It has been a strange week, a bit up and down but on the whole more up. While I have been out and about a reasonable amount, the main feature of this week in my mind had been my vicarious excitement at my best friend Andrea going full time. There’s lots of good stuff to read about that on her blog, so I’ll not elaborate here other than to say how in awe I am of what she has done, and what an inspiration she has been and continues to be.
Last Wednesday was a fairly standard affair, with just a quick trip to Boots with Michelle to get a new eyeliner pencil, my previous one having been reduced to a mere stump. After parting ways with Michelle, who is really getting the hang of this “going out” lark, it was just a brief visit to the ladies’ loo at Sprucefield before my usual coffee date with Andrea at Costa. A perfectly enjoyable evening, but I don’t feel the need to recount it in any great detail as it’s nothing I haven’t written about before.
Sunday, on the other hand, was a bit different, and caused me to run a whole gamut of emotions. I dashed up to Lisburn after Sunday lunch with my family to get changed in time to meet Andrea around 2.15pm. We had decided (well it was my idea actually) that following our hugely enjoyable visit to the Titanic Experience just before Christmas, we would follow it up with a trip to the Nomadic.
The Nomadic was the tender vessel to the Titanic, among other ships, and was built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, alongside Titanic and Olympic. For most of its working life it was based in Cherbourg, where the harbour was too shallow to accommodate the largest liners, and its job was to ferry passengers from the harbour out to the big ocean liners waiting offshore. It has been a tender vessel, a mine layer in WWI, a minesweeper and troop carrier in WWII, a floating restaurant and nightclub on the banks of the Seine from the early 70’s until 2003, and finally came home to Belfast in 2006 to be restored to its original 1911 condition. It is the only remaining White Star Line ship afloat, although technically it is in dry dock, the same one in which it was constructed 104 years ago.
The Nomadic is located very close to Titanic Belfast, so we parked underneath the Titanic Building and walked to the ship. After taking a few pictures outside, we made our way to the “pump house” where we paid our entrance fee and picked up a leaflet. We boarded the ship to be greeted by a man who showed is round to a waiting area at one end of the ship. The next tour was due to begin in 10 minutes, and Andrea and I were the only two people waiting. A family of three did arrive shortly after us, but I heard them say they would just walk round the ship themselves.
Eventually the man who had initially greeted us came over and introduced himself as Leo, our tour guide. Andrea and I had him all to ourselves for around 45 minutes. It seems like a small ship, but there was plenty to see and Leo seemed well-informed and enthusiastic, even if he did occasionally lapse into a “by rote” spiel. But he engaged with us, answering our questions and treating us as I’m sure he would treat any other people. After the tour ended we were given free run of the ship, and were told we could go anywhere on the ship we liked and touch anything.
On our way round the tour we had seen that there were a number of period costumes available to try on, so we went there. I so wish we hadn’t. I picked a pale blue heavy jacket & floor-length skirt set, which fastened with velcro. Poorly fastened, I should add, and it was a real stretch to get it to go all the way round me – I may be very tall for a woman, but I only wear a size 12 skirt! Anyway, as I was removing this outfit and about to give the whole thing up as a bad job, a female tour guide approached and began encouraging both Andrea and me to get dressed up so she could take our picture together (with my iPhone). She gave Andrea a small jacket and then she was tucking the big skirt into the waistband of my own skirt, handing me back the larger jacket and then encouraging both of us to wear these ridiculous straw hats. I had a rising feeling of discomfort with the whole process when she added to Andrea, about me “and he, I mean she, oh I don’t know, can join you in the picture”. My heart initially sank at the misgendering, but she did kind of correct herself. But that’s not what really caused me a problem. My biggest issue was that I put myself in that position in the first place. Let me explain…
As a trans woman (and indeed as a human being) it is important to me that I act in a dignified manner. I don’t want to be a figure of fun, a joke, a freak. I don’t for one second resent that someone misgendered me. These things happen, and it clearly wasn’t malicious. But I do feel disappointed in myself that I acted like some awful TV cliché, dressing up like that horrible Little Britain sketch and presenting myself as such to a member of the public (the female tour guide). No wonder she misgendered me. In the photos that she took I looked utterly ridiculous and for that I can blame nobody but myself. I don’t even know what Andrea looked like in the photos because I couldn’t bring myself to look at her, and all the photos are deleted now. It is much to Andrea’s credit that she didn’t join in this charade until the arrival of the tour guide when social pressure kind of lead us down that particular alleyway. But for a few minutes I feel I really let myself down and in my mind I lost whatever shred of dignity I might have had. A valuable lesson learned, and not one I will forget in a hurry.
Feeling rather deflated, we half-heartedly continued our walk round the ship. The mood was considerably lightened by a visit to the ladies loo. Not because we needed to “go”, but because Leo had told us that they were laid out with period features. And they were, which was the source of much immature amusement when we saw who had made the bathroom suite – none other than the inventor of the flush toilet himself!
