It was just seven weeks ago when I stood up on a stage in front of a hundred strangers in my new dress style and spoke about my 60 year journey. So much has happened since. The main thing being my discovering how to live with my new feeling of being 'out'.
Interesting how I still put Out in inverted commas. That in itself is a bit of a mystery to me. It's as if I don't feel I have a right to claim Out as being relevant to me. I'm still in awe of the Gay and Lesbian community. And, if the truth be told, I don't really feel that Trans is part of the movement. I think I have always felt that the 'BT' bit of LGBT were hangers-on. Trying to have it both ways. A statement that is shocking to some I'm sure, but that's something this 61 year old still struggles with.
But on the other hand I do feel an experience that my gay and lesbian friends can relate to. I feel the anxiety of stepping out the door. I feel the fear of judgement; of exclusion. The denial of equality and acceptance. Probably more so in some sense, because being Trans is instantly visible. Particularly my way of being Trans. And I am forever alert to the unpredictable possibility of violence - from other men.
Going back 20 years ago when I made my first attempt at coming out - beardless - I knew I could 'pass' as a woman from a distance. That made the fear all the greater. Late at night, after the pubs and clubs had chucked out, those lads on the early morning deserted streets, who from a distance were attracted to the shapeliness of my legs, would likely be deeply embarrassed - angry and shamed in fact - on discovering up close that what they had been drawn to sexually was in fact a Tranny - a guy! Tricked even. What would happen next? My heart pounded, yet at the same time I knew that I would go through this danger again and again, because I had no alternative. This state of being was - and is - me.
I came close to a good beating a number of times. Luckily, or perhaps because of the courage I had to build up to step out of the door in the first place, I learned the skill of assertively talking my way out of dangerous situations. And here is the ultimate irony. It's as if I discovered a new 'in your face' confidence in facing down those kind of lads in those situations. Sometimes I feel that being Trans made be more of a 'man' - in that stereotyped 'stand up for yourself' kind of way. And of course, theoretically, the next day I could emerge from that same front door as a traditional everyday hetro guy. Hardly comparable to being a woman 'full-time' or being known as openly gay.
So fast forward to the last seven weeks since my dear friend Lauren Currie invited me to speak at her UpFront event in London all dressed up. I have been on a journey. Not one I could have predicted; but then none of this has been predicable. So here are my reflections, and perhaps lessons, on a seven week journey into the unknown, with, hopefully, many more weeks, months, years - and lessons, to come...
Step 1 - Don't rush it. My speaking event in London on 2nd February was so overwhelming, followed quickly by my coming out on Facebook (note the absence of inverted commas this time). I felt a parallel urge to both step things up rapidly, dramatically, and to slow down. I wasn't quite sure what to do next, yet at the same time, deep down inside, I knew exactly what to do.
Step 2 - Attend to what else is important in the rest of your life. For me that meant, first and foremost, moving house. I was coming coming home to Leith - the community I have felt most at home at in my life. The home of my Scottish Cup winning football team - Hibs; the head office of my charity - WorkingRite; the coolest neighbourhood you can think of - Trainspotting, the Proclaimers. The friendliest, quirkiest, most un-Edinburgh part of the east coast of Scotland you can imagine. Leaving dear friends up in Edinburgh behind, with genuine tears in my eyes, for a necessary and innevitable return to a place where I knew I truly belonged.
Step 3 - Seek the support of old friends. Two weekends in a row I have had good old friends to stay. Both from out of town - England in fact. Both know about my journey, and both are interested in it and want to support it.
On the first weekend my good friend from Sheffield, Clive, told me about how the news of my coming out as Trans has sparked a discussion amongst a wider group of people who don't know me. It was a bit of a wake up call. If I understand their debate accurately, they questioned whether men who are obviously men (like I am - in a goaty beard) are actually parodying women by 'dressing up'. In my mind that his exactly what I am eagerly trying not to do. I am not trying to pass. If I was, I would shave my beard off. Yet I think I understand what they were getting at. I don't like the Stag Do style of dressing up as a woman. The characture of women such men portray also disturbs me. A pair of fish-net stockings for a drunken night out feels akin to 'blacking up'; it's cheap and disrespectful. Maybe such men mean it as 'just a bit of fun' - but that's not what I'm trying to do. My journey is six decades in the making and stems from a genuine attempt to integrate all the parts of me after years of isolation and loneliness.
Last weekend my close friend from Brighton, Caroline, came. I stayed with her last summer for two weeks when I first explored my new way of being, coinciding with Brighton's Trans Pride weekend. So this weekend we continued the journey. Two whole days of dressing differently - shopping, showing her the wonders of Leith - during the daylight and at night. And finishing up on Saturday night at the famous Port of Leith bar where I was greeted with such acceptance and friendliness that I was overcome with a sense of belonging that I will remember for the rest of my days. So much so that it has given me a new courage to step out in the days since emboldened in my new (old) neighbourhood.
Step 4 - Take small integrational steps. And they are small - yet for me significant. Like wearing eye liner and mascara most days, and at work. Donning the occasional blouse instead of a boring blue shirt, and going about my everyday business in a modest heeled boot - whilst maintaining a professional business look. Of course I dream of radically changing the culture of men's dress styles, but I know that the prison of men's dress rules are so absolute that you don't need to do that much to challenge the status quo. So step by step that's what I'm doing. I'm sure I'll go further given time - but it's only seven weeks..... So watch this space.