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The Lisburn Ladies Fine Dining Club had our first outing of 2016 at the weekend. And it wasn’t just dining for dining’s sake, enjoyable as that is. No, this time we were celebrating two anniversaries, one for Andrea and one for me, with Michelle along to assist in the celebration. I think Andrea’s anniversary is the more significant of the two, being a full year since she began to live full time as the woman she is. My own rather more modest anniversary is the second anniversary of the first time I ever fully presented as female, behind closed doors and closed blinds in my own house on a bright and sunny February Friday.  Going full time, as Andrea did a year ago, is a life-defining change and step which I hope to be taking in the first half of next year for myself. I wouldn’t for one second think that me playing dress-up for a day with nobody around is comparable to that. However, the significance of what I did that day can’t be understated. Without that release, that day when everything changed, nothing would be as it is now. I suppose it is of internal significance rather than external significance.

It was in the immediate aftermath of that day that I started this blog, so obviously I did write about it at the time. It’s still there in the archive if you want to read it although I’m not going to link to it – let’s just say I look a bit of a state. At the time I was incredibly pleased with how I looked, but in retrospect I was making all the typical first-time TV mistakes – dressing far too young, OTT make-up, horrendous long blonde wig. On the positive side, one of the two dresses that I had bought for that day is still part of my regular wardrobe and I have worn it out fairly recently.

I first presented as female privately in my own home on 7th February 2014. A little over two months later, on 9th April, I went out in public for the first time. In those intervening two months I had traded in the big platinum blonde wig for a rather more subdued honey blonde bob, and generally gone to the opposite extreme in the clothing department, frumping it up to a rather excessive extent. This was the look that prompted Mrs K to say that I dressed like a librarian. I suppose I’m still evolving my style, but I think I have found a happy medium. To be honest, Mrs K’s style has inspired my own quite a bit, but then again I do like the way she dresses. My style isn’t quite the same, things that work on her 5’2” frame won’t work on my 6’2” one. And she doesn’t do heels. At all. She thinks I’m obsessed with shoes – I don’t know what she means, I only have about 25 pairs. But it is a little frustrating that Mrs K hasn’t seen me, by which I mean Kirsty not Bob, in person since July 2014, at which point I was still very much developing a style, so she has this fixed view of what I look like which is quite far off the mark now.

But to go back to my main point, that day really did change everything for me. Beforehand, I never would have believed it would be possible for me to ever appear in public as a woman. Now, it’s just who I am. A light was switched on, and I could never go back to the dark again.

So anyway, how was the meal? Well I’ll get to that. Andrea had invited me down to her house for the weekend, so the meal was really just a part of what I got up to. I was at the Butterfly Club premises by shortly before 3pm to begin my transformation, to find that Michelle was already there transforming herself. I was out by around 4.15 and on my way down to chez Andrea, while Michelle was planning a browse round the shops before dining. I actually had to make a brief stop on the way to Andrea’s. While packing my case the previous night I realised that I had poked holes in the toes of all my knee highs, so I had a quick detour to a supermarket to pick up a new 5-pack, particularly considering I was going to need a pair of knee highs to wear with my jeans on Sunday.

I walked in through Andrea’s back door shortly after 5.20pm. She saw me clutching the multipack of knee highs and said “Aww thanks, you’ve brought me a present of tights”. Yes very funny. We had a quick cup of tea and a catch-up, while I applied a top coat of glitter to my already-deep-pink nails. This is what counts as pushing the boat out in Kirstyland. I managed to dump my case, get a little bit unpacked and change my footwear – I was wearing my nice and cosy winter dress from M&S but I thought since we were going to a restaurant I would swap my casual light brown ankle boots for some classier looking black block heels. Andrea wore a blouse, trousers and heels, resplendent all in black.

