Before I begin with the main content of this post, a quick update on my transition plan. Since the start of the year I have been intending to see my doctor during this month (May 2016) to request a referral to the Gender Identity Clinic and to start the ball rolling on my medical transition. So last Thursday I walked into the GP’s surgery and asked if I could book an appointment. No, I couldn’t. He has no slots for any more non-emergency appointments for the next four weeks and the booking system only opened for four weeks at a time. So I was told to try again today (Monday). Still no appointments. Try again tomorrow. So the earliest I’ll get to see the doc is week beginning Monday 6th June. Oh well. It’s frustrating but at the end of the day, I don’t need the Clinic’s permission to go full time, so going full time is what I am going to do when the time comes, and “the time” in question seems increasingly to be pointing toward Easter 2017 as a full-time target date. If the medical part of the equation lags a month or two further behind the social transition than I had initially intended, well so be it. I’m driving this, not the clinic.
A couple of weeks back I wrote about the oh-so-entertaining comedy mix-up of wrong phone numbers and missed texts with my book group friend Alice. The upshot of all that was that we had agreed to meet for a coffee and a chat yesterday afternoon. And lo and behold it actually happened.
Something I have written about a few times is my backstory problem. I felt self-conscious about being unable to share a lot about myself with cis friends. Even if they realised I am trans, for all they know I am full-time, all appropriate surgeries and procedures done and living as the woman I am. Do I really want to tell them the truth – that I intend to transition, but for now I spend more than 90% of my time presenting male, that I am still married to my wife and that we live with our two daughters, both of whom are currently blissfully unaware of their dad’s plans for the next few years. Surely that’s going to change anyone’s view of me. Does anyone really need to know that? But if I don’t say any of that – and it’s hard to say only a bit of it without everything else because all these facts are related – then I am going to end up being shifty, evasive or just telling out-and-out lies. And that’s hardly the basis for a friendship with anyone, is it?
So after much consideration and advice both ways from different people both on this blog and in person, I decided that if that’s the way the conversation was going then I was going to tell Alice the truth. And that’s what I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Saturday was a pretty miserable day. I was out on my bike for a couple of hours and got rained on for all bar the last 10 minutes. Cold and wet. I saw the weather forecast for Sunday and it looked much better. Sunshine and heat. Wow. So as I packed my bag on Saturday evening for what I was going to wear the next day, I took the bold, some might say foolish step of packing sandals and no tights or socks. Time to paint my toe nails and free the feet! I thought I would go for a nice summery casual look with skinny jeans and the sleeveless top and peach cardie combo that I had bought while shopping in New Look with Andrea back on Good Friday. Again, thanks to Northern Irish weather, this was my first opportunity to wear them.
When I arose around 9am on Sunday the weather looked a little overcast. I was worried that I might have been a bit overambitious with my wardrobe choice. Thankfully, by lunchtime the sun was out in full force and it was a beautiful warm spring day. In the car driving down the the coffee shop where I had arranged to meet Alice, the thermometer hit 23 degrees, a veritable heatwave.
We had agreed to meet at a coffee shop recommended by Alice called Jenz. I had initially proposed Arizona, somewhere Andrea and I go reasonably often, but since Alice didn’t know where it was I was happy to go to her choice. I was able to park right in front of the shop and there she was sitting out at a table on the street. I got out of the car, we greeted each other with a hug and walked in to the coffee shop.
We debated sitting out on the street but the tables were right by the roadside and there was a lot of traffic noise, so we decided to stay indoors. We grabbed our coffees and nibbles (strawberry doughnut for me, chocolate shortbread for her) and moved to a table at the back. We sat there for well over an hour and just had a lovely wee chat. Alice is a hoot, a lovely girl with a really mischievous and subversive sense of humour. But of course after I got her life story I couldn’t really not say anything about me. That’s how friendships work isn’t it? You get to know each other. So I plunged in
“OK, elephant in the room time. You know I’m transgender, right?”
“Yes, I know you’re transgender. That’s not an elephant in the room”
“Maybe not, but there’s a lot more to it”
And I told her pretty much everything. If you have ready many entries in this blog, you’ll know what that entails. So she knows. And she was great. She actually made a few interesting points and ones that I had not considered before. In particular, I was talking about how I have been lucky enough to have had very few negative experiences being out in public, and she was quick to point out that anyone who doesn’t look “just so” will get comments. She said that she herself occasionally gets comments about her weight as she is carrying a few extra pounds – she was a lot less diplomatic than that in her own language to describe herself, although really she’s no bigger than any number of women who walk past you in the street every day. And she looks just fine as far as I can tell. But because of this extra weight, she says that from time to time some prat will decide that the appropriate thing to do is to exclaim loudly “Ah Jesus would ye look at the size of the arse on that” or other such bons mots as she walks past. Truly the spirit of Oscar Wilde lives on. Now obviously she is unlikely to be physically assaulted just for being overweight, but it’s still horrible and hurtful. So maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about the occasional sideways glance or misgendering. There are many groups of people who for one reason or another are the recipients of unwelcome attention from the hard of thinking. Trans people don’t have a monopoly on discrimination, I would do well to remember that.
