I first went to a members’ meeting of the Belfast Butterfly Club on the last Wednesday of March in 2014. Since that week, I haven’t failed to appear on a Wednesday at the club premises. One or two of those appearances have been pretty curtailed, it is true, but I have been there without fail at some point on each Wednesday when there has been a meeting. Not any more. Last week, there was a members’ meeting and I didn’t go. Not only that, I deliberately didn’t go. Is this indicative of some terrible falling-out? Not at all. I guess it’s more related to the realisation that having reached the level at which I find myself now, the thought of sitting behind closed doors of an evening hiding away from the real world doesn’t hold a great deal of appeal, particularly considering my two closest friends that I met through the club are frequently with me outside the club anyway. Andrea as we know is living full time as a woman now, and so returning to that type of closet is not something that she is interested in, nor should she be. And Michelle, as I have written a few times recently, is also out and about with increasing frequency these days. So if I want to spend time with my friends, I can do that elsewhere. Anyway, I’m not going to labour the point because I wrote about my thoughts on support groups quite extensively a few weeks ago.
On Tuesday I had arranged to meet Andrea to go for a bite to eat and a bit of a chat. We hadn’t booked anywhere in advance and just met up in Lisburn and decided to play it by ear. So in this spirit of spontaneity we decided to go to… Ed’s Bar and Grill. Again. It’s ok, we only go there because we like it. Our waitress showed us to a nice table at the window. Initially it felt quite odd being there without Michelle, and not in one of the booths at which we have sat before. It was also quite nice to be sitting up against the window with a bit of natural light coming in. Unfortunately Andrea was somewhat preoccupied as her daughter had been sitting in A&E (that’s the emergency room for any North American readers) with chest pains most of the afternoon. Unfortunately as the evening progressed it became clear that a diagnosis was not going to be forthcoming, and eventually she was admitted for observation. Now as a parent I sympathise completely, and I’m sure she was in a terrible position, unable to visit for the time being, instead stuck in a restaurant with me. We carried on anyway, and despite Andrea’s understandable concern about her daughter, we had a very pleasant evening. Of course I sympathised greatly with my friend, after all if it had been either of my daughters in hospital, I’d have been beside myself with worry. But at the same time we both tried to keep up a normal conversation. And anyway, we do have something coming up in a little over three weeks about which we are both rather excited. More on that later. Let’s just say ferries and guest houses have been booked!!!
The food was very enjoyable if unexciting (hot wings, mexican chicken burger, chocolate brownie sundae) and despite everything we had a very good evening. I even managed a bit of nice chat with our waitress while Andrea was on a loo break, which is unusual for me as I’m usually quite quiet with strangers and need a chatty person to bring me out of myself a little. The food and the conversation flowed and, stuffed to bursting point, we finally exited the restaurant at 10.25pm, the last two customers in the place. I’m afraid the weather wasn’t great when we left so it was more or less straight back into the cars again to go our separate ways. A very pleasant evening, which was my alternative for last week to going to the support group Wednesday evening.
Sunday was to be the latest meeting of my book group. We don’t usually meet up until 7pm, but usually I meet Andrea beforehand and we do something nice, be it shopping or just coffee. However, Andrea had her parents over to stay this weekend so she wasn’t available, and I had texted Mary, with whom I had hit it off at the Grand National meetup the previous weekend, but she was also unavailable due to babysitting duties, and so I was left with a choice. Sit about the house as Bob all Sunday afternoon, or leave after Sunday lunch and spend the afternoon as my real self, even if it is on my own. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a shock for you to hear that I chose the latter option.
I am quite fond of my own company. This, apparently, makes me a bit odd in some people’s eyes. But there you go. Sometimes I just like doing things myself, not having to make conversation with anyone else, being able to go where I want when I want and not have to worry about what anyone else wants. The thing is, I don’t get the chance to do that very much as Kirsty, even less so now than before. Some people don’t get that, and will always choose a bit of company over solitude, but I like a bit of both. It reminds me of a line from (going way back to my youth here) “Oblivious” by Aztec Camera – “They’ll call us lonely when we’re really just alone”.
I think regardless of gender issues this can sometimes make me seem a little bit antisocial, as where others will go off in groups of two or three I will quite happily go off by myself during my lunch hour and browse round a few shops, flicking through the magazines in Eason (it’s like an Irish WH Smith) or leafing through the books in a bookstore, or even just walking round the city centre listening to music. Of course what I would also like to do is browse round some ladies’ fashions, but doing that as Bob tends to attract a few stares so I don’t really bother with that. So on Sunday I took myself off up to support group HQ, did a quick-ish transformation, and I emerged blinking into the sunlight of Cityside Shopping on Belfast’s York Street at around 3.20pm.
Cityside is not the city centre. It’s not exactly out-of-town either. It’s a self-contained shopping mall in a working-class inner city area. And I went there in broad daylight, by myself, presenting as a woman. And I had no undue attention whatsoever. I had been there with Andrea around six months ago, but going by myself was a different matter. I went into Asda Home for a browse round their ladieswear – nothing caught my fancy, then it was into New Look. There actually was something specific that I was after. A belt. In the interests of casting aside all that is Bob, the only thing of Bob’s that I wear is his wedding ring. Well, that and one other thing – his belt for jeans. I have a little thin belt which I wear with some skirts, but I don’t have a decent belt for wearing with girly jeans. And I was wearing girly jeans today. £2.99 for a white ladies belt, sold to the unusually tall woman in the floral jeans and lacy short sleeved top. A snip.
