Sunday, 2 August 2009

Bishops, bars and Bude - part 1

It's the last night of my holiday, and I'm sitting in the caravan out in the country with only sheep and birds for company. It's been raining, and although it's stopped for now, the sunset is feeble and watery. Potentially a melancholy situation; but I've eaten something warm and hearty that I cooked up on the gas stove (oh yes, I can cook!), and I feel cheered by Debbie's especially comforting comment on my last posting - not that Chrissie's earlier comment had lacked warmth - and I'm feeling quite upbeat.

Still, I'm mindful of the remarks made by a bishop today about online networking, and the decline in socialising skills it may be causing. I do see how anyone who totally relies on an online 'social life' might suddenly find themselves devastated if all their virtual contacts suddenly disappeared. There must be a lot of people around like that, who give so much time to their electronic life that real social contacts fall away or never develop. I dare say that some such people would be reclusive loners anyway. For the rest, the Internet is a Godsend if for some reason you can't get out, or there's nowhere to go to. So I think that the bish needs to qualify his remarks: for a sizable minority, life would be insupportable without the means to blog or chat or tweet.

However, the 'socialising skills' issue is still a worry. It definitely affects my situation. It has struck me all through this holiday that despite pleasant exchanges with staff and strangers in shops, pubs and restaurants, I am really on my own without anyone to talk to. I don't feel loneliness as such; but I do miss good company; and at the back of my mind I worry about a future in which I hear only my own breathing. This needs addressing: a plan, a positive strategy, must be formulated.

I have till now been telling myself that while transitioning I can't - musn't - join clubs and classes: it would disturb the other people there. I should wait until the process is complete, when there is stability, when I can pass so much better, when nobody will be asking awkward questions, or getting angry or embarrassed.

But this won't do. I can't cut myself off from normal life for so long. Even if I end up having to 'explain' myself every day, I need to be out in the world and not hiding away.

After all, nothing unpleasant or discouraging has happened while on holiday. I know that I have attracted some glances, because my photographs record people looking in my direction. But that might simply be because they saw the camera pointed at them. Face-to-face close encounters in towns have been entirely uneventful. People see a female-looking figure with hair, clothes, bags, jewellery and movements to match, and examine me no further as a rule. Even when getting something to eat, the deep voice doesn't seem to throw anyone. Is this good old British behaviour? There's something strange here, but let's keep a straight face and pretend that nothing's wrong? Yes, certainly, in some situations. You'd expect smooth imperturbility from trained shop staff, for instance. But people in general? And why should a middle-aged woman in a fashion shop assist me with buying a raincoat and remark how the length of the thing suited 'a lady like yourself' (meaning someone taller than the female average). Unnecessarily gratuitous? Or did she just take me for what I seemed to be? And if so, why shouldn't most other people?

I did go to Plymouth. I wandered around the Hoe, the city centre, and the Barbican, for several hours. No problems. I went into the House of Fraser departmental store to buy a small purse and spent 15 minutes chatting to a young girl student about what I wanted before buying. She was really sweet, really young, and didn't turn a hair. (Perhaps Plymouth has a massive tranny scene, but I didn't see anyone else like me while there) The girl who sold me coffee and a sandwich at the Theatre Royal was likewise very pleasant. (NB: the loos at the Theatre Royal are swanky and ultra-clean. They get my rosette) I walked around looking for the supposedly trans-friendly bars I'd researched, finding The Swallow (looked OK but empty at 4pm, and I didn't go in), and Hawkins' Meeting Place, which I did visit: I was by then glad to rest my feet. I spent over an hour at Hawkins. It was clearly a gay venue above all else, but I was welcome, and I had a chinwag with a nice guy called Joe who thought I had 'a lot of bottle' to walk around Plymouth dressed as I was. He thought Plymouth folk tended to be a bit narrow-minded. Well, not my experience! I then drove across the city centre to The Clarence in the Stonehouse area. This was billed as the place where 'trans people are always in evidence' but I didn't see a single one. Once again it was pretty friendly. Another guy, an engineer who worked on the nuclear submarines at Devonport, chatted to me for the space of a drink or two. Quite amusing really: he was bound by the Official Secrets Acts from saying much about his job, and although I had retired, I was similarly bound. We had to be quite inventive to make our work sound interesting. Fortunately photography was his hobby too: plenty to discuss there. We didn't talk about whatever a man and a woman might speak about when meeting casually in a bar. He didn't seem that kind of man, and I certainly wasn't that kind of girl.

(Continued in part 2 of this posting)

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