In my last post I hinted that quite soon I might be writing about a meetup event that I had booked. Well that time has arrived. The event in question was a pub meeting to watch the Grand National with a group of other people, and it happened on Saturday.
The book group that I attend every month is just one meeting of a larger group, and this group had advertised a pub meeting on Saturday afternoon to watch the Grand National on TV, with a sweepstake on offer. I have fond memories of my long departed dad running family sweepstakes on the Grand National when I was a child, and I never miss watching the race even now. I don’t really have any interest in horse racing, but it’s all tied up in a good family feeling. Unfortunately Mrs Kirsty had no interest in the race, so I usually end up watching it alone. So I thought this year, I’d try going along and perhaps making a few friends. Hopefully.
Looking down the list of everyone who was due to attend this event, there was nobody going whom I already knew from the book group. So I was going to be meeting 15 people I hadn’t met before, and unlike the book group, this one had a 50/50 split between the sexes. As the day approached I became gradually more apprehensive, and in fact the night before I had a rather odd dream. I dreamt that I was speaking to an unknown and not particularly passable trans* person about how nervous I was feeling in advance of the pub meeting, about being unsure of how I would be viewed or if I would be accepted. She replied that it would be fine, in fact she regularly attended a women’s group in her church and everybody there just thought she was a woman just like them. She offered to show me some photos of her with some of the women in the church group, and I accepted. I was presented with a picture of a group of the least passable and most inappropriately dressed TVs it was possible to imagine, and she believed them all to be cis women. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
And the point of me regurgitating my dream? Well I thought it was funny, but moreover it made me think about role reversals. I might worry how I’m going to be seen, but doesn’t everyone, trans or cis? Everyone had their hang-ups, and possession of a Y chromosome just happens to be mine.
On the day in question I made my way over to support group HQ to get ready, and by around 2.30pm I was getting into my car to head back into Belfast for the meeting. I was dressed casually in my favourite purple 3/4 sleeve jumper from River Island, a denim mini skirt, black opaque tights and my black suede ankle boots from Evans. At around 3.15 I walked into the Washington Bar in Howard Street, Belfast. It was very busy. Standing room only. And this is where a rather obvious problem showed itself. I had never met any of these people before, so I had no idea which particular clump of people I was supposed to be with. I stood looking round me, feeling incredibly conspicuous and not a little lost. But not conspicuous because I thought I was being read, just conspicuous because I was standing there like, as we say in Belfast, a stewed prune.
Eventually a guy looked in my direction and gave me a tentative wave. I shuffled across and asked “Are you the meetup people?”. Yes. Yes they were. Four guys, no girls. The organiser of the event apologised for everyone having to stand round in the public bar, we would be moving upstairs as soon as it opened. But really, none of these guys seemed remotely interested in speaking to me. I started to have visions of me just turning round and walking back out again. But I stood firm.
After a couple of minutes a couple of younger (30-ish) women arrived, and one introduced herself to me as Helene. We exchanged pleasantries for a moment until we were interrupted by the arrival of another woman, who immediately said;
“We’ve met before haven’t we?”
“Yes, on the walk”
“I haven’t been on any walks”
“You have! With the Dynamos!”
The Dynamos is the walking group of which Andrea is a member, but I have never been to it. And anyway, it’s not like anyone is going to mistake me for her. So the conversation continued…
“I’ve never been to the Dynamos, but my best friend is a member”
“Does she look like you?”
“No. She’s about 5’5″ with dark hair”
“Well then there’s a girl in the Dynamos who is your double. She’s looks just like you, she’s really tall too. Lovely and tall, could be a model”
OK, now I was glad I came. Could be a model, eh? Her or me? Well if she’s my double, could be either of us I suppose. Of course I pooh-poohed the idea, but my heart leapt that anyone would say that to me. Wow!
By now it was time to move upstairs, and on my way up I started chatting to another woman, Mary, who was a little older than me, with a really warm, down-to-earth personality. We all arrived upstairs and Eoin, the event organiser, led us out to the beer garden. Well it was called a beer garden, really it was four large benches and tables on a covered balcony, with a big flatscreen TV facing us. Somehow I had managed not to get a drink, so I went back in to the bar and got myself a bottle of cider. When I emerged back to the beer garden, I stood, unsure where to sit. Mary called out “Kirsty! Come and sit here!”
I went and joined Mary, and the two of us just stated chatting away and basically didn’t stop for the next hour. After a while we were joined by the woman who said I could be a model, whose name I now learned was Catriona, and she joined in the chat with Mary and me. At one point one of the men leaned over to say something to Mary and she replied “I’m just talking to the girls here”. Eventually a guy called John came and joined us, he seemed quite nice (not like that!) and the four of us chatted happily away about this and that until the race began.
Predictably, both my horses in the sweepstake were three-legged donkeys, so I wasn’t even close to getting a cheer in the race itself, but that hardly seemed the point. I did feel nervous and slightly uncomfortable this afternoon, but not because I felt foolish or was worried about being read. I am what I am. No, the nerves were just those of someone who isn’t the most outgoing person in the world putting herself out there with a group of people she’d never met before. And in the end, it was pretty enjoyable. And for what it’s worth, Bob would never have done this in a million years. I would be much less comfortable presenting as male in that situation. As with just about every other situation.
As the afternoon drew to a close, Mary asked if I would like to join her and a few of the others who were going out for dinner to a noodle bar, and then for a few more drinks afterwards. I had to refuse, as I had my own dinner date with my two girlfriends, but it was very nice to be asked. As I went to get up to leave, Mary asked if I had a mobile number, maybe we could text each other and meet up for coffee some time. Uh, yes! As we swapped numbers, she said “It was really lovely to meet you Kirsty, and I’m glad you came otherwise I’d only have had these men to talk to”. Cue conspiratorial girly sniggers.
As I left the bar, Catriona said that now I’d broken the ice and come to something other than the book group, she hoped to see me at some other things. Well you never know do you? Mary and I parted with a hug, and I walked off back into the city centre to collect the car, via the ladies’ loo in Castle Court shopping centre and a takeaway coffee, feeling completely on cloud nine.
Half an hour later I found myself back up at the Butterfly Club HQ, getting changed into something a bit more dressy for a restaurant visit with Andrea and Michelle. They had spent the afternoon together as part of Michelle’s first overnight as her female self chez Andrea. If there’s not an account of this in her own blog by the time I publish this then I’m sure it’ll be along soon. The three of us were going to one of our favourites, The Plough in Hillsborough.
There’s not too much to tell about the evening. It was fun as usual with my two friends, the food was great and we were treated well by all the staff in the restaurant. I had a delicious chicken caesar salad to begin, with a “fish sarnie” with straw fries (basically fish & chips with a brioche bun and some tartar sauce) for my main followed by a Chocolate Brownie Sundae on a Saturday for dessert. The food was excellent as usual, and the company was better, again as usual. It was a lovely, civilised way to round off the day.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, I got a text from Mary;
“It was really lovely to meet you Kirsty x”
I replied in kind. I think I’ve made a new friend.