OK, it’s not really the end of the world but I’m using the title to shoehorn in an excuse to embed this R.E.M classic in my post. In my opinion they slightly ripped off Bob Dylan and were in turn mightily ripped off by Billy Joel.
So why is it the end of the world as we know it? It’s not. However, it might very well be the end of the Belfast Butterfly Club as we know it, although it won’t be the end of the club itself. Butterfly Club 2.0 may even prove to be an upgrade. Regular readers will be aware that my trans life this last eighteen months or so is inextricably linked to me joining the Belfast Butterfly Club soon after I finally accepted who and what I was. Sometimes I have blown hot and cold about the club, with positives and negatives. I’m going to try to be relatively diplomatic here, but I suppose some of these observations may be a little controversial.
The club’s weekly “anchor” meetings in Lisburn have been the launch pad for a lot of what I have accomplished in feeling comfortable in interacting with the world in general in my female persona. From nervously walking through the door that first time, when I first met both Andrea and Michelle on the same night, right up to the present day when Wednesday evenings remain an immovable fixture in my diary, even if going to the club premises is more of a “something to do afterwards” than the main point of the evening these days.
I had only been attending the club for two weeks when I ventured out in public for the first time. After that, my Wednesday evenings have always consisted of a trip into the real world, often involving meeting up with Andrea and more recently Michelle, and then returning to the club premises for a cup of tea and a chat. In recent months Andrea has abandoned coming to the club premises at all, and more and more I am beginning to understand her reasons for doing so.
Having reached a point where I can feel reasonably comfortable about being out and about in public, and interacting with the real world in my true female persona, walking back inside the doors of the Butterfly Club can sometimes feel like a retrograde step, like a lion voluntarily walking back into the zoo after stepping out to maul a few wildebeeste. After my experiences at the TransLiving Eastbourne Weekend nearly a year ago, I realised that for a variety of reasons LGBT- and trans*-specific events and venues just aren’t for me. I wrote a lot of posts around that weekend which are still there if you want to read them, but the short version is that it was populated by a large contingent from the lime-green leggings brigade, and despite the amount of heels and lace on display, had a depressingly blokey atmosphere. But more than that, I realised there that it was by being out in the real world, and interacting with Joe and Josephine Public as a woman, that I felt most like the woman I want to be. I do not get, never have got and never will get that feeling from sitting behind closed doors with other trans* people, whether they sit on a similar place on the spectrum or elsewhere.
A few weeks ago I was pleased to meet a new member of the Butterfly Club called Debbie. Debbie was talking about having been in Union St, a well-known gay bar in Belfast’s miniscule gay village (it’s 2 bars and a nightclub basically). She was asking if either Michelle or I had been there, and I replied what I have replied when similar questions have arisen. I want to be a woman. I want to do what any other woman would do. Any other woman would not be going for a night out in a gay bar – unless she’s gay of course. I’m not gay. Going out but going to a gay (or LGBT if you prefer) venue would just feel like marking myself out as different. I don’t want to be different. I just want to be a woman. Even as I was explaining this to Debbie, I was sitting in a trans*-specific venue behind closed doors thereby marking myself out as different, even if only to other trans* persons. But more significantly, to myself. The mismatch between what I was saying and where I was sitting was most certainly not lost on me.
It’s quite difficult to elaborate on this too much without making it sound like a personal slight on those people who sit in the club every week, but I often resent going back there after being out. It can feel like after being out in the sunlight I’m going back to skulk in the shadows like I’m doing something shameful. In actual fact, with one notable exception (who I’m pretty sure doesn’t read this blog) I enjoy the company of everyone there. But I would enjoy their company if we were sitting in a coffee shop, or a bar, or a restaurant, or a hotel lobby too. Somewhere outside the support group closet. So I enjoy sitting and having a chat and a cuppa, but at the same time I resent that I have to go into hiding to do so. Of course, the club premises have other benefits…
Becoming a keyholder of the club premises made a huge difference to my ability to take every opportunity to be myself. Having somewhere private and safe to go to transform myself, day or night, is a godsend. I’m not averse to the odd roadside transformation during the daytime, but getting changed in the car is an absolute no-no at nighttime as the need to have a light on in the car during the hours of darkness will just attract too much attention. Knowing that there’s somewhere I can go, even if it is an occasionally inconvenient 30 minutes’ drive from my home, is such a comfort. I have used those premises as a “launchpad” for so many different things, days out, evenings out, cinema trips, going to my book group, even my two ferry-and-car trips across to the big island with Andrea. Without it, I would be getting changed in the car, whatever the light conditions. Or else there’s the nuclear option of outing myself to my kids and the neighbours so I could just get ready at home. Or failing that, no Kirsty during the winter.
