It was warm enough to sit in the beer garden at the back of that small corner pub in a grimy district in Bristol. The grass was thick around the clunky legs of the wooden picnic table where bottles of sticky sweet Bacardi Breezers and a can of Pepsi sat on top. The early summer evening was just setting in but not quite dusk. Those coloured fairy lights slung above my head made me aware of the sun retreating behind the silhouette of varying greys of the historic city centre buildings and the darkness attempting to creep-in unnoticed. Going to the beer garden was just another opportunity to experience a first time outside; amongst other people that is in this little hideaway. I’d been inside the bar, outside was now another option that I had to try. I sat across the table from Sarah. I could feel the grass rubbing against the bottom of my heels reminding me I was still wearing my strappy sandles, my legs angled under the cramped table further restricted by that silly short skirt.
“You want one?”, Sarah rolled a Rizzla paper, dropping a small brown fudgy substance in the centre before sealing the edge of the paper with a slicing lick.
“No thanks, I don’t.”, I said almost apologetically.
“I find it opens the mind. It’s a great combination with being a tranny.”
Sarah had used the word tranny. Until now, although never offended by it, it was always an offensive word. Transsexual or transvestite, at the time, were acceptable through the nineties and still so as we entered the millennium, but not tranny. But then I’d never had the chance to be offended by it, this was my first time out. Sarah was the self confessed tranny. She used the word for herself, she used it for others liberally and was quite open and proud about that. “Of course we’ll get spotted walking through the city centre.”, she might say. “A bunch of trannies together. One on her own might pass, but a group together multiplies getting read.” Sarah drew a small shot from her home-brew cigarette. The creamy pungent smell drifted lightly in what little breeze there was.
“So, are you seeing another crossdresser?”, I asked. Curious to find out who she was and what sexuality she might be. I had little frame of reference.
“No I’m straight, I’m married.”, she said casually, “She’s away on business.”
“Does she know?”
“Yeah, she doesn’t really like it.”
“Does she know you’re here tonight?”
“I dunno. May be.”
I had a clear idea of how Sarah handled her crossdressing adventures. She was unapologetic of who she was in every way and I was getting a growing understanding that may be her marriage wasn’t the most stable. Her wife was clearly unapproving and Sarah really didn’t give a shit.
I left that evening with an insight into another transgendered person, a new found freedom, excitement and a souvenir picture of me playing a game of pool next to the very computer that Sarah had contacted me on just one week earlier. Back in those days it took a while to get a photo from a night out. These days a photo ends up on Facebook before you’ve finished your bottle of orange Breezer. Back in two thousand and one Sarah unloaded the film from the camera and processed it at Boots, on their return scanned them into her computer and e-mailed them over to me. Sarah even got-off on the fact that she would likely be seen by the photographic developer who was probably too scared to place a ‘Quality Control’ sticker on the flash lit scene with ‘a couple of trannies’ as she probably would have put it. I was nervous of doing this but the prize of a keep sake of such a euphoric evening was too precious to care.
And there I was, leaning over the pool table in those black strappy sandles trying to eloquently aim the cue, my partially tied back hair with sectioned strips hanging down the side of my face. A style from a book on beauty and make-up I’d found in Book Sale in an attempt to play my own mother for the part of my growing up I’d missed. It isn’t a particularly bad photo if we don’t include the muscle tone in one of my legs grown from my unwanted testosterone. Hopefully things would only get better.
Music warmly bounced around Sarah’s living room while I buttoned up my lilac blouse and slipped on another equally stupidly short skirt as the week before. Tonight I would wear my hair down as the start of one of many experiments. I sat on her sofa looking at my shoes.
“Wow, they’re proper school girl aren’t they.” Sarah said looking at them with intrigue. To be fair they were a little round of toe with a single strap near the top, but then who argues with the fashion of some free hand-me-downs I’d brought along to my second night out.
“You want to borrow these?”, she continued.
Sarah reached across the coffee table dangling a pair of knee high black leather boots like a carrot on a stick. They were a forgiving size nine. May be a little loose, but with two inch heels and comfort I wasn’t going to pass up on these.
“You look like Bridget Jones.”, she said.
