Bit of an odd title, n’est-ce pas? Let’s just say the weather was pretty miserable. Cold, drizzly, just a dour February day. But oh my goodness it was good. I have finally arrived at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). But there’s so much more than that to tell. Where to begin? Let’s go back a week or so… (cue everything going swirly)
In my last post I wrote about how Kelly from HR in work had done a bit of research, had discovered that I was the company’s first transitioning employee, that the company had no policy on trans staff, and as a result my line manager Beth and I were going to be meeting Kelly last Tuesday to discuss my plans for transition as well as getting my input into actually producing a policy for anyone who follows in my rather large footsteps. Well that happened, and it was very positive and very productive. I had previously given Beth a “bare bones” Memorandum of Understanding, with literally just the headings and nothing completed. Well when I turned up to meet Kelly with Beth, I handed both of them the same document with lots completed. We went through everything I had written, essentially my transition wish-list, and it was just “yes, yes, yes, yes and yes”. Everything I was proposing was being accepted as a good idea and very do-able. In fact, I think Kelly was very pleased that in her mind I seemed to have done quite a lot of her job for her. She was every bit as supportive as Beth had been, even including potentially contentious issues such as access to the women’s toilets – as far as Kelly is concerned (making it the official HR line) there is absolutely no question that I will be using the ladies loo from day 1 in work as a woman. If any people don’t like that, they will be very politely told to lump it and use either the disabled toilet on my floor of the building, or else one of the other women’s toilets – there are eight floors in my building, with a men’s, a women’s and a disabled toilet on each floor, so there’s no shortage of places to pee and poo.
During my earlier conversation with Beth, I had mentioned an trans support organisation called SAIL, that had been recommended by a few friends. Well it turns out that Beth had mentioned this to Kelly, who had then taken in upon herself to visit their premises in person so she could learn more about trans issues before meeting me. She came back with a few leaflets and a very positive impression. She was particularly taken with the trans awareness training that they offer for businesses and schools, so this is something that we thought might be useful for certain key staff in work. Also, with their experience, they might be able to help us fine-tune my MoU. So Kelly thought that the three of us (Kelly, Beth and me) could call in to see them together – that’s something that came through again and again with Kelly, she is finding out all this information but she is absolutely adamant that nothing will happen without my input and my agreement. She is not planning my transition for me, she sees her job as to help me make it happen. So anyway, I mentioned that I had my first appointment at GIC coming up the next week (today!) and that Beth and I were going for lunch afterwards, so why not the three of us go on to SAIL after lunch. Everyone agreed this was a good idea, so Kelly contacted SAIL and set up the appointment – I say appointment, it was more a case of “we’re here all afternoon, call in when you like”.
In the interests of brevity, I should now move the clock forward a full week until today’s events, but just a quick aside about Saturday. I called down to visit my brother John and sister-in-law Marie on Saturday afternoon. In fact, when I arrived it was just him, but all was good and he was just himself. And when Marie arrived and he went to the front door to let her in, it felt so good just to hear him tell her “Kirsty’s here”. They probably got a false impression of how I normally look because after considering carefully how I should present upon my sister Patsy meeting me the previous week and going for a casual jeans-based look, I ended up being quite glam (burgundy knee-length dress, black heels, slightly blingy necklace) at John’s because immediately after him I was going out with my friend Alice for dinner followed by theatre. Educating Rita, at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. It was a really enjoyable evening with a good friend, and the play was excellent, the original Liverpudlian setting relocated to Belfast and tarted up with some local dialect with the co-operation and oversight of the original playwright Willy Russell.
We’ve already lined up our next theatre visit in April, hoping to go to see Red, a play about the artist Mark Rothko.
Now, back on-topic again. My appointment with GIC Belfast was at 9am this morning. Unfortunately, Belfast GIC is at the opposite side of the city to where I live, so I was concerned about getting there on time. But thanks to my newly-out status, I was at least able to get up and get dressed as myself/Kirsty 1st thing this morning. In fact, I did my nails last night to save time this morning. I awoke just after 6am, a quick wash and super-close shave, and then down for a spot of breakfast (pancakes, obviously) in Bob’s pyjamas before going back up to the bedroom to get ready. Now, what to wear?
