I have been at least partly inspired to write this post after reading a couple of posts that Daniella has put up recently about some of the difficulties with being, as she terms it, “a semi-closeted TGirl”. I have experienced my own series of little vignettes which can probably be gathered from previous posts I have written going back quite some time. However a new situation has occurred which really highlights the extent of the tangles going on in the web that we weave when we venture out from behind closed doors, but not out quite far enough so that everyone knows our true identity.
A few weeks back I spent an evening in the company of my old friends Jonathan and Vin. Up until now I have never really explained on this blog how I know these two gentlemen, so now it’s time for a confession. This is something I don’t particularly like to discuss, because people can react to it in quite a negative way, but I am a member of Mensa. Yes, that one, the high IQ society. Many people have many objections to the existence of this society, and to a certain extent I share those concerns, but I suppose my route into Mensa was quite different from most people’s. One of my closest friends Pete joined Mensa while he was a student. When I returned to Northern Ireland after university (without a degree, for further information see here), Pete and I were going for an evening out when he suggested joining up with a Mensa group in a pub. My reaction was fairly predictable, something about not wanting to sit with a bunch of nerdy eggheads etc, but he persuaded me to at least go in for one drink as he wanted to show his face. In actual fact, I more or less immediately hit it off with several people there, two of whom were Jonathan and Vin. And without being a member, I kept going back to various Mensa events until eventually most of my social circle was made up of Mensa members even though I wasn’t one myself. I even married a Mensa member (yes, Mrs K is a Mensan), and we had a “Mensa table” at our wedding. Eventually, after about seven years of freeloading I finally took the test myself and was invited to join. The truth is, I only wanted to join so I could get on to the Irish Mensa Committee and help shape the society, which I did do, for seven years. As a result, I (as Bob) am quite well known in Mensa circles. But my reasons for joining the society are rather different from most. Not for me a desire to affirm my intelligence or feel intellectually superior, I just wanted to help with the running of the society that had given me a lot. And the point of telling you all this? Well, you may recall me writing before about a woman called Shirley in my book group, who knows my Bob. The reason why she knows Bob is that she is also a member of Mensa, and in fact she was one of the people sitting at that very Mensa table when Mrs K and I got married. I haven’t actually seen her socially as Bob for several years, but she and Bob are Facebook friends and she would occasionally comment on something I post there, so my male existence is still something that intersects with her life ever so slightly.
When I was out with Jonathan and Vin that night a couple of weeks back, Vin was asking if I wanted to go to any Mensa events as I haven’t been to any in a couple of years. The problem is that I don’t really want to go as Bob because I am kind of establishing myself as Kirsty with Jonathan and Vin, so I don’t want to step back, but I don’t necessarily want to go as Kirsty either because of my old fear about losing control of the grapevine. And specifically I am concerned about one person in particular who is a right-wing social conservative with verbal diarrhoea, who unfortunately works in the same place as Mrs K, and who would lose no time in enthusiastically telling Mrs K’s colleagues about her scandalous sex-swap husband. I explained this to Vin, who I think understood where I was coming from. But then he suggested something else.
There are two monthly “anchor” meetings of Mensa in Belfast. The main one takes place on the third Friday of each month, and is imaginatively titled “The Third Friday”. Basically it consists of a bunch of people sitting round in a hotel bar getting drunk and then going home. That’s it. Not as intellectual as you thought, is it? I used to go to this every month, but haven’t really done so in quite a long time. While I wouldn’t in theory mind going again, there’s also the issue of alcohol to consider. While I enjoy a drink as much as the next woman, drinking as Kirsty means not driving that night, which really complicates matters when I have to get changed into Bobswear before returning home. Not drinking is an option, but being the only sober person in a room full of drunks is no fun. Vin did offer the use of his apartment to transform myself on the way there and on the way back, from where I can get a taxi home afterwards, but it’s a bit of a faff to be honest. Plus this is the meeting that is likely to have the aforementioned blabbermouth in attendance. So that leaves the other meeting.
