We will be sharing some stories from our volunteers about their life experiences as LGBT+ people. Next up is Vicki’s Story:
Moving From Point A to Point B by Vicki Faith – Trans woman living my life and doing my best to make it rock, yeah!
I’ve often experienced people telling me how brave I am, which is humbling and a great compliment, but I have to say, has always left me a little uncomfortable or nonplussed, as I don’t feel brave. A definition of bravery is “to meet or face courageously”, but to meet or face what? For myself I would answer that it’s fear, for although I don’t recall feeling brave I sure do recall feeling afraid many times. To be afraid is defined as “feeling fear – a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc”. Well I sure felt afraid the last time I was waiting for electrolysis on my top lip! Perhaps being able to describe myself as brave makes me feel a little self-conscious as I feel there’s an element of self-aggrandisement about it, I’m not sure, but I believe that I have come a long way, because at least I can say openly and honestly that I feel afraid a lot, so I’ll take that as a win! I have always felt quite simply as follows; I’m at point A (feeling miserable and not being myself) and I get a glimpse of point B (the happiness, joy and contentment of being myself). There is nothing stopping me getting from Point A to Point B other than overcoming my own fears. I’m not saying that it was ever easy, but there never seemed to be a choice as such, I just had to do it and it made a lot of sense, so I got on with it. Is that really bravery? I don’t know.
Since I don’t feel the ‘bravery’ part I wondered what others had to say about it and looked for comparisons to my own life. Aisha Tyler, the American actor, comedian and BLM/LGBT advocate said “bravery is the engine of change”. That I like and can relate to, I have changed a lot and overcome fear and obstacles to make it happen. Kurt Elling, the American jazz singer and songwriter said “you don’t know what bravery is until you overcome fear”. I can relate to that also as maybe I do understand bravery at least from an experience point of view, the act of actually overcoming your fear. Franklin P. Jones, the American journalist, said “ bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid” and whether this is true or not I can only say that I felt somewhat overcome in reading that definition, so I believe I must see some truth in that. Anyway, here is a short story about myself where, I made a change, experienced the act of overcoming the fear I felt and was possibly the only one who knew I was afraid. Maybe it means I was brave, I’ll leave you to judge, but I sure was afraid!
I’ve faced a number of moments where I felt afraid in the past; first night going out as myself, coming out to loved ones, first day at work, being on the end of abuse and transitioning in general to name a few good ones. However, there was one occasion when I was afraid to a point of near paralysis and it is the only event I could choose to relate on the subject of bravery and fear. Dear reader, I ask for your understanding with the nature of this story as it may seem trivial in nature and is certainly not some story of a sensational nature. At this time when so many people are struggling terribly due to this dreadful Pandemic, I fear (yes fear again, haha) my tale might seem trivial to the point of giving insult, but I can only ask for your patience and assure you that for me this was my most difficult experience.
After I had come out but before I had transitioned, I had to face up to going out in daytime. Gulp! There seemed to me to be a chasm between having a night out at a safe LGBT friendly venue with a bunch of friends and going out shopping for the day. However, I knew the day had come and I felt I had to face it alone, so ho hum, I had to make it happen. I determined to ‘get it over with’ on a particular weekend but decided that a bunch of planning and organising first was essential (read…. putting it off as long as I could!). So rather than get on with it I went off to the shopping mall to get a suitable day time wardrobe, after all there was zero chance that I could go out in daytime without the correct attire right? Off I am in ‘drab’ (as my former self that is) and drop into a shop that is women’s clothes only. I mooch around looking somewhat furtive and then a keen salesperson comes over to ask if I need any help. I was past the “I’m looking for something for my wife/friend/anyone else” stage, so I explained what I was doing and anyway she was kind and helpful. Unfortunately she sensed I had a decent budget for the day, must have been on commission and started piling up tonnes of clothes that she was recommending, “off we go to the changing rooms then” she said. I was probably as white as a sheet at that moment but was suitably numbed enough to follow and thank goodness I was the only person in the shop. For anyone else who loves the show ‘Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em’ (watch an episode if it doesn’t ring a bell – a hapless person constantly gets themselves in a fix) you will be able to imagine the scene. I’m panic stricken in case anyone should come into the store, whilst I do some kind of frantic theatrical fast change stunt and the eager salesperson is shouting through the curtains “how does it look love? here try this one it’s in the sale”. Anyway, I got the clothes I needed, but thankfully that particular scenario never ever happened again and it was another motivator to be able to go clothes shopping as myself.
I decided that I would go shopping in Leeds the following Sunday (fewer people around I hoped) and so had a week of contemplation… read sleepless nights! I opted for my usual method of coping with the stress, that is, organise myself to death. I laid out all my clothes with endless variations of shoes and accessories, then tried them on over and again until it looked ok. I practised a complete makeup look, also over and again searching for something that would make me feel I could face the world. I studied a map of Leeds city centre (I didn’t know it very well) and planned a route I would walk, memorised the street names and turnings, made a list of all of the shops I would visit and decided on the priority order to go in them (PS. I really did this, I’m not making it up…). Eventually I ran out of things to organise and so just lay awake all-night staring at the ceiling and feeling more and more of the “distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil or pain”! I started to imagine the ‘likely’ scenarios on an escalating path of humiliation and endangerment, to wit, large groups of people pointing and laughing at me, someone pulling off my wig and making a run for it and being attacked by a passing herd of transphobic hooligans. Needless to say that by the following weekend I wasn’t in great shape, that is, blood shot eyes, ashen skin and a discernible tremble! Then came the fateful Sunday morning.