I really wish I had taken a picture of what I wore. Again, it was a case of striking a balance. I had heard reports that turning up at GIC in something like jeans and jumper could prove counterproductive, in that an obvious riposte would be “You can wear jeans and jumper as a man, you can’t be that bothered about being a woman”, so I thought something reasonably feminine would be in order. Added to this, I also knew that I was going to be meeting Beth and Kelly later on, so I decided that the appopriate thing to do would be to wear something professional-looking, something from the work wardrobe I have been building up in recent months. I went for a black cotton top with a little frill around the shoulders, a knee-length black and white check pencil skirt, black opaque tights and fairly plain, professional-looking black heels, about 3″ in height. I accessorised with diamante stud earrings, and a fairly simple silver necklace and bracelet, all under a smart jacket. Except being a miserable day, I then had a dark blue scarf and a black woolen mid-length overcoat. As I slowly got dressed and made up, I looked in the mirror and I saw a mature(ish) professional woman staring back. It felt like I had got it right.
For the first time, I left the house on a weekday morning as me, I dropped the two kids to school and Mrs K to work, and then I made my way up to the Clinic. I needn’t have worried about the time, I was there shortly after 8.30am, and I ended up sitting in the car for 15 minutes playing about on my phone before I decided I had better go in. A woman saw me loitering just inside the entrance and asked who I was there to see. I gave the name of my therapist and asked if it was my first time. I replied that yes it was, and she went into reception to pull a poly pocket containing four or five sheets of paper with various questions on it. She showed me to the empty waiting area, handed me a pen, and asked me to complete the questionnaires while I was waiting for the appointment to begin.
The questions covered several straightforward topics like confidentiality, next of kin details and other family members living with me, but also delved into my mental health background. Some of the questions were asking if I had ever self-harmed, if I had suicidal thoughts, and asking me to rate my mood and state of mind on scales of 1-10 in various areas. The thing is, what with all the progress I have made towards transition in recent weeks, and how remarkably well all my friends, family and work have taken the news of me being trans, I am feeling so good, happy and positive about everything at the minute. This is of course a good thing. However as I wrote that I wasn’t suffering from anything right now, I couldn’t help but think “My god, this isn’t really making me look like someone in desparate need of help is it?”
I had just completed the questionnaire when my therapist put her head round the door of the waiting area. “Kirsty?” she asked. I was impressed. I haven’t done my deed poll yet, so my legal name is not yet Kirsty, and my appointment letter was addressed to Mr Bob, but I had had a bit of email correspondence with some other people in the clinic in which I had mentioned that I used the name Kirsty. She had obviously done her homework. She asked which I would prefer she addressed me by, Kirsty or Bob. I’m sure you know the answer.
I had been warned to allow at least two hours for the appointment. I went into the consultation room a few minutes after 9am, and apart from a brief toilet break after about 90 minutes, I didn’t emerge until around 11.40. I talked a lot. She asked me a lot of questions. I mean a lot. But nothing I couldn’t handle. The only slightly negative thing I might say is that I feared that some of my answers might not be the best thing to say. For example, I was asked how I felt about the changes my body underwent at puberty, and I honestly replied that I wanted the male changes to be more marked. I wanted to be more muscly, have broader shoulders, a deeper voice, hairy limbs etc. Not because I really wanted those things as an end in themselves, but because I thought they might help me fit in and be accepted as a man, which certainly wasn’t happening. And still isn’t. Because I’m not a man. But I didn’t realise that at the time, or at least I was determined to compartmentalise the female part of me.
To be honest, at least 75% of what we spoke about could be gleaned from reading this blog from start to finish. Although that would take a lot longer than 2 and 1/2 hours! There was a lot of talk about childhood, how early these feelings began – conveniently I have a strong memory about wanting to be a girl tied up with my sister’s wedding, which means that I can definitively say I have had these feelings since I was at least 7, and possibly earlier. I spoke about dressing up in my mum’s clothes when I was a teenager, and everything that has happened in these last three amazing years. We even spoke about this blog, about friends like Michelle, Ruth and especially Andrea. About my experience at the TransLiving weekend and the effect that had on me (despite it not actually being very good).
