feel qualified to answer that, so I directed them toward the excellent YouTube series “Finding Your Female Voice” that I have found very useful.
The conversation moved on to discuss various aspects of the etiquette of being or in public as a trans* person. Mandy it seems had been out quite a bit but largely to specifically trans* or LGBT venues like Union Street Bar, The Kremlin, or Dublin’s TH (formerly known as TrannyHaven – ugh). I have never been to venues such as this, they just don’t appeal to me. But Mandy seemed quite taken with the idea of going to more “normal” (sorry, can’t think of another word) venues. Ordinary restaurants (and one or two exceptional ones), coffee shops, museums, attractions, even my book group. So she asked what venues I went to, so she could maybe try them too. At which point I realised a different mindset at which I have arrived almost without noticing. I no longer think “is this a trans*-friendly venue?” before deciding where I’m going. That has genuinely ceased to be a consideration. All I ask myself is if it is somewhere I fancy going. Does it look like a fun / interesting day out? Does the menu look good? Will I enjoy myself? It no longer even crosses my mind to think about how someone will react to having to share a space with a trans woman. Because it’s their problem, not mine. So I actually couldn’t answer Mandy’s question. I don’t have a list of Kirsty-approved trans*-friendly venues.
In a similar vein, Deborah was talking about going out shopping from time to time – I’m quite partial to that myself! Where we differed was in our changing room usage. On the odd occasion that Deborah has used changing rooms, I got the impression that she has always asked for permission first, on the basis that some stores might object to having a transgender woman in the changing rooms, or indeed that some genetic female customers might complain. I said that I had used changing rooms many times and I had never asked for permission. That would be just drawing attention to me being trans, which is the last thing I want to do. In fact I would go so far as say that to a certain extent asking for permission to be who we are is excusing and legitimising transphobia. So my attitude is this, and I suppose it relates to why I go to regular everyday venues rather than LGBT-specific places as much as it does to why I don’t ask for permission to try on a dress: In those situations, I ask myself, “Would another woman do this?”. If the answer is no, then I’m not going to do it either.
All in all it was a very enjoyable evening, both with Jonathan and at the Butterfly Club. It certainly made me think about the various attitudes and thought processes of other people, as well as getting some insight into my own outlook. However poor Michelle was suffering with a cold, so our Wednesday ended a little bit earlier than usual as she wasn’t up to our regular “after hours” chat.
After having had such a fabulous day out at the Titanic Experience just before Christmas, I discovered that Andrea had never been to the excellent Ulster Museum. So we had tentatively arranged to go there for an afternoon later in January. However we ended up bringing that forward in response to her being left on her own all weekend as very sadly her daughter doesn’t want to be with her right now following Andrea’s confession just over a week ago. I won’t elaborate, after all Andrea explains it all perfectly well in her own blog. She seems to be dealing with the situation well enough for now, but I do hope it all resolves itself for them both. Anyway, the upshot of this is that at around 2.45pm yesterday afternoon Andrea and I found ourselves walking into the Ulster Museum in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. After a quick visit to the ladies, mainly to fix my hair (it was very windy outside) we left or coats in the cloakroom and proceeded up to the art galleries on the top floor, as recommended by the cloakroom attendant.
As we slowly moved round the various paintings on display, I just kept thinking of The Meaning Of Liff. For those of you unaware of this wonderful book, it was written by the late Douglas Adams and renowned TV producer John Lloyd, and is described as a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. There is a word in there that’s very pertinent;
Frolesworth (n.): Measure. The minimum time it is necessary to spend frowning in deep concentration at each picture in an art gallery in order that everyone else doesn’t think you’re a complete moron.
And the problem I had was that spending a full frolesworth at each painting was going to take too long, and we would miss a lot of the (to me) more interesting science and history in the museum. We stared at the Gainsboroughs and we stared at all the other ones I’d never heard of and time marched on. Some were pleasant enough, but mostly the kind of staid, staged portraiture that you don’t really see any more. Then things sped up when we arrived at the modern art section.
