If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or, as Gary Larsen put it, if a tree falls in the forest, and no-one’s around, and it hits a mime, does anyone care? These are questions that I have been mulling over in my mind since last Wednesday when an incident occurred. At least, I am advised that an incident occurred, I was blissfully unaware of it at the time. Unfortunately my bubble was burst pretty quickly.
On Wednesday evening last week I had arranged to meet my friend Jonathan for a drink and something to eat in the bar of a Belfast hotel. Our usual meeting spot, in fact. Jonathan has met the real me several times now, and although sometimes he struggles with not misgendering me, he’s clearly making the effort to accept me for who I am, which means a great deal. We have known each other for well over twenty years, so there’s a lot of history between him and Bob, and it is to his eternal credit that he continues to be accepting and supportive of Kirsty. Good for him.
Jonathan has a bit of a thing about denim (i.e. he really doesn’t like it) so upon realising that the last two or three times I have seen him I have either been wearing jeans or a denim skirt, I decided to wear no denim at all. I was probably a bit more smartly dressed than usual, with a white blouse, black cardie, black and white light summer skirt, natural tights and black 2.5in heel Mary Jane shoes. I thought I looked pretty good if a little monochrome.
We actually had a really nice evening, just two old friends chatting away for about three hours. I think I did slightly shock him at one point. I was telling him about my trip with Andrea over to visit Ruth back in May, and specifically we got on to the story of losing my heel tip in the cobbles in Haworth. I commented that the heels on the damaged ankle boots were similar height and style to those on the shoes I was wearing that evening, and added that most of the heels that I wear would be of a similar size, in the 2-2.5 inch range. The conversation then developed along these lines;
J: So if most of the heels are that size, does that mean that some are higher?
K: A few
J: So what are the highest heels that you would ever wear
K: Well I have a pair of 4-inch heels that I wore out to a restaurant a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t go for a hike in them but they look good.
J: I don’t really know if that’s high or not, I know nothing about women’s shoes
K: Well actually I do have a pair of 5-inch heels that I wouldn’t dream of wearing now, but they’re about 15 years old
At which point Jonathan’s head exploded. Metaphorically. He seemed completely shocked that I had been buying female footwear going back that long. He genuinely seemed astounded at this development. Although I had told him that I have experienced some degree of gender identity issues going back to early childhood, he was under the impression that I had taken no action on this until the last 18 months. While it’s certainly true that things have blossomed dramatically in that period, there were a few earlier purchases. I even told him that I have a couple of skirts from that time, although like the shoes I wouldn’t dream of wearing them now. I think that this revelation really hit home to him that this isn’t just something that appeared out of nowhere at the start of last year and I have really been feeling this for a lot longer, and the existence of the older items of clothing is my proof. He was also rather surprised to learn that Mrs K was aware of the existence of those items at the time, and that she had lived with that for all these years. Of course I did explain that she only knew a small portion of what I really felt as I was trying to spare her feelings, but it was still a major surprise for him to learn all this.
Eventually we got up to walk round to the bus station. Jonathan was getting the bus home and my car was parked in the multi-storey car park above the station. We walked back through the bar and out onto the street at around 10.15. As we emerged on to the street, Jonathan asked me “So how is your mood now?”. A bit of an odd question, I thought, but I replied that yes, it was great, why shouldn’t it be? “You know”, he said, “after that less than complimentary comment?”. Oh thanks a bunch, I didn’t hear anything. So after a bit of back and forth, it transpires that on our way out we passed a booth at which were seated two women. One of them made some sort of comment – he won’t tell me precisely what it was – but it wasn’t pleasant and it amounted to “That’s a bloke!”, which her friend apparently found hilarious. What could I do? Even had I heard it, is there any point in confrontation? I’m not naturally a very confrontational person and what was I going to do? Walk back into the bar, seek them out and tell them to go f*** themselves? Hardly.
I barely spoke as we walked back round to the bus station. I just wanted to get back to the safe haven of my car as soon as possible. My hard-earned confidence had completely evaporated, I was imagining that every person in the street was reading me and was just bursting with transphobic comments to shout at me. I just kept on walking, head down staring at my feet. We passed three young women on the pavement, one of whom had some sort of charity tin. They stopped as Jonathan and I approached and rattled the tin. My head stayed down and I kept walking, convinced that they had only stopped to rattle their tin so they could laugh in the face of the silly girlyman. As Jonathan and I parted, he was upset on my behalf, and upset with himself for inadvertently and indirectly upsetting me. The way he saw it, if he hadn’t said anything, I would have been blissfully unaware of the whole incident, but he also said that what she said was so loud that he never thought I could have avoided hearing it. I’m not actually sure if I would have preferred him to keep his mouth shut or not. On balance, I think that yes, I’d rather be unaware and happy. Although there is a part of me that thinks my own safety could be dependent upon me knowing if something’s up. I don’t know the answer, but I can’t be upset at Jonathan who at the end of the day was just enquiring as to how I was after experiencing what he heard as being something likely to upset me.
In the cold light of day now I can see that on the way back round to the car park / bus station I was just upset and a little paranoid. There was nothing to suggest that anyone other than the woman in the bar had spotted anything other than a very tall woman. I have been through so much for so long with so few incidents that I can’t allow one read and a (probably drunken) outburst to set me back. But for the next day or two, I felt like crap. So it was important that I “get back on the bike” as quickly as possible. Hence I made some arrangements for Saturday.