After a few more photos on deck we finally walked up the gangplank and back to the car park. On the whole it was an enjoyable trip if somewhat marred by the dressing up incident, but I’m glad we went. We drove back out to our favourite Costa in Lisburn where we both got coffees, Andrea had a bun and I had a rather tasty chicken and bacon toastie. Eventually my bladder did catch up with me and I went off to use to facilities. The loos in Costa are three cubicles; ladies, gents and disabled. Unfortunately the ladies was occupied, so I went into the disabled only to discover that it either didn’t lock or I couldn’t work out how to lock it. Reluctantly, I thought I would have to use the gents – it’s a single cubicle anyway. However just at that moment I heard the flush from the ladies, the door slowly opened and out walked a super-cute little girl who can’t have been any older than three years old. Said little girl looked up at me, smiled and announced “Girls toilet free now!”. No misgendering there! She saw a woman waiting for her cubicle and happily invited me to use it. I thanked her and went in. This little experience cheered me up no end after the mishap on the Nomadic.
All too soon I had to bid farewell to Andrea and wish her luck for her upcoming first day at work. But my day was by no means over. I got back into my car and drove into Belfast for the latest meeting of my book group.
Unusually for me, I arrived a little early but I walked on into the hotel where we meet and pushed open the door of the meeting room that we use. It was empty. Just as the expression of bewilderment was forming on my face, I heard a call of “Kirsty! Over here!”. Just hearing that shout meant so much to me, that I was recognised and being called over to join everyone else. I wasn’t an embarrassment, they weren’t trying to avoid me, I was actually being invited to join the small group of early arrivers that had formed in the comfy chairs in the lobby.
As it happened, since the 7pm start time was approaching, we agreed that we would just move into the meeting room at that point. I went to sit down on a seat on the other side of the room from where I had sat the previous two times. Just before I sat down, I realised that everyone else was sitting in the same place as before. Realising that this was happening, I removed myself to the other side of the room, next to our group leader. Shirley (who knows Bob of old but doesn’t seem to have made the connections) said “Yes, that’s your seat Kirsty. You can’t sit anywhere else now”. I think she was joking, but it lightened the mood.
This month’s book choice was something of a departure, a novel in the “Steampunk” genre called “The Difference Engine”, a collaboration by William Gibson and Bruce Stirling. The person who had proposed this book hadn’t yet arrived, so we agreed among ourselves that we wouldn’t discuss it until he turned up, but very quickly we realised we couldn’t contain ourselves and the discussion began. In short, nobody liked it. The premise is that Charles Babbage’s steam-powered mechanical computer was not just designed but built in the first half of the 19th century, and so Britain developed a type of information technology about 150 years earlier than was the case in reality. However the general consensus was that the authors were much more concerned with the technology and the alternate history they were creating than with narrative and characterisation. It was also observed that the book was rather overwritten, with one word never being employed where ten would suffice. There was one dissenting voice in this, Shirley herself, who rather enjoyed it and found the whole thing fascinating.
After about 10 minutes our leader observed that the early arrivals had already got teas and coffees so it would be a good opportunity for anyone else to go to the bar to get something for themselves. I ended up at the bar with another woman, Angela, with whom I had a great little chat. I don’t know if she read me at all or just took me for a woman like any other, but it certainly felt like the latter. The whole conversation felt qualitatively different to interacting with a woman while presenting as male. I can’t even really say why that was, but I felt so relaxed and happy to chat with her – she even bought me a coffee! We went back into the room together.
The conversation in the room went on for quite a while until eventually Steve, the guy who had originally suggested the book, turned up, and everyone became a little bit more sheepish and apologetic about their dislike of the novel. In the end, we were all asked to mark the book out of 10, and bar Steve and Shirley, who both gave it a 7, nobody else gave it more than 4 with a group average of 4.11. By contrast, my favourite of the books we have read so far, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, had an average approaching 8 (I gave it a 9). I was quite disappointed in the book as I had expected more. I am quite a sci-fi and fantasy geek, and although I knew of William Gibson by reputation, this was my first exposure to his work and I wasn’t impressed.
On the way out, I started chatting with Steve about sci-fi. He had been trying to get a separate sci-fi and fantasy group started, which could be of interest to me. He certainly seemed keen for me to come along although the proposed timing doesn’t really suit me. But you never know. Maybe there’s another outlet for me. We bid each other goodnight and I got back into my car.
Even that wasn’t the end of my evening. I headed off to meet my other Andrea-friend Andrea D, with whom I had stayed over after the Christmas dinner. We hadn’t seen each other for a month so it was just a good opportunity for a bit of a catch-up and a cup of tea. Nothing earth-shattering, just a nice relaxing way to end the evening.
As I sit here now I’m approaching the first anniversary of what I think of as the birth of Kirsty. It was on the 7th February 2014 that I took the day off work and fully presented as female for the very first time. So much has happened in the intervening year that it beggars belief, but I do have a plan to mark the occasion. But that’s for the next post.
Until next time