It was a few weeks ago that this blog celebrated its first birthday, with street parties held around the world (ok, maybe not). There have been a few other anniversaries recently. Before getting into my own, I’ll just note that my friend Nour celebrated her own anniversary of sorts recently, so congratulations to her. My own anniversaries are to do with a year ago when I first made contact with the people who would become my friends that I met through the Belfast Butterfly Club. It was on Tuesday 18th March 2014 that I first went to the open meeting at the top secret Belfast location, and met the club president Linda, whom I found surprisingly masculine in appearance. Linda and the other person present that evening (Nicky, whom I have yet to meet again) were the first people other than Mrs Kirsty to see me in all my female finery. Linda also remains the only person in my circle of trans* friends to have ever seen me in male form. One year to the day after that auspicious evening I was sat in the Plough in Hillsborough with my friends Andrea and Michelle, unaware at the time of the significance of the date.
Then Thursday last week, 26th March, was the anniversary of the first time that I actually turned up at the Butterfly Club HQ in Lisburn, also at a top secret location. Most significantly, it also marked the first time that I ever met both Michelle and, later the same night, Andrea. How different might my life be now if I had never met either of them, and with the greatest of respect to Michelle, Andrea in particular? I’m sure I would have started going out in public before too long one way or another, but without a friend to do things with, it would have been a fairly solitary series of excursions, and would definitely not have included half of the exciting things we have done together.
So with that anniversary in my mind, it was time for a special anniversary dinner of the Lisburn Ladies Fine Dining Club. The three of us had agreed on Wednesday that a good venue would be the Pheasant at Annahilt, where Andrea and I have dined on a couple of occasions, but where Michelle had yet to visit. It seemed like a good plan, but scatty Kirsty forgot to book until Saturday morning was upon us, when I had a moment of panic upon realising we had nowhere to eat. So I picked up the phone and called the Pheasant, asking if they had a table for 3 at 7pm. The reply came
“I’m sorry Sir, there’s nothing available until 9pm”
Sir. Three letters of despair. I replied that I wouldn’t bother, thanks all the same. Undeterred if a little crestfallen, I tried calling their sister restaurant, The Tannery in Moira. None of us had been there, but being in the same group as The Plough and The Pheasant we had all wanted to try it. However, a similar fate awaited.
“Sorry sir, the latest we can take you is 6.30”
Sirred again. By this time I just wanted to curl up in a corner and weep. I really thought I was doing a sterling job with the voice. Just goes to show how wrong I was. Perhaps the problem is just that much worse on the phone than in real life because on the phone there’s no female presentation to distract from the masculine qualities of the voice. Still, more work needed. But I didn’t think it was that bad. Didn’t do my confidence a great deal of good all the same.
I had arranged to meet Michelle at the Butterfly Club HQ, where we would both be getting ready at the same time. GenderEssence were having another drop-in afternoon in the centre of Belfast, and I had wanted to go along and show my support for an organisation which had supported me. This time, I had asked Michelle if she would like to accompany me. The event itself really isn’t anything to write home about, it’s just a group of trans* persons sitting round drinking tea and coffee. The main attraction for Michelle I think was that it was her first time out in centre of Belfast. I had only had my first Saturday in the city centre at the same event the previous month, although I had been out in the city centre several times before during the week and on Sundays. This was Michelle’s first time ever. I was very glad to be able to help her break new ground, although I get the very distinct impression that’s she’s perfectly capable of breaking it for herself now.
I discussed the restaurant situation with Michelle. I had had a look at “Open Table”, a restaurant booking app for my phone, which indicated that the only restaurant in Belfast that could take us at our desired time of 7pm was Tony Roma’s, an American chain steakhouse, albeit one of only two in the UK (the other is in Glasgow). It is situated on Belfast’s University Road, right in the heart of student land, and always busy on a Saturday evening. Michelle looked ever so slightly hesitant at the prospect of trying an untested venue, particularly in what might be considered a “lively” location. We left the decision for Andrea – at least there’s one responsible adult in our trio! Andrea duly arrived, agreed to Tony Roma’s, and I made the booking. Online, in the misgender-free zone.
The three of us headed into Belfast in my car, as I have a car parking space in a city centre multi-storey car park. I was wearing my chunky long purple jumper with flowery jeans and my black suede ankle boots. I had a casual-ish red dress waiting for later so I could wear something a little more appropriate for going out, but as it happened I didn’t need it. On arriving at Castle Court Shopping Centre, Andrea disappeared into Superdrug leaving Michelle and I to head for Debenhams. For a while I had had a vague notion that some kind of black jacket would be nice to wear with a few of my dresses, particularly heading into Summer when I won’t necessarily want to be putting on a heavy woollen coat over a dress. So I searched, and Michelle browsed. In fact, Michelle made her first purchase before me, an umbrella. Eventually I was in one particular section where I saw a few jackets that might be ok, but right beside them I saw a dress that I immediately fell in love with. I picked them both off the rails when I heard the voice of the sales assistant beside me asking if I needed any assistance. I replied that I wanted to try on these items.
“Yes, Babe. You see the door just over there in the centre of the store? That’s it”
Babe! BABE! After Andrea and I were called “Girls” by our waitress in Downpatrick last week, I think this has set a new high for Kirsty-based nomenclature. With a big grin on my face I headed for the changing rooms, where I had a five-minute wait for a cubicle to come free. Eventually I made my way in, with nobody paying me any undue attention and the changing room attendant treating me like any other woman, albeit a very tall one.