We also spoke about my plans for transition. As I had hoped, my therapist did think that my progress had been very good and very positive (with a special word of admiration for Amy and how she has reacted to the news that her dad’s going to be her mum), and she even agreed with my decision not to do my deed poll yet in order to avoid confusion in the mortgage application and house buying process. So much so good.
We spoke then about next steps. My therapist wants me to write a potted history of my trans experience (lucky I have a bit of experience in writing about such things, eh?), and to bring that with me to my next appointment which is on 6th April. The next appointment is for me to meet all the staff at the clinic and to understand what they can all do for me, and for them to get to know me as a patient. But she assured me that no appointment would be as long as this one, or as mentally draining. She also mentioned that they would like to have a meeting with someone who knows me well. Someone who can corroborate what I have been saying. I don’t necessarily think that means that GIC are looking for a good friend or family member to say “Yes, she’s definitely a woman”, more that they want to make sure that I’m being honest in my assessment of myself, and in particular about my mental health. I genuinely don’t think I have any mental health issues, but perhaps if I did I wouldn’t realise it. Mrs K would appear to be the obvious candidate for such an appointment, but she would of course have to agree to do it, which is far from certain. Truth is, I haven’t asked her yet. I’m not avoiding the subject, she’s just out tonight so I haven’t actually seen her since my appointment.
And that was that. I was astonished that it had gone on so long. It felt like it was over so quickly, but all in all it was a good experience. My fears that it might be a case of me having to justify my existence as a woman were largely unfounded, although let’s see what the future brings.
From the clinic I headed back into Belfast to Holohan’s Pantry, a restaurant in Belfast’s University area. SAIL’s offices are fairly close by, so Beth and I had agreed to go for lunch in that part of town rather than in the centre where our office is. I found the restaurant on Trip Advisor, where it is the second best reviewed restaurant in the city out of over 800. It’s also quite informal, and I liked it a lot. Beth and I arrived almost together. I went in first, said I had made a reservation, and all of a sudden Beth was behind me. She said she saw me walking in ahead of her. And from the moment we saw each other, I knew it was all going to be ok. She was great. There were a few stray “Bobs” early in the conversation, but after the first 10 minutes it was Kirsty this, Kirsty that and Kirsty the other. We had a really lovely lunch too – check out the seafood Boxty(!) – with just the two of us for around an hour. Beth asked loads of questions, all the time saying I should only answer what I’m comfortable with, and I was of course happy to answer. She admitted that she had been a little nervous about how she would react upon meeting the real me in the flesh, and she said that she could see Bob in me, but I just looked so natural and relaxed as Kirsty that she could see instantly it was the real me and she felt relaxed and comfortable in my presence. And as my sister Patsy had told me a week or so earlier, Beth told me not to be ashamed of my height and to own it. As I have said before, Beth is nearly 5’11” so knows a thing or two about being a tall woman, plus her daughter is now the same height as her and at 13 years old she has a bit to grow yet. So her advice to me is the same as to her daughter. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, don’t hide your height, don’t stoop to try to look smaller, and if you like wearing heels and they make you feel good about yourself, wear heels, whatever height you like. It was just great.
We had just ordered dessert shortly before 2pm when Kelly arrived. She was only planning on joining us for coffee, and she did just that, although she had to watch Beth and I polish off our rather scrummy cheesecake first. It was really nice having Kelly there, because when she was there we didn’t speak about me being trans, about my transition, in fact we didn’t even speak about work. We were just three women having a chat and a giggle. It was so good. By around 2.30 we got the bill (Beth’s treat 🤗) and decided to make our way to SAIL’s offices. As Beth was settling up the bill and Kelly and I were walking out the door, Kelly leaned across to me and said “I didn’t get to tell you this back there, but you look fabulous”. Thanks. I feel fabulous too.
It was a longer walk than I had expected round to SAIL, but that wasn’t a problem. Quite the reverse in fact. It was wonderful. For want of a better phrase, I had a moment. Here I was, walking along through the city, dressed in a similar fashion to my two companions from work, three professional-looking women walking along a city street. I had a huge feeling of just belonging, of everything being just right, in a way that I can honestly say I have never felt before in my entire life. I felt like I belonged. Of course I couldn’t say anything to them, but it was there. I didn’t feel awkward, I didn’t feel out of place, I just felt right. It’s an amazing feeling after a lifetime of sitting on the fringes not fitting in.
