The weekend of October 25th, almost at the last minute, panned out COMPLETELY different from how it was supposed to… but in a good way for me… for me as ANDREA, and was supremely enjoyable with some new firsts and great fun.
That weekend my daughter was supposed to be with me the whole time, and on the Monday (which was a bank holiday for me) I was supposed to drive her to her aunt in Derry who was going to look after her for a few days over school holidays. But the aunt came down to Newry on the Friday for a family funeral and my daughter wanted to travel back with her on that day and so I received a text asking if it was okay. Well, I knew at least two possibilities that I as Andrea really had wanted to do, so it was hardly a problem to acquiesce to my daughter’s wish. But, rather than be on my own that weekend, as Andrea I was as usual a much busier bee!
Saturday morning I woke up around 8.00 – a lie in was not feasible… as it was the latest event of my lovely walking group!! I was REALLY looking forward to it and arrived, at Minnowburn country park outside Belfast, bang on 11.00 when the walk was due to start. Once my car was locked I joined the group, though didn’t see anyone I knew straight away other than a girl arriving late in her car. I said hello to a couple of people I had never seen before, and had a little bit of chat with them… and then as we started off I noticed two ladies I had met a number of times before, the lovely Margaret (retired, who I had chatted to loads of times) and Deirdre (who I had met twice), and the three of us walked together for quite a while and had loads of good chat, including a very amusing discussion about a waling group that Margaret had been to a while ago which was a meditation walking group where nobody was allowed to talk to each other! Bizarre! As the walk continued, our threesome became alternating twosomes, where some of the time I chatted to Deirdre, and then later I had a huge chat with Margaret – at one point we were talking about a member of the group who is a bit of a misogynist with controversial views, but Margaret said that “on the whole everyone in the group is very nice… including your good self Andrea” which was really nice, so I gave her a little hug. Once the walk was over two hours later I had quite a long chat with the group leader about my TS-progress, she was very supportive and helpful, and then I left and joined some group members who had gone to what turned out to be a lovely cafe on the Lagan river bank called the Lock Keeper’s Cottage. I noticed a table with some familiar faces and said “Hi”, then went inside and paid for a hot chocolate and scone, then joined the table to wait for my snack to arrive. I sat next to a lady I had never met before called Karen, and the first thing she said to me was “When I saw you I thought you were the spitting image of my friend Avril who I knew at school when I was 16”! What a compliment, huh! And not just because I am TS rather than a biological woman, but also because I am 48 years old!
About 45 minutes later we parted and, after I changed out of walking gear into a smart-casual dress, I went shopping in nearby Forestside shopping centre. I went in quite a number of clothes stores, though bought little, then onto Sainsburys alcohol store to buy a bottle of wine as I was staying with a friend for the night. When I paid for the wine I wasn’t sure whether I would have much chat with the young lad on the checkout, but I was very surprised, he was really nice, he started the conversation himself saying “you’re having a glass of wine tonight?” and then I just told him about staying over, how the weekend nearly didn’t happen, and so on. Really good! Then I went onto Boucher Road shopping mall, and went in several stores, finally a large outlet store with many brands in it, including Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, etc. Of course, I spent ages browsing, and eventually went to the changing rooms to try three things on – the girl was nice enough there, and two out of three items were good, and I went to pay. The girl at the checkout was really friendly and we had a really good chat comparing our forthcoming evenings – she was sitting in to watch X-Factor (ugh… though I didn’t say that), and I told her what I was up to.
I drove over to my friend (Andrea D) in Whiteabbey, and was happy to see a friendly face… partly because this was the day after my parents received my news that I am a TS. She ordered a Chinese takeaway and after 10-15 minutes we drove off to collect it. Interestingly enough, it was the same takeaway that we had passed several months ago when I had first stayed with her, and we had decided on that occasion to ignore it before as it was really busy with rough looking people… but, of course, I am much more confident than before, and so I leapt out of the car and went in to pick up our food. I queued up for a while, and soon enough a smiley girl served me and I told her the name the order was for, paid her, and left; Andrea D said that I looked just like any other girl in there, fitting in well, which was a nice thing to say. We had a good but quiet night in, with lots of chat, and at 1.00am I switched the light off to go to sleep… just as my tablet sounded that an email had arrived. I decided to look at the email despite the time… and was SO glad that I did, it was an email from Margaret asking if I would be interested in going for a Christmas meal out with Deirdre and her. Would I ever?!? I switched the light off again… and went to sleep with a big, smiley face.
