There are dark places here. Bring light with you.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Far from it.
We drank wine for once, rather than beer, because it was included with the meal. Later, there would be a more traditional session on the ale when the disco got going. I didn’t really fancy flinging it about, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was in heels. Secondly, I was now “out” to work and that would mean more of a quiz night than an evening out. Thirdly, what exactly did you think that tackling like that does to the tackler him- or herself? I ached all over. I had been rucked out with the ball a few times, and even with the body protector it hurt.
I even had a bruise on my left tit, the one that Geoff normally fell asleep cupping. We’d have to swap sides tonight.
The team dynamics were different here. By definition, there were no women (weeeell….) and humour was robust. Both teams were soon mixed up in banter, and I did perceive a few hostile looks as my true status sank in. I began to realise that apart from the old friends of my team, I no longer truly fitted in with this crowd, and I remembered that Little Moment from what seemed like an age ago.
No more smelling Dave’s pits. Speaking of which, the disco was just starting up when the man himself marched up to me, threw me over his shoulder, and shouted “Droit de Capitaine! First dance!” Someone had clearly bribed the DJ, and as we entered he stuck on Bachman Turner Overdrive and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!”
Sod. Lovable great hairy lump of a sod. I gyrated as best I could and then broke off to join the Woodruffs before I fell off my heels. I wanted, in all honesty, to escape before some arsehole managed to find a certain Aerosmith track, or that one by Lou Reed. Geoff, though, had other ideas, and when the first slow one was slipped into the mix he pulled me onto the floor. With one hand resting possessively on my bum, he steered me round until snatching a soft snog as we swayed somewhat aimlessly and randomly. There was a round of applause from the team, and we were soon the centre of a throng of congratulatory hugs for us both.
That, I decided, was the end of the evening. I was picking up little hints of unpleasantness from one or two of the opposition, and decided that we should move on.
“Taxi for Woodruff!”
Back to the motel, and for my first but, if I could help it, definitely not last time, my man freed me from my ballgown.
And that, gentle reader, was how I came to be released into the wild, no longer an endangered species. There was still a lot to do, and I had the day to day of work to confront, but apart from some soft tissue Steve Jones was now just about extinct.
I had, as I have already hinted, an almost permanent house guest, but I still had a spare room or two, and I wasn’t washing any more bed linen than before. I have also stressed that what ways we found of showing affection will remain private. There were surprises, for example being pleased that a razor and shaving gel had returned to my bathroom cabinet, and boxers to the laundry basket.
We had a sort out of the wardrobes. Whatever happens, even though my backside is a bit bigger than it was and my chest is, er, a chest now, I will never be built in the same proportions that a born woman is. Bicycles, for example, decent ones of course, are built with different geometry for women than for men. Not the silly dropped top tube that everyone associates with women, which might just as well be for a Dutch fisherman, but relative back and limb length, hand size for levers, leg length for cranks.
For the same reason, I had loads of stuff that was going to stay because it still had a use, such as cycling kit, walking trousers and boots, waterproof jacket and so on. Other items such as ordinary shoes, suits, ties….if no good for Geoff or Albert, we packed them up for a kidney patient charity, chosen in memory of my mother. My uniform being effectively unisex, I had simply ordered a set of women’s shirts and a neck loop thing. Bye bye ties!
Yet another boundary was crossed when I came home and found he had bought me a present of some rather nice underwear. No (you lot at the back are getting worse), not suspender belts and string knickers, but good quality stuff that fitted and felt nice. After some gentle enquiry (OK, I twisted his arm) he admitted he had been taking advice from Jan, but the thought was there and the result was appreciated.
And that was that. My home life was becoming more than I had ever hoped for, and it was “my home life” where every one of those three words meant something special. There was the simple aspect of having someone to wake up with, to fall asleep with and to kick when tea needed brewing, or just to have breathing in the same room while we read.
Work was different, though. I had a certain notoriety among airport staff due to my rugby, and there were one or two of the baggage handlers in particular who made some nasty remarks, but the first time I heard “Well, I wouldn’t climb over her to get to you” it all began to drop off my radar.
I think I’ve made it as plain as I can: for me, once I started to present properly as female, and what an awful phrase that is for “to be myself”, people saw what they expected. The only thing I had to withdraw from with passenger traffic was any search of person.
I won’t pretend it all went smoothly with my colleagues, either. There were a few sharp remarks, especially from the other women, and when I cleared my locker out I had to have an escort into the men’s room. Shortly after that, I tried my electronic key on the door. Cancelled. Out of curiosity, I did the same at the door of the ladies’ locker room. No joy. That’s me in limbo, then. I had my own little space, though, and as with the baggage handlers, it seemed to get easier week by week as I settled into being Steph full time.