So round to SAIL we went where we met Simon and Ellen, who were very helpful indeed. What I hadn’t realised was that Kelly had sent them my MoU in advance of the meeting to see if they could make any recommendations, suggest anything that I might have omitted, or any howlers that I had committed. It seems there were none, although it is still incomplete as there are a fair few TBAs and TBCs and even one TBD (To Be Discussed). Most of what we spoke about was around the communication problem, who gets told what when and by whom, and they helped us come to a decision about at least part of that. And we think we have identified the group of people who will receive the awareness training, although we need to further discuss the content and timescale for delivery. I also got a good few personal tips around various support networks, in fact Simon put me in contact with another woman who transitioned 6 years ago in a very similar position to me (in her 40’s, married, two kids aged 6 and 11, reasonably responsible job etc, although she managed to remain married to her “Mrs K”). I ended up speaking to her on the phone this evening and we talked for half an hour about all sorts. Maybe we’ll meet up for a coffee at some stage. But the upshot of the conversation was that I feel happy that I’m going about things the right way – if there is a right way.
After we left SAIL that feeling returned. I was just another woman in a group of three and I can’t get that feeling out of my head. It was just so right. Then the downside hit me when Beth spoke
“I don’t know how I’m going to cope with you coming back into work as Bob tomorrow!”
She doesn’t know how she’s going to cope! How on earth am I going to cope? Having been through this afternoon with Beth and Kelly, I just want to go to work and do my job as me. I am no longer worried. I’m not naive, there will be difficulties, there are bound to be. But I will be ok. I will be better than ok. I am a woman. We cope. Three more months. Or maybe four.
I thought that was the end of the adventures for the day, but I drove home to find Amy waiting for me. Her school was on a half-day as the school rugby team was playing in the semi-final of the Schools Cup (it’s actually quite a big deal in the Northern Ireland egg-chasing world apparently) and the entire school had been given the afternoon off so they could go and support their team. Or in Amy’s case, so they could come home and fritter away their afternoon on an iPad. I arrived home shortly before 4pm, and I knew that I would have to collect Melissa from her after-school club at around 5.30 and I would have to do that as Bob. But there was still plenty of time before I needed to get changed, so I just stayed as I was and made a coffee for myself and a cup of tea for Amy. We hadn’t been sitting there long when I saw a person-shape blur past the front window, and heard the doorbell ring. I asked Amy to go to the door, and when she did I heard the ominous phrase
“Is your dad in?”
Amy came sheepishly into the living room where I was sitting in my full feminine glory and told me it was Fiona, our next door neighbour. The one who is a teacher at Melissa’s primary school. I had been informed by Melissa’s teacher that Fiona knew, was supportive and had said she would drop round some time. Although since that was three weeks ago and she hadn’t yet dropped round, I did wonder if she was going to. Obviously she had seen my car in the driveway a little earlier than usual and had decided to take the bull by the horns. So I told Amy just to let her know how I was presenting at that moment. I heard Amy say
“She’s a woman at the minute”
Probably as good a phrase as she could have used. I heard Fiona shouting in at me
“If you’re not comfortable with me coming in it’s fine”
“Fiona, I don’t mind if you don’t mind”
So in she came. She took one look at me and said “You look really good”. And we chatted for 10 minutes, just a quick overview of what was happening. She offered any support she could, just ask if we thought of anything she or her husband Richard (also a primary school teacher, but at a different school) could manage. I explained that I would be moving out in a few months, and that perhaps Mrs K might need their support more than I would after that happens, but it was all very good. She even offered to help with the neighbours. I will in due course tell the other next-door neighbours on the other side but beyond that I have no plans to inform anyone else personally, so it looks like Fiona might help with that – if not exactly actively spreading the word, certainly allaying any fears. It was an unexpected and very nice way to round off the afternoon.
So there you have it. I am now a patient of Belfast GIC. Ever more detailed plans are afoot for transition in work and at home. I have been with work colleagues as Kirsty and felt utterly, wonderfully at ease. And a neighbour has met the new me. Not bad for a single day.