This is it, the final catch-up post. I have actually had quite a packed month, with several incidents that have made me pause for thought, not least what happened at my book group last night. I’m feeling a little guilty and uneasy with myself, like St Peter when the cock crowed. All will become clear…
Wednesday 17th June
I had decided to do a quick roadside change in a layby before heading straight on to Lisburn without going into the Butterfly Club premises. I do do this from time to time. All was well, until at around 6.30pm I decided that I had better text my friend Michelle so that she knew not to expect me. I opened the phone and saw there was no signal. Oh well, I thought, it must be a 3G blackspot, I’ll hit send when I move off. But the signal never came. Right through till after 8 there was no signal (on Three, mobile signal watchers) so Michelle was wondering if I was sulking with her, refusing to speak, otherwise engaged or lying dead in a ditch. I arrived at Sprucefield and quickly logged on to the free wifi to email her, but of course she can’t pick up Michelle-email on her phone as it is supplied by Bob’s work. So that was a waste of time. Finally, as I sat stuck in traffic congestion caused by the Lisburn half-marathon the signal came back to life and I received a series of messages from Michelle
“Changing room now free”
“Are you roadsiding? Want to meet for coffee? 8.30ish?”
“Are you ok?”
Of course she had received no reply to any of these. Somehow it all came out in the wash and we ended up having a quick toastie and coffee at M&S (since dragging her to Costa the previous week Michelle has begun to order coffee rather than tea in cafes) then back to the BBC where we met a visitor from Manchester, Frances.
I think the kindest thing I can say is that she was on a completely different wavelength from me. I even hesitate to say she because she used masculine pronouns talking about her t-friends, which grated to say the least, but so many things were just not like me. I had to call her out on her repeated use of the word “tranny” which is like fingernails on a blackboard to my ears. She was on a two-week holiday in Northern Ireland (no accounting for taste!) which was done partially as Frances and partially as Bob. Immediately I thought that this wasn’t like me. Imagine having the opportunity to be my real self for a full two weeks straight and voluntarily spending a portion of the time as “him”. I just couldn’t. Every second I’m “him” I want to be me. Then there was the process with hotels or B&Bs, arriving and checking in as “him” then asking for permission to appear en femme, if she thought they would be ok with it, otherwise it was a case of leaving the hotel as Bob, then pulling up at the roadside and getting changed. When I went away it was just “all me, all the time”. Anything else would have been unthinkable. But it was right for Frances, so that’s fine. I’m just noting the difference.
What did wind me up though was what I’m sure she thought was just a throwaway comment. She told about how she was going to get changed at her B&B one time but then decided against it because there were children around in the public area. What possible difference could that make? I think that said more about her own view of what it means to be trans* than anything else. There is nothing wrong or shameful in being who we are, even if that sounds slightly hypocritical given my part-time status and the number of people from whom I keep my true nature a secret. But once I am me, I am me. The idea that children shouldn’t see people like us is just wrong on so many levels and it was all I could do to bite my tongue and not ask her exactly what her problem was with her own identity. But she was on her holidays, so with discretion being the better part of valour, I valiantly shut the hell up.
She really did annoy me quite a lot though.
Wednesday 24th June
Not too much of any great import here, coffee at M&S with Andrea and Michelle, then Michelle headed back to the Butterfly Club for a committee meeting which I was supposed to be at too, but I stayed on for a bit of browsing round the sale items in M&S with Andrea. We both found something we liked. There is a top that had caught my eye many times in there, a ¾ sleeve salmon light jumper with a fake last-four-inches-of-a-camisole stitched to the hem. So many times I had walked past it and thought “that’s soooo me”, and even one time I was there with Michelle it even caught her eye and she said “that top is so you”. I was destined for it, so when I saw it in the sale, I was obliged to buy it. Andrea also found a top that was “soooo” her. So she bought that too.
I did make it back to the committee meeting, which was fairly interesting with a couple of trustees in attendance. This was followed up with a German-themed quiz set by Linda and won by none other than yours truly, proving that you can have beauty and brains. M’lud.
Saturday 27th June
This was a real best-of-both-worlds day. Time by myself and an evening with my dear friend Andrea. I had mentioned to her the previous Wednesday that I would be available on Saturday, and after a few false starts in the planning we agreed to meet up for dinner and a cinema trip. However I had already arranged with Mrs K to be away from home from lunchtime onwards, which meant that rare thing, a solo afternoon. I had done this once before, on Sunday afternoon prior to April’s book group, but this was my first time spending a busy Saturday afternoon in Belfast city centre by myself. As I have written before in previous posts, in many ways I find the solo outings the most rewarding of all, because I feel so completely comfortable and gloriously unremarkable. It’s a strange logic, all I want to do is go unnoticed. But being by myself, going about a pleasant afternoon with no particular agenda, well it just engenders such a sense of wellbeing. I generally don’t even think that much about gender, except for in an underlying feeling of, well, happiness that runs through the day.
