Soooo, last night I paid my first visit to a transgender support group. It’s not my first-ever visit to a transgender group, though. About 20 years, I attended a single meeting of Nottingham Chameleons.
I don’t remember too much about it. All I remember was dressing up en femme and driving out to a community centre in Wollaton with my then girlfriend. We met a trans-woman I’d chatted to online, along with a bunch of other trans ladies and their significant others.
I remember only one topic of conversation – the Marks and Spencer’s share price and how it might be a good time to buy. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and I vowed to return – but I never did. I remember that the centre was split into two. In one half was the trans social group and, in the other, lots of old guys in flat caps. Sort of British Legion meets Miner’s Welfare. They seemed perfectly accepting of us, though. I remember gents’ and ladies’ loos, too, though I have no idea which I went into.
Anyway, I digress. That was a social group. Last night’s meeting was more of support group. Transcend has been running since 2007 (I think!) and is based at Derbyshire Friend – the city’s LGBT charity based on Bramble Street, Derby. There’s a monthly meeting in the evening and weekly drop-in sessions every Wednesday during the day.
Having been referred to Nottingham’s gender identity clinic and facing a year-long wait until my first appointment there, I decided I needed to fill those 12 months proactively, so I went along last night, though I didn’t really know what to expect.
In I walked and received a warm welcome from Beth and Julie – two transgender ladies who run the group. Beth is in her 50s and Julie is 37 (if memory serves). Both are quite convincing. I didn’t go en femme, partly because I’m non-binary and partly because I simply didn’t have time to get ready – I only had half an hour to dash from work to the venue.
Beth gave me a quick tour of the ground floor, showing me the loos (two of, unisex), the kitchen and wear to hang my coat. Then I sat chatting to Julie, who was absolutely lovely and made me feel completely at ease – I’d been pretty nervous when I first got there. The coffee was good, too.
We chatted about all sorts – everything from estrogen and “the op” to her history and mine. One thing I gathered about trans-women is that they LOVE to talk about themselves. And why not? We’re all on an amazing, beautiful journey, so why not share it – especially with like-minded people? I guess that’s what this blog is partly about, too.
I was also introduced to another trans-woman called Debbie. She is deaf but, trying to remember my sign language from dating a deaf girl 20 years ago (the same one I went to Wollaton with) and using a pen and post-it notes, we managed to communicate. Debbie’s vibrant, mischievous and has a real twinkle in her eye.
I also met Georgie, who I believe volunteers at the centre. She was nice, too, and was sporting a fab bobbed hair do, along with loads of those rubber bracelets you can get with slogans and logos on. Gay and trans pride was the message on them.
Other people came and went – most of them trans women. There was a lot of talk about estrogen and SRS. I never want SRS and don’t wish to present as female, apart from now and then. I felt a huge amount of respect for these women who were going all the way – and I think they show massive bravery for doing so.
At the end of the day, some trans women aren’t as convincing as others, so to walk through the streets of Derby in female clothes, shoes, makeup and wig day after day takes real guts. I couldn’t do that – I’d be terrified. But then I don’t want to transition all the way, so I don’t need to. Respect, ladies. Kudos.
A little later and we were visited by a couple of police officers – a male and a female, both constables. They were visiting in case anyone wanted to report a hate crime – and apparently they visit each meeting. It’s great that they’re doing that, but how sad that they’re needed in the first place. There’s a sign on a noticeboard at Derbyshire Friend saying “Haters will Hate”. So sad. Come on, Derby. Less hate, more love and understanding please.
I was reminded of a line in the She’s Not There memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan – a brilliant book. Jenny wrote about her time visiting a similar support group and listening to one girl – very young – speaking of the pressures of being trans and how she wanted to kill herself. The group helped her and gave her tonnes of good advice and reassurance – but, a few weeks later, she carried out her threat. Awful.
My evening ended with a chat in private with Beth – up on the first floor in one of the offices. She’s a top lady – really laid back and easy to talk to. Julie said earlier that Beth probably prevents a suicide from happening every week because people can talk to her.
So I did just that for 25 minutes or so, telling her very potted history of my transgender life and my ambitions. She shared plenty with me about her past, too, but it wouldn’t be fair to repeat that here, on a blog.
And that was about it. Shortly before the end of the meeting, I said my goodbyes and walked out into the night. It was good to talk to some people who understand how I feel and, unlike the Wollaton group, I know I’ll go back to this one.