I was at Boots in Burgess Hill yesterday, collecting a prescription for myself. The usual one every four weeks. I turned up at 2.20pm, and couldn't actually have the prescription for ten minutes because the pharmacist for the day, Imran, was still on his lunch break until 2.30pm. But this gave me an opportunity to hang around and chat to one of the other people at the pharmacy counter, Anna, while she got on with some work. She can multi-task. It's a friendly place to go, Boots in Burgess Hill. They get to know you, not just by face, but by name.
In fact, over the years, Anna has seen me develop from a rather obvious early transitioner to what I am now. We had already discovered in previous conversations that we both came from Wales - North Wales in her case, South Wales in mine. She now described her family, and how she liked to go back visiting. She was enthralled to hear about my Welsh tour in June, especially when she saw that I'd be staying at or near Barmouth, where she grew up, and Harlech, where she went to school. She urged me to take plenty of photos, as if I'd need any urging! I couldn't help thinking that the conversation had risen to a level well above a staff member of Boots dealing politely and routinely with a trans customer. It was as if we were already good friends. That was nice.
Well, another customer came to the counter and handed in a prescription. But she also wanted to know what a certain rather fancy hair brush looked like out of its wrapping. She was making up a cosmetic bag, as a present for her eleven-year-old daughter - the daughter's first grown-up Hair and Beauty Kit, so to speak. So she, Anna and myself made a little trio as Anna carefully opened the wrapping and we examined the brush. It looked pretty but practical, just right for a young girl who wanted to take her appearance a bit more seriously, and have something that her best friends would rate.
Medication came up, and it seemed natural to go into my own HRT with another woman. I explained that I was waiting for the pharmacist, in order to discuss my HRT - my estradiol patches - because Anna had been unable to source my usual Estradot. She had instead managed to get hold of a substitute, Evorel. Essentially it was the same type and dosage of HRT, but I had a reservation about changing brands just at the moment. My oestragen levels presently seemed to be in unexplained decline. I didn't think it was a good idea to change brands before I had another blood test, to be arranged shortly. I needed to stick with Estradot and not introduce a new variable. I particularly wanted to see whether changing the place I was sticking them on had any effect. For the last six months, I'd been applying the patches to my bottom instead my belly, in the hope of better through-the-skin absorption. I suspected that as my belly had got fatter, so absorption had suffered.
As I said, it was completely natural to explain this to another woman, entirely by way of social chatting, really, while we both waited. And to refer to my 'trans hormone treatment' as 'HRT', as if I were simply an older female person who was taking an estradiol product to offset uncomfortable post-menopausal symptoms. So natural indeed, that it struck me later that there had been no conscious subterfuge here, no deliberate pulling the wool over the eyes of the rather pleasant woman I was speaking to. I was in an elevated frame of mind in which it was possible to discuss these things from the angle of a natal woman. And I've little doubt that, had the conversation so developed, I'd have been talking fluently about gynaecological problems, tender breasts, hot flushes, and indeed child development, all with perfect ease. Up to the point, at least, where personal physical impossibility would nag at me, and make me be careful again about what I said.
I thought it was a remarkable illustration of how one's self-image can progress, so that instead of regarding oneself as 'a trans woman' who has always to be guarded about what she says, one becomes simply 'a woman' who can speak confidently on a wide range of subjects, without any obvious barriers.
Another test of my self-image soon came. Imran came back, and we went into the private discussion room. Not only did I want him to reassure me that Estradot and Evorel had the same effect. Anna had asked me, if I had the time, whether I could discuss with Imran how comfortable I was with my other medication - what, if any, were the side-effects, for instance. Of course.
But once in the room, I was very aware that he must surely know my medical history, why I was on estradiol. And that he was a man, and I was not. I was curious to see how he would be.
In truth, when he had occasionally seen me out on the counter before, Imran had been nothing but smiling friendliness and courtesy, so I wasn't expecting anything different now that we were in a confidential situation. No oblique remarks, for instance, that might be made only to a trans woman. I wasn't expecting them, and there were none. As with Anna, I felt completely relaxed. The entire thing was exactly as you'd expect, when a co-operative middle aged woman has to speak with a younger medical man, and both want the event to go off well.
I emerged with a curious feeling of adjustment. I'd been thinking that I passed pretty well, certainly with total strangers, but that people who'd known me since the early days of my transition still had to make an effort, however slight, to be comfortable with me. I now felt convinced that I was wrong, that over time I'd consolidated the Lucy persona sufficiently for persons like Anna to treat me just as they would another ordinary customer. As if they had also made a mental adjustment, so that I was no longer 'different'. Exactly what I wanted.
As I left the shopping precinct, a man and wife were pushing a trolley in front of me, and somehow the man and I got entangled. We all laughed over what typically happens when two people try not to get in each others' way! They were in fact hesitating to leave, because the sky looked so grey and threatening. We got into brief conversation. 'Is it going to pelt down, do you think?' I asked. 'I wonder if I can make it back to my car if I run.' They thought I might if I ran for it, and wished me good luck with cheerful gusto. A taxi driver opened the door for me. Another good-naturedly stepped out of my way. Two women, struggling with umbrellas and hoods, gave me broad smiles. As I reached Fiona, the cold spattering rain turned into freezing and stinging hail. I didn't quite escape it.
But I didn't care. My self-image, my self-esteem, had taken a step forward. I suspected that it had, from people's reactions to me during the past months. A long catalogue of impressions. But the weight of evidence was now definitely starting to make the ponderous, barely-moving scales dip slowly in the direction of complete and unmistakable public acceptance.
So my odd looks didn't matter! That nose, for instance. None of it mattered. That was good to know. I could hold my head up.