In my previous, rather momentous post, I mentioned in passing that Simon from SAIL had put me in contact with another trans woman who transitioned around six years ago in a very similar domestic and employment situation to myself. Her name is Karen, and she and I ended up speaking on the phone for a good half an hour later that evening. Something I didn’t mention in the post was that she had encouraged me to come along to a support group at SAIL that she chairs on the first Tuesday of every month. I was a bit non-committal because, well, Tuesdays aren’t great for me although that fact that the group was specifically for adult transitioning women meant that I did think it might be useful. The fact is, Mrs K has a regular Tuesday social gathering that she has been attending without fail for around six months now. I did ask her if she could give up one week so I could try this out, but she wouldn’t even entertain the possibility. Which left me thinking I might have to give it a miss.
Sunday past was the monthly meeting of my book group. We did something we rarely do this month and delved into classic fiction rather than reading something fairly recently published. Our choice for March was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I had never read it before. This is probably not news to many of you, but wow. What a book. Written with such a light touch and surprisingly funny in places, it has so many layers and such incredible depth, but at the same time still a joy to read. It’s just over 300 pages long, and I read about 240 of them on a single rainy Saturday. Ostensibly it’s about a child (Scout Finch, the narrator), her brother Jem and her lawyer father Atticus, and her observations of life in the deep south of the USA in the 1930’s. The centrepiece is the trial of a black man accusing of raping a white woman, and Atticus’ defence of the man, plus the lead-up to and consequences of this trial. But ultimately it’s about so much more. Social standing, hierarchy, morality, childhood. If you’ve never read it before, put that right immediately. It is now our book group’s all-time highest rated book, by quite a margin. There are so many wonderful quotes, but one from Atticus particularly sticks with me.
…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
No matter what other people might think, what the prevailing view might be, you have to do what’s right for yourself. In transitioning, I am finally going to be able to live with myself. Thanks, Atticus.
I had been out doing a grocery shop prior to the book group, and when I returned my daughter Amy told me that her Auntie Patsy (my sister) had called looking for me, and had said she would call back later. Since I was going out again, I called her myself as I was driving to the book group. As I suspected, she was looking to see how I had got on at GIC the previous Tuesday, and so I suggested that I call in after the book group and tell her face to face. Which I did. Both Patsy, her husband Frank and their son James were there, so James became the first of my nieces and nephews to meet their Auntie Kirsty. All was well. Although at one point when Patsy and I became engaged in a conversation about perfume you could see the two men switching off. James’ girlfriend arrived later so she got to meet me too and said hello. But the main reason for me relating this visit was that I just casually asked Patsy if she was available on Tuesday night. Yes she was, and when I explained why I was asking (so I could go to the SAIL support group) she couldn’t agree quickly enough. She really does want to help in any way she can.
Fast forward to last night and Patsy arrived at 6.30pm as arranged to find me just about ready to go and my daughters in the middle of eating their dinner. She then mentioned something that really touched me. Our parents are both dead more than 20 years. When our dad died, I got his signet ring, which I still wear all the time as Bob. My mum gave it to him when they got engaged, and it has their names and the year – 1947 – inscribed on the inside. I ended up being the recipient of it in quite a “Goldilocks”-like fashion. My brothers tried it on, but it was too big for one and too small for the other, but when I tried it on it fitted just right. However, as I have already thought and as Patsy pointed out too, it is very clearly a man’s ring and I can’t possibly wear it when I go full time. I had considered offering it to one of my brothers or nephews, but Patsy said I should keep it, and if either of my daughters ever have a son then he can have it. But his leaves me without a parental memento. Not for long, it seems. Patsy and our other sister Hilary have been talking, and they are trying to think of an item of our mother’s that they could give to me. When my mum died, most of her items were split between my sisters, including her wedding and engagement rings, my grandmother’s wedding ring, and lots of other items of jewellery – unsurprisingly, my mum had plenty of jewellery whereas my dad had a single ring. Unfortunately Hilary had all of her jewellery stolen in a burglary around 10 years ago, so half of my mum’s jewellery collection is gone too, but Patsy passed a few items on to her after that. This sounds like there’s a huge collection, but there’s not really, however there should be enough to go round. So anyway, Patsy and Hilary are trying to decide what would be appropriate to give to me, be it a ring, a pair of earrings, bracelet or whatever. Just a momento of our mother. Because as Patsy said to me, “She would have wanted you to have something, because you’re her daughter too”.
Eventually I did get away, and shortly after 7.30pm I walked into SAIL’s premises, where I had visited with Beth and Kelly from work a week earlier. I was somewhat taken aback when I went in. I recognised Karen from her picture on Facebook pretty much right away, and went up and introduced myself. But when I looked at everyone else who was there? I hate myself for saying this, but the passability quotient was very low. It’s not right that I’m saying that, but I’m going to continue to be as honest as possible on this blog and that’s what I immediately thought. We had people dressed like they had just been out turning tricks. We had someone cursed with a very masculine facial structure (nothing she can really do about that of course) but with long hair and make-up, coupled with a lumberjack shirt, loose-fitting jeans containing legs spread apart at 90º. We had someone who appeared to be presenting completely male apart from a rather bizarre pink glittery wig. And most jarring of all, we had someone presenting as something like a male/female chimera, close-cropped receding hair, face covered in make-up, a man’s shirt, a brown tartan A-line skirt, tan tights going into men’s socks and men’s brown leather shoes. Could be that this person is non-binary, but I’m not so I wasn’t entirely comfortable with them. I felt very awkward and more than a little bit shallow.
