On Wednesday night last week I was able to join my good friends Michelle and Andrea for a rather impromptu meal out. Since it was Andrea’s first week at work as her real self, I had slightly cheekily emailed her that morning suggesting that since she didn’t have to get changed after work, we could maybe meet up a little earlier than usual for our weekly coffee date. She replied that not only could she meet earlier, why not go out for a meal and invite Michelle along too! Well needless to say I jumped at the opportunity so Andrea contacted Michelle, arrangements were made and the three of us were walking in to Ed’s Bar and Grill in Lisburn once again, only two weeks after the last time we had been there.
I won’t linger over the evening too much, because I have lots to write about and Michelle has already written a lovely account of the evening over on her blog, but I will say this. The food was if anything better than last time, I had crispy chicken wings in BBQ sauce, which were very tasty indeed, and something called a “Mad Mexican” chicken burger. It was a complete mess, but unbelievably tasty. Southern fried chicken fillet and onion rings covered in chilli con carne and melted cheese, in a burger bun, served with great big chunky chips, coleslaw and salsa. It was delicious. And huge. So huge, in fact, that I couldn’t eat a dessert.
But more than that, I will say this about Andrea. Although we had been in touch by text and email over the previous couple of days, this was the first time Michelle or I had seen her since she began working as the woman she is. I have never seen her so excited, joyful, effusive and just plain happy as I did that night. And again at the weekend. I suspect this may continue for some time, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person. She has had so many ups and downs (good title for a blog!) on her way to this point, and I couldn’t be any happier that going full time is working out so well so far for her.
As I mentioned in one of my posts last week, Saturday 7th February marked a year since the first time I accepted myself for who I really am, stopped resisting or pretending this was something else, and fully presented as female. It may have been on my own and it may have been behind closed doors, but it is very possibly the single most significant thing I have ever done or ever will do. So I couldn’t let the first anniversary of that day go unmarked. And I ended up having a wonderful time.
Andrea had invited me to stay over at her house with her towards the end of February, but due to a new commitment popping up – going to support my daughter representing her school in an inter-school quiz – I had to cancel that. Andrea then suggested that we make it sooner rather than later, and after a quick check with Mrs K, I had agreed with Andrea that I would come down to stay on my anniversary itself, 7th February.
For some time I have been feeling that the thing that lets me down most in my female presentation is my hair. At least, the thing that’s within my control. I can’t spontaneously shrink myself. My hair is cheap & cheerful, but it really doesn’t bear close scrutiny. In particular, the parting is very severe and not at all natural looking, and it looks awful in the wind. So when I was fortunate enough to get a small bonus at Christmas (and it only was a small one!) I decided that I would use some of this bonus to invest in a better quality wig. Probably the most prominent wig suppliers in Northern Ireland are “Tresses”, with shops in Newry, Co Down, and a newer one in Belfast City. After looking at Tresses’ website, they recommend making an appointment and bringing a friend to offer an independent opinion, and who better to bring along than my best friend Andrea. By happy coincidence, Andrea lives around 20 minutes’ drive from their main store in Newry, so we decided that our activity for Saturday afternoon would be to get me fitted out with a new look.
There is a part of me that regrets starting going to my book club before getting my hair sorted. Although I have had a lovely time there and felt nothing but acceptance, I can’t help but worry that if there are any people in the group who haven’t read me, and I really have no idea if there are or not, then turning up radically different hair after a month would be a dead giveaway, even if the six-foot-plus height and the adam’s apple weren’t already. So I had in the back of my mind that ideally I would like a wig that looked like it could have grown from the old one in a month. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it was my preference.
On Wednesday afternoon I called Tresses in Newry, and a woman answered the phone. In my best female voice (don’t know why I bothered, it’s not like I was hiding anything) I asked;
“Hello. I was wondering if you cater for transgender people”
Of course they did. The woman I spoke to was really friendly and encouraging on the phone. She asked what type of style I had now (honey blonde bob) and was I looking for something similar (yes I was, but of much better quality). She asked a few more questions about what I was looking for and said that she would have a few that might fit the bill ready for me on my arrival. The appointment was set for 4pm on Saturday, she took my name and then it was “That’s fine Kirsty, we’ll see you on Saturday then”.
It turns out the woman to whom I spoke was Therese Hughes MBE, honoured by the Queen for her work. Her story is quite fascinating and inspirational in its own way, here’s an article that appeared a few years ago in the Belfast Telegraph entitled “The Heroine Of Hair Loss“. Have a read. You may realise that the name of the shop is a pun on her own name, Tresses / Therese’s. I see what she did there!
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and I find myself arriving at Andrea’s house on the stroke of 3.30pm. We had barely had a quick hug and greeted each other before the two of us were back on the road on our way to Newry – I didn’t even have time to remove my case from the car. Andrea, bless her, was so chatty after her fabulous first week at work and having just come from a lunch date with her hairdresser and his partner that I kept having to remind her to give me directions since she knew where we were going and I didn’t. We parked up in Newry with a little over five minutes to spare, just enough time to walk to Tresses. Thankfully Andrea did know where it was, otherwise I could have been wandering round Newry city centre all afternoon.
We walked through the doors of the shop to find Therese and her assistant waiting for us in an otherwise empty boutique. Therese looked up and asked “Kirsty?” “That’s me” I replied. She then checked Andrea’s name and introduced her assistant as Catherine, and her little ball of fluff dog as Molly the guard dog. From the look of little Molly she was more likely to end up on a customer’s head by mistake than she was to attack an intruder. She spent most of my appointment curled up on the floor.