My first port of call was a heel bar in order to repair my suede ankle boots, one heel tip of which remains wedged between a few cobbles in Haworth. I walked into the shop with a couple of men already there in front of me waiting, and a couple of older men working behind the counter. One of these called me up to the counter and was as nice as can be. He explained that he needed to do both boots so that the heels were the same height on each foot, so I left them with him and took a quick trip to a cash machine for a few pounds to pay him, since I had noticed a sign saying they didn’t take cards. After returning to the shop, I sat in the customer area and jabbed absent-mindedly at my phone for a few minutes until the job was complete. One newly-reheeled pair of ankle boots, £5.90 to the woman in the salmon jumper.
I had noticed on Facebook the previous night that this day there was another drop-in afternoon being run by Gender Essence, so I had clicked on “join” for the event. By the time I had finished up at the heel bar, it was approaching 4pm so I made my way to the venue and rang the bell for admittance. No response. I rang it again. No response. I checked the event details on my phone. 2pm to 5pm, Saturday 27th June, today, now. I rang the bell again. No response. After multiple ringings and a continued lack of response I gave it up as a bad job. To be honest, while it was a little bit annoying, it wasn’t all that bad because rather than languishing in another “big closet” I had more opportunity to just wander round the town on a very pleasant afternoon.
I did a bit of window shopping in Dunnes Stores, M&S and Next, and then I crossed the road into New Look. I had been in this branch before, the flagship Belfast branch in Donegall Place, but somehow I had never made it up to the top floor. I really did miss a treat because the top floor is billed as “Shoe Heaven” and is nothing but women’s shoes. And best of all, shoes in size 9 and 8 wide seemed to be well stocked in a variety of styles. A veritable joy for a big-footed girl like me. I tried on a few pairs, some flat, some far from flat, but I managed to restrict myself to one pair of cream lacy ballerina flats, which will look good with jeans or a slightly dressier skirt. Of course I don’t have a picture of them but I’m sure you can imagine. On emerging from the shop I chanced a quick selfie out on the street as a momento of a simple but very enjoyable afternoon.
By now it was time to head back up to Lisburn to change into a dress and heeled ankle boots (not the ones I had just had fixed) to go and meet Andrea for dinner. Now when I say “dress”, don’t get the idea it was very formal or dressy, it was just a casual long-sleeve jumper dress and opaque tights, but it was dressier than what I had been wearing while shopping. We met at the Parson’s Nose in Hillsborough, where we had been a couple of times before, and for once we were there in time for the earlybird menu, which saved us a few pounds. In money at least, I’m sure we gained a few pounds in weight. I had a smoked chicken salad (very nice), a fish finger sandwich (a lot posher than it sounds, really fluffy cod in batter in a brioche bun with chunky chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce) and for pudding strawberries, honeycomb and ice-cream, a lovely combination. I was very happy with my meal. Unfortunately Andrea seemed to have drawn the short straw with hers, which consisted of some kind of terrine which was only enlivened by some red onion marmalade, followed by a cheesy tart which was only enlivened by some red onion marmalade, followed by meringues which seemed to have been made with plaster of paris instead of sugar. In the end she complained about the meringues and got a more acceptable substitute, and the cost of her dessert deducted from the bill. I’m always very reluctant to send something back in restaurants, as I always fear that whatever returns from the kitchen may well return accompanied with a few of the sous-chef’s bodily fluids. Andrea’s a braver woman than me! But we knew that anyway.
After a short coffee stop at Costa, we headed into the nearby Lisburn Movieplex cinema to see Spy, with Melissa McCarthy and a few brit-actors – Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart etc. It was very funny with lots of laugh-out-loud moments even if it was possibly the sweariest most potty-mouthed film I have ever seen in my life. And I’m not easily shocked by that sort of thing. However the comedy highlight of the evening was as the opening BBFC classification came up at the start proclaiming the film to be a 15 certificate, Andrea pointed out that the man sitting on her right was fast asleep. I’m not sure how much of the movie he saw, but he looked at least partially awake at the end.
We went our separate ways in the car park with a little hug, at the end of a fabulous day.
Wednesday 1st July
It was really warm today, so I took the opportunity to wear my one and only summer dress while going to dine out (again!) with Michelle and Andrea at our favourite haunt; The Plough in Hillsborough. I had also planned on wearing a pair of nude cork sandals that I hadn’t worn in about a year, but when I put them on I decided that I really didn’t like them. Michelle pointed out that someone had left a pair of black suede wedge heels in the “cast-offs” box at the Butterfly Club, and in a size 9 too, so I tried them out. I’m not sure if they had ever been worn in anger, perfectly clean and not a scuff on the sole. They were so much nicer than what I had brought with me, so I helped myself to them and replaced my old wedges in the box. The real idea with the box is to raise funds for the club, so a donation is very much in order.
