Friday, 15 February 2008

Becoming Jen (Part 4)

Virtualy Angels
To Claire and Joanne

I cannot underplay the importance the internet has played in my story.
I stumbled upon the UK Angels web site about 6 years ago. It was an all embracing one stop Transgender site, with Chatroom, Forum, Webring, News, Advice and Shopping links.
I was amazed and then comforted by the size of the on line Transgender Community. These were people just like me, all be it more convincing as women, and there were literally thousands and thousands of them, from all walks of life and all the nooks and crannies of the world. A massive underground hidden movement, all bound together with their need to express an alternative gender. I was one of them. For the first time I had found a place in the world that I could belong to. For a while I just hovered around these sites like a curious bee, looking through a Florist’s window. I spent weeks just gazing at some of the gorgeous girls and reading their stories. Being married my hovering was restricted to after hours, while Caroline was fast asleep. When asked what I was doing I would mumble (by that I mean lie) about playing online war games. More deceit, which however necessary still leaves a scar of regret in the recesses of my memories. I still had a hurdle to overcome to properly feel part of this community, and that was my utter lack of confidence and self esteem. Although I had been dressing since I was 10, I had not developed any style or skill with my appearance. I bought clothes without any real thought about how they would look on me, and often it was just anything that would fit. I had never seriously experimented with make up, and would have no idea where to get a wig. I looked a mess. The idea of leaving the house was restricted to a quick dash around the block in the darkest of night with a headscarf for disguise. Some of these girls on the net were living and socialising just as real girls in the city! They were absolulutely fabulous creatures. They were at once wonderful and intimidating. How could I ever aspire to be part of this movement? One night, after a few months of being a passive bystander, tired and frustrated by my lack of progress, from somewhere, the courage that had eluded me for so long enveloped me, and I decided to join the Chatroom. This would be the first time I had let anyone through my ritualised defences to see me as a female, be it a virtual one. Joining a Chatroom as a woman may seem such a small step looking back, but it was a huge turning point for me at the time. I cannot emphasise how nervous and excited I was.

The first thing you have to decide when joining a Chatroom is your female name. Being an indecisive creature at heart I struggled with this for the next hour. Early options were Debbie or Michelle, in the end I settled for Jenny, for no other reason was that it was phonetically similar to my given name. I am comfortable with my name now and think it suits me, but sometimes I wish I had given it more thoughtful deliberation, particularly when it comes to the Geoff/Jen confusion (See post to come). I entered my profile “Jenny Harvey, T-Girl, 34 from Stoke-on-Trent, Stuck in the closet”(see Transwottsit? post) I clicked enter... Jenny was born!...I was immediately confronted with a list of names down one side and rapidly scrolling comments down the other. The names were expectedly mainly female, but there were a few male names, some of which had admirer attached. The protocol seemed to be to enter “Hi” into the room. I was immediately met with half a dozen, “Hi”s, “Hiya”s and “Welcome” Jenny. I was in...What should I say? I had absolutely no idea, not a sausage! The conversation in the room was fast and multithreaded. There appeared to be almost private correspondence between some girls, others were joining in more general chat. The topics ranged from dressing and nights out, to films and cars! There were plenty of bitchy comments and some terms and abbreviations I didn’t really grasp. There were also lots and lots of “babe”s and “Hon”s and “xxxxxx”s. If anyone left the room there would be long drawn out goodbyes. I found the whole thing bewildering. For that first night my input did not progress beyond “Hi”. After half an hour I was automatically kicked out by the software due to my non participation. Although the experience was somewhat bittersweet, like that first spluttering cigarette, I was hooked and would definitely be back. Over the next few weeks I managed to get slightly more involved, actually joining in with the conversations where I could, but I still felt a bit of an outsider. That was until Claire came into the room...