There is a restaurant meeting on the first Saturday of each month, unless the Saturday is the 1st of the month, in which case it takes place on Saturday the 8th. It is known as the SAFF (Saturday After the First Friday). According to Vin there is a fairly stable group of around eight people who go to this every month, and as a restaurant get-together, alcohol is only an optional extra. So what’s stopping me? Well, every one of those eight people knows Bob. And one of them is Shirley, who also knows Kirsty. However I am fairly confident that Shirley doesn’t realise that Kirsty is trans, and I’m absolutely certain that Shirley doesn’t realise that Kirsty is Bob. So we have eight people, six of whom know Bob but neither know nor know about Kirsty, one (Shirley) who knows Bob and Kirsty as separate people, and one (Vin) who knows Bob and Kirsty to be the same person. Are you with me? OK then, so if I want to go to this then as I see it there are three possibilities;
1. Turn up and say nothing about Bob
The potential advantage of this is that I will probably be greeted by Shirley with a “Hi Kirsty, what are you doing here?” type of greeting, which will kind of legitimise me in the eyes of the others. But if one of the other six recognise Bob in me, which at least one of them is quite likely to do, then it could become very awkward. This also would feel quite unfair on Shirley, who would be revealed as having missed this revelation despite having known Kirsty as part of the book group for the past year. She may also feel like I had made something of a fool out of her. On the whole, I’m not confident enough that Bob would be completely unrecognisable to six people who know him to consider this option.
2. Turn up and say “Hi, I’m Kirsty but you all used to know me as Bob”
Well it’ll certainly shock the group. I feel that the people involved might be reasonably accepting of my new identity, but no matter how supportive they might be, it’s still going to be a shock. And people in shock behave in a very unpredictable manner, which may be a concern in a public space like a restaurant. And again, it would be a shocker for Shirley who yet again may feel like I had taken her for a mug.
3. Have Vin out me to the group when I’m not there, then turn up the following month
Vin is willing to tell people about Kirsty, and I think I can rely upon him to do it in a sensitive way. It is completely not in his nature to deliver the message in a sensationalist fashion. However, it means that I would be sitting in suspense for a month waiting for the jungle drums to carry the message around all sorts of people. Plus Shirley might once again be in that awkward scenario of feeling like I had made a fool out of her, even what that wasn’t my intention at all.
I have been playing out the scenarios in my head and none of them seem great although I suppose option 3 is the best of a bad bunch. If I go ahead and take this next step in widening my female life further, then I think in all conscience I should take Shirley aside after the next book group and explain the situation to her in person. I think it’s only fair. It’ll be a really difficult conversation though, for both of us. And I don’t want her to feel awkward about coming to the book group, nor do I want her to out me as trans to the group. I’m pretty certain that some people in the group recognise me as being a trans woman, but by the same token there are several who don’t. I feel no compulsion to enlighten them.
I discussed these thoughts with Mrs K and predictably, she is completely against me coming out to anyone else. The usual issues of control of the message and fear that the more people know, the more additional people are likely to find out and eventually news will work it’s way round to someone she doesn’t want to know. While I do share some of these concerns, Mrs K is just against everything I want to do so there’s only so much account I can take of her input. If I waited for her permission then all I’d be doing would be dressing up every once in a blue moon in an empty house with the blinds closed and the curtains drawn. So I’m treading a fine line with her and eventually a straw will come along to break the back of this particular camel. In reality it’s just a bite-size version of the wider debate over transition. She’s never going to actually agree to that, but when I asked her directly what would happen if I told her I was going full time her reply was “I don’t know. I really have no idea.” Nor do I.
At this point I should stress that I do not have any concrete plan for transition, other than a vague feeling that it might well be my ultimate destination. But that’s not to say I can’t step off at some point. Whether I will or not is another matter. However, if I was going to formulate a plan for transition, a schedule of what I needed to do, who I needed to tell and in what order, it would end up like a very large version of what I have just written, albeit one without ultimately having to worry about who finds out, because the end point is that everyone finds out. So maybe I’m getting in some practice. I don’t even know if I will end up going to one of these Saturday nights or not, but the thought process is an indication of just how many factors we need to consider when we force ourselves to live this half in / half out life. Which for better or worse, is what I have right now.