Which is why it has come as something of a shock to hear that the club’s landlord has put us on notice to vacate the premises by March 2016. This bombshell was dropped last week, which at least has given us six months to find alternative premises. However, while other club members have been quickly trying to identify suitable premises, I haven’t really felt the urge to do so. In fact, from the second I heard the news I couldn’t help but wonder if for me at least, this is a blessing in disguise.
It is a feature of my make-up (i.e. my personality not my cosmetics) that I don’t like routine. I really despise routine, doing the same things over and over again. Yet for all the benefit that I have derived from my Wednesday evenings over the past year, it has become routine. Very very routine. I leave the house at the routine time (around 6.15pm) on the routine day (Wednesday). I tell the kids the routine lie (I’m going to the gym). I go to the routine haunts (various shopping establishments in Lisburn, principally Sprucefield). I meet Michelle and sometimes Andrea in the routine place (M&S Café) at the routine time (8.30pm) and when we’re done we go back to the the Butterfly Club premises, as per the routine. Do you see how this can start to feel a bit stale? That’s not to say there aren’t times when I really enjoy myself and I cherish every opportunity to be my real self, otherwise I wouldn’t do it at all. Plus, it’s always good to sit down with the girls and have a chat over a coffee and toastie, and finding a shopping bargain always delights, like the rather nice nude Mary Jane heels I got in Primark last week for £6. Six flipping pounds!
However increasingly these Wednesday evenings are feeling like I’m just going through the motions. I am just fed up with going to the same places over and over again. There’s no “thrill” from presenting female, in fact there hasn’t been for a long time, it’s more that making my external presentation match my internal identification makes me feel normal. But just because I’m not feeling the dysphoria doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling the boredom. If I never set foot in Sprucefield again I wouldn’t shed any tears. Objectively it’s a brilliant M&S and a pretty good Boots and Next, but subjectively I’ve seen enough of it these last 18 months to last me a lifetime. I really need a change of scenery, but I also feel like I’m tied to Lisburn because of the club, because that’s where Michelle needs to get changed, and also because it’s a pretty good place to meet up with Andrea because it’s about halfway between our homes. But fairly soon after the revelation that we are losing the premises my thoughts were “At last, I can break that routine now”.
I’m not even sure at this stage what is involved in breaking the routine. There’s a part of me that wants to break free completely and just do what I want, go where I want, when I want. Certainly there’s no way I will be going out less frequently than now, but I could break it up, maybe a Tuesday one week , a Thursday the next. Thursday night is late night shopping in Belfast, which I would love to try, but as long as I’m still going to the BBC on a Wednesday then two nights in a row away from the family isn’t an option. Maybe I could just take a week off the BBC to go out on a Thursday. The book group that I attend is part of a wider Meetup group which organises all sorts of social events in the Greater Belfast area, many of which take place on week nights. Pub meetings, cinema outings, restaurant meals, theatre trips etc. It would be nice to go to some of them and make some new friends.
Of course, I could have had this realisation without any changes to the residential status of the club, but that notice from the landlord may have given me the wake-up call that perhaps my best course of action in the future isn’t to maintain the status quo. I want to be out of the closet more, and spend a lot less time in it, and I think I may have found some impetus here.
Now for confession time. This frustration that I have been feeling might not just be a symptom of boredom with the routine I am in. I am also experiencing one of my periodic increases in the level of dysphoria I am feeling when I have to present as male, which let’s face it is the vast majority of my time, and it’s possibly the most dysphoric I have felt. Going back after having been presenting female is almost unbearably difficult. Last week I was sitting in the car in darkness, part way through transforming myself into a faux-man after a Wednesday night at the BBC, and it just became too much for me and I temporarily lost the plot. I was screaming and bashing the steering wheel out of sheer frustration at having to live this double life. Not crying though. I’m not a “tears of frustration” kind of girl. For me, tears come with joy and sometimes empathy. (Andrea would probably add with sport too). But for 5 or 10 minutes, it overcame me. Usually I can keep myself in check. So yet again, I know that what I really need to do to release this pressure is to go full time, to be who I really am all the time, yet at the same time I know that to do so would spell the end of my family, would greatly reduce the amount I see my children, assuming they would want to see me at all and Mrs K would allow them to see me. I can’t win. So I need to change something, and in the absence of a realistic plan to go full time, this new found opportunity to do different things in different places at different times will have to do.
For all this, and contrary to my initial feelings, I can’t see me cutting myself off from the Butterfly Club. I have friends there, wherever the club ends up. If it does end up with exclusive premises, then I would hope that I can still use them (although maybe not after my fellow members read this post – gulp!) but even if that isn’t an option I still can’t see myself not going back on at least the occasional Wednesday to catch up with friends. But once the venue changes, it will change habits, and I fully intend to break with my pattern of regular, weekly attendance. That’s not intended in any way to demean the importance of the club or my friendships with people there, it’s just that there is so much else that I could be doing. And I intend to do it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
And I feel fine.