A quick aside now. At the end of April I bought a bike, or rather Bob bought a bike. Specifically, a road bike, that’s a bicycle, not a motorcycle. I have followed professional cycling for many years and encouraged by several cycling friends including Michelle, I finally took the plunge and decided to get on my bike for real. I am still in the early stages of building up my miles, but one of the early milestones I have set myself was to take part in the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia on 21st June. This was a sportive event, with a 177km route through the Mourne mountains for the hardcore experienced riders, and a 58km route for the more casual riders like me. I was doing this ride with my friend and colleague Graham, who is a much more experience rider than I am, but he agreed to do the 58km with me. We completed it in a decent time, comfortably in the top 200 finishers out of nearly 1000, and had a great time. My next milestone is an 85 mile lap of Lough Neagh at the end of August, which Michelle is doing too. We’ll have to take great care not to see each other’s Bobs.
Anyway, enjoyable as the Gran Fondo ride was, my quest to keep Bob private was somewhat undermined by the fact that just after we finished, we were approached by a TV interviewer asking for our thoughts on the event. And of course, they used my piece. In advance, I had emailed Andrea and Michelle advising them not to watch UTV news that evening as there was a chance Bob would be on it. And Bob was on the report, for about 10 seconds, talking about the support of the crowd lining the route and what a fantastic experience the whole thing was. Thankfully, my trans*friends managed to avoid seeing it. Or so I thought.
While I was with Jonathan on Wednesday evening I had posted a “check-in” on Facebook, just saying that I was catching up with an old friend. A few people “liked” this, including Andrea D (not my BFF Andrea, a different Andrea). I had stayed with Andrea after the “girls’ night out” Christmas dinner, and we had met up a few times after that, but we hadn’t seen each other for quite a few months. So when I saw her “liking” my post I dropped her a DM to say hello, and we arranged for me to call down to her flat for a quick cuppa and a catch-up on Saturday afternoon.
I walked into Andrea D’s flat and after the initial pleasantries (hug, how ya doin, looking great etc) she said “I saw you on TV at the bike race”. As Michelle said when I told her about this, “Well that was subtle of her”. So yes, despite never having met or seen Bob, being unaware of my new involvement in cycling and only ever having met Kirsty, she immediately recognised me on TV. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be as easily recognised the other way round, if someone who only knows the male version of me would immediately recognise Kirsty. Specifically, my thoughts were brought round to Shirley in the book group who has known Bob for many years, but who has yet to give any indication that she recognises Bob in Kirsty. Mind you, what can she do? Even if she has an inkling, unless she was completely unshakeably certain, she could be running the risk of accusing a cis woman of being trans. And even if she was competely unshakeably certain, she might just be polite and say nothing anyway.
Anyway, I spent an hour or so in the company of Andrea D, catching up on her progress – she has been full time for nearly 18 months now, and on HRT since before Christmas last year, and bar some family issues her transition seems to be going well. I’ll not deny that I had great big pangs of jealousy hearing about her living her life as the woman she always should have been. But I have made my choice, and for all those pangs, I am still not convinced that coming fully out and going full time would be worth the risk of losing my daughters.
After an enjoyable hour or so, I had to leave Andrea D’s home as I was on my way to meet up with the Andrea about whom I tend to write quite a bit more in this blog. We were going out for a meal and then on to the cinema. And although I had a very enjoyable evening with my friend, there’s not so much to write about. We dined at the Hillside Tavern in Hillsborough, where we had previously been for lunch after the Hillsborough Castle tour back in May. Very nice it was too, and we were immediately brought on side by our waitress addressing us as “girls” when she came to take our order. I had tomato, red pepper and chilli soup to start, followed by a rump steak with pepper sauce. Both were perfectly fine if unexciting. But no complaints. Then rather than order off the sweet trolley, we paid our bill and headed over to Costa Coffee for a coffee and a bun prior to going into the cinema next door to watch “Jurassic World”. A complete rehash of the first film, with quite a remarkable leading lady who was able to negotiate all sorts of rough terrain, including running at a full sprint away from a T-Rex, while wearing a pair of nude stilettoes. Pretty impressive. And as if that wasn’t enough, at some point during all the excitement she somehow found the time to put a rather appealing wave and curl into her previously rigidly straight and rather severe bobbed hair, and also managed to touch up her eyeliner in time for the final scenes. Quite a remarakable lady all round that Bryce Dallas Howard.
We parted in something of a hurry, as Andrea had realised she had left her glasses in the Hillside, and had to get back there before closing time. So while I headed back to get changed, I received a text from her to confirm that yes, the glasses had been recovered. Yay!
As I said, I had a lovely evening out with my BFF, as we have done before on several occasions. What this one did though was to reinstate my confidence. In a pub, in a coffee shop and in a cinema all was well. I didn’t notice any untoward reactions or funny looks, and in fact we were both explicitly correctly gendered on a few occasions. After Wednesday night’s tribulations, it was just what I needed. A fun evening with a good friend, being treated with courtesy and respect. Great stuff.