Being trans and going out into the world, living a day-to-day life as a woman, is rather like being a secret agent! To be natural and accepted you have to immerse yourself in 'the part' and basically believe that you really are who you present. That's not difficult if you do truly adopt female ways in everything. Not just your appearance, voice and movements, but your demeanour, your very personality. So that men and women can tell from what catches your eye, or your reaction to children, or how you fiddle with your hair, or how you get into your car, that you are indeed what you seem to be.
This even extends to slovenliness and shortcomings in your appearance. It is a very good cardinal rule that a woman should get her hair and makeup right before going out of doors, even if it's just a quick walk to the local shop and back. 'Right' can mean 'minimal' of course; there's no need to pile the stuff on, complete with beauty patches, under a Marie Antoinette wig: that might excite remark. But no woman who cares what the world might say will ever leave her front door looking like a tramp. Not even to pop something in the bin. This applies even on caravan sites! But, and here some real skill and judgement comes into it, women can and do slop around in all kinds of get-ups when the occasion is relaxed, and the mood is Holiday, and all other women are doing the same. So even if a suggestion of mascara and lipstick have been applied, it's OK to wear shapeless shorts or a worn-out top, and flip-flops, provided this is de rigeur for the day, the reclining sunchair is in position, and the sun is blazing.
I'd say that if you can do Casual correctly, you have arrived.
But secret agents need further accomplishments. Inevitably women strike up conversations at every encounter, it's the way of women, and one must be happy and prepared to join in with gusto. A nod, even a smile, will definitely not do if it isn't accompanied by a confident launch into chat. Looking at just my present situation, this could happen outside the caravan, in the shower block, getting water, washing dust off the car, walking by new arrivals, catching those departing, walking into town, in any shop at all, in the churchyard, in the park, buying coffee and a panini, asking if a magazine is in stock at W H Smith, looking into a town hall and discovering a line dancing class in progress, and almost getting sucked in. And so on.
And not just encounters with women. In the last two days I've chatted for instance with two men in the big church in Cirencester, who were refilling the candles with oil (did you know that most church candles are oil-filled, despite their waxy appearance?) and with the guys at a filling station who seemed to like my rather skimpy attire. Yes, a secret agent has to learn at least some of the arts of flirting!
And when speaking with women, you have to deal with so many subjects. Yesterday, while chatting with the girl in the caravan on the next pitch, she told me that although she now had two lovely little boys she had suffered eight miscarriages in her attempts to have children. Eight! What does one say? Whatever I did say to this must have struck the right note, but it just shows that one must be prepared for anything to come up once people feel at ease with you, and start to share confidences.
Then there is your Cover Story. I don't mean The Big Lie. I mean the story of your life that you can tell, the version that is plain provable truth. OK, the bits you'd rather not mention are left out, at least when speaking in casual encounters with strangers you'll never see again, but nothing is false. Perfecting the Cover Story takes time. You have to get used to telling things as if you had always lived the full female life, and yet, as I say, never introduce stuff that you couldn't possibly have done or felt. Eventually you have a complete personal history that you can relate with utter conviction and feeling, or just bits of it - it depends on whom you're speaking with - and it all hangs together, so that it can be supported with photos and documents and the evidence of your rings and teddy bears and all your little knick-knacks. They must all be woven in. Good enough to satisfy even the proverbial Gestapo.
Just now I find I'm trotting out my best holiday experiences. As you naturally do with fellow-caravanners. For instance, the wonderful two-month campervan tour of New Zealand that M--- and I had in 2007. So much to say, and enough people have been to NZ for many to relate to it. I have no difficulty now with mentioning M---. I always say that she was a retired widowed friend who introduced me to caravanning, and that we don't do it together any longer. There's no need to elaborate. M--- wouldn't want me to discuss her casually. I respect that. But of course I can't say I toured NZ or Scotland or wherever without - at least up to 2010 - bringing her into it a little bit. Because it can raise eyebrows for an older woman to do these things on her own. I can also laugh off my more recent solo caravanning by saying that after thirteen seasons I'm experienced enough to have confidence, and of course (indicating Fiona) I do have the right car for the job. Plus, I'm something of a photographer, so that's reason for heading off on my own. All of this, every word, is true, said with conviction and enthusiasm. And it all blends in with my overall Cover Story.
At some point I shall stop thinking in terms of stories and what would be proper womanly behavour, and just Do It All Without Thinking. I'm hoping that it will come quite soon.