I shouldn't by now be seriously concerned about passing (or whatever term you might wish to use to mean going about your day without funny looks or comments coming your way). And it's by no means uppermost in my mind.
I certainly get by on the 'embarrassment test' - that is, that even if people see that you're no ordinary girl, even if they say to themselves 'Aha, I know what you are!', they are still happy to speak to you and count you in, because your appearance doesn't embarrass them. Yes, I do indeed pass that test.
But I still need a regular fix of positive recognition and acceptance. Isn't it absurd? You know, men opening doors for you, being really helpful and pleasant, and freely saying 'madam'; kids shyly smiling at you, and their mums saying to them things like 'Now watch where you're going, don't you walk into that lady!'; receptionists and counter staff who have seen you before, giving you a natural and open grin, and perfectly remembering your name; and so on. I still get a kick out of all this.
Where's the harm? Every little boost to my self-esteem helps me avoid the deflation when a security guard or waiter says 'sir' to me in an effort to be super-polite (I think that's what they're attempting) - which doesn't happen often, but it did happen back in January on my first visit to the magistrate's court, and it happened at a restaurant last Sunday too. Always by men, in situations when I would indeed expect proper politeness. But I wish they wouldn't bother if they can't get it right. It's a momentary pinprick, said and done with, but it stays in the mind, and you wonder what 'gave you away'. Reassurance asserts itself in the hours that follow, as you recall many, many other occasions when you were triumphantly the belle of the ball. But the fact that this reassurance seeps back only gradually after quite a small negative incident reveals how fragile one's self-confidence is. Yes, you really do need good experiences all the time to keep you buoyant!
In the last couple of weeks I've had several. The one I want to tell you about here is what happened when Lucy met Libby.
I was in Sidmouth on a gorgeously sunny and warm Sunday. The sky was blue, of radiant hue; the tide was out, with seagulls about; the sands were wide, exposed by the tide. The Esplanade was thronged with plenty of locals and holidaymakers strolling along it and obviously having a great time in a quiet way. You could really believe that God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world.
I'd parked for two hours, had enjoyed strolling about the town a bit, and then suddenly felt a little peckish. There was a pleasant-looking bakery/cafe called something like Cathy's Kitchen. I went in, intending to have a coffee and a small snack. It was more sumptuous and civilised than I'd thought, although still a place you could just wander into and have a quick drink and a bun, if that's all you wanted. Being Sunday, they were doing a choice of 'home-cooked' hot meals out of their oven, and a steak and kidney pie spoke to me. I never usually go near pies, but this one appealed. Ordering a portion, with vegetables, with the coffee to be brought to my table, was the work of a moment.
Which table? It was actually only just gone twelve, and there was still a wide choice. A lady was at the end table of a row of smaller ones. She saw that I was making up my mind, and smiled at me, saying how difficult it was to make one's mind up. I agreed, and not wanting to intrude on whatever she was doing, which looked 'official' (as if she were something to do with the Tourist Office), but sensing a kindred spirit, I sat on the table next to hers. She looked like a smart fifty-something businesswoman making notes from a client list, but actually she was writing postcards. We had a little conversation, and then she urged me to eat my meal before we spoke again. This I did, thinking already that here was another nice positive encounter under my belt. The pie was very good. I wouldn't need to cook up much that evening, back at the caravan.
I finished, and so did she. We began to talk all about what we were doing in Sidmouth. She wasn't local. She lived in a village near Carlisle, right up north, but she had a friend who did live in Sidmouth. This friend had had a hip operation recently, and now, recovered, was treating herself to a holiday in Madeira. But she had cats, and so had asked this Carlisle lady to come down and house-sit, and care for the cats while she was away, effectively giving her a free holiday in sunny Sidmouth, with only light duties where the cats were concerned. But of course she was on her own, as I was.