Actually, I had a good browse round New Look. Add them to the list of possible shoe shops for me, although nothing there really caught my eye. So back into the car I went, pausing before driving off to remove Bob’s belt and replace it with my nice new one. It felt so good to just cast aside that last bit of maleness, not that anyone would ever have noticed it, but I knew it was there even if it was just a nondescript strip of brown leather. I drove the short journey into Castle Court and parked.
I spent the next hour and a half just walking leisurely round Belfast city centre, sometimes being completely in the moment, sometimes thinking how remarkable this all is, sometimes thinking how unremarkable this all is. But not once did I think I was getting looked at, not once did I feel uncomfortable, I felt relaxed, natural, myself. And it was a lovely sunny afternoon, so I was in short sleeves too. While I was walking round Victoria Square (officially there for H&M and Mango) as a paid-up Apple fangirl (yes, I know) I couldn’t resist but walk into the Apple Store there to have a look at the new Apple Watch. A female member of staff approached me as I was staring into the display case, and she asked if I would like to try one on. To my real regret I said no thanks. Not that I particularly wanted to try one on, truth is Bob has already tried one on and I didn’t need to do it again, but it was a missed opportunity for more real-world interaction. But still, the two of us stood for a minute or two having a geeky little chat about this latest toy. Incidentally, they look a lot better in real life than they do in photos. Don’t be surprised to see one on my wrist in a couple of months.
Even though there was a bit of a heel in my ankle boots (2.5″) my feet held up remarkably well to all this walking. Eventually at around 5.30pm I stopped off in a Caffe Nero for a cappuccino and a lemon tart to take the weight off my feet and catch up with the latest in the world of WordPress. And to continue my ongoing series of Words With Friends games against Michelle. Finally, shortly after 6pm and with the shops all closed, I returned to the car and headed up to the hotel that acts as the venue for the book group.
I was at least half an hour early. I pulled up across the road from the entrance and fidgeted for a while, brushed my hair, touched up my lip gloss, dabbed a bit of powder round my chin, had a quick spray of perfume and suddenly it was only 25 minutes early. I looked across and saw two others going into the hotel so I knew I wouldn’t be alone. And anyway, I needed to go in as I was in rather urgent need of the loo.
When I arrived there was a member of hotel staff hovering (not literally) at the door. I went to walk into the meeting room for the book group but was directed to the comfy seats where Jean and Tony were waiting. I gave them a quick “hello” on my way to the ladies. By the time I emerged again, and I didn’t take that long, our number had swollen to six. We all ordered coffees and moved into the meeting room, everyone still at least fifteen minutes early. So much for fashionably late.
This month’s book was The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernieres. When we went into the meeting room and sat round in our discussion circle, the chat was great. Everyone was catching up on what we had all been doing since we last met five weeks earlier. Then our group leader Joanne asked what we thought of the book, which had been her suggestion. Silence. Suddenly we appeared to have lost the power of speech. Everyone appeared to have found the book by turns harrowing, silly, overly violent, disarmingly whimsical, too hard to follow, too many characters, disjointed, with incredibly dense prose with a huge amount of ideas crammed into not a particularly large amount of words. Just thinking about the book tires me. It was quite the task to finish it. Having said that, there are some things in it that will stick with me for quite some time and I am glad to have read it. It tells in rather episodic fashion, the story of a remote village in a fictional South American country, and how the people there are caught up in civil war, government corruption, with guerrillas in the mountains, some right wing, some left wing, one general who becomes a torturer (in graphic detail) and another who fakes his own death to study butterflies, all told in a magic realist style, with humans giving birth to cats and long-dead armies coming back to life temporarily to assist in battles. It wore it’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez influence a little too proudly for my liking, and I’d prefer to read the real thing – who wants to listen to the Latin American Dave Clark Five when there’s the Latin American Beatles on the shelf?
Anyhow, my little review probably took longer to write than we spend discussing the book. It was so unusually hard to talk about. But once we had got that out of the way, we could just spend the next hour talking about all sorts of nonsense, Australia, politics local and international, unusual wedding venues, Game of Thrones and ouija boards. It was a really fun, lively and enjoyable evening with some smart and friendly people. At least, when we weren’t speaking about the book it was. And next month’s book had better go down better than this month’s because it’s my choice – “Elizabeth is Missing” by Emma Healey. I have already read it, and I loved it. I’ll save my review for three weeks time.
Oh yes, that’s the other thing. When Joanne was arranging the date for our next get-together, she suggested a gap of four weeks. I had feared that this would be the date for the next meeting, as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it as I will be… well, doing that thing with Andrea that I hinted at earlier. So when I said I couldn’t be there on that date everyone, around 12 or so people, agreed to bring it forward a week so I could go. It’s almost as if they want this rather gangly, softly spoken trans woman at their group. Isn’t this the acceptance I wanted, the female life, even if it is only a part-time one? It certainly is. It’s worth having. Feels great.