“Really?” I replied confused. Bridget Jones hadn’t long been out. I’d heard the hype but much like Nottinghill it would be a short while before I would get to watch and come to adore it for what it was.
“Yeah, hold on.” Sarah disappeared for a moment. There was some rustling of plastic. She returned and flung a compact disc cover of the sound track across the table.
I picked it up and stared at the image of Renée Zellweger sat on the floor clutching her red diary and looking up at the camera dazzeled. I didn’t notice the ash tray and cigarette or the glass of vodka besides her, neither did I smoke or rely on Vodka but that moment was profound. I felt something. I didn’t know what exactly, just some kind of identity or self worth just from a commercial fictional photo.
“It’s the wifes. She loves it.”, Sarah explained, “It’s all about big knickers if you ask me.” Sarah clearly wasn’t interested in the film. “Come and take a photo of me.” Sarah dumped a disposable camera in my hand and we headed to her back yard, a coveted patio area with a lot of privacy from any curious neighbours by shadowing aged stone walls.
Sarah had dressed in some plain earthy combat trousers, a black tunic pullover and a pair of large graduated sunglasses in a loose attempt at a kind of special forces woman with her air riffle all topped with a chin length dark brown wig complete with shocking highlights. This was Sarah all over. Experimentation and an opportunity to capture that moment on film; and back then it really was film. What this was for Sarah was a moment of fantasy, a break from real life. This differed from my own inner feelings but I was clearly enjoying the ride.
Sarah got changed again ready to go out. I finished up the final touches to my make-up and was ready for my second night out. A little more confidence and Sarah’s boots on loan ready to hit the pavements of Old Market.
We parked in the same side street but with little of the experience I had the week before. No leering old ale men across the road and no terrifying first time nerves; I’d yet to tackle the task of ordering a drink from the bar though. So far I’d got away with giving money to Sarah and having drinks bought for me. It’s hard to believe how silly that was, but the fear of being read was stronger than the fear presenting the way I wanted to.
This particular evening we were meeting up with two new people. One was the managing director for a company in the Southwest, who for the life of me I can’t remember her name though I’m sure it’ll come to me. She plainly didn’t pass and it was neither her intention to. Her look was some kind of caricature of Penelope Keith. She was such a confident person and that would remind me never to take things too seriously. The other person we met that night we shall call Jayne. It was her first night out and her nerves were much like mine from the week before. Her dress code was very much the opposite though. She wore a two piece lilac office suite with knee length skirt, formal jacket and tights so opaque that you’d be lucky to x-ray those legs at the airport.
The night would be very different to my first evening. With a new found confidence we would be venturing out further after a few drinks at that little corner pub beer garden. There was a discussion over the beer garden bench of a pub at the other end of Old Market but the thought terrified me with talk of how busy it would be there. Instead we headed to a night club a short distance down the road. I was still nervous all the same but I’d somehow quantified how scary the two places may have been and come to the conclusion this place would be less scary than the other.
We left the pub and started off down the rather quiet high street other than a few cars racing past as they normally do on a Saturday evening. With Sarah’s boots clinging to my feet I found myself a few yards in front of the others that were trailing behind in conversation. The boots seemed to give me some kind of confidence to stride on. I briefly looked at my finger nails. True Blue was the name on the bottle. A soft light sky blue colour. The colour summed up my naivety at that time and just enjoying these new found nights without a thought as to where my transgender future may go. The evening was still warm with street lamps brightly lighting the way with just the hum of the city and the noisy girls trailing behind.
The sound of Bristol was interrupted by a small car racing down Old Market. I turned to see the car slowing along-side the girls. It was packed with four lads in their late teens-early twenties, two in the back seat leaning forwards to the retracted drivers window.
“Whey Hey!”, they shouted at our group. Sarah, Jayne, all of them looked over. What Sarah had said about crossdressers in a group adding to the possibility of being read couldn’t be more right. There was a look of realisation on the face of the lads in the car. The two in the back flopped back into their seats, the driver panicked back into gear and the car flew off in a screech of tyres on tarmac. To this day I believe the conversation in that car as they drove off in silence, and without a look between them, came from the driver who probably said, “We never talk about this.”
Until next time. x