This is a conversation that took place in my office yesterday morning, as close to verbatim as I can manage. I have played it out in my head over and over again in the 30-odd hours since it occured and I’m still not sure what it means for my transition. Maybe nothing I didn’t really know already. Anyway, I’m interested in your views. So here we go, the curtain is about to rise…
The Scene: An office in central Belfast
The Time: 11am Wednesday 30th March 2016
KIRSTY, a closeted transgender woman, still believed by all bar one of her colleagues to be cis male and known to them as “Bob”. The one colleague who knows the truth isn’t in the office today.
ANGELA, a part-time clerical assistant in her early 30’s
GRAHAM, Kirsty’s colleague in a similar role and of a similar age, with broadly similar “progressive” views and a lot less hair.
ARTHUR, Kirsty’s colleague in a similar role in his early 60’s. A practicing Christian and literal homophobe, i.e. he is terrified of gay people.
The Set-Up: Angela is about to visit a government office to carry out a work-related task
Angela: Right, I need to go to that office to do that thing.
Graham: She’ll probably be there
Angela: Oh God!
[Angela goes to that office and does that thing. Ten minutes later she returns.]
Kirsty: That was quick
Angela: (toward Graham) She was there. Oh my god I didn’t know where to look!
Graham: I know, it’s so awkward. You don’t want to stare but at the same time you don’t want to look away and not acknowledge her. She just looks so wrong you don’t know how to act normal.
Angela: Tell me about it. She’s just sitting there and she’s trying to be a woman but it’s all just not right. She’s so tall, must be over six feet.
Arthur: Is this a man?
Angela: No, not really. I mean it’s a man who has become a woman, but he still just looks like a man in a skirt. She, not he, sorry, have to get it right.
Graham: I was round there before and she opened the door for me. I was looking at something on my phone so I wasn’t really paying attention and with the height of her I just assumed it was a man had opened the door and I said “Cheers mate”. Then I looked up and (mimes comedic double-take) “Oh, sorry”.
[Kirsty’s head is dropping further and further as this conversation continues.]
Angela: She just doesn’t look like a woman. She’s so tall and so skinny, and her make up is really overdone, especially the lipstick. I’m just like “no, love!” And imagine sitting with her in that office… …I suppose you’d just get used to it eventually.
Graham: Have you seen her hands? She has great big man-hands, they look so out of place. And then you hear her voice and it’s just “Man!”
Kirsty: (arising from her depression) And where is this?
Angela: In that office, y’know, where I do that thing sometimes
Kirsty: Right. Next time one of us needs to do that thing I’m going to volunteer to go and I’ll put on my best dress to show solidarity.
Angela, Graham & Arthur: Lol
Angela: She’s just sitting there in that… skirt and it’s like… (shudder)
Graham: I think it’s a uniform that she’s wearing – it looks like a uniform.
Angela: It really doesn’t help the look. It’s like a military outfit and the last thing she needs is something that rigid and harsh.
Graham: The fact that most of the guys in that building are really casual just makes her look even more out of place, sitting there in that terrible wig with the big hands and the skirt and too much make-up. And her face is just so… haggard, not like a woman at all.
Angela: Do you think it is a wig?
Kirsty: Well how old is she?
Graham: Dunno. Late 50’s maybe?
Kirsty: Oh right. For some reason I had assumed she was a lot younger.
Graham: Oh no, she’s getting on a bit.
Kirsty: Well it maybe depends when she transitioned. If she has only made the change fairly recently then it’s pretty likely that she wouldn’t have a full head of her own hair. Y’know, not many men make it to their mid-50’s with all folllicles intact.
Angela: It’s funny, you never see any women wanting to be men.
Kirsty: Well you do, but they’re less visible. If a woman cuts her hair short and wears male clothes you’ll probably just assume she’s a lesbian, not transgender. And it’s the different hormones too- testosterone adds; it adds bone density, it adds muscle bulk, it breaks the voice, it causes beard growth, and it’s a one-way journey. So for a transgender woman it’s very hard to undo all that. But for a transgender man when he starts taking testosterone it’s like he undergoes a late male puberty so all that stuff happens and he just ends up looking like a short-arsed bloke.
Kirsty, Angela, Graham & Arthur: (looking across to the desk of Angela’s line manager, who is a very short-arsed bloke with a large dose of “Small Man Syndrome”) Lol
Angela: Somebody like Caitlyn Jenner, she’s had the surgery on her face to make herself look a bit more like a woman, so she looks pretty presentable. But some of these other ones you see, like her in that office, just no.
Kirsty: Caitlyn Jenner is the same height as me
Angela: Well you’re pretty tall
Kirsty: Yes that’s my point – you said the height was a big problem with the transgender woman in that office.
Angela: But if she looked better, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. I mean, it’s not all bad. There’s no sign of any stubble on her face so she must be taking those tablets that stop it.
[Kirsty has an urge to say that those tablets don’t exist, but you do get several sessions of laser hair removal through the Gender Identity Clinic, however having already displayed what could be viewed as a suspiciously in-depth knowledge of transgender matters, she decides against it.]
Kirsty: How do you think you would cope if it happened in here?
Angela: I don’t know. I think if somebody started here after they had already changed, I’d probably be able to accept them pretty quickly, but if it was someone I already knew as a man… (shakes head)
Kirsty: You’d get used to it soon enough.
Angela: I don’t know. I think it would take me an awful long time.
Kirsty: Well you’re going to have to get used to it because this time next year, that’ll be me.
Angela, Graham & Arthur: Lol
Angela: Oh my god can you imagine? I’d find it really hard to deal with if you left here one Friday afternoon and came back in the next Monday in a dress and a wig and all of a sudden everyone had to call you Joanne. I couldn’t cope with that. You’d just be Bob, I couldn’t forget the person I have known.
Kirsty: It’s OK, I don’t use the name Joanne.
Angela, Graham & Arthur: Lol.
Kirsty: You all think I’m joking about this but I’m not.
Angela, Graham & Arthur: Double lol.