Claire and I slowly started to chat together. She was lovely and could tell I was new to this. She seemed to chat on line so naturally and she started to make me feel accepted. We talked and talked about all things girly. She had a great knowledge of fashion. We would talk all through the night till we were the only ones left in the room. Much of our talk was fanciful about what we would do if we were real girls. We tended to steer away from our mundane male lives. All I really knew about Claire was that she worked as a builder and lived in Portsmouth. Even so I started to regard her as a close friend. We exchanged phone numbers so we could text as well, but to this day we have never spoken. One night Claire out of the blue suggested we both go out dressed for a night time walk and text each other while we were doing so. It would be like we were real girl pals. I did not have the courage to do so with Caroline in the next room so to my shame I pretended. Claire may well have been pretending too, but that didn’t really matter. My life up to then had been filled with pretence and I never thought being a girl would ever be a reality. During the next few months Claire and I became chartroom stars. Other girls would join in our conversations and we developed a circle of virtual friends. I mention a few men came into the room. These called themselves “Admirers” and would sometimes chat us up. I even developed into a bit of a flirt.. Although Claire and I were good friends, in some ways we were very different. Claire was much more into the fantasy of dressing. For me the longing was to just live normally as a woman, so I was always more keen to talk about real life. A new girl Joanne joined the room. We didn’t click immediately due to my petty jealousy. She initially chatted to Claire a lot, and I got a bit pathetically envious. Claire was my virtual T-Girl pal not hers. Anyway after a few nights of pointlessly ignoring her I grew up a bit and started to include her. Pretty soon I realised we were kindred spirits. A few years younger than me and from Leeds, married with a young son but very much like me in her gender unhappiness. Joanne and I became very close, talking about our real lives and we found we had lots of interests in common. She was also very funny. We too exchanged phone number, but Joanne was keen to actually talk. So we started phoning each other at night, voices hushed with our respective wives next door.
This virtual phase of my life continued for 18 months or more. Much of the time I recall being absolutely knackered from chatting till 4 or 5 in the morning. Both Claire and Joanne will always be very important to me even though we may never meet. None of us visit that Chatroom any more, and we only send the odd text between us now. Nevertheless, they both helped get me through some of my hardest times, which were not always connected with my with my gender unhappiness. Without their friendship, kindness and encouragement in the UK Angels Chatroom, I would certainly still be walled up behind those well constructed closet defences. For that they will always be in my memories.

...Phew, that was a long one. Next stop, Jenny sees the light of day!....
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Cut out and Keep (Copy & Paste) Guide to Transgender Chatrooms
1) Profile : If you have a Pic and some info, you are more likely to be engaged in conversations.
2) Shorthand : TV = Transvestite, TS =Transsexual, T-Girl=Transgendered
3) Other Visitors : Admirers - Men attracted to Transgendered woman ; GG/RG-Genetic or Real Girls ; Trolls - A malevolent presence, usually with a hatred of any person of difference, mercifully rare.
4) Age - Whether we are 18 or 80 we are all called Girls , which now I'm 40 is a bonus!
5) Text Speak : Everyone seems to use txt abbr. ie lol, brb,imho and more. It is very irritating!
6) Moderators : Members of the chatroom, who suppervise and possibly remove anyone being abusive (see Trolls)
7) Sexual Terms : The better rooms wont allow certain terms. Often got around with use of "*%$&!"s etc
8) Terms of endearment : Everyone is called "babe" apparently!
9) Time : For gawds sake get to bed when its 4 in the morning and you have to be at work at 7am. From personal experience!
Final Note : If you are new and nervous, jump in. This is a supportive and welcoming community. You will always find someone with experiences just like yours. It could be a step to change your life.

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brad said...

It wasn't that long, but interesting. Reminded me of the days when I used to chat. You found some friendship within it that helped you, which is good, of course.

Jenny Harvey said...

It's long at my typing speed!
Chatrooms get some bad press, but for connecting a disparate community such as Transgendered people, its a vital resource

Anonymous said...

I never knew that bit about you not liking me at first Jen.Or at least I didn't pick up on it at the time.