We did get on well. There was a definite rapport. I mentioned that this was the last full day of my own holiday, and she was instantly regretful. She said it was a pity, as had I been staying longer, we could perhaps have met up on another day. As it was, she had to catch a bus back to her local friend's house in a couple of hours, to have a late lunch and feed the cats. A couple of hours? I made up my mind. I proposed, tentatively, that I go off and repark my car, and then that we meet up on the Esplanade and stroll the half-mile to Connaught Gardens (which were on a bluff overlooking the sparkling sea), where we could maybe have an ice-cream. I was tentative because I wasn't sure whether she had realised that I was trans. There was absolutely no sign. If she had clocked me, and wanted to politely make excuses to get away, then it would be simple for her to invent reasons not to share those two hours with me. But she didn't politely invent anything at all. She accepted the suggestion with enthusiasm. Wow.
I went back to Fiona, thinking that it might not be so easy to repark her on such a busy Sunday. Just buy another ticket then, and hope nobody would notice. But when I got to the car park, there was a council parking enforcement officer, checking who was already parked. That meant I couldn't simply buy a fresh ticket. I was mindful of the parking fine I'd already incurred a few days before. I decided to tackle him. He looked all right. In fact he looked the spitting image of a traditional Devon fisherman, an old salt, with his white beard, stout-hearted demeanour and rolling gait, only slightly modified by the yellow high-visibility jacket, peaked cap, and dangling electronic gadgetry that these people have to carry nowadays. I went boldly over to him. 'Excuse me, I've just met a friend, and now need to stay a couple of hours longer. I know you shouldn't feed the meter, but I'll never find another space now, and I wondered if you could make an exception...?' My most winning smile. I hoped this little speech implied 'two local ladies in a pickle that this nice gentleman had the power to fix'. 'Well, my dear, (said he) it's against regulations of course, and I'm not supposed to do it, but, well, perhaps there's no harm.' 'Oh thank you! (I gushed) My car's the blue Volvo, just there.' I got my new ticket, making certain that he saw me do it, cheekily for the maximum time allowed, confirmed to him which car was mine with a gesture and another big smile, and then departed for the Esplanade. What an insinuating female I was!
And there was the lady, waiting for me with a smile. I said to her, 'I haven't introduced myself properly. I'm Lucy'. She said, 'I'm Libby'. We walked slowly westwards along the Esplanade, chatting animatedly. It turned out that, surprisingly, she was five years older than me. But we had similar backgrounds, and both had a similar sad close-family situation. Much in common, in fact. And still she didn't asked me a frank question about what had happened to me. The moment resolutely didn't come. All too soon we were climbing the steep steps up the red cliff to the gardens. And there was the lawn, and the castellated tea room. Inside, a queue for refreshments and ice cream. As expected, they were selling proper West Country ice cream in all sorts of delicious flavours. We both had cones bulging with something cold and yummy. I'd taken it for granted that we'd buy our own, but she insisted on paying for mine. It was churlish to refuse.
We spent the last half-hour talking and admiring the various walled sections of garden, already full of flowers, and the high view out across the beach, and back to the town. She took a picture of me with the little Leica:
Then she had to go. She hoped that somehow we'd bump into each other again, especially if I was in Sidmouth at a future date, or came to live there. I gave her my card with my email address on it. She went off for her bus. I felt our two hours or more had been the high point of my holiday. Here I am, immediately afterwards, feeling rather thoughtful:
But there was no anti-climax. For I already had a plan for the rest of the afternoon. You can see a huge beach in the picture above. Over a mile long. At the far end, under the towering cliffs, was a large rock called the Big Picket Rock. I wanted to reach it. So I went down another set of steps:
The beach was a bit wet, refecting the red cliffs like a mirror. I took off my shoes and just walked along in a kind of euphoria, revelling in the sunshine. Others did the same. The sea was calm, gently drifting in, and felt warm in the shallows. It was very hard to believe it was only March, and not August:
You can see the rock, at the foot of the cliffs. I got to the far end of the beach. But I never quite made it. The rock stayed far away, inaccessible. I ran out of time. The tide turned, and I had to head back to the car.
But what an uplifting, inspiring day!