Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Becoming Jen (Part 12)

Bottled of Hastings

Spring 95. By now I had “Come out” to 2 people in my life. I hate the phrase come out, it feels so old fashioned n the modern world, and implies that forceful act. My close colleague at work knew about the better side of my life, and my friend Vicky had actually met the new improved model! (Me… Complete with air bags and a new paint job!). However, I was still a long way from living and breathing as a woman. I still had the biggest stumbling block to overcome. My immediate family. I honestly had no idea how I could ever tell them about me. I am not at all sure I ever could have done it on my own terms. This was in no way down to any views they held on such issues. It was all due to my own insecurities and lack of courage. Sometimes people tell me I’m brave to have undergone my transformation. I vehemently disagree. Every decision I have taken was only at the point when I had nothing to lose. I referred to seizing the day in my earlier post, but to be honest I am the least likely person to seize anything. I would more likely just “wave and nod in the general direction the day”! In my journey, everything that happened was because the circumstance and time was right. Yes I concede you might think it brave to walk out in the daylight for the first time dressed as a woman, when you are as clumsy and awkward as me. However, when I think of the struggles many other people face on a daily basis, mine seem to pale in comparison. Mind you the first time I walked down steep stairs inn high heels and false boobs, that meant I couldn’t see my feet... Now that was brave!

Back to my family. As I said I am not totally sure I would have ever told them on my own volition. Without their knowledge I am therefore not sure I could ever have progressed. Although I was always careful where I went out as Jen, I wasn’t overly concerned about being spotted by someone from work. My worry was that once the secret was out it would get back to my family! Luckily as usual circumstances took over control. By total accident, my estranged wife Caroline told them over the phone. I won’t go into the details as to how, but I do know it was accidental. I found out by a phone call from my dad. I knew straight away that something was wrong when I heard an unusual seriousness in his voice. He told me what Caz had divulged I was a transvestite. I confirmed to him that it was true, although a Transvestite was not what I really felt; it was a good shorthand opening gambit. Interestingly it was my Dad who first told me what the term meant. Years and years ago, I must have been about 12; I was watching the sitcom “Butterflies” on the telly. I remember the character played by Nicholas “Rodney Trotter” Lyndhurst was wearing a T Shirt with the slogan “I am a Transvestite” I asked my dad what the word meant and he said, “It’s someone who wears the clothes of the other sex”. For the first time at 12 years old, I realised that my secret had a name, and that I was not alone. I probably went very red at the time, but I don’t think he noticed. I’m sure this brief exchange immediately disappeared from his memory, but it stayed with me for ever. My dad was great on that phone call, managing to temper his understandable concern with support. I actually think that both my parents were more worried about the breakdown in my marriage. I of course bottled thing a bit on this phone call. Instead of expanding I just went along with the term Transvestite, and I think left the impression, I just dressed behind closed doors. I still could only tell him what I thought he wanted to hear. Me, brave!! No I am an utter coward and wimp!

I was still shaking from my dad’s call. It was not over yet. There was another in my immediate family that I needed to talk to straight away. My brother Richard (aka Titch, aka Billy Whizz). Now that mum and dad knew, I thought I needed to tackle this myself. Rich and I were not that close at the time. I wasn’t that we didn’t get on. He lived miles away, in the historic, murder capital of the south coast, “don’t mention the battle!” town of Hastings! (Watch the news. Every other murder seems to be in Hastings!). We only really saw each other at Christmas. We did exchange the odd phone call, usually about Stoke City or other such trivia. We never talked about anything of substance. I could not know what his reaction would be, but for some reason I had the feeling he would handle the news ok. He surpassed all my expectations. “Rich” I said “I need to tell you before Dad does. I am a transvestite”. There was understandable silence on the other end. After this pause for thought, he said, in the way only he could. “Well at least, you are interesting now!” He was so cool about things, listening as I explained everything. I gave a proper account as to where I was with my gender identity, without the need to sugar coat. I put the phone down, relieved but still a bit shaky. I was so glad to actually tell my family, but I had my usual pangs of worry about where it would all lead. I suppose I could have been angry about what Caz had done, but I wasn’t. She hadn’t done this with any malice, and I knew that she had unknowingly done me a big favour.
For the next few months, Rich and I phoned each other much more often. During one such call I recklessly said “I would love to see you and Vicki as Jen (Vicki, is by brother’s partner, not to be confused with my confused friend Vicky!) “Why don’t you come down for the bank holiday weekend?” he said. Without any proper consideration, I agreed and found myself committed to the biggest outing of my life so far!

