And so this is Christmas. And what have I done? Not that much really. Although I did attend the book group kind-of Christmas dinner yesterday. It was something suggested by our leader Joanne at the previous meeting. Since Christmas was approaching it would be a nice idea if some of us could sit down for a meal together and a bit of a chat about something other than books. I put my name to the list, although with a little trepidation for reasons that will become apparent (don’t worry, all is well!). Our monthly book group meetings take place in a small meeting room in the Malone Lodge Hotel, Belfast. The hotel kindly provides the meeting room free of charge, with the unspoken understanding that most of us will order coffees or something stronger to pay for our keep. It’s a good spot, and they treat us well. So the suggestion was that for December we would meet an hour and a half early and have dinner from the bar menu. Quite a few of us signed up but, as seems to be the way with these things, there were quite a few last minute dropouts and so we were left with a cosy foursome of Joanne, Jean and Tony along with yours truly. Joanne is our group leader, and a very friendly and welcoming leader she is too. Jean and Tony are a couple who actually met at the book group, and I enjoy their company very much. Tony in particular is very insightful in the discussions, and I must confess to feeling slightly intellectually inferior when he starts waxing lyrical about the human condition. Anyway, although I arrived bang on time, I was the last of the four of us to arrive, so I pulled up a chair and joined them at the table.
This is where my trepidation kicked in. My problem is that because I am effectively leading a double life, I can’t permit much crossover between the two. So when I sit down for a friendly meal with three people that I know a little, but not massively well, I have a problem when the conversation turns to personal matters. The others were talking about plans for Christmas, who is coming round to Christmas dinner, what children and grandchildren are getting. What am I supposed to say? I’ll be spending Christmas Day with my wife and kids? Well that would send the whole edifice crashing down round me wouldn’t it? But on the other hand, I don’t want to lie. So what happens is that I say nothing, meaning the other three probably think I’m far too quiet. I’m able to talk about work (a little) and a little bit of chat about my siblings, but my family is beyond the pale. I so wish it wasn’t, but it is. Because if I brought up the subject, then it means one of two things. Either I’m only a part timer, which I don’t want them to know, or else Mrs K and I are together post-transition and my kids are fully aware and accepting of my preferred gender, which is not true. It’s not so much that I’m concerned about giving myself away as trans, in fact from things people have said I’m about 95% sure that Joanne knows I’m trans, and maybe about 70% for Tony and Jean. So it’s genuinely not that I’m afraid of them discovering I’m trans because I think they know already. It’s them discovering I’m part time that I want to avoid.
It’s a dilemma, no doubt. I also have to ask myself why I’m so uptight about these people finding out that I am in fact a part-timer. I think it’s because I feel that I am accepted as a woman in the group, and if they knew that there was another, hidden, part of me then that acceptance might evaporate. They may even feel that I was trying to pull the wool over their eyes and make fools of them, which is definitely not the case. The irony is, I’d be much more comfortable with Bob’s friends knowing about Kirsty than with Kirsty’s friends knowing about Bob. Go figure!
It reminds me of a conversation that I had with Andrea before I ever started going to the book group, when I was feeling oh-so-nervous about taking that step outside my trans* circle of friends. What she said was that even if others read me as trans, they would have no way of knowing that this was my first tentative venture into the real world as Kirsty. As far as they were concerned, if they read me at all, they would most likely think this is me all the time. Full time, transitioned or transitioning, pre- or post-op, on HRT or not, that is less of an issue. The main thing was, they couldn’t possibly know what stage I was at. However now I feel like what they should be assuming is that I am me, and not some bloke’s alter-ego. How can someone be friends with a person who can’t even decide who she is?
Despite all this soul-searching, I actually had quite an enjoyable dinner. I only had fish and chips, but it was very nice and the portion of fish was huge (or, if you’re Donald Trump, yoooge). I was able to get involved in the chat well enough, and as we say here the craic was good. Eventually by around 6.45 some of the other women from the group joined us in the bar area, including Bob’s friend Shirley, at which point the conversation changed to something a bit more group-based, funnier but less personal. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing for me. As the tables round us filled up and the clock approached our usual start time of 7pm I announced that I was going to pay a quick visit to the ladies before we began, which I did…
…and when I returned, there were only Shirley and two other women (Ann and Angela) left in the bar. Everyone else had moved into the meeting room but the three girls had stayed to wait for me and mind my coat. Awwww.