After collecting Michelle at the BBC, we made our way to the restaurant. Coco, right in the centre of Belfast. And 30 seconds’ walk from my office. Oh well, it was Saturday evening, there wouldn’t be anyone about. We were quickly shown through to our table in the middle of a surprisingly large and very busy restaurant. Busy, and a little bit noisy. Still, the food was good. For starter I had salt & chilli venison. It was very tasty with just the right level of spice, but presentation apart it wasn’t too far away from the taste you would get if you ordered salt & chilli beef in your local Chinese takeaway. However the main course was a different matter. Andrea and I had both ordered Halibut Bourgignon. Yes, halibut, not beef. It arrived looking very nice, a good sized fillet of halibut with a generous quenelle of garlic mash, surrounded by samphire, shallots and mushrooms. And no sauce. Andrea asked me “was this not supposed to come with a jus?” and once she said that I remembered that yes, there was meant to be a red wine jus on the plate. Conspicuous by its absence. Andrea collared a waitress and pointed out the lack of jus, and the waitress replied that “the kitchen has been a bit stingy with your sauce”. A bit stingy! Understatement much? Well she went off to remedy this problem and returned with a small jug of jus for us to share, and it did just set the meal off perfectly. A wonderful balance of flavours, everything cooked to perfection, tasting just so, but with no one taste dominating. If only it was a little hotter (never happy!). For dessert Andrea and I again ordered the same thing, ginger pudding with ginger ice cream, poached pears and sabayon. I must confess to whipping out the iPhone for a quick web search to find out what sabayon is before ordering. It’s a kind of sweetened cream with white wine, if you’re as uneducated as I was. Tastes a bit like custard mixed with melted ice cream. Anyway, the dessert was very ginger-ey. Not unpleasant, but moderately disappointing after the stellar main.

Michelle drove us back up to Lisburn in her new car (very nice) where Andrea and I gave her a goodnight hug and then drove on to Andrea’s house in her new car (also very nice). We then proceeded to sit up until nearly 2am sharing a bottle of Cava to round off our celebratory evening, while playing a rather fun “Guess the caramel” game. There was a long box containing six sets of four caramels in milk chocolate. However each caramel was flavoured, and the game was to eat one out of each set and guess the flavours – Andrea beat me 5 to 3, but I must say the first five were very nice and the final one (chilli caramel) was disgusting. I had to eat one of the other nice caramels afterwards to get the taste out of my mouth.

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The Palm House at Botanic Gardens

The next morning after a breakfast of bacon sandwiches, we departed for Belfast and the Ulster Museum. We have been to the museum before both together and separately, but there were new exhibitions in the art section, including an original Rembrandt on display (Self portrait at age 63). The Ulster Museum is located within Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, and before actually walking through the doors of the museum, we took a very slight detour into the Palm House. There are two structures in the Gardens dating back to the Victorian era; the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine, both magnificent pieces of Victoriana. img_3505I’ll be honest and say that of the two I much prefer the Tropical Ravine, but it is closed for extensive renovations for the next year. Still, the Palm House is a nice place to visit too. It’s modelled upon London’s Crystal Palace, the difference being that the Palm House is still standing.  I’ll not go into too much detail, but I would recommend you clicking on the links to find out about these places. They’re great. And we stopped for a quick selfie with a few fronds in the background.  And although we couldn’t visit the ravine today, it’s a place I have loved for many years, and I can’t wait to see it once it has been renovated.

The museum was fun, the artwork the usual mix of good, bad and baffling, with the highlight for be being a pair of wickerwork dragons that have recently been put on display suspended from a high ceiling. By around 3pm we decided to break for a very welcome coffee and a bun in the museum cafe. After finishing this, we quickly realised there was little else new to see in the museum, so without too much soul-searching we decided that the only thing for it was to head into the city centre for a bit of retail therapy.

It was fun as usual walking round the shops, and always useful for both of us to have a friend on hand for a second opinion. I did make a few purchases, but I’ll not go into too much detail on that. However I will tell you about an interesting experience in New Look. I had seen a white loose knit jumper on the sale rail. It was in the size 16 section, which is usually OK for me, although it was labelled “Large” rather than a numeric size. And even better, the £23 price tag had been crossed out in felt tip with a big “7” in its place. Bargain alert! I took it through to the changing rooms to try it on only to discover that it was huge. I mean really huge. I’m a very tall woman, but the sleeves on this were so long that when I put my hands by my side it you could just about see the very tips of my glittery fingernails. So I went back out, found the same jumper in a Medium (although without the handwritten price reduction) and went back into the changing rooms.

