Trans woman reveals fear she felt as she stepped out as Christine for the first time
A deep breath, this is it, this is what you’ve been aiming for, working towards – there’s no turning back now, it’s time to step out and meet the world.
I can remember the first day of the 2017 Sparkle Weekend as though it were yesterday. As a trans woman I had spent years hiding away from the world, living in the shadows, but now was the time to meet all my fears head-on and overcome them.
If truth be told, I had not hidden myself away completely up to that point but I had certainly limited myself to LGBT venues… and always at night, planning my trips out like some kind of military operation, only leaving home when it was dark and finding somewhere to park almost on the doorstep of the venue I was heading for so I could leave my car and be inside in a matter of minutes or even sooner.
I know a few girls who’ve told me that I was brave for even doing that, but for me it never felt that way… those places always felt like completely safe, unchallenging territory.
Like many who are not full-time, I had lived my dual existence in relative isolation before the days of the internet, but even the regular connection with other girls that it had delivered had not brought me any closer to overcoming my fear of moving beyond my familiar haunts and mixing with joe public during the daytime.
Fear was the right word
Fear was indeed the right word, or actually maybe more than that… terror and blind panic are perhaps more appropriate. Terror that despite all the stories that I had read online about girls walking down the street without incident that I would somehow be different, with every passer-by stopping to stare, point… or worse.
I had even posted pictures online and been told ‘you look great’ and ‘you’ll be fine, you definitely pass’ but even those comments did not convince me. I guess we’re all our own worst critics so I know I’m not alone in that boat, but I had convinced myself that I was somehow different, that the minute I stepped outside the door I would have some uniquely awful experience.
I can’t quite put my finger on why 2017 was the year that I decided things were going to be different – maybe it was the constant nagging by friends online to attend social events and my own knowledge that I was running out of weak and, to be honest, sometimes downright false excuses – but come January I decided that enough was enough.
Targets have always worked well for me, something I can’t back out of and can focus on in the future, so I thought if I’m going to finally do this I might as well do it big, went online and booked up for all three nights of Sparkle Weekend, the world’s biggest transgender event, when thousands descend on Manchester’s Canal Street area for a celebration of all things trans.
The weekend is run by Sparkle, the national transgender charity, which works to support trans rights, create a positive image of trans people and also organises the Transgender Day of Remembrance to remember those who have suffered and died as a result of transphobia.
After I’d committed myself, the next few months featured a serious fitness drive (I’d also entered for a half marathon), a makeover and makeup lessons with Jodie at the Boudoir dressing service in London and some visits to a personal shopper.
If I was finally going to step out I was going to make damn sure I felt good about myself… and, besides, maybe that pink miniskirt and fishnets that had served me so well during evenings spent at some LGBT venues might not quite cut it when it came to walking down the street in broad daylight without attracting attention.
What if you look in the mirror and still see Bob staring back at you?
Of all those days, the makeover was the most memorable. I figured if I was going to visit a professional makeup artist then this would probably be the best that I could hope to look. Scary in some ways, though.
What happens if you look in the mirror at the end of it and still see Bob staring back at you? Thankfully, though, once Jodie had worked her magic I wasn’t disappointed and it was one of those occasions when the magic instant transition switch – so often a part of ‘if you could immediately would you?’ type discussions on trans forums – actually existed I would have gladly flicked it there and then.
It’s difficult to describe how depressing it feels sometimes to remove everything and return to Bob world, but this was one of those occasions.
I could feel my confidence growing
Another thing I discovered during this period was that when other girls tell you ‘just go shopping, no one cares these days’ they really are being truthful. Although I was out as Bob (the term trans women who are not full-time use for their male selves to remain anonymous) rather than Christine, I was happily trying on female clothes and accessories and chatting to female store assistants about makeup techniques that were obviously intended for me.
No one batted an eyelid. I could feel my confidence growing.
Anyway, after all that build-up, the big weekend finally arrived and I found myself lugging a heavy suitcase of clothes, makeup and other essentials – it didn’t seem that much when it was spread around the bedroom on hangers and in cupboards and drawers! – around the London Underground network before boarding my train to Manchester.
Safely in my hotel a few hours later I laid out all of Christine’s things – with the makeup alone seeming to take up an entire table and much of the bathroom shelf – and packed everything Bob away in a bag that I was determined would not be opened again until Monday morning. Around an hour an a half later, after finally deciding that there wasn’t any more point continuing to tinker with the makeup – it was as good as it was going to get – I headed downstairs.
There were quite a few trans women at the hotel reception, but the door out on to the street, that was a different matter
It was the time of day when plenty of people were checking in, and because of Sparkle there were quite a few trans women there so the hotel reception was not at all intimidating, but the door out on to the street, that was a different matter. It was a small, unassuming entrance, one of those ones where you can’t see too far down the pavement in either direction to pick just the right moment of quietness to step out. There was nothing for it but to take that deep breath and go for it.
Once outside I immediately started heading towards the gay village where Sparkle was being staged – about a ten minute walk away – but it was not long before I spotted the first group of people heading towards me from the opposite direction, about 50 yards away.
Strangely there was no panic by then, it was one of those situations where a certain ‘you’ve put yourself in this situation, just deal with whatever it throws at you’ resignation kicks in so I just kept walking and… they passed by without a single glance!
Soon enough a second group followed with exactly the same result and it carried on like that all the way down to Canal Street where my reply to a question from one girl about what it was like to be out and about in the daytime for the first time was ‘surprisingly ordinary’.
The Sparkle weekend had changed everything
It was a strange mixture of emotions, relief that I’d finally been able to do it, exhilaration that it had gone so well, but also tinged with ‘why didn’t you do this before?’ frustration at the fact that I’d obviously wasted so much time based on listening to those little demons inside my head. Still, you can’t let what ifs govern your life so I put that negative thought aside and threw myself fully into the weekend.
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By the Sunday I was even confident enough to leave the village behind and head into the city centre shopping. If truth be told I didn’t need to, I was perfectly happy chilling with a glass of wine by the canal on what locals assured me was an unusually sunny weekend in Manchester, but my confidence had grown to the extent that I felt I needed one more big test so off I went and spent a good two or three hours wandering in and out of shops, keeping half an eye on passers-by to see if there was any reaction. Again there was none.
It was such a personally momentous weekend that by the time Monday morning came around it was with a heavy heart – probably accompanied by a sigh and a few seconds of contemplation – that I dragged Bob’s bag from the corner of the hotel room as I prepared to get ready for my journey back to London. I was probably revisiting that depressing feeling from months before at the Boudoir when it came to removing Jodie’s makeup.
Despite that disappointment, I was aware, though, that the weekend had changed everything. I returned to London and found myself doing things that I hadn’t dreamt of before, sitting in a busy tube train, browsing around shops, meeting people for lunch in restaurants. I’m not going to lie and say there has never been the occasional look from a passer-by but by now I’m at the stage where I genuinely don’t care about others’ reactions.
The big lesson I’ve learnt is that the only person stopping you from living the life you want to lead is yourself, so get out there and do it. The world’s not as scary as you think.