Sunday morning was quiet with my friend and, after brunch, I left her for a few hours, with a promise to return with treats. I firstly shopped in Matalan, had a good look around, tried on quite a few things, though only ended up buying one, a nice top for work next year. I queued up to pay, and was served by a nice girl who asked me if I had a loyalty card, I did not… so would I like one? she asked. Once I determined it wasn’t a credit or store card (as credit checks aren’t feasible for Andrea yet), I readily agreed, as I foresaw using it in the future. At the exit I encountered a spotty-faced lad dressed in a ninja-turtle costume collecting money for a cancer charity. I had a joke or two with him once he had told me what he was dressed as, and I said I had to give him a fair amount as he must be so embarrassed!
I drove into the centre of Belfast, to a charity event at my hairdresser’s salon. He is helping a charity in India by going to train girls how to cut hair, and was raising money for it by hosting a coffee and cake event… so as I unexpectedly was free that weekend I just SO had to go. When I entered I was greeted by Paul who introduced me to one of his friendly staff, then I bumped into my laser lady Lynda who sat me down opposite a lady she had been talking to. The place was really busy… but I wasn’t nervous. I chatted over tea and scones for a while with Lynda and the lady opposite me… and then a first, I turned around and ended up chatting to a girl of eight and a half years old and her granny – as Andrea I have never had a chat with a child before… but the girl was openly friendly with me and all was good. Many people there had brought cakes and we all put a number on a piece of paper for our favourite into a jar. The top three cakes were chosen, and then two judges tasted the cakes and eventually chose the winner. Then there was a raffle… where I won nothing at all, and both Lynda and I were a bit put out because one person won three prizes (and didn’t think of letting anyone else have a go at at least one of their prizes) and another person won two. Then all the cakes were sold off, I was rather hesitant about which one to get, and the best ones were nabbed… so I ended up buying the cake of the little girl I had talked to, because I did not want her granny to buy it, and I bought some little raspberry and white chocolate sponges too. Then while most people left I offered to help clear up, and I am so glad I did because as well as feeling happy to be able to contribute I also got chatting with a few laughs to several other people who were all really nice. At around 5.10 all was clean and tidy and so I left… to go shopping again, in the Abbey centre again, but at a shopping centre; I left with a top and a lovely red winter coat, and returned to my friend. Shortly after I arrived, a neighbour came round, a youngish girl from another apartment in the block – she was very nice, and I showed her and Andrea D my purchases; they loved the coat and one of the tops, and vetoed another top… which is fine, I wasn’t sure about it and that is what girl friends are for. Then my BF Kirsty came round and joined in some nice chat, as we all devoured the cakes I had bought.
Monday I was out again, I had coffee and (healthy) cake out, did an amount of clothes browsing though resisted purchases, then decided to push the boundaries just slightly by going to a couple of local homeware stores, not chain stores but independent shops, just to see how I would get on in places that might not have much of a diversity policy. But once again I was completely fine, and of course it may be nothing to do with diversity, it may be simply because I am succeeding in blending in and nobody knows any different. In one of the shops a co-owner joked with me and a member of staff, which was quite amusing and we had a laugh. Then I went onto Tesco for my weekly shop, and ended up being served by the same lady that I had had the time before – she said “oh, you like us then and decided to come back”, and so we chatted while I packed, and I left for home a very happy girl having had a superb, successful, and happy weekend… although as I walked through my back door I felt a little bit tearful that the next day I knew I would no longer be presenting as me.