After checking that it was just me who was looking for a new wig, Therese dispatched Catherine to make some tea and bring some biscuits, then showed me into one of her fitting rooms. On the way in, she said to me “And before we start, just so you know…” and she reached her hand to her head and wiggled her own wig. I had no idea, it looked completely natural and somehow made me feel more relaxed about the experience.
It felt like being at the hairdresser’s, which in a way I suppose I was. Therese checked exactly in what way Andrea wanted to be involved, which was pretty much any way that didn’t involve her seeing me with just my own natural hair. We have managed to avoid seeing each other’s alter-egos all this time (and since Andrea’s no longer exists, I never will see “him” – hurrah!) so she wasn’t about to get a sneak preview if she could avoid it. She suggested that she take a picture of any one that I liked so I could do a quick review before narrowing down my selection and choosing a winner. Good idea. By the way, those photos will NOT be on this blog. The wigs are untrimmed and the lighting in the fitting room was quite harsh. Let’s just say I don’t look my best in them.
I sat in the fitting room chair, Therese closed the door behind us, whipped off my old wig and put on the first one. It was ok. The door was opened again, Andrea took a photo, pronounced it pretty much as I thought, and the door was closed again. So the first wig was removed, then Therese called for a second one which Catherine duly provided. She held it up in front of me and asked what I thought of it. It looked a little long to me. Then she called out to ask Andrea what she thought of it. The cry of “Oh my god!” was all I needed to tell me that Andrea had seen something of my naked head. She assures me it was just the back but it was too much. I immediately hung my head down and covered the back of my head with my hands. Therese apologised and closed the door again.
As it happened, the long one wasn’t too bad at all, and was the first wig to make it on to my shortlist. Many more followed, some good, some less so. There were a few rather bizarre excursions into the land of country and western singers (I’m too tall to be a convincing Dolly Parton tribute act) and a thoroughly odd curly red one. The whole time Therese kept chatting away, asking questions about Andrea and my positions on the trans* spectrum, how we met, how long we had been out (if I am out at all, see my previous blog post for details!) and if we were planning to go through the full transition process. My answers were as vague in her salon as they are in my own head, but there was much congratulations when Andrea told them that she had just completed her first ever week in work as a woman. And rightly so!
Therese said that she would love to get more business from the transgender community. She estimated that only around 5% of her customers are trans*, and like any business person she’d like more customers. She was keen to emphasise that identities will be kept secret, and that the fitting room is as sacred to her as the confessional is to a priest. I think as well that since a large chunk of her business comes from sufferers from cancer or alopecia, it probably makes a pleasant change for her to be dealing with people for whom getting new hair is a great boon, a joyous occasion, and not a symptom of something sadder. Not that GD is a walk in the park by any means, but going to get a new “hairdo” is one of the more enjoyable things that we get to do.
Therese said some really complimentary things about us, which really gave me a great feeling. She and Catherine were both really jealous of Andrea’s full lips, at one point asking if she had had botox! (she hasn’t, they’re just nature’s gift). She loved that. And Therese told me that I was very fortunate to have quite naturally feminine facial features. She said that some of the mtf trans* people who come to her have very masculine features – angular faces, square jaws etc – which requires quite a creative touch with wig selection to offset, whereas she thought I could get away with most styles. I don’t know if this was just buttering up the customer, but it felt lovely to be told that regardless.
Once we had been through the full range that Therese thought would be suitable for me, she asked if there were any wigs in the shop that I would like to try on. I selected one in a short style, and she just said “It’ll be a disaster, but we’ll give it a go”. It was a disaster. Far too short, it was a style for a pretty young petite woman, not a rather tall middle aged trans woman. Lesson learned – leave it to the professionals.
With the assistance of the photos that Andrea had taken, and stopping briefly to express my shock at realising that one of the wigs made me look like my sister (!), I narrowed my selection down to a choice of three. One shoulder length, the other two of a similar length to what I already had, albeit both a little longer at the back. After a little bit of back and forth and advice from Andrea’s hair consultancy(tm) I finally plumped for one which actually fitted my original brief rather closely. A little longer and a little blonder than what I had before, but not too dramatic a change other than a bit of a fringe. And much much better quality. A parting that looked like somebody’s hair and not like a child’s toy, firm hold with a gel-like skin at the forehead and greatly improved thickness.
Therese is a trained hairdresser, so once I had made my selection she got out the scissors and trimmed the wig to fit my face, feathering the fringe beautifully. This was a special moment for me, the closest I’m going to feel for a long time if ever to the experience of getting my own hair “done”. Going into a men’s barber shop just isn’t the same. Ugh. So with my new hair duly trimmed and clipped, she removed all labels and said “You’re leaving here wearing this”. She put my old wig in a box, and I bought some conditioner and a decent brush for the new one. Then for the painful part. It wasn’t cheap. I had told her my budget at the outset, and my chosen wig retailed for £20 more than I had intended to spend, but she gave me it for the price I was looking for anyway. I had such a lovely afternoon and walked out with new hair and new confidence. What a fabulous experience. My little anniversary present to myself.
We had arrived at Tresses at 4pm and didn’t leave until 5.20, and the time just flew past. Obviously there was a lot more great stuff to come in my little weekend at Andrea’s, but I have written so much about this one thing because it was so enjoyable that I had better leave the rest of the weekend for another post.
Oh, just one more thing. Let’s see the new “do”, I hear you ask. Oh go on then…
So happy with this