I have a couple of things to write about this time, one of which my good friend Michelle has already given her take on. The other, well that’s just me. Nothing too earth-shattering, but interesting nonetheless. Well I think so anyway.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Bob mode doing some shopping in our local supermarket with the whole family – Mrs K, and both our daughters. As well as the usual range of groceries, we needed new trainers for daughter no2 (age 6). She is quite a girly girl, more so than her big sister, and she plumped for a white pair with pink trim and sparkly glitter around the heel. So far so good. We then got to the self-service checkout and scanned the label on those trainers. The screen proclaimed them to be “Unisex Trainers”. They’re pink and glittery, but they’re unisex. I mean, I’m all for breaking down gender stereotypes but come on now, how many little boys (cis boys anyway) are going to want to wear pink sparkly trainers? I suppose I was expressing surprise that the store would label the trainers in that way.
Anyhow, I pointed out to daughter no 2 (age 13) that her little sister’s girly trainers were labelled as unisex. She replied that yes, that seems right. I questioned this and pointed out that they were in fact both pink and glittery, and her reply warmed my heart.
“So what? Doesn’t mean a boy can’t wear them if he wants. All clothes are unisex.”
“OK then” I replied, “so you could have a unisex dress?”
“Yes. A boy can wear a dress if he wants to and there’s really nothing wrong with that.”
You go girl! Saying something like this is in keeping with Daughter No1’s ongoing development as something of a right-on social justice warrior. In fact I would say that it’s about 99% certain that this in the explanation for what she said. However, I just get a nagging feeling that it was said specifically for my benefit. Her way of telling me that she knows. That perhaps she has found my stash of Kirstywear (she wouldn’t have to look very hard), she has worked out they belong to me (since Mrs K would have to grow a foot taller and go up three dress sizes) but doesn’t want to come straight out and say “Hey Dad, nice dress in your wardrobe!” I suppose I’ll not know for sure until the day comes that I tell her the truth, but given that Mrs K has completely forbidden me from doing that unless as a prelude to going full time, it’s not going to be happening any time soon. I would say full time is still a year away, if it’s going to happen at all.
But at the very least, daughter no 1’s comments about all clothing being unisex gives me hope that if and when the time does come that I tell her that her dad is actually a woman, that she won’t react too badly. I suspect that her head will tell her it’s fine, even if I also worry that her heart will break despite all her right-on thoughts.
I had a very enjoyable evening with Andrea on Sunday past, but other than having to switch mid-way through our evening from Arizona Express, an independent coffee shop, to Starbucks literally across the road due to Arizona’s loo being out of order, there’s not a tremendous amount to report about it. Just a couple of hours in Andrea’s always-enjoyable company.
Last night, however, was a different matter. Michelle and I met up as per usual at Marks & Spencer in Sprucefield, and headed for the cafe where I got my usual toastie and cappuccino, albeit since the Christmas season is approaching it was a turkey toastie. As I had done the previous week, I paid for my order using my watch – an Apple Watch with Apple Pay. My credit card company have only just made Apple Pay available, so the novelty has yet to wear off. However initially it didn’t work, although it had been seamless the previous couple of times I have used it. I think I had done the double-click of the side button before the guy on the till had activated the contactless reader. Anyway, when it finally worked he asked me if it was an Apple Watch, and we had a wee conversation about how I had found it, what other versions of contactless he had seen (phones mainly) and then the woman next to me in the queue joined in. She had seen me holding my wrist up to the reader and said it was like magic. So I ended up involved in a 3-way conversation about this silly device, how secure it is or isn’t having your credit card details on your watch (it locks with a PIN when it’s removed from your wrist), how handy it is not to have to root round in your handbag looking for a purse, cash or a card. A nice spontaneous conversation. And a little bit nerdy, just like me.
Things took a slightly different turn when I took my coffee and went to join Michelle at a table. The cafe wasn’t particularly busy, and Michelle had selected a table for two fairly close to the entrance with a couple of empty tables on either side of us. Our toasties had just been brought to us, and we were about to tuck in, when a man appeared beside me. He shuffled in and nervously asked,
“Is it ok if I sit here…”
Michelle and I looked quizzically at each other, but we indicated that he could sit where he liked, even if I at least found it a bit odd that he would choose the seat closest to us in a barely half-full cafe. Being as we are, I think we both wondered what way this was going.
“… and speak to you for a minute?”
OK now I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Lots of conflicting thoughts were running round my head all at the same time. It seemed like too much coincidence that of all the places in the cafe this bloke could have chosen to sit, he would have chosen to sit right next to (apparently) the only two trans women in the place. The fact that he asked permission would bear this out. So why did he want to do that? Well he had approached us in a slightly nervous, softly-spoken, respectful manner, so I didn’t really expect a transphobic rant, however it didn’t rule out the possibility that he was perhaps a religious person, coming to calmly explain to us the error of our ways. Or perhaps he was an “admirer”, coming to invite us to a pervy sex den.
