I have been living full time as a woman for two months now. I have been back at work for a day over six weeks. In that time I have encountered nothing but positivity from friends, family and colleagues alike. But more than just those three categories. In fact, I have encountered huge amounts of positivity from people who, if not complete strangers, are only barely known to me, in work at least. Thanks to my employer’s sterling efforts in briefing all the staff in my building (several hundred of them), my clients (approximately 80 small and medium sized businesses), key staff in the company’s 40 or so other offices throughout Northern Ireland and the cumulative effect of the bush telegraph, I now find myself in the rather surprising position of feeling like I am the most famous woman in the world. Or at least in my little part of it. It’s odd, to say the least.
I have always valued my anonymity. I don’t particularly like being noticed. I don’t mean being read; even before I commenced my transition when I was still “him”, I always preferred to go unnoticed. I hate getting engaged in an off-topic conversation with a sales assistant or service provider. I’m not great at small talk. I thoroughly despise fawning American-style customer service, which always strikes me as deeply fake:
“Hi, my name is Bob, I’ll be your server. I hope you’re having a good day. Isn’t it a lovely day? Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?” (reads name on credit card) “So Kirsty, what can I do for you today? I can recommend product x, y or z. Have you tried product q? It’s amazing, I love it. Well Kirsty, have you decided what you want? And would you like fries with that?”
Just stop it! It makes me uncomfortable. I want good old-fashioned British/Irish-style customer service:
“What do you want? There you go. Now f*** off.”
No hidden agendas, I like it.
So where am I going with this? Really just to say that I feel uncomfortable being engaged in conversation by strangers whom I wouldn’t normally expect to attempt to engage me in conversation. Which brings me to work…
Suddenly I find the everyone knows who I am. Within the first couple of days back at work, there was a steady stream of people coming up to me at my desk to wish me well and ask how I was faring with my transition. Everyone who approached me did so with the purest of motives. However when people who didn’t even acknowledge my existence as Bob, wouldn’t have even nodded in acknowledgement when we passed in the street, suddenly decide to come and say hello with a “Hiya Kirsty, how are you settling in?”, well it makes me feel quite awkward. I mean, obviously it’s better than people telling me I’m a disgusting pervert and that hell would freeze over before they think of me as female. I’m not complaining about the support. I’m complaining about the social awkwardness I feel when people that I don’t know, and whom I feel don’t know me, are suddenly calling me by my first name and asking how I’m doing as if I was a long-lost friend.
I did a professional exam last weekend (Monitoring and Identifying Early Warning Signs of Financial Distress – bet you’re jealous), and as I was standing nervously outside the exam hall a woman whom I didn’t recognise at all, offered a breezy “Hi Kirsty!” as she walked past. Who on earth is she and how does she know me?
Our office cleaner, who hasn’t said “Boo!” to me in 5 years, struck up a conversation in the lift yesterday. Actually, that one was really nice, she said that I “even walk happier” since beginning my transition. Which of course put even more of a spring in my step. So it’s not all bad at all.
On another positive note in work, the woman who had previously turned around and gone into the disabled loo any time she saw me in the ladies, appears to have got over herself and started to come in while I’m still there. Thank goodness for that.
In my previous post I wrote about my birthday party at my sister Patsy’s house. In a way the best part of my birthday was yet to come. On the day itself my daughters presented me with a card addressed to “Mum”. On the front it said “Wonderful Mum”. I’m Mum. My ex is Mummy. They are still finding it a bit weird to say it out loud, but receiving that card, for a female parent, well it meant everything. Probably cost 29p in the Card Factory.
It wasn’t just my birthday at the end of August, a week after my own birthday is my younger daughter Melissa’s big day. She is now 8. Back at the end of the previous school year, as Bob I had made a reservation for a kids party at a local indoor play centre. It’s a good place, fun for the kids, a reasonable coffee shop for the adults, and the staff take orders for the McDonald’s next door so all the kids get a Happy Meal after they have finished playing. A lot less hassle than having a crowd of 7 and 8 year olds in my house!
As I said, I had booked the party back at the end of June so the invites could be given out to Melissa’s classmates before school finished, as the party would be just before the new school year began. When school finished at the end of June I was still living as male. None of Melissa’s classmates nor, significantly, their parents, would have been aware of my transition. When we have had Melissa’s birthday party in previous years it was always me and my ex there, and there is no doubt that the other parents would have been expecting Bob and Mrs Bob yet again. So as the day of the party approached I grew increasingly nervous about how they might react when suddenly confronted with the person they knew as Melissa’s dad looking let’s say surprisingly feminine. I was even playing out worst-case-scenarios with some of them refusing to leave their kids in my presence. I was concerned.