Those of you with a long memory may recall that I had suggested this month’s book to the group as a result of a very strong recommendation from a work colleague called Stephen, whom I had bumped into at the gym and who had noticed me reading last month’s selection. So the choice was The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2014. I am pleased to say that after a slightly shaky start, which I found hard to follow with multiple timelines, it ended up being yet another superb piece of literature. I wouldn’t say that I exactly enjoyed it, but I’m glad I read it. The book is based around the experiences of a group of Australian POWs and their Japanese captors during WW2. The POWs were used as slave labour to build the Burmese railway, because it was the will of the Emperor. But it’s not just about that. The central character Dorrigo Evans is a doctor and surgeon, tasked with keeping his fellow prisoners alive to work on the railway, and is based upon the author’s own father. The novel takes us through Dorrigo’s early life and rather complicated love life, his recruitment as an officer and some early military experiences, and after the railway deals with the attempts to live with this trauma for Dorrigo, his fellow surviving prisoners, and also for the Japanese officers and guards. But it is the central section of the book around the building of the railway that will stick with me. One of the most brutal pieces of writing I have ever read, I would recommend it to anyone. It’s greatest achievement is not just bringing home the terrible suffering of these men, but for the first time making me appreciate the impossible position in which the Japanese found themselves in this death cult based around their Emperor. I think it’s also worth saying that this book provoked probably the most in-depth and profound discussion that has taken place in the year that I have been going to the book group. Another strong recommendation from me.
For all the misery and suffering on the page, there were two things that happened yesterday that made me very happy. The first was receiving a Christmas card. A couple of months ago I had lent a short book to Joanne, who had then passed it on to another girl, Alison. I like Ali a lot, she is a real character and we get on very well and always have a good laugh together. She is also the person to whom I denied Mrs K back in the summer, much to my own annoyance. But anyway, Ali wasn’t able to make the book group this month, so she returned the book to me via Joanne, but also included a card. A little Christmas card saying thanks for lending her the book, wishing me a Happy Christmas, and asking me to meet up for a coffee over Christmas, with her phone number to arrange. That’s like, an actual cis (as far as I know!) woman asking me, Kirsty, to meet up with her for a coffee and a wee chat. To be her friend. I’m welling up as I write this. Let’s hope we manage to meet up, although I must admit I’m concerned that I’ll be back into “denying Mrs K” mode. The alternative is that I might tell her the truth. I will give it some thought.
The other nice thing that happened was something completely spontaneous, and something I probably wasn’t even meant to hear. The aforementioned Ann and Angela come as a pair, in fact when they are confirming for the monthly book group meeting they are always “Angela +1”. Ann doesn’t really do technology so Angela books on her behalf. They come nearly every month, and it is rare that one would come without the other. They also began coming in the same month as I did, so I always feel that we’re part of the same wave of members. Plus, back at just my second visit to the group, Ann was the person who was convinced she knew me from somewhere, with Angela eventually telling me that Ann was convinced we had been on a coach trip together years earlier! Anyway, mistaken identity notwithstanding, this has made me feel that Ann at the very least does not realise that I am trans.
Ann and I were having a wee chat about the X Factor and how this was the first year for both of us that we had given up watching it, when somebody mentioned the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year, which is taking place in Belfast this year. Next weekend in fact. After everyone had a good moan about misogynist homophobe Tyson Fury being on the list, someone mentioned that Andy Murray was expected to win. I said something like “Oh yes, Britain won the Ryder Cup”, getting my sports mixed up, Ryder Cup being a golf tournament. Andy Murray and Great Britain won the Davis Cup in tennis. Getting confused about sport has probably inadvertently helped my girly credentials, even if that is a lazy and sexist stereotype. Anyway, for some reason Ann was completely tickled by me getting my sports confused (I’m such a dizzy blonde!) and said she didn’t know Andy Murray could play golf too, laughing away as if this was the funniest thing she had ever heard. I then noticed Angela turn to Ann and ask what she was laughing at. Ann indicated me and between chortles managed to say “She said Andy Murray won the Ryder Cup”. She said. She said.
It just came so naturally, not a second thought, no hesitation. She. I am she. Of course I am, but to overhear someone refer to me with a feminine pronoun, when I’m not even part of the conversation, it feels incredibly gratifying. And right. Accepted without question as just another woman, no different to any other, and that is exactly who I am, or should be. She.
And on that note, she’s going to sign off until next time.