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually prefer a good abstract to a straightforward photo-realistic portrait or landscape, but some of the stuff on display here could have been done by a 5-year-old. In fact, I think one or two may have fallen out of daughter no2’s homework book. To steal a joke from Mel & Sue, not so much objets d’art, more objets f’art. So we sped through the modern art gallery on down to natural history.
By this time there wasn’t a tremendous amount of time left for us in the museum so we had to fly through the animal kingdom, 400 million years of evolution in around 45 minutes, then geology, including a lovely display of fluorescent minerals in a darkened room. A quick trip into the Egyptology room featuring the famous mummy Takabuti and suddenly we were dashing for the exit to collect our coats in time for 5pm, missing out the entirety of Irish History.
I have been to the museum with my family many times before, and it never fails to educate and entertain. There is a huge amount to see, and trying to squeeze it in to two hours was always going to be a fool’s errand. So I daresay we will be back, particularly since Andrea is keen to learn more about the history of her adopted country – in contrast to me, having grown up in and around Belfast during the “Troubles” I tend to just skip past that part of the museum. I lived it, I don’t need to see it. But when we do go back, we won’t be spending a single frolesworth in the art gallery again.
We drove back up to Lisburn, stopping off at M&S so I could pick up some small food items for the kids’ lunch boxes, and then taking the opportunity to drop into our favourite Costa for half an hour. Then a quick trip back to the Butterfly Club so Andrea could change into her dress for going out for a meal. Dowdy Kirsty didn’t bring a change of clothes! Anyway, my jumper, skirt ‘n’ boots combination was so good it didn’t need changing. M’lud. So with Andrea duly changed into her new green floral print dress we jumped back into the car and headed off on the short trip back to The Pheasant, were we had dined together a little over a month earlier. It was so good last time, and so convenient for the club, that we thought we’d give it another go.
Unsurprisingly for a Sunday evening in mid-January, the restaurant was not very busy. We were shown straight to a booth, directly facing the table at which we had sat the last time. We had a lovely evening together just chatting about this and that, and planning future adventures together (not saying yet!). There are some significant developments for Andrea as here full-time date draws ever nearer, and almost all are very positive indeed. I don’t want to steal her thunder, but you can read about quite a few on her blog.
Food-wise I was a little disappointed compared to the last time we were here. My starter of crispy chicken strips with asian vegetables in a honey and chilli sauce was basically like a nice honey chilli chicken from your local Chinese takeaway. Not a bad thing in itself. For my main, I took my life in my hands and ordered something I had never eaten before – pheasant. We were in The Pheasant after all. Well I received two pheasant breasts that looked like dark grey chicken breasts but ten times as tough. I think there was a fair flavour in the pheasant, but the braised red cabbage and spiced plums that shared the plate with it were overpowering, and in time became a little sickly. Thankfully, the potato and celeriac gratin side dish rescued the main course somewhat. I think I would have preferred the just the pheasant and the gratin, perhaps with some greens. Dessert was better, a simple fruit pavlova done well and it refreshed my mouth after quite a stodgy main course. Overall, as the kids on the street would say, it was a bit meh. But the company as usual was excellent and we had a great laugh – see this sequence of photos for details!
We drove back to the Butterfly Club again so Andrea could collect her car, only for her to receive an email from her parents on the way. She hasn’t actually blogged about this yet, so I’m not going to give away her news, but when she actually read the email back at the club, there were smiles and tears of joy. I’m so happy for her. It really brought the evening to a wonderful close. Andrea bid me farewell and drove off home, leaving me to wipe off my make up and transform into “him”.
That’s always how these things end, and it’s always horrible. All the time I was sitting at the club with Andrea before she left, I could feel this sense of dread growing and growing. The time was rapidly approaching to shed my female skin and put on a man costume again before going home. In many ways it’s better on days like this because I get to spend an extended period as myself, unlike my average Wednesday evening where everything feels temporary so I don’t think I ever shed the feeling of being surrounded by my other identity. At least with eight or nine hours as my real self today I can for a while at least forget about any bit of maleness and just get on with being who I am. And for that I am thankful.
Until next time