The meal itself at the Plough was very good although it was just too hot in the restaurant and I could feel the perspiration on my face throughout, and then every time I dabbed it away I feared that I was dabbing away part of my foundation. Thankfully when I visited the ladies I was able to get a good look at myself in the mirror and I still looked reasonably presentable. We rounded off the evening with a leisurely stroll back to our cars via the “scenic route”. A pleasant if warm evening.
Sunday 5th July
It was the latest meeting of my book group, and I was slightly wary of it because of the subject matter. This month’s book is “Passing” by Nella Larsen, a short novel(la) written in 1929. It tells the story of two mixed-race women who attempt to “pass” as white women in order to free themselves of prejudice, and gain access to places and services which would be denied to women of colour. The main protagonist, Irene, is married to a black man, who knows that occasionally she will try to pass as white in order to access such places but essentially she lives a life in the black community. The second character, Clare, is living full time as a white woman, and is married to a white man who is an overt racist – “I don’t dislike n*****s, I hate ’em”, he exclaims at one point. It’s also a tale of jealousy and distrust in personal relationships too, but that’s less relevant to my own circumstances. But the parallels between these women trying to pass as white and me trying to pass as female should be pretty obvious. So I was concerned that the subject of trans* people and our quest to “pass” may come up in the discussion.
As I was in the Butterfly Club getting ready before going into Belfast for the book group, I got a text from Andrea. She was just up the road in Sprucefield and would I like to go for a coffee if I had time. Well I did have time but unfortunately residing in the backwater that is Northern Ireland everything closes at 6pm on a Sunday so that wasn’t really an option. So we settled for having a wee chat for about 15 minutes in Andrea’s car. It was an unexpected pleasure, and she seemed to have had an action-packed day herself. She has had a few difficulties lately (read about it on her blog) so it was good to see her smiling.
When I arrived at the venue for the book group at 7pm on the dot, everyone was arranged around a couple of tables in the bar. Our leader had forgotten to book the room that we usually use. Not a problem. I ordered a Diet Coke and took my seat between Mary and Alison. It was nice to see Ali, she hadn’t been to the group for several months, and we had had a nice chat the last time. I had been thinking of her because she had mentioned that she was going into hospital, so it was good that she was there and looking as well as ever.
The discussion on the book began and it touched various bases, but the notion of “passing” was discussed a lot. I was unusually quiet for me in the group, normally I do speak a fair amount, but the type of things that were being said were a bit close to home for me. Talk of “covert existences”, “dual identities” and “living in the shadows” scared me. In fact, I felt like everyone was looking at me when they were speaking. Of course, they weren’t looking at me at all, well no more than usual, but then the paranoia kicked in and I though that they were deliberately avoiding my gaze. The case of Rachel Dolezal was mentioned and her description of herself as “transracial”. Thankfully nobody specifically mentioned transgender people, which seemed to me to be the next logical step in the discussion, but that could maybe just be the next logical step for me who thinks about these things. Or then again, perhaps they were all just avoiding the subject because of me and had I not been there the conversation would have gone very differently. On balance, I think not, but I can’t rule out the possibility.
Once the book chat had died down, I ended up having a long and enjoyable talk with Ali, about her hospital visit that still hasn’t happened, and the health issues behind it, about her impending trip to South America, and about my own upcoming holiday to the much less impressive Gran Canaria. But I’m looking forward to it. But as I was telling her that I’m off to the Canary Islands in three weeks she asked “Who are you going with?” Well that stumped me. The truth is, I’m going with my wife and daughters. But I couldn’t say that. Could I? Chances are, everyone knows I am trans and is fine with it, but I can’t take that chance. I could have said “my partner” but that would just open the conversation up for more questions about the partner. So what could I do. Like Jesus for St Peter, so is Mrs K for me. I denied her existence and just replied “I’m going with my daughters”. I didn’t even have to wait for the cock to crow to feel ashamed.
As it happens, the conversation continued in a very enjoyable way, with a lot of laughs, and the two of us ended up parting with a big hug. In a way I felt great. But in another way I felt awful. Being myself, being Kirsty, is about being honest about who I really am. This woman is really me, not that bloke. He’s just a facade. Kirsty is the real person, the honest one. Yet I have to tell such a barefaced lie. Was there any other way? I don’t know.
For all that, it was a very enjoyable evening. The next book group is the day after I get back from holiday, so at least after that week of enforced maleness I can look forward to Kirsty returning the very next day.
Until next time (in the future – hurrah!)