I’m going for another song title with this post, The King himself this time. Although to be brutally honest, I’ve never really liked Elvis much so here is the definitive version of the song instead.
So what do I mean by all that anyway? I suppose it’s a continuation of some of the themes that have been in several of my recent posts. I feel like I want to break out of the trans* ghetto, into a wider world. When I talk about the trans* ghetto, I’m not just referring to sitting behind closed doors, a subject about which I have made my views clear quite a few times. I’m also thinking about the wider trans* community. Now I love both Andrea and Michelle dearly, and fully intend to continue to socialise with them as I have been doing for quite some time. But I don’t necessarily think it’s particularly healthy for me to socialise exclusively with other trans* persons, although neither do I want to cast aside those friendships and exist only with cis people. Maybe ghetto is the wrong word, it’s the trans* bubble I’m trying to avoid, but I don’t know any songs called “In The Bubble”, apart from that Paul Simon one but it’s about a boy so clearly unsuitable for me. However I do need a balance between the trans and cis worlds. One part of the equation of getting out in the wider world is doing just that in a physical sense, taking steps out from behind closed doors, interacting with people in shops, restaurants and the like. But the other part of that equation is getting out in a social sense. Getting to know people and letting people get to know me, forming friendships. I have taken a few tiny tentative steps in that direction by coming out to a small number of trusted friends and by doing things in a non-trans*-specific environment like my monthly book group or a few other activities I have gone to through meetup.com. But it’s not enough. It can’t ever be enough.
I did a quick calculation today. In the last week, I was able to be my true, female self for five hours on Sunday and six hours on Wednesday. That’s eleven hours in total out of an entire week, and that’s better than average. A week is 168 hours long, so that’s a grand total of 6.5% of my time actually presenting and feeling like I am being perceived to be my real gender. That’s 93.5% of my time pretending to be something I’m not. Even taking out approximately 47 hours asleep, that still leaves 90.9% of my waking hours stuck in this grotesque male form. And that’s on a good week! Just thinking about those proportions of Kirsty vs Bob makes me sad. In the absence of any realistic plan to significantly improve the Kirsty-percentage, all I can do is to make sure I savour every second. Which is what I have been trying to do. So here’s what I have been savouring recently, and I’m happy to say it’s a nicely balanced trio of activities.
I had a lovely day out with Michelle and Andrea a couple of weekends ago, pretty much a whole Saturday from early afternoon through to late night. I’m not going to elaborate too much because Michelle has already written about it at length on her own blog, and also it’s nearly a fortnight ago now. We did a treasure trail around the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at Oxford Island. It was a lovely sunny autumn afternoon in pretty surroundings, and we even managed to complete the treasure hunt despite the disappearance of a tourist information sign containing two of the answers. It’s not that we couldn’t find it, it just wasn’t there. The two metal poles on which it rested were still in place, but the sign was gone. Strange thing to steal.
After Oxford Island it was a quick dash back to the Butterfly Club HQ for a change into our glad rags for a meal out. Well, back to the Butterfly Club HQ for Michelle and me, Andrea did her change in the ladies’ at a nearby shopping mall. I can appreciate completely why she would do this, and am starting to think that way myself. Don’t spend a second longer than is absolutely necessary behind closed doors. However on this occasion it didn’t so much feel like hiding away, it was just convenience and space to spread out my things and really was no more hiding away than locking the door of a cubicle. We dined at Blu in Belfast City Centre, and I have to say it was a great experience. An unusual decor, quite modern and minimalist with everything lit in blue light. This blue light certainly looked striking but it did make some of the food look rather odd. I wonder if that’s intentional. The atmosphere in the restaurant was just perfect. A small restaurant, maybe just 10 tables, with very friendly and courteous staff, relaxed but not overfamiliar, and no pressure to hurry at all. A little bugbear of mine is the very common practice in restaurants of taking coffee orders at the same time as dessert. Many times my coffee has arrived before or at the same time as dessert, which just makes me feel like the restaurant can’t wait to get rid of you. In Blu, after our waitress collected our empty plates from our main courses, she asked “Would you like to see the dessert menu, or would you like to take a break for a while and I’ll bring it over later?” So relaxed and refreshing.
As Michelle hinted when she wrote about this restaurant on her blog, they had the most spectacular ladies’ toilet I have ever seen – I have actually been in a more impressive men’s room once, a frankly astonishing marble-and-gold affair at the HQ of Moet & Chandon at Epernay, France. But I digress. I was the first of our trio to make use of the facilities and I was so impressed, I came back out to my companions and gushed “You’ve got to see the ladies, it’s amazing!” Michelle and then Andrea went off after me and one by one they returned in full agreement. So amazing were they, that the second time I visited, I took a video (if you look carefully in the mirrors you’ll see a rarely spotted moving image of yours truly). To be honest, the video doesn’t do the loo justice, but here it is anyway.
We ended up spending three hours in the restaurant, and the time just flew by. Possibly the most hair-raising part of the evening was still to come – the walk back to the car park! At nearly 11pm, walking around half a mile in my best dress and 4″ block heeled sandals through Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, one of the busiest parts of town for nightlife, with well-oiled people spilling out on to the streets on all sides. Number of comments, sideways glances, funny looks or craps given? Zero. Rather invigorating actually.
I’m going to jump forward a week to my latest book group last Sunday. We were slightly down on numbers this month, but none the worse for that. And it was significant for me for another reason. This month’s book was “The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats” by Jan-Phillipp Sendker. A very very romantic tale of two young lovers in 1930s Burma. Kind of. During the 1990s an asian-american woman’s elderly Burmese father ups and leaves his family. A few years later, with no sign of him and no word from him she heads to his old home town in Burma in search of his trail, to be met with a strange old man who proceeds to tell her the story of her father’s life that she never knew. I rather enjoyed it, although there were others in the group who found it saccharin-sweet and not to their taste at all. There is a big element in the novel of how many of the things we end up doing in life are down to decisions made for us by others, or things we do to keep others happy regardless of our own wishes. For some reason this resonated with me. I wonder why.