The changing rooms in New Look are laid out in quite an unusual manner, and one which I like a lot. Rather than the usual corridor with stalls on each side, the stalls are arranged around the edge of a square-ish central area, which is laid out with settees and comfy chairs. The idea being that friends can come into the changing area with you and sit around in comfort while you try on your outfits. You can then easily pop out for your friend’s second opinion without having to leave the changing area. Nice. Anyway, as I was trying on the medium jumper and discovering that it fitted perfectly, I heard the voice of a staff member call out;

“It’s female only in here”

It’s ok, that wasn’t directed at me. A man, presumably a husband/boyfriend being dragged round the shops by his wife/girlfriend, seemed to have taken a seat in the central area of the changing rooms while his other half was trying some things on. He stuttered out some sort of an apology

“Sorry, I though it was ok to wait here”

“No, I know there’s no sign but it is strictly female only in the changing area”

And out he went, tail between his legs.

Now, I’m sure you’re way ahead of me on this, but what this exchange means is that shop staff do monitor people going in and out of the changing rooms. Which means that I was part of that monitoring, and I got through their “strictly female only” policy. Which means one of two things;

1. I was passing as cis female

2. They read me as trans, but accept trans women as just that. Women.

Now I would prefer it to be 1, and indeed it may have been 1. But even if it’s 2, that’s ok. And much to the shop’s credit. In fact, both are possible – I may have passed and at the same time the shop may well accept trans women as female. Either way, it’s good.

We did some more shopping, I bought a new blouse and skirt in Primark, picked up a few grocery items and then we headed up to the Malone Lodge Hotel, venue for my book group. Andrea came with me, and we had a bite to eat from the bar menu, nothing too fancy, just burger and chips but none the worse for that. I had asked Andrea if she wanted to come with me to the book group and she replied “Yes, ok then”. As we finished up our meal and the bill arrived, we were already a minute or two late for the start of the book group. I made a quick loo stop, and then was about to head into the book group. I indicated to Andrea the door to our meeting room, thinking she was going to join us after her turn for a loo stop. She then gave me a hug and thanked me for a lovely weekend – the feeling was mutual but I was a bit confused as to why she was doing this now. She explained something along the lines of it would be a bit awkward later, so I probably appeared a bit uneffusive in my goodbyes (sorry Andrea), but as I left I said “see you in 5 minutes”.

I walked into the book group and sat, expecting Andrea to walk in 5 minutes later. Then 5 turned to 10 turned to 15 and I realised that she wasn’t coming. Oh well, I thought, perhaps she just thought this was my thing and she decided to leave me to it…

img_3511This months book was “H Is For Hawk” by Helen McDonald. It wasn’t great. It was beautifully written , but ultimately it was a bit boring. It was actually a memoir of a time when the author’s father passed away and in her grief she decided to train a goshawk (no, me neither). She and her father had shared a love of falconry, and she was in a way training her hawk Mabel in his memory. It started promisingly enough, and after the first couple of chapters I had hopes it would prove to be something along the lines of “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance”. But in the end it was too much motorcycle maintenance (read hawk training) and not enough zen. A great novel should teach you something about yourself. This taught me that I have no interest in falconry. Opinion in the group was hugely divided, ranging from “A terrific achievement” to “the worst book I have ever read”. I gave it 5 out of 10, and that was fairly generous. Don’t bother.

As I left the group, I sent Andrea a text of just a question mark, wondering what had happened that she didn’t come into the group. The exchange went something like this;

K: ?

A: What?

K: I thought you were coming in to join us?

A: Really?????

I think when I had asked Andrea if she wanted to come with me, while I meant “with me to the book group” she had meant “with Kirsty to the hotel for something to eat before her book group”. A subtle but important difference. Communication is everything.

So to finish off this rather lengthy post, I had a very enjoyable weekend, but at the same time I’m focused more on where I will be in a year’s time, not where I was two years ago. By my third anniversary I should be out to many people, including potentially to line management at work, perhaps to my children and siblings, and I should already have been attending GIC for several months. I don’t think I’ll quite be ready to go full-time yet by February, but it won’t be too far away. In fact, I’d like to be able to go full time right now, but I’m trying to get all my ducks in a row. Trying to complete the perfect transition, however impossible that may be.

On our way back to the car park last night after our little shopping trip, about to drive up to the hotel for dinner and the book group, I was suddenly taken with an immense sense of impending dread. It was the sudden realisation that in around three hours’ time I was going to have to put on my man-disguise and go back into male mode. I felt sick at the thought. I had temporarily managed to forget that the male side exists, and when “he” flashed up in my mind again it was such a hammer blow.  The only thing that got me through was the thought that it’s not going to be forever. A time will come when I stop having that male persona and never ever have to put it on again. I can’t wait.

Kirsty

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