The inspiration for this post came from seeing some washing out drying on the landing in my house. Yes, I know it’s an unusual source of inspiration, but I’m an unusual sort of girl. Tied in with the clothes horse inspiration there is also the ongoing attitude that I have been taking in work and elsewhere where I am nominally still in the closet, but at the same time I’m not actually denying anything, instead giving a straight answer which people then assume is not a straight answer because Bob couldn’t possibly be one of them, could he? If the truth is outrageous or unlikely enough, people will not accept it as the truth.
I have even encountered people making my excuses for me. I tend to grow out my fingernails as much as possible until they reach a point where it’s really obvious, then I cut them. So from time to time my nails are quite long, for a man. Manicured into a pointed curve too. Nobody has ever said a word about them. Then a few weeks ago I heard some of my colleagues talking about a male colleague who always has his fingernails quite long and manicured, they were saying things like “What’s up with his nails? They’re like a woman’s!”. Not wishing to get involved in this bitching session, I said that he probably just likes them that way and anyway, “I let my nails get pretty long sometimes too”.
“Yes”, replied Graham, “but you play guitar so there’s a reason for you to have your nails long.”
It’s true, I do play guitar. But that’s not why my nails are long. In fact, guitar players who use their nails for fingerpicking would only ever grow their nails on the dominant hand, the one used to pluck the strings. Growing your nails out on the hand used for holding strings down is counterproductive. The nail gets in the way. But despite this, my colleagues have observed my intermittently long fingernails and have rationalised them away with what seems a perfectly reasonable explanation, and I haven’t had to say a word or make up any excuses. And this rationalisation remains in place despite the fact that on at least two occasions they have observed the remnants of poorly-removed nail varnish on those nails!
In the HitchHiker’s Guide series (to be precise, in Life, The Universe and Everything) the late and much lamented Douglas Adams writes about the phenomenon of Somebody Else’s Problem. As with so much of his writing, it might be in a science fiction universe but it is absolutely on-the-money accurate about humans.
“An SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem) is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem… The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is.”
Adams goes on to describe how a strange object or phenomenon can be effectively rendered invisible while out in plain sight by an “SEP field”, which “relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything that they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain”.
And now on to that collection of drying clothes. I think Mrs K might have erected as SEP field around it. In fact, this happens all the time. I go out presenting female regularly. This much you all know. And in doing so, the clothes I wear get dirty and need washed. Which presents us with a problem, or so you might think. Where to hang those clothes out to dry without our daughters seeing them and wondering who is this size 16 woman whose clothes are being washed in our home? Way way back when I started writing this blog in early 2014, one of the very first posts that I wrote went into detail about what might loosely be termed my “dressing history”. I’m not going to regurgitate all that again, it’s still there if you can be bothered to look, but one of the biggest problems that I came up against was washing. I only had a small number of items of clothing at that time, but once I had kind of gone back into the closet with Mrs K after an initial confession in around 1998 (no I can’t explain why) I was then left with a few skirts and tights that I couldn’t wash and which were getting progressively more manky. Well, I could have washed them on the rare occasion when I have an empty house for a few hours but drying them would have been beyond me. There was just nowhere to put them where they wouldn’t have been in full view. In fact, from one perspective, the clothes-washing problem was one of the driving forces behind my decision to come out (as a TV) to Mrs K in January 2014, which really was the initial tipping of the first domino that has lead me to the point I am at now.
As it turns out, I was worried about nothing. It would appear that the best way to hide something is to not hide it. Because if an item is out in plain view, drying alongside everything else, why would that draw your attention? These drying racks are situated in the landing of our house, and the bedroom doors of both my daughters (Little Kirsties Senior & Junior) open right on to this. My female clothing is on display out in the open. And neither of them notice a thing amiss. We’re not talking here about one or two items covered up among a mountain of non-Kirsty clothing. The majority of items on this rack are mine. You could probably look on another day and find several curiously large pairs of knickers and a denim skirt (Mrs K doesn’t own any denim skirts), and they would all pass as unnoticed as everything in this photo. But I think the photo does illustrate very well how un-hidden my female clothing is, were anyone ever to look for it.
So if there is an SEP field around my drying clothes, and an SEP field around my work interactions (recent outing to Angela notwithstanding), is there an SEP field at work anywhere else? I think there might be. In fact, I suspect that it might account for many instances of apparent “passing”. I know who I am and what I am. I know my history. I know that I am a transgender woman, and when I look at myself I can see the male alter-ego peeping out, and the many signs of maleness. When I’m with friends, with a couple of exceptions who knew me “before”, the friends know that I am trans but at the same time they only know me as Kirsty and so don’t have the image of Bob in their minds at all because they have never seen him. But with strangers, members of the public, they neither know what Bob looks like nor have they explicitly been informed that I am transgender. So that means in order to deduce this for themselves, in order to read me, they have to see something that by and large is Somebody Else’s Problem. So they don’t see it. It’s not that I look impeccably, unmistakeably female, because that’s not the case at all. I try my best but at 6’2” I’m going to get read if someone looks closely. But people don’t look closely, because people aren’t walking round expecting to see trans persons everywhere. So they generally accept me as a woman. It works for them, and it works for me. And it works for many trans people everywhere. We are Somebody Else’s Problem. Thanks, Douglas.