It was May Day bank holiday weekend, and unusually warm and sunny. This was my first time away as Jen. I agonised over what to pack. Being such an indecisive girl, I ended up taking nearly my whole wardrobe “just in case”. The big decision was more difficult. Was I brave enough to take no men’s clothing at all. Could I totally commit to being Jen for the whole weekend? Typically being such a worrier, all I could think of were negatives. What if something happened, that would need me to be a respectable man to deal with? I had no idea what event that could be, but I had a nagging fear, that giving myself over totally to the world of Jen would be risky. I just don’t do risky! I spent the whole week prior to the trip, mentally beating myself up and down! In the end, to my shame, I bottled it and stowed away an emergency male outfit in the boot of my car. Still I had no intention of being anything but Jen, for the whole weekend, and was genuinely excited by this thought. Of course I tempered the excitement with worry. How would Rich react when he finally met me? How would I react? What about Vicki? What about his friends? He had mentioned joining them for a barbeque. What if they had young kids? Would they want their children mixing with such a creature as I? Only time would tell.
Hastings is about the most bloody awkward place to drive to in the whole of Britain. Its not the distance, it’s the behemoth called the M25 lies directly in your path. To attempt this on a bank holiday Friday afternoon, with a good weather forecast is about the most foolish thing I have ever attempted (and that includes when I attempted Ice Skating). Still it was a lovely warm day and gave me the excuse to try on some new summery clothes. I opted for a long stone coloured linen skirt, with an Aztec style design around the hem, with a white sleeveless top, and flat sandals. I must admit that I felt on top of the world as I headed down the M1. This felt real. I was just like any other girl visiting her brother for the weekend. The only thing nagging away at me was the malignant presence of those men’s clothes buried deep in my car boot. It was a bit like the Edgar Alan Poe book “The Tell-Tale Heart” Was the knowledge of these clothes eventually to drive me to madness. Would anyone be able to tell? Should I stop and abandon them by the roadside? Or....should I just get on with the bloody story!

It took me hours to get there. The really nasty trick this route plays on you is that when you hit the M25 you think you’re on the home stretch. I wasn’t even half way there yet!
I got there fairly late with dusk just creeping in. I wasn’t sure which Titch’s flat was. I searched for some telltale signs. I.e. Loud guitar music from inside. A bungee rope hanging from a window. A unicycle parked outside leant against a motorbike, or perhaps the detritus of a party left on his doorstep. None was evident so I phoned him; He came bounding out like an exuberant Tigger. He made no acknowledgement of my appearance, but just said. “Hey Jen, what kept you?”
I met Vicki in their flat which was unfortunately for me at the top of many flights of stairs. There flat was just like I imagined, practical and festooned with various items of sporting equipment, and wine! We spent a relaxed evening I got to know Vicki better while me and him quoted “Hitchhikers’” at each other while debating Atheism intermixed with arguments over the merits of hockey against football. All in double quick speak! Me and Rich still struggle to stick to one conversation at a time. We randomly had The Incredibles on the Telly in the background. I mentally decided that Rich was quite like son Dash Incredible. What was really good was that we didn’t really talk about my gender status. I genuinely felt it was not an issue for them. I felt accepted.
The next day Rich was due for some ritualised abuse by virtue of a hard red
ball. Padded and boxed up he left Vicki and I to our own devices. Our plan was for a bit of shopping and then round friends for a barbeque. Richard would join the barbeque later when the cricket match had ended or we would be visiting him in A&E, when he had suffered one of his regular appointed injuries! It was great walking round town with Vicki. She is absolutely lovely and really easy to talk too. She also has Rich’s card marked and doesn’t get drawn in to his madness. After buying various cuts of various species of animals for the barbeque (sorry brad), we hit the clothes shops. Vicki was very patient as I tried my way through a succession of clothes that steadfastly refused to fit.
For the barbeque party I changed into a regrettably short pinkish skirt and a sleeveless linen top that matched my skirt of the previous day. I say regret because as the sun would go down, so would my temperature. I was not yet hardened to a woman’s ordeal of trial by unsuitable skirt. I started to get nervous about the barbeque. I knew none of the people going, and I hadn’t got Richard along for protection, until later. I shouldn’t have worried (I should really learn) His friends were warm and welcoming. There was Dom and Vicky (another one!), whose house it was, John and Barbara, and Pete and Sue with their 16 year old daughter. I think they were all Hockey player's from my brother's club. They had obviously heard about me, and made every effort not to appear uncomfortable in any way. I got on really well with all of them. The main topic of conversation was obviously Richard (or Billy as they knew him) and the various scrapes he got into. Most of these seemed to involve alcohol and injuries! The one thing I did pick up from these tales, is that they all think a great deal of him. He eventually, whirled his way into the house with all the force of a Sidney Barnes bouncer and the control of a George Berry tackle! (Obscure Staffordshire sporting references alert !). The evening ended with much wine drunk, many blackened meats consumed, and countless legends retold, and although I haven’t seen any of them since, some new friends made.

Sunday morning Rich and Vicky were heading off rock climbing. For obvious reasons I didn’t join them. Additionally climbing harnesses do not go with skirts! I headed off into town, and decided to see a film. Another first to tick off as Jen. I chose “Revenge of the Sith”, and braved the queue of adolescents, with only a few stares and the odd snigger. It was much better than the 3 previous new Star wars films and I actually cried a bit at the end when Luke is delivered to Tatooine to the strains of the original music.
The evening was again spent round at Dom and Vicky’s, but was a little more low key. The next day the three of us wandered Hastings’s old town which was lovely. I eventually set off late in the evening to avoid any traffic torture. I left with a mix of regret and satisfaction. The weekend had exceeded my dreams. I had been made to feel normal by everyone I had met, and that was all that I wanted. My bond with Rich had strengthened and I now knew Vicki (with an i)much better. If this was a microcosm of living and socialising as a woman then I loved it and wanted more. I will always be grateful to Rich, Vicki et al. for their acceptance of me. At no point did I ever have to rely on thosee emergency drab clothes. I may have "bottled" it in bringing them along, but I never had to even consider using them. The best thing I took from the weekend, was that for most of it I actually forgot that I was Transgendered. I was just me, I was just a woman.

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