Sunday, 10 July 2011
Baptism of fire
The premise for my trip was Sparkle, the UK's transgender pride celebration, but the real value of the day went far beyond that because I spent far more time in town with my sister than I did in the park holding the festivities. Don't get me wrong, there was plenty going on and I saw a load of friends, but the event made me acutely aware that Sackville Gardens and Canal Street were simply a giant safe space and the main event for me was being a girl at large, shopping with her sister in the wider city.
An early start to catch the train north. My wife was working so I was alone. Early morning over the countryside, then the suburbia and endless industrial dereliction, the urban explorer's playground of the Black Country. Waste ground reverting to urban forest, punctuated by the waterways of the Birmingham Canal Navigation. More canals than Venice in Birmingham y'know, as they say around there. Then a progression of stops as the train passed through the Potteries and the Manchester satellite towns. One station had a sign proudly proclaiming it to be Cheshire's best kept, looking at it I shudder for Cheshire's worst kept.
Manchester Piccadilly's airy train shed, and there's my sister waiting for me. A quick walk round the corner to meet J and her wife at their hotel, and I disappeared into the bathroom to leave the scruffy bloke behind.
My sister had never seen me in girl mode. I don't think she was disappointed. Her first critique was of my colour choices, it seems I'd not done too badly.
So off we went. Straight out into Manchester City Centre. Yes, a crowded city centre on a Saturday morning, a baptism of fire. Shopping in the Arndale Centre, not finding anything in the sales, lunch at Yo! Sushi. Very cosmpolitan. And very normal. Two sisters spending the day in town. Amazingly my experience in Swindon was repeated, I didn't see anyone noticing me. What's wrong people, a nearly seven foot woman has just walked past you and you didn't notice? In all honesty though I'm sure I didn't pass unnoticed because I don't rate my passing skills highly. Where I did succeed though was not in passing but in blending. I was wearing fairly normal summer clothes for going shopping in, not wildly different from any number of other women shopping that day. If someone looked closely they could see who I was, but in the mass of people I was not remarkable enough to stand out.
Off to Sackville Gardens, and the party was in full swing. The Equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, gave us a speech about how the government was anxious to do stuff for us, and a lone Labour heckler tried to disrupt her. Any Government politician talking to us is a good thing IMHO, I can't imagine a member of John Major's Cabinet doing the same thing.
All of trans life was on display in front of us. Yes, all of it. With frilly bits. A load of friends to say hi to, time to sit and people-watch some of the more flamboyant people. It's like a Godwin's Law for trans people, the longer you people-watch at a trans gathering the more the probability of seeing someone in a red dress with white polka-dots approaches one. Being able to go shopping in town made me appreciate this much more, hanging out in the park was fun but being almost just another woman in town was much more feeding the beast.
So off into town again with my sister. A stop at LTS to buy some jeans in the sale. Nowhere else does 'em in my length. Another first, first solo over-the-counter trying-on and purchase of women's clothing. Then a coffee and a long chat about family stuff, more shopping and a return to the park for a while. I experienced that female thing of being looked up and down for the first time, outfit analysis. From both trans and natal women. Wow.
All good things come to an end. Back to J's hotel, the scruffy bloke emerges. Say goodbye to my sister and I'm on the train, back through the Midlands as the sun went down. Back home, present my wife with some of her preferred fragranced stuff from my Manchester shopping as an apology for leaving her at home, then collapse into bed, exhausted.
All in all a good day. And a massive thank-you is in order for both J and my sister. There will be the inevitable let-down, but feeding the beast is sometimes necessary. Knowing you can do it though is a dangerous thing, it satisfies the need but that's a need that keeps coming back.
As I've said before, it doesn't get any easier, does it.