This evening I felt a bit more pressure because the group had decided to reinstate a monthly feature from before I had joined. Someone’s top 5 novels. I liked the sound of this, so when it was raised last month and a volunteer sought, I raised my hand. So I got to speak to the group for around ten minutes on the subject of my five favourite novels. Quite a workout for the girly voice, but I think I did ok. In fact, I very much enjoyed it. So, my favourite 5 novels are…
1984 – George Orwell
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman (yes I know that’s really 3 books)
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (book club selection for August)
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder
There you go. I’m not going to review them all, Google will help you out if you’re interested. If I had to pick one as my all-time favourite, it would be 1984. But there’s more than enough discussion of that book all over the place so I feel no need to add to it here.
After the group had finished up, I was standing on the steps of the hotel chatting and having a bit of a giggle with a couple of other women from the group, Joanne and Ali, both of whom are around my age – we are the young end of the scale! As we were saying our goodbyes and heading off, Ali said “We should meet up for coffee some time, just the three of us”. It was probably just a throwaway comment but we all agreed that yes, we should do just that, and it was so nice to be asked. Actual friendships with other women on an equal basis – isn’t that what I was looking for? We’ll see if that “wee coffee” ever happens, but it was so nice to be asked and made me feel more accepted than ever. We even had a goodnight hug. Hmm, I wonder what Mrs K would make of me hugging other women?
My final report is from last night. I had a night out with two longstanding male friends, both of whom have known Bob for over twenty years, Jonathan and Vin. I came out to the pair of them almost exactly a year ago and as Kirsty I have met up with Jonathan many times since, but only once with Vin, 11 months ago for a restaurant meal along with his partner Deirdre and my two good friends Andrea and Michelle. But this was the first time I had met the two of them together.
I managed to get finished up at work fairly early, so headed off to get changed and then on to collect Vin from his apartment. Upon arriving outside, I was in need of the loo, so I called up to let him know I had arrived, and is it ok if I come on up. I had no doubt he wouldn’t have a problem with me being in his apartment, but was trying to avoid twitchy curtain syndrome from the neighbours. Of course he did invite me up, and when he answered the door to me he seemed quite taken aback. “Wow”, he said, “You look amazing”. Well that was a nice way to start the evening.
Vin and I parked up in a multi-storey car park over a bus station, and it felt so nice and natural to be walking through the city centre accompanied by a man. We had arranged to meet Jonathan in a hotel bar and restaurant. For some reason the bar was very crowded, but we found Jonathan and made our way right through to the restaurant area, where we ordered some food – just posh burger and chips, nothing too fancy. I was with the two of them for around four hours and the whole thing was just completely normal, I was Kirsty to them all night long, no misgenderings from Jonathan and just the one (a rogue “he”) from Vin, for which he apologised profusely and repeatedly. A bit too much really. But after our meal when we sat down round a table in the bar I was being slightly dissected, but in a good way. The main thing was that after his tongue had become a little lubricated after a bottle of wine with dinner, Vin was effusive in his compliments for how I looked, acted, moved, just my whole general demeanour. With the sizeable time gap since the first and only previous time he had met me in my correct gender, he said he really could notice my progress in terms of confidence, voice, mannerisms and specifically walk. Jonathan then added to this by telling Vin the story of the first time he had met me as Kirsty, when I walked into that same bar and walked up and down looking for him. He saw me walking up and down but didn’t even realise it was me (or indeed that it was a trans woman at all) until about the third time past. I had not in fact known this up until this point, I just remembered walking round looking for him and them him having materialised beside me like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn. I must confess that this revelation coupled with Vin’s barrage of compliments did this girl’s ego no harm whatsoever.
But overall at the end of the night as I was running Vin home, he said to me that with it just being the three of us, it really felt to him like it was a night with his friends, just like we have had countless times before, although not with me in a skirt, heels and make-up. He seemed slightly concerned that I might have been looking for something more from the evening but that wasn’t the case at all. I just wanted a night out with friends, and that’s what I got. It doesn’t always have to be grand reveals and stunning progress. Normality with friends in the real world sometimes is as good as it gets. And a few compliments don’t do any harm either!
After the high of such a nice evening, of course there had to be a low. Vin had offered to let me dress up as a man in his apartment before I returned home, but I declined that offer because I just couldn’t face the prospect of him seeing Bob again. Now that I feel I’m beginning to establish my identity as Kirsty with him, I don’t want to regress to that old state, even if I to have to spend 90.9% of my waking hours in just that state. No confusion, Kirsty is me and I am Kirsty. So I headed off to my usual secluded lay-by to do a change. I wrote a few weeks ago about how one night I just lost the plot for a few minutes in this position and had what can only be described as a tantrum in the car. That didn’t happen this time. This was maybe worse. At least a tantrum released pent-up frustration and anger. I have heard the expression “a heavy heart” but until last night I’m not sure I really understood what it meant. As I started removing my nail varnish I felt this all-encompassing dread creep over me that this was it, this was how it’s always going to end. At some point I’m always going to have to put on the Bob-mask again and go back to the drudge, a male existence with all the lightness of wading through molasses. And I felt a heaviness, a terrible sinking horrible feeling right in the core of my body, like I had swallowed an anvil. I know that there’s only one destination that will stop this, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I can possibly get there.
That feeling has lifted somewhat today and I’m back to going through the motions of a male life. It’s not all bad, but it’s not all great either. And it’s wrong. I’m wrong. And sooner or later I’m going to need to be right.
More maudlin next time.