The plan was written out carefully and I was going to leave at 10 o’clock in order to hit the shops just as they opened (no hanging around but fewest numbers of people). To be ready for 10 of course meant I had to be up at 5! I carefully and painstakingly went through the tasks; shower, face, hair, makeup, clothes etc. I noticed as I continued that I began to slow markedly, I felt as if I was starting to swim in treacle and a dreadful anxiety was clawing at me. The moment had come and I forced on a smile and took a selfie before heading for the door of my flat. I looked up and the 10 feet to the door stretched ahead of me like a dark, endless and forbidding road. I shuffled, literally and painfully, to the door and slowly raised my hand to the door handle. I was gripped by something I cannot adequately describe…. a sensation of empty and cold loneliness, it was as if I had been transported somewhere else and there was just an endless and silent nothingness around me. I just could not turn the handle. No matter how hard I tried I just could not do it. After what seemed like an age I started a conversation with myself, which I remember being out loud but I’m not sure. “You can do it” “No I can’t” “Yes you can, you can” “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”. And then after what seemed like an eternity I turned the handle and walked out. Walking out of the door and into a small car park I felt the weight of the world lift from me and it was as if I had escaped that silent and cold place and landed back on the planet with a jolt. With great timing one of my neighbours came out of his flat opposite me, I looked up with a big smile and cheerily shouted “morning!”. Let’s just say he looked a bit startled.
Off I set to Leeds on a skyrocket of emotion and adrenaline convinced I had cracked it and wondering what all of the fuss had been about. Fast forward thirty minutes and I’m pulling up in the car park Leeds city centre, by which time I am panic stricken again and feel only slightly better than I did trying to open the front door. I stare at myself in the rear-view mirror… make up – check, hair – needs a brush. Great… a car with four people pulls up opposite and so I wait for them to go. Five minutes later they are still standing around chatting and getting in the way of my plan! “Nuts to it” I think and I get out of the car and stride off to the lift. Good timing of course, they decide to do the same and so we all cram into a tiny lift together with me wanting to shrink to a size whereby they can’t see me. I cross the road on my planned route and have to turn a corner past the Cosmopolitan Hotel (haven to trans people) and then up to the shops. As I turn the corner I realise that Leeds Utd are playing at home, early kick off and the fans are staying at the hotel. Stood out on the pavement ahead of me are about fifty men mostly drinking beer from cans. I’m panicking inside and look around for an escape route, but I was resolute enough by then to say “no, go for it”, so I walked on through the gauntlet of footy fans. Just as I get near, a guy at the furthest point spots me and informs his mates of the approaching sight. The fact that he was standing there pointing directly at me and shouting to his mates wasn’t the entrance to Leeds I was hoping for! Anyway, I walked along like it was a catwalk made just for me and fortunately they weren’t interested beyond a bit of amusement. I turned the corner, up Briggate and into the pedestrianised shopping area. I’d made it!
For the next six hours I shopped ‘til I dropped and experienced the pure unadulterated joy of being myself and not giving a stuff. The simple pleasure of being able to stroll around, browse the shops, go for lunch (treated myself to Harvey Nichols) and chat with women in the shops on whether the size 12 was too tight on the waist or not. Bliss! I did get a bit of ‘grief’ as happens; the stonewalling, eyes rolling, sniggering in your face, mis-gendering and all that stuff, but nothing and no one was going to stop me savouring my triumph, yeah! I found the staring the most disconcerting. Mostly it was just a glance but some people just stared continuously, with some people doing it blatantly to make sure I knew they were doing it. I’ve learned a lot since then and it happens less and doesn’t bother me. I believe that; most people feel ‘live and let live’ and only glance inadvertently, they have their own thoughts or problems (a trans person out and about doesn’t register) and also that my own level of confidence controls whether or not I stand out (that is, the more confident I am, the less noticeable I am). Come five o’clock the shops were starting to close and I walked back to car, put five large bags of shopping in the boot and set off back home. Nothing bad had happened to me of course and I had realised my dream.
I walked through the front door (yes that flippin’ front door), dropped my bags on the floor and collapsed on the bed. I felt exhausted and really emotionally drained. I didn’t feel any sense of elation or triumph or anything of that sort, I just felt very tired and was then overcome by what I can only describe as a sense of loss as I contemplated getting off my hair, makeup and having to face up to going back to a life I knew I wanted to leave behind. Although I never made any conscious decision to transition as such, it was undoubtedly that moment when I knew there was no other option for me and there was a life and a person I wanted to be, waiting for me.
So dear reader, there is my simple story of fear and bravery, moving from Point A to Point B, no more or less. Was I brave? I still don’t know. On reflection it seems to me that the reality is quite simple. I am surrounded by good folk who everyday are facing their own fears and making that decision to travel from despair to happiness. Maybe bravery is just so commonplace that I really am brave but can’t see it because I am just one of so many. I also see that there are those who live in a life of fear that makes them do bad things, know it is wrong but aren’t brave enough to make the change. If we together are the brave (go for it good people!) then the abusers and bigots are just simply cowards.