The dress was figure-hugging. This is a good thing. I like my bodycon dresses. Some like the flouncier end of the market, I tend to veer towards the slinkier, and this dress fit the bill perfectly. I loved it on me just as much as I had done on the rail. Anyway, I had managed to smear some foundation on the black material while trying it on, so I had no option but to buy it. I think I would have bought it anyway. Unfortunately, the jacket wasn’t quite up to the same standard. I opened the curtain and attracted Michelle’s attention. Once I had received her seal of approval, I closed the curtain again and got changed back into my casual clothing, smearing some more foundation on to the dress for good measure.
As soon as I emerged back into the store, Michelle announced that she had found the perfect jacket for me. She wasn’t wrong. I tried it on over my jumper and it seemed perfect. I wished that I had been able to try it on with the dress, but I knew that it was exactly what I was looking for, although at £39 it was fairly expensive. Still, the rail said 20% off, so I hoped that meant the £39 was before the reduction. I joined the queue for the till and the jacket rang through at … £28! That’s more than 20%. Still, with a £30 dress it was an expensive enough afternoon.
Andrea had managed to get herself caught up in getting her eyebrows threaded and then been ambushed by a skincare sales person, but she wasn’t going to come to GenderEssence with us anyway. Michelle and I walked round there, to find out that it was being hosted by none other than our Butterfly Club friends Adrianne and Michael, along with another trans woman called Vicky. In fact, the only reason I know she is a trans woman is because she told us – well told as in wrote, she is deaf and has limited speech, but has a very friendly and somewhat effusive manner. And she is the most cis-looking trans woman I have ever seen. Michelle and I stayed long enough for a cup of tea and then finally, after two hours, met up with Andrea again to head back to Lisburn to get changed for dinner.
Once back at base, I put on my new dress and cleaned off the odd smear of foundation with a make-up wipe, which seemed to do the trick. Then for the first time, on went the new jacket with the new dress. It looked great. My heart leaped at seeing my reflection, in my eyes I looked stylish and feminine, the perfect combination. Even my boots that I was already wearing went very well with the whole ensemble, as did my favourite dragonfly necklace. Stupidly, I didn’t get any pictures wearing this, but maybe that’s not a bad thing as you might look at me and think “What is this girl on about?”
Michelle kindly offered to be chauffeuse for the evening, and it was on the stroke of 7pm that she was parking up in a side street close to Tony Roma’s. We walked the approximately 200 metres to the restaurant in a fairly deserted street, with umbrellas up and coats buttoned. There was an American lady at the reception desk who took my name, confirmed the booking, and handed us over to our waitress who lead us upstairs…
…where the music was blaring from a speaker right in front of our table. Our waitress introduced herself as Claire, and we immediately asked if there was any possibility of us getting moved to a different table further from the speakers. As it turned out, the restaurant was close to fully booked, and the only other tables free were similarly close to speakers, so we asked instead if she could turn down the music. Incredibly, she did. Turned it down a whole lot, in fact, so that we could have a full three-way conversation all night long.
Over the course of the evening the restaurant filled up well, with a large group of blokes (later joined by two women) on our left, and a surprisingly well-behaved hen party on our right, as well as several groups of friends and families. We felt completely at home in this busy city centre restaurant. I was up and down to the ladies loo a couple of times during the evening, walking right past the table with all the blokes at it, and I didn’t detect a single untoward look. In fact, on my way back, one of these gentlemen who was making his own way to his own loo, graciously stood aside to let the lady past (that’s me by the way, the lady, in case you’re wondering). It felt so nice, even if the feminist in me wanted to hit him with my handbag and tell him not to be so patronising. Poor men, they can’t win.
Since I wasn’t driving until much later, I splashed out with a glass of wine to accompany my meal, and what a meal. Not haute cuisine by any means, but delicious. Andrea and I shared a starter of a steak, mushroom and blue cheese flatbread – imagine if you will a thin and crispy pizza covered with chunks of medium rare steak and you’ll get the idea. My main was a New York Strip (which I think is a Sirloin by another name), medium rare again, with a lot of garlic potatoes and coleslaw. There was a choice of sauces to accompany the steak, but if I’m paying over £20 for a slab of meat, I want to taste the meat, so I forewent the sauce. It was a good decision. Lovely meaty succulent slightly charcoaly steak. Not really suitable for vegetarians. I think we were all happy with our food, the craic was great too, and we were treated so well all night, getting addressed as “ladies” several times (I still prefer “babe”). My dessert was a little disappointing, but the savouries had been so good it would be overly picky to complain.
All too soon it was time to go. Just before we left, I went for a last visit to the ladies’, and while I was in there my phone beeped at me. It was a text from Ruth.
“Happy Anniversary hun! Love and hugs to you and the rest of the LLFDC xx”
Aww, it was so nice of her to remember, and even nicer to mark the occasion. That’s the thing about this last year or so, and why it means so much to me to have made this change in my life. Expressing my real inner gender identity is incredibly important to me, of course it is, but it’s the people I have met, the friends I have made, that has made it such a joy. Long may it continue.