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Two weeks have now gone past since my doctor referred me to the Belfast GIC. In that intervening period I have gone through a variety of emotions; relief, guilt, doubt, excitement, more relief, fear, anticipation, more excitement, even more relief and another large dose of guilt. Probably all to be expected. A week after seeing my doctor I phoned the clinic to inquire about the likely waiting time. The woman I spoke to confirmed that they did have me on their system and that I would get a letter formally acknowledging my referral at some point in the next couple of weeks. She also told me that the “official” waiting list is 13 weeks but realistically I should expect a slightly longer wait, perhaps five or six months, which would see me getting my first appointment at the tail end of this year. It could be better, but when I look at the length of the waiting lists for some of the English clinics, I’m actually in a fairly fortunate position. But that’s not really what this post is about…I wrote recently about the fact that my support group the Belfast Butterfly Club is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and an anniversary dinner was planned for Saturday 18th June. Yes, two days ago. I also mentioned that a fellow blogger, a WordPress sister, would be coming to visit over that weekend. Well now all can be revealed. Actually, she has already revealed it on her own blog so I’m sure you already know – and if you don’t read her blog, why not? It’s well worth a look.  But now it’s my turn to talk about it, in about 10 times as many words as her.  You know me – I can compress an awful lot of words into very little actual content.

Not long after I started this blog in early 2014 I gained a follower simply called “A Human Being”. This “Human Being” had a blog, but it was in Arabic so I had no idea what it was about. Over the next few months, the human being gained a name, Nour, and started blogging in English from her home in Cairo, Egypt. Even then she was planning for transition despite never having been out in public presenting as female, while I was taking my first steps out the door but not yet considering transition as a viable option. Fast forward a year and Nour found a job in the UK and moved to England, beginning to live full time as a woman within a few months. Over this time we had begun emailing each other, and had become online friends. We had said in our correspondence how great it would be to meet in real life some time, so when the Butterfly Club dinner was proposed earlier this year, I suggested to Nour that it would be a good excuse for her to come over. And at around 2.30pm on Friday 17th June at Belfast International Airport, we finally met for the first time. It was incredibly good to meet her and really humbling that she would get on a plane (her first flight as her real self too!) and come all the way over here because of me. Me! Well, and the rest of the club.

I had booked all of Friday off work so I could have plenty of time to get ready. I was going to be away from home from Friday morning until late Sunday evening, so there was quite a bit of packing to be done, and it was after 11am by the time I got away from home. At least I managed to get my make-up done at home, although I didn’t bother with lipstick so when I walked through the door I just had to wear sunglasses to cover my lined and mascara-ed eyes. It was then a matter of pulling in at my usual spot to get the hair in place, replace Bob’s jeans and trainers with Kirsty’s denim skirt and ankle boots, slap on a bit of lippy and paint my fingernails before I could head off to the Butterfly Club HQ in Lisburn to leave a holdall containing Bob’s items. There was no way I was going to carry anything Bob-related with me over this weekend! I ended up calling in to Lisburn Costa on the way up there for a quick panini and coffee before dropping the bag, which was a great thing to do as it just got me back on an even keel again.  Clothes and makeup don’t particularly relieve the discomfort that I feel with a male existence, it’s really being in the real world with real people as the real woman I really believe I am that makes the difference, that makes the pain go away.  So getting out for a quick but much-needed bite to eat helped set the tone in a positive way.

I had another hour or so before I was due at the airport to meet Nour, so I went into the centre of Belfast for a while. I needed to purchase a prize for the raffle at the dinner, plus I had seen some shoes that I was after. I didn’t need them. I have many more shoes than I realistically need, but I really wanted them. I had been shopping with my elder daughter the previous week, getting her an outfit for my niece’s wedding later this year, and while searching for shoes in New Look I had made a mental note of a pair of stone-coloured linen-effect shoes with a fine wooden 4” heel that they actually had in stock in a UK size 9  EU size 43. Really pretty, and would go with a dress I had in mind for this evening. What would not go with that elegant dress and heels was my big black handbag. Practical and stylish, yes. But far too big to be elegant. So a quick purchase of a smaller black & white clutch bag was made in Primark for the princely sum of £7. Then I realised that it was gone 1.45pm and Nour’s flight was due to arrive in 40 minutes, so I jumped into the car and got on the road.