In any social group there is usually one person who is the alpha, the group’s leader, the one with the highest social standing. Not necessarily highest social class, but the person who leads the conversation and gives direction to the group. The undoubted alpha female in what my ex calls the “Mummy Network” is a woman called Anne, who is the mother of one of Melissa’s closest school friends. As the time of the party approached my ex and I were seated on a bench at the side of the lobby area at the play centre. The first people to arrive were Anne and her daughter. Melissa leapt up enthusiastically to hug her friend, whom she hadn’t seen in nearly 2 months, and my ex got up to greet Anne while I continued to sit sheepishly on the bench. I heard Anne say hello to my ex, then she looked over at me. I was terrified. I waited for her to exclaim “OH. MY. GOD. What the hell are you dressed like that for Bob???” But that’s not what she said. She turned back to my ex and asked her
“Is this your sister?”
Despite the circumstances, Melissa’s birthday party, with Melissa and my ex, Anne didn’t recognise Bob at all. And not only did she not recognise Bob, she didn’t see me as anything other that completely female. Which I am, obviously. My ex pretty much ignored her question. Anne asked my ex once more if I was her sister and looked over at me again. I smiled and beckoned her over to me, but she didn’t move. My ex clearly was trying to ignore the issue. So I got up and walked slowly across to Anne, who had turned away from me by this stage. I tapped her on the arm and she turned back towards me.
“I used to be Bob”
Anne did one of the all-time greatest comedy double-takes in history. Her jaw literally dropped. She couldn’t speak. She was in shock.
“I’m in shock”
Yes, I kind of gathered that.
“But how? When? Oh my god, you look amazing, I would never have known. I really just thought you were [my ex]’s sister.”
So I explained a little about how I had reached this point, that I had been living as a woman since early July, and that I had been back at work as a woman for four weeks. That my ex and I had separated and would be divorcing, that Melissa had been aware of my transition since early February and seemed fine with everything.
“I just can’t believe it. I’m in shock. I mean, congratulations, I’m really happy for you. I hope it all continues to go well. And well done to you both for dealing with this so well together.”
And that was that. My secret was out in the Mummy Network. As it happened, Anne was the only parent who stayed with my ex and me for the duration. Other parents dropped their kids off and left, to return to collect them later. I am convinced that not one of them recognised the old me, believing me to be probably Melissa’s auntie. I spoke to many of them, interacted with them, handed out slices of birthday cake. Not one noticeable reaction.
As I was heading over to pay for the party, Anne called out to me by my new name. It was so nice to hear. She bought me a coffee. As we were sitting back at our table, Anne’s daughter came over. She pointed at my cup and asked her mum
“Whose coffee is that?”
“This lady here that’s sitting with us”
That made me smile.
As I was unwinding at home later that night, my phone beeped with the Facebook Messenger noise. It was a message from a “new contact”. It was Anne, but at first I didn’t recognise her surname. Only when I read the first line of the message did the penny drop.
Just wanted to say a big well done for what you did today, … u both did fantastic & thank you for being so open with me, you looked fanastic & so proud that you have found the courage to be you
I mentioned in reply that I had been a little nervous but I was very grateful for her positive reaction, and at least now she would know who that big tall woman collecting Melissa from school was.
I’m a tall person (she’s at least 5’10”) so u r not a big tall person, please don’t ever think that just be proud of being tall that’s what I tell [her daughter] all the time … I am really so so proud of u for the courage uve shown, I know u have ur own circle of friends but I’m here if u ever want a chat xx
People can be so great.
One further very small comment. On Tuesday night I went to a talk by two police officers entitled “Transphobia: How the Police can help”, which had been organised by the Belfast Butterfly Club. It was well-attended and pretty interesting. But I mention it not because of the content, but because as we left the large room where the talk took place and moved downstairs for a cup of tea, a person whom I hadn’t met before and who was presenting male said hello. I said hello back. Then he said
“I read your blog. It’s very good.”
Aw, thank you. And if you’re still here, hello! Thank you for reading. Turns out this was the first time he (or maybe that should be she, but he told me his name which I won’t repeat here, and it was a male name) had ever come to any sort of trans event. So if I played even a tiny part in helping someone start to acknowledge who they are and begin to do something about it, well it’s very gratifying indeed. This type of “fame” I can cope with. He did add
“I don’t think I’m quite at your level”
“I didn’t used to think I was at my level either”
Ain’t that the truth!