This is not a post intended to make other trans people feel inadequate. Quite the opposite! I want to share the things that have (so far) saved me from embarrassing public challenges.
It's true - never an upsetting confrontation. Long may that last.
There have admittedly been a very, very small number of minor clockings. Here they are. There was a 'Hey, mate!' directed at me when alone in a Brighton street in early 2009 - three years ago - which I simply ignored; a farcical encounter in a Brighton lane in 2010, when two idiotic male teenagers made a fuss about myself and a friend as we walked along, capering about like monkeys - until they gave up, because we simply ignored them; and two (very quiet, but potentially awkward) clockings in Brighton pubs during 2010, involving in one case a tipsy gay tourist from Romford, and in the other case two lads with their girlfriends, the lads whispering and nudging - a situation which a friend defused for me without any direct consequences for myself. Nothing at all to report for 2011 and 2012. I've never yet had anyone bar my way, question my attire, or make lewd or offensive remarks. They'd get a supremely confident response if they tried now; but, looking back at early-stage pictures of myself, I am amazed that I was able to escape the kind of incident that makes many transitioners tremble with fear and trauma.
So what are my tips for a sweet day? My list goes as follows:
# Choose the right town or city to be out and around in. Nowhere known to be especially gay- or trans- friendly, because the locals will be aware that you exist, and visitors will treat you as a tourist sight and be relentlessly tranny-spotting. Thus Brighton is a very dodgy place to walk around in, especially on Pride Day. But you'd probably be fine in Minehead or Newquay or Broadstairs. Or Devizes. Or Basingstoke. Or Canterbury. Or Chipping Norton.
# Don't go to gay- or trans-friendly pubs, bars, cafes or clubs - assuming they exist at all in your locality. Why cluster around these honeypots? Find somewhere ordinary and quiet, such as a theatre bar, or a traditional friendly local well away from the football stadium or the town's red-light district. In other words, avoid all potential troublespots. Go where ordinary people go.
# In fact, get out into the country! Trannies are associated with urban life, and not with forest trails, or river and canal walks, or National Trust gardens.
# Study what women actually wear. Avoid 'statement' attire unless you really want attention and scrutiny. A plain grey cardigan, long white top, black leggings or blue jeggings, and simple black pumps will be a suit of armour, proof against any tranny-spotter. Drab it may be, but you can sex it up with a single spot of real colour: a nice piece of jewellery, or red lips, or a good-quality bag. Nothing more. No candy pink. Miniskirts are fine if worn over leggings, but not over bare legs unless yours are stunning and tanned, and you want to draw men's eyes and wolf whistles.
# Avoid tons of makeup as you would the Devil. Early-stage transitioners have to cover up the tell-tale beard shadow - but once you can dispense with it, leave foundation and the other facial muck to weddings and other gala occasions where it's expected. Young girls like to paint themselves up, and of course it's all a lot of fun, and undoubtedly a way of feeling glamorous; but most mature women confine themselves to mascara, a hint of eye-liner, and some lipstick. It's all you need if you want to be like them. It's OK to look natural. It's OK (and highly realistic) to have some skin blemishes, the odd wrinkle, and a very slight hair-on-the-upper-lip problem. Natal women have these things. They'll take you to their hearts if you're a fellow-sufferer, and not a super-perfect movie queen.
# Avoid bling. Especially cheap-looking bling. Shiny stuff is a teen addiction, not the mark of a grown-up lady of sophistication and allure. And be careful with anything too posh. Although I possess a £900 Prada handbag, and I love it, and I feel so fantastic when I'm out with it, it's way too in-your-face posh for ordinary occasions. Unless I want to pose as a successful businesswoman, or it's the opera, when what else would you have on your arm?
# Avoid high heels. Sorry, they accentuate chunky leg muscles. Risk them if you really do have gorgeous legs. But honestly, they scream 'Tranny!'. Like pink minis and basques and fishnets, and bonnets and scarves, heels are badges that give you away. And if you're tall, why would you want to look even taller?
# Head hair is rarely a problem. A lot of natal women try bizarre cuts and colourings. It takes a really dreadful wig to look seriously wrong. But the style should match your apparent age group and face shape. On the whole, I'd say a fly-away, slightly untidy head of hair in your natural colour looks the most convincing, even if it's not the most glamorous thing. I'd never go for a coloured, permed style. I think it would look artificial, contrived, too much like how my Mum used to have her hair twenty or thirty years back. I'd love long, thick, heavy hair as girl students have, but I can't grow it at my age. So it's medium-length, with a plain black Alice band to hold it in place. That's my look, and I'm happy with it. It pays to wear your hair happily. But whatever you do, keep it clean and fresh-looking. Show a comb or brush in public. Pat it about. Flick tiny wisps. Curl it a bit with fingers as you talk or window-shop. Only men neglect their hair, and never fuss with it.
# Cultivate easy, fluid, loose, graceful and womanly body movements. It's not just 'the walk'. Women sit in a characteristic way. When speaking, they use posture in a characteristic way. Ditto, when any men are near. Study natal women. Do what they do until it's second nature.
# And for God's sake develop the best female voice possible. No excuse here. Don't say you can't be arsed. Think of the incredible high you'll experience again, and again, and again, and throughout the day, in any situation, every day, if you can speak exactly like a natal woman. No excuse. Make it an obsessive project till it's completely right. The right articulation, pitch, strength, smoothness, warmth, speed, rhythm, and emotional intonation. All in perfect synchronicity with posture and gestures and eyes and mouth shape. Women don't just use words when they talk. Indeed, words are often inappropriate - a touch on an arm might say everything that needs to be expressed. And eyes say things no mouth can, although the golden rule for a female mouth - display your teeth, as a friendly signal - musn't be forgotten for an instant. But the voice above all. No excuse, get on with it. Anyone can do it.
# Finally, watch what you talk about. The words you speak matter. Your vocabulary and the things you talk about matter. Yes, plenty of women like fast cars and football, but don't make fast cars and football your opening line. Acquire knowledge about all aspects of female life, so that you can at least bluff convincingly when periods and babies come under discussion. There's so much that women can talk about. Relationships and children and domestic matters and holidays and clothes and shoes and hair and diets are all top subjects, not necessarily for a casual conversation in a supermarket queue, but be prepared all the same. Above all, remember that men are made of wood and women of quicksilver: it would be wholly unnatural if two women standing or sitting near to each other for more than a minute or two didn't catch each other's eye, and probably then embark on an animated conversation. All women are sisters. All women are on each other's side. All women chat, and want to know you, and how you react to them. Do not be stiff, stolid and unexpressive, as a man would be. In fact, I'd say that - apart from voice - behaviour is the key to successful and unchallengeable passing. And voice and behaviour will make up for many little defects in 'the look'.
I know that many, many trans women will purse their lips and dispute things in my list. But these things have helped me survive unscarred by horrible experiences. I can't claim they would get me a man. But they do make ordinary, very pleasant women give me their time and their serious attention. In a post to come, all about a day in sunny Sidmouth, I will tell you about Libby. A good example of what I mean, and what a nice lady she was...