I was actually a little late coming to meet her. I walked into the airport arrivals lounge to see that her flight had already landed and the flight number was displayed on the screen above an as-yet-empty baggage carousel. As I approached I saw someone who looked a little like the photos of Nour that I had seen, jabbing on a smartphone. I thought she must be texting me to tell me she had arrived. Then I approached more closely. Not Nour. At least 20 years too old to be Nour. So I looked around. She wasn’t at the baggage carousel. She wasn’t loitering round. There were still plenty of people coming through the doors from the security checkpoint, so I waited. And waited. And waited a little longer. The stream of passengers petered out. No Nour. Then I looked across in a different direction and there she was, as if she had just materialised in the middle of the lounge – in reality she had already disembarked and was at the loo when I arrived, hence why she seemed to emerge from somewhere I wasn’t looking. She was walking slowly along looking this way and that. I moved into her field of view, waving as I went, and with a quick double take she recognised me. We hugged and I welcomed her to Northern Ireland. I couldn’t believe how good she looked, every inch a woman. I think one of the first things I said to her was that I couldn’t imagine anyone ever mistaking her for anything other than a genetic woman. Well that and a lot of “wow” and “ohmygodicantbelieveimhere”. It was, in short, amazing to see her and to think how far we had both come in the last two years.

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We meet at last!

After a short-ish drive into Belfast, interrupted by a quick detour to drive past chez Kirsty, we checked into the Premier Inn in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, dropped off our cases and headed back out for a quick tour of the city centre. I had nothing planned for us on the Friday afternoon, and with only a short time left until the main tourist attractions closed, there was nothing else for it but to have a leisurely stroll around the town, stopping off in a few shops and the tourist information centre. Nour even managed to nab herself a lovely dark blue cardie in New Look, and we both picked up a little jewellery in Debenhams; a multi-part bracelet for Nour and a matching bracelet and necklace for me.

We were going to go for a coffee and then back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, but in the end we just went to the hotel bar for that coffee. We sat in the bar for well over an hour, chatting and getting to know each other, still interspersed with much wows and headshaking. The time flew past and before I knew it, it was time to go and put on my posh dress ‘n’ heels for dinner. Having travelled very light, Nour was keeping her jeans on, albeit swapping her existing black cardigan for the new one that she had just purchased, and of course she looked effortlessly stylish while I ended up feeling rather overdressed, despite her reassurances that I looked amazing.

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The beautiful Nour in Blu

Nour and I completed a thankfully short walk to our restaurant for the evening, Blu, where we had arranged to meet Andrea. Andrea had initially arranged just to meet the two of us for a meal on this evening, and had decided not to join us the rest of the weekend. Without wishing to put words in her mouth, I think it was a combination of her not really knowing Nour, and also not wanting to feel like she was intruding on Nour and me.  We were there a little before Andrea, who had been held up in traffic, but soon she walked in looking happy after her short holiday in Mallorca.  The food was great but the company was better.  And like me, Andrea took an instant like to Nour.  After a while Nour had to visit the ladies (still the best loo in Belfast) and Andrea said to me “She’s great!  I wish I was seeing a bit more of her over the weekend now.  Do you think she’d mind if I tagged along with the two of you tomorrow?”  I replied that I was sure she wouldn’t mind in the least, but I would ask her.  So a few minutes later when Nour was back at the table and Andrea was at the sparkly loo, I asked Nour if it was ok for Andrea to join us tomorrow.  I think she was mostly surprised that I would even ask.  And of course it was ok, why wouldn’t it be?  So when all three of us were reunited it was agreed that we would meet up again on Saturday.

In fact, even though we sat in the restaurant until after 10.30pm, Nour and I suggested that Andrea join us in the hotel bar for a drink.  We walked in to find a bar that was a lot busier than it had been a few hours earlier when Nour and I were sitting in it.  Not just busier, but noisier too.  And a lot more drunk people about.  We walked up to the bar and ordered our drinks, then looking round we realised that there were no tables.  Or strictly speaking, there was a table but it had no chairs at it.  A bit of reshuffling of spare chairs from other tables was done (mostly by Nour and Andrea, I was in no position to move furniture in my 4″ heels) and finally we had somewhere to sit.  It was really a bit too noisy to have a proper conversation, but it was nice just to prolong the evening a little further.  When we initially walked into the bar I must confess that with my extreme height in the heels, plus feeling more than a little overdressed, I did feel rather conspicuous.  However I didn’t really get the sense that anyone was paying me much undue attention.  I’m sure I was quite a striking figure at the very least, so a few turned heads was understandable.  In fact, it might even have been desireable, as long as I was turning heads for the right reason.  And as I sat with Andrea and Nour, two women who both inspire me in their own ways, and as I looked down at the gorgeous shoes that I had bought just earlier that day, I can honestly say that I felt a million dollars.  Not only that, I was also juxtaposing that feeling with what I felt a little over a year earlier, when Andrea and I went to visit Ruth in Leeds.  How I had felt out of place, something approaching a fraud, as they discussed gender clinics and transition while I had no plans in that direction at that time.  Tonight, I belonged.  I am still in the very early stages of making the arrangements, but the decision is made and I’m on my way.

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast in the price, so the three of us arranged to meet up for breakfast in a local cafe the following morning before doing some touristy things in Belfast.  Then it was the drive back home for Andrea and the elevator to our rooms on the fifth floor for Nour and me.  We hugged each other goodnight and I went back to my room with a smile on my face, looking forward to the rest of the weekend.

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