Alice did say something really nice, except she was kind of telling me off at the same time. I was telling her about the Butterfly Club (which I just referred to as my “support group”) and the Eastbourne weekend, and how there are some people with whom you gel, others with whom you don’t. But as well as that there are people, particularly at that Eastbourne weekend, who dress in outlandish or inappropriate ways, or who with the best will in the world and try as they might, are never going to blend in. While I completely respect and support their own paths, I can’t allow myself to go out with them because I fear my own confidence couldn’t cope with the extra attention their presence would bring. This provoked the comment from Alice that “You have to realise that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to pull off ‘beautiful woman’ as well as you can”. So it was a bit of a dig, but it was also a rather nice compliment. She also told me that I’m always extremely well presented and put her to shame, although in reply I pointed out that I have a lot more to cover up than she does and I’m a long way and a lot of hair removal away from being able to go out with no makeup.
We spoke about lots of stuff, most of which was unrelated to me being trans, but just having her know the truth made me a lot more relaxed, not feeling I had to watch my Ps and Qs for fear of being caught out. I think it has made me realise that during and after transition, “deep stealth” is not really going to be for me. I’m probably too tall to carry it off and even if I could, it would probably be too stressful in that I would constantly be in fear of being found out. Who needs that?
It was approaching 5pm when Alice asked if I fancied another coffee. I went up to the counter only to be told that they were about to shut up shop. So we walked out and decided to have a stroll along the street in the blazing sunshine to see where else we could find. And after about five minutes we found the perfect thing for such a beautiful late afternoon: A frozen yoghurt bar!
We crossed the road and made our way into the blissfully air conditioned shop, which was called “Yogland”. The young woman behind the counter explained the process (take a tub, fill it with froyo or sorbet of your choice, add your toppings, pay by weight) and we made our way over to the wall of frozen delights (I believe that’s the technical name for it). There were around 10-12 pumps attached to the wall each dispensing a different flavour of frozen yoghurt or sorbet, and then on the opposite wall was a huge selection of sprinkles, M&Ms, Haribo and so on with which to cover said frozen dessert. There was a plaque beside each pump describing the flavour, but happily we didn’t have to take their word for it as underneath each pump was a drip tray containing a pile of slushy overflow. So a quick dip of the pinkie into the overflow let us conduct a taste test of each flavour. All of them. I plumped in the end for lemonade sorbet while Alice took a combination of vanilla and strawberry cheesecake flavour froyo, with chocolate sprinkles for her while I had mine “nude”. We placed our tubs on the scale while Alice pointed at my tub and said to the checkout girl “No fat in the sorbet and no sprinkles. That’s why she’s so slim and I’m not”. The fact that my sorbet is a huge calorific blast of sugar is clearly beside the point.
We went and sat at a table out on the terrace (a.k.a. a cordoned off area of pavement, thankfully set quite far back from the road) and ate our sorbet and froyo in the gorgeous spring sunshine. We hadn’t been there too long when I got a text from Andrea. “What’s happening?”. Andrea and I had arranged to meet for a bite to eat before I went to my book group, so I just texted back our location and suggested she come and join us, then we could stroll down to our eating venue. And after a fashionable amount of time, along came Andrea and sat down with us. Introductions were duly made, and we sat and chatted for a while longer before all three of us walked back down towards the hotel where the book group meet. Alice wasn’t actually going to the book group this evening, so she took her leave of us with a hug, leaving Andrea and I to make our way into the hotel bar for a quick pub grub meal. Just a club sandwich for me! As always it was good to see her and have a bit of a catch-up, but before too long the book group people began drifting into the hotel. I ended up 5 minutes late for the start of the discussion as I finished my meal and said my goodbyes to Andrea.
This month’s book group choice was Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It tells the story of the 1967-70 Biafran War seen through the eyes of a young middle-class Biafran woman Olanna, her houseboy Ugwu, and English ex-pat Richard. The title of the novel takes its name from the design of the flag of the Republic of Biafra, a rising sun on a horizontal tricolour. Back last summer we had read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which told the story of Congo’s independence and civil war through the eyes of the four daughters of an American Christian missionary, and the two books are interesting to contrast. Whereas former is the work of a Nigerian author, from the area formerly claimed as Biafra, the latter is the work of an American writer. Half Of A Yellow Sun tells of the horror of war, the suffering of the Biafran/Igbo people, the constant hope of a better future fed by the propaganda on Radio Biafra, the reality of the conscripted Biafran army who were little more than a rabble and presented nearly as much danger to their own people as the Nigerians trying to take back the territory. Criticism of the rest of the world is largely limited to their indifference, other than to place some historical blame at the door of the British who created the country of Nigeria by included several disparate tribes, religions and traditions who would never have coalesced naturally. By contrast, Kingsolver places the blame for the ills of the Congo and the wider African continent firmly at the feet of western capitalism, which in her view seeks to exploit these less developed nations for its own selfish gain. The personal baggage of each author perhaps colouring their view of events.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the novel very much. It has won several awards and very much deserves them. I think I marginally preferred The Poisonwood Bible as Kingsolver’s prose sings in a way that Adichie’s doesn’t. But read both.
So that’s my Sunday. I received a little text from Alice on my way home. “A lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Hope to see you for another coffee soon”. Me too.