No such luck Thankfully not. So that really only left one other explanation didn’t it?
“It’s ok, don’t worry. I’m like you.”
Now at this point my mischievous side kicked in and I had a barely controllable urge to reply “What, Presbyterians?” but I just about bit my tongue (For the record I am not, never have been and am highly unlikely to ever be a Presbyterian). Michelle and I looked each other in the eye and we could see the disappointment in each other. We had been read. Absolutely no question about it, no doubt. I said before that one should never assume one has been read unless the reader tells you clearly and unequivocally. Well this is what it felt like. A bit crap. And all the more crappy for me as I had just come from having a nice impromptu light-hearted chat with some cis people treating me completely normally. Crash back down to earth. Actually, it was only a moderate crash, and judging by the look in Michelle’s eyes I think I possibly felt worse for her than I did for myself. Michelle spoke up;
“I doesn’t do a lot for our confidence when you tell us you have spotted us like that”
At this point something seemed to switch in me. I wouldn’t say that I no longer cared about the read, but it ceased to be remotely important. Why should I be upset at being identified as a trans woman? I am a trans woman. For all I know everyone else I have ever interacted with as Kirsty has read me as a trans woman. But not one person has ever called me a man, directed me to male toilets or changing rooms, questioned why I am looking in the female clothing section. I am a trans woman, with the emphasis very strongly on the woman part. The trans or cis part is much less important. What I find much more annoying than, for example, the woman telling me I looked nice on our way out of the ladies’ loo at the Plough a couple of weeks back, is someone like Mr Numpty in Haworth back in May, who not only changed his behaviour because of us, but then went out of his way to tell us he had changed his behaviour because of us. In other words, he was making a virtue out of treating us differently to other women.
But the reason why the read ceased to be important for me was that my focus was on our interloper. From here one, following the confession that this person was “like us”, I will use female pronouns for her. So regardless of what it was about us that she thought she was “like”, it was obvious that she believed herself to be somewhere on the trans* spectrum, but didn’t really know where to turn. In other words, exactly where I was a couple of years ago. Except unlike her, I wouldn’t have had the courage to walk up to two strange (in both senses of the word!) trans women and introduce myself as being like them. And in a way, saying that she was like us was possibly the most diplomatic thing she could say. It avoided any actual identification with any actual label, and we all know how labels build a strong sense of community among trans persons, right? So despite my reticence, I felt quite a bit of admiration for the bravery it took for this person to come over and introduce herself. She was also very complimentary, saying she wished she could be as brave as us, going out in public, being ourselves.
She asked if there was any sort of organisation or place that she could go. Of course that meant I had to put on my “BBC Recruitment Officer” (that’s not an official post) hat on. I said that there was a transgender support group here in Lisburn, called the Belfast Butterfly Club. She said she had seen it mentioned online, as indeed had I at her stage. So I enthusiastically encouraged her to go to the website again, belfastbutterflyclub.co.uk as it has been completely revamped within the last few weeks. And you too, my army of readers, should go forth and check it out. It has been designed by our student volunteer Charley (who has been an absolute godsend), and is so much better than what went before. Works nicely on mobile too.
So Michelle mentioned that she should really call the helpline number so she can talk to someone about this. After all, interrupting two friends mid-toastie is probably not the perfect forum for an in-depth discussion on these matters. The helpline is (wo)manned from 8pm to 10pm each Wednesday evening, so since it was at that point around 8.40pm on Wednesday evening I added “And if you call the helpline in about an hour’s time, you’ll probably be speaking to her”, indicating Michelle. Our new friend asked our names, apologising again for interrupting us and any upset she had caused with the read, and went on her way.
I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this but Michelle seemed rather shell-shocked for the next five or ten minutes. It seems that the read had affected her more than it had affected me. In fact, I fear had it affected me in a similar manner we would have ended up in a feedback loop of negativity. But I felt really good that we were helping someone progress from a position similar to what my own was not so long ago. Unfortunately I also felt a bit guilty that due to our initial reticence, we may not have come across as the friendliest pair, when in fact we are lovely!
One hour later, almost to the minute, Michelle and I were sitting back in Butterfly Club HQ with Linda, Charley, Michael and Jane when the phone rang. Michelle answered it. Immediately the response came “Hello, is that Michelle?” We may just have found ourselves a new member thanks to the Michelle & Kirsty Community Outreach Programme ™. Watch this space…