This sounds like some sort of easy ride. Far from it. There were times when I got back home after some nasty remark or other, and due to shift patterns Geoff was elsewhere, and I would have to do my crying alone, which is never nice. I had Naomi, of course, and Jan at the end of the phone, but there is only so much pain you can rightfully offload onto others. I also gathered that Geoff had been having some troubles of his own, and what surprised me was that while mine were down to what can be described as transphobia, his were exclusively homophobic. I heard from a couple of his (now “our”, sweet word) friends that there were graffiti in the company toilets, as well as some spiteful photocopied posters. I cornered him one evening while he showered, by threatening to flush the toilet unless he talked. He retaliated by threatening to detune one of my fiddle strings and not tell me which one. Vicious…
I offered to let Steve return for a few days, but he simply asked “Steve who?” and that was that idea gone, thank god. So we hatched a sort of a plan…
The more I settled into my life, the more unsurprisingly natural it became. Where a bra had once, as you may remember, carried a whole freight of meanings for me, now it was merely something that supported my breasts and gave Geoff difficulties in getting off. I wore skirts and dresses away from work and bike largely because I still had my little guests down below, and because I like them, no longer as a shout against my birth.
Oh yes, unwanted guests indeed. I spoke to Sally.
“No, and when I pass your case over your new shrink will say ‘no’ as well”
“It’s a small operation….”
“No it isn’t. Two things: how long have you been aware of your sexuality? Is it something that you know by your reaction to men, or to A man? You have known Geoff for a matter of weeks, and you are 34. No previous relationships. Secondly, and importantly, what if you ever wanted a child?
“Steph, love, you have come so far in such a short time. Now is your time to take a breath, to look around and consolidate what you have gained. And as this is all about you and Geoff, what does he have to say about it?”
Shit. She was, of course, absolutely right. If Geoff and I really were a partnership, then it was a joint decision. I had not thought of the possibility of kids; when your every waking moment seems filled with the urge to self-terminate, it isn’t a natural consideration. I resolved to talk to him. What a conversation that would be…
“Hi honey, I’m home. I’m going to get castrated, but what do you think of getting some random woman knocked up beforehand?”
The plans for dealing with the bigots at his workplace were more important, anyway. Neither of us is a devious sod, so we simply decided to go on and be ourselves and see what crawled out from under the carpet. I was concerned about Geoff, there was something in the abuse that struck a deeply wrong note with him, and I wanted to know what it was that had hurt my man so badly. When the trio were down one weekend, I decided to ask Bill directly. We were in the kitchen alone, Geoff showering after a training ride and Jan and Kelly on their knees in the living room rifling my CD collection. I outlined my worries, and Bill sighed deeply.
“I suppose you better know, though please let him tell you himself. Agreed?”
“Well, you know I am the eldest?”
“Elder” I corrected automatically
I could feel a darkness in the room, and I had a horrible suspicion as to what it was.
Bill took some slow breaths, then in a monotone so dull I had to stifle an urge to check his pulse, looked past me into some awful place and spoke.
“Beachy Head. They found Tony’s car near the top, but he was found down the coast. He was 20. Fell for someone at college, it seems, and it turns out he got the wrong end of the stick. When Tony confessed his feelings, the boy told him to….well, to go away, and that is what Tony did. Fell big time….”
Bill started to cry then, big racking sobs, and for once it was my turn to hold someone else till they eased. He caught his breath, bit by bit.
“He rang home from a pay phone just before…..Just before, and we were all out, and he left a message and it was Geoff who first heard it, AND HE DIED SO TERRIBLY ALONE…”
He was off again, and as I managed to bring him back, Jan looked in. She looked so very, very tired then, and simply said “Now you know. Welcome to what is left of our family”
She called into the living room “Kell, can you just run down to the corner and buy two pints of whole for the rice pud? Money’s in my purse”
As soon as the door slammed, she cuddled Bill and soothed him like a small child.
“This family carries so much guilt that they cannot let go. I try, we all try, and we are looking all the time for expiation, to make up for Tony’s death, but for the boys it is never enough. Tell me, is Geoff getting any trouble at work?”
I quickly brought her up to speed while the two of them clung together, and Jan asked “What are you going to do about it?”
“Well, the Christmas Dinner is coming up at his office. I intend a full-on Green-eyed Goddess, with your help. Tits out, hair up. See what they say then and see if I can spot the instigator”
I looked into my own grim, dark place.
“One way or the other, hurt him very, very badly”
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