British Summer Time has arrived, bringing with it an extra hour of daylight in the evenings, and the option once again for me to avail of the roadside transformation. This isn’t something I do often, however on Wednesday last week, the first Wednesday since the clocks sprung forward an hour, I did just that. It was a fairly miserable day, so when I pulled up in the lay-by, the fairly low temperature coupled with the pouring rain meant that the windows steamed up very quickly and I was to all intents and purposes invisible to the casual passer-by as I sat inside the car changing my outer clothing and doing my make-up. Once the transformation was complete, I was able to head straight to meet Andrea for a coffee and a not-entirely-successful attempt at a chat in an unusually busy Costa.
The roadside transformation isn’t something that I really like doing, because I feel exposed for the whole time I’m doing my make-up. Doing Kirsty to Bob isn’t half as bad, because the time taken to remove make-up is a lot shorter than putting it on. But for all that, I did it every Wednesday evening for about 6 months last year, so it shouldn’t hold too many fears. And it’s good to have the option, particularly if the activity I’m planning or the place I’m going is closer to home than to the Butterfly Club HQ. Basically, it could save me an hour’s drive before the event, and another hour’s drive afterwards.
I mention this because I think I am unexpectedly going to have to avail of a roadside transformation on a Sunday morning in just over four weeks. The book group that I attend is part of a wider group on Meetup.com that organises many events in and around Belfast – cinema, restaurants, theatres, walks, concerts, you name it. For the first time I have booked an event over and above my monthly book group meeting. It’s a guided tour of Hillsborough Castle, quite close to the Butterfly Club HQ in Lisburn, and the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, with lunch afterwards in a local pub. I just thought it looked interesting and decided to go. Problem is, after I had booked, another woman whom I haven’t met before came along and asked on the event’s discussion page if anyone was going to be travelling from Larne/Carrickfergus/Newtownabbey. The first line of my profile, which is visible to anyone who looks at the list of people attending the tour is “Hi, I’m Kirsty from Newtownabbey”. So if I didn’t say “yes, I’m coming from Newtownabbey” then I was going to look like a right stuck-up bitch. So I dutifully replied that yes, I was coming from Newtownabbey and I could offer a lift if required, send me a PM (private message) if you’re interested.
Next thing I knew I had received a PM saying that she would meet me at my house and she could leave her car there while we went off to Hillsborough together! Noooo!!! How did I not see that coming? There is a very obvious reason why she can’t come to my house, namely, I would need to “be” Kirsty at home, in front of the kids, and walk out the front door where all the neighbours could see. While in the long run I can see this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, Mrs K would have a violently opposing view. So what could I say? Sorry I’m a semi-closeted transgender woman? I don’t think so. Instead, I said something about it being silly that we both had to take a car, could I not pick her up. But of course she lives quite a long way in the opposite direction, so that was out. In the end I suggested meeting at a seaside park closer to where she lives, that is pretty much on my way but doesn’t take her far out of her way. She agreed, but added that she really didn’t mind coming to my house. What have I got myself into? She even asked if I was on Facebook – I am, but 30 seconds with my Facebook profile would leave her in no doubt that I was trans. Not that I am ashamed of it, but people can have preconceived notions of what trans people are, and I’d rather she just met Kirsty the person first. I could be doing her a disservice and she’d be fine if she knew, but I don’t really know her so can’t know how she’d react. Of course, she could run off in horror when she meets me, but she can just get back in her own car. I’m hoping all will be well though. I think it will be. Isn’t this the sort of thing I wanted? A female life, making real-world friends outside the trans* community? If I’m going to do that, I’m going to have to put myself out there. As it happens, I have subsequently booked for another Meetup, and this one takes place on Saturday (i.e. two days away) but I’ll spare you the details of that now as I’ll probably end up writing about it soon enough.
Easter Monday was a lot less stressful thankfully. I had the whole day free, and the weather was beautiful. Andrea and I had agreed to do another treasure hunt from treasure trails, after having a lot of fun doing one around Hillsborough on the weekend I stayed with her back at the start of February. We met up at Sprucefield shortly after 11am and headed for the treasure hunt’s start point in the village of Gilford, Co Down, around 20 minutes’ drive away. It was a car-based treasure hunt this time round, stopping off in the villages of Tullylish, Loughbrickland, Scarva and finishing in Tandragee, home of the Northern Irish institution that is Tayto Crisps.
I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about what we did but it was a beautiful relaxing day in frequently idyllic surroundings. After a few simple clues in Gilford we went to the beautiful Church of Ireland parish church of Tullylish, where we spent what seemed an eternity searching the churchyard for names on headstones. In Loughbrickland we discovered a possible new location for a country walk some day, not to mention wasting time looking for clues in the wrong church, as well as telling the time with a human sundial where I was the centrepiece.
After Loughbrickland we took a temporary break from the treasure hunting to grab some lunch at Linen Hill restaurant at the Outlet in Banbridge. We both had a perfectly serviceable cheese and bacon burger with chunky chips, with a generous serving of pepper sauce on the side for me, and a thimbleful of ketchup for Andrea. Being the generous girl I am, I let her have some pepper sauce too. And to wash this all down, we shared a rather large jug of pink lemonade – such a girly cliche!
Of course, being at the Outlet, we couldn’t really leave without a quick blast round the shops. We spent quite a while in Next, where Andrea bought a skirt and I hmm-ed and aah-ed over a few items then bought nothing, then on to Peacocks, where I tried on a couple of t-shirts at a fiver each, buying one in pink. In fact, rather shockingly I managed to try on two items of clothing in a changing room without taking a selfie. I’m losing my touch!
Next stop on the treasure trail was Scarva, where the clues were based around a small park and bandstand at the side of a canal. There was a busy cafe attached to the local tourist office, with many people sitting out at tables in the sunshine next to the canal, and of course we had to walk right through their midst in search of clues, and not an eyelid was batted. In fact, we almost stopped with them, it was no easy task keeping Andrea away from their hot Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce and ice cream. And it was such a beautiful setting, I just felt so good.
Finally, we finished up in Tandragee, with a few clues at the war memorial in the centre of the town. We paused in the late afternoon sunshine for a few snaps sitting on a bench. I felt completely at peace, at ease with myself and in the company of my best friend. It was a lovely moment. Unfortunately, we missed out on one clue because we got fed up with the gravestone hunt back in Tullylish, but you can’t have everything now can you?
All too soon it was back up to Lisburn to drop Andrea off at her car, then before changing I had a quick trip to Tesco to pick up a few essentials. The shopping trip was about as uneventful as it sounds, until just after I had paid. As I was on my way out I walked past a stall with a woman trying to change electricity suppliers to SSE Airtricity. As I walked past she called out “Excuse me, miss!” Oh, bless you. Miss! I smiled, told her I was already with them for my electricity (true) and went on my way. A quick trip to Costa for a takeaway coffee to sip while getting changed into “his” clothes, and that was my day done.
The treasure hunt itself was a lot of fun, but the main thing I took away from it was this. Way back when I first hinted to Mrs Kirsty that I wanted to go out in public, she stated with some conviction that I would get beaten up as soon as I showed my face in a populated area. When I began to go out with little or no incident, she changed her tack to say that it might be ok in relatively cosmopolitan (for Northern Ireland) places like large towns and cities, but I would need to stay away from little country villages, which are very conservative. Then on Monday Andrea and I strolled casually around some rural villages from modest to downright tiny, at least one of which had quite a lot of people around. Nobody noticed. Or if they did, they didn’t care. Just two women going about our day, like anyone else. Feels good, all right.