The Caffe Nero branded cup clinked into place in the saucer next to a pot of earl grey tea for one and a little cute jug of milk. A warm haven from the bright and dry but still incredibly cold Wednesday. The pace was calm and subdued much like Wednesday usually feels. That midway through the week where it’s too late to be the fresh start of Monday – also known as ‘oh shit it’s Monday’, and too early to feel the weekend approaching. I added a little milk to my half empty cup and topped up with the teapot that had somehow lightly bonded itself to the table and came off with a click; probably a combination of heat and a thin layer of sticky spillage that had been briefly wiped and smeared earlier.
I’d walked the high street on the way to the bank before my cafe escape and passed a girl with her hair tied up in a super high pony tail that had its roots near the centre of her head. If you’re imagining a pineapple then you’re half way there already. It reminded me of my early teens when I first started playing with my hair and pony tails. Avoiding hair cuts as much as possible so that it would grow long enough to tie it up in the guilty privacy of my own bedroom at my parents house.
At this time our neighbours had two daughters, both much older than me, one possibly late teens and the other early twenties. The eldest would tie her blonde hair up in that same pineapple fashion as the girl I saw in the high street and in my experiments I would do the same. Looking in the mirror and seeing how much like a girl I could look and how much longer my hair would have to get for it to be able to fall away over the top of the hair band and down from that silly eighties pineapple. At this time I had little knowledge of the word transsexual and even transvestite was only ever mentioned on programmes like Kilroy or The Time The Place. This was a time of exploration and discovery but building guilt and secrecy.
In contrast I also took something from the youngest of the sisters from next door. The hair thing was short term and didn’t quite remain with me in the same way as how I would emulate Michelle. She had lovely rounded hand writing and circled the top of every letter ‘i’ rather than a dot. I was intrigued by this. I wasn’t conscious about this being a feminine thing, a girly thing, I just liked it.
With all the writing I had to do in school it was the perfect opportunity to practice over and over again putting these little circles over the i and js instead of a tittle like practically everyone else apart from Michelle and now me. My writing at times was already rounded but I made an effort to express my hand writing in such a different way. I would get annoyed with myself if I’d forgotten, in the rush of writing, to put circles in a whole sentence and go back over every dot and correct them.
I wondered if it would ever become habit or whether I would have to create these expressive circle consciously for the rest of my life. Would I get bored of it and just give up in crowded annoyance of laziness. I kept at it. It could have been a year or more but I never gave up correcting where I could.
Many years later, while in a lecture theatre at university with the lecturer droning on in a background murmur, my friend Jason quietly but openly spoke to me while I furiously wrote notes. “You’ve got girls writing.”
“Really?” I said, stopping but not letting on that I was quite aware of this.
“It’s all spaced out and round.” He nudged his friend next to him, “Look, he circles his Is.”
There was never any malice in what Jason had said. It was pure curiosity and zero bullying. In fact there was something unspoken about Jason that someone had mentioned to me. Whether there was anything to it I don’t know.
It had become habit. It had become my writing. It still is to this day. Its part of me. I don’t even think about it. I even get Christmas cards that some times people would replicate it back to me because they’ve noticed. I remember when I first attempted those circles thinking about the girl from next door whether she had learnt it or whether it was natural and if I was ‘learning’ it and whether it was cheating. The fact is, she wouldn’t have been born to write with circles to dot letters. It was only the intent that was natural and the same with me. I probably learnt it in the same way she probably did. She saw it, liked it and decided it was for her. There are probably innate feminine roots in the decision rather than the thing itself and to this day it is something that is ingrained in me right to my core.
Last week, feeling a little low on a Friday night, I sat in the arm chair with it’s rounded arms and back trying to hug some happiness into me with my laptop balancing on my legs and slowly flicking through photos of my holiday last summer. I stopped on one photo. Me in my pale floral camouflage Dorothy Perkins shorts by the beach along the med and I thought to myself ‘what had happened.’
What had happened to that progress. Wearing some of the clothes I wanted with my parents around. My Mum commenting on my shorts. She liked them with their turn ups at the end but whether she realised they were size twelves rather than measured in inches and the zipper on the other side. Looking at the photo, at how happy I was then but also how obvious, at least to me, those shorts and many of the shorts I wore that week in the blistering heat were. Standing there having my photo taken with my shaven legs and not a word said about them. Another one of our unspoken truths. For that moment, looking at the photo in the linen hugging security of my arm chair, I felt like I’d gone a little backwards.
The truth was that nothing had really changed. It’s hard to wear shorts when it’s three below zero. In fact the clothes I wear from day to day, even to work, that make me feel just a bit more comfortable as me and is subtly giving away more about who I am every day. Skinny jeans short of being Jeggins and linen baggy trousers which give shape to the hips that the male equivalent just don’t. I’d just felt down for a couple of days and thankfully recognised that dip. I just needed a little time-out this weekend. Dropping my worries and confining responsibilities and weights on my shoulders to the pages of my diary to be dealt with another time. When I think how far I’ve come in the last couple of years, especially so in the last twelve months, when I really think about it, I’ve actually come a long way.
Until next time.