I must stress that the awkwardness was entirely my problem and is much to my discredit. I know that I am very fortunate to look reasonably presentable and any attention I do get seems to be more about my height than looking obviously trans. I am even more fortunate to have come through the process of outing myself to family and friends without losing anyone along the way so far. To proceed with transition in more difficult circumstances, I’m in some ways in awe of these people. My sympathy is clearly greatest with those who have difficulties over which they have no control. If you have a big hooked nose, a lantern jaw and shoulders like an American Footballer, the torment must be so much the greater. But for those who just dress or otherwise present in a manner which I find inappopriate or jarring, there are two possibilities. One, they want to look like that. In which case, good luck to them. They have my full moral support in looking whatever way they want to look, but I would feel very ill-at-ease in their company outside the walled garden of a trans support group – again, this is my problem not theirs. Two, they believe that they are presenting in a blend-in manner, in which case I just think “Open your eyes!”. I actually hope that it’s the former. But you know what, as I got talking to these people, the initial impressions faded and they’re just people.
One of the first questions I was asked was how long I had been on hormones. The answer – I’m not – seemed to surprise some people. Then one of the girls said that she wasn’t allowed to start hormones until she had been clean for six months. My heart went out to her. I actually spoke to her quite a bit and she was a warm, funny person, but clearly with demons to fight. I think I began to understand the need for that mental health questionnaire at GIC a bit better.
After about 15 minutes several other people arrived, and this second wave all seemed to be qualitatively different. They just seemed like a group of women, which they were. There was one person in particular called Claire that I had a really good chat with, and we seemed to get on very well. She’s probably at a similar stage to my BFF Andrea in that she’s been at GIC for a while and is hoping for GRS by the end of the year. But what was really interesting was that it emerged in conversation that she works in an office literally across the road from mine. We could actually wave at each other from our office windows! So once I’m full time, we have agreed to be occasional lunch buddies. Cool!
I had a good chat with Karen too. The similarities in our backgrounds are very clear, and she gives me a lot of hope. Although one obvious difference is that Karen and Mrs Karen (the other Mrs K!!!) have remained together through her transition, which will not be the case for me and Mrs K. Karen actually offered on her wife’s behalf for her wife to meet up with Mrs K for a coffee and a chat, just so Mrs K could actually speak face to face with someone else who has been through the experience of seeing her husband turn into a woman. I think she might even have thought there could be potential to save my marriage, but since Mrs K has an appointment with a solicitor on Friday this week to commence divorce proceedings, it might be a little late in the day for that. And also, I’m no longer sure that I want to save the marriage even if she had a change of heart.
Something else I learned from Karen and Claire was that there is a treatment available via GIC which I thought could only be obtained privately. FFS. That’s facial feminisation surgery, not as I had previously understood that to mean, for f**k’s sake. It’s not something I had ever considered, although possibly this may have been because it seemed like unjustifiable expense. If I was going to pay for surgery privately, then depending on how HRT goes it would be more likely to be “top surgery”, i.e. a boob job. But now the seed is planted in my head, I would like a thinner, finer nose. But maybe not that much that I would want to go under the knife. The way the girls explained it to me was that the surgeon’s aim was to put your face back to what it would have been without testosterone. I’d say it’s still unlikely that I would go for it, but never say never.
In the end I was there for something approaching two hours, and the longer it went on, the more comfortable I felt. I would still have the same reservations about going out in public with a number of the people there, but that’s no different to some others I have already met. In the interests of my own safety and survival, I don’t want to be with someone who is going to draw attention to me. Selfish maybe, but that’s how I feel. But for all that, I have still agreed to go for a bowling & burger evening with a few of them (including the aforementioned Karen and Claire) in a couple of weeks, so that’s something to look forward to.
I got home to find Patsy had played a blinder while I was away and done all my ironing – what a star! She asked how I’d got on, and I told her by and large I had had a good experience, and she’s already booked in for babysitting on the bowling night, although she asked about what the other people were like. I said
“Well they were all very nice although there were some that looked… er… I don’t want to sound unkind”
“Like Walter Matthau in a dress?”
Nice callback sis! This was a reference to our brother John’s TV story that he told at Hilary’s 60th birthday party a while back. Again as then, Patsy was so sympathetic to everyone. And I am too, as well as feeling horribly conflicted about my attitude to some. But more than all that, she was asking about the group and she actually asked if there were any groups that she could come to with me, or be of assistance with. It seems she has been beavering away researching all things trans ever since I came out to her and she is determined to do whatever is in her power to help with my transition. She even ended up talking about the surgery, which is obviously still several years away, and says that when it happens she will come over to England with me for the surgery if I have nobody else. Then when it’s over I am under no circumstances to be at home by myself, and I have to come and stay with her while I recover so she can nurse me back to fitness. And even before then, she asked was I ok going to GIC by myself, did I want her to come with me. I was touched, but politely refused – judging by my first experience, I don’t need my hand held like that. I’m sure many people do and that’s fine, but I feel I’m doing ok. She said one last thing to me
“You know, this is the third time now I have met you as my sister, and every time it gets better and easier. At first I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing Bob again, but now I realise it’s not like you’re a different person. Bob’s still there, and I don’t have to say goodbye.”