Please note that this is the fifth post in a series entitled Transition 101.
This is it. The culmination of all your work and preparation. By now you should be getting read as female fairly regularly by strangers, whether you are actually dressed as a male or female. You should be comfortable going out and interacting with the world as a female from your experiences living part-time, and yeah, basically there’s nothing stopping you now, so …
Come out at work, or if you’re still supported by your parents and attend school or university, to all of them. Obviously how you go about this will vary a lot depending on the people you work for and with, but tread carefully whatever the situation may be. Hopefully by now you’ve built up a substantial contingency and learned to live small, so that if the worst happens and you’re out of an income, you can still recover from it while continuing your transition. In fact, I would urge that you NOT come out at work or to your parents UNTIL you have that contingency firmly in place. If need be, delay coming out for as long as you can, but have nest-egg.
Negotiate a FT-schedule with the above people. Obviously you can’t just come out and tell people you’re transitioning, and the next day show up as a different sex. You need to make it clear to the people involved that this is going to happen, but you also need to be flexible in allowing them some time to let it sink in, break the news to everybody else, and figure out the logistics of it – how to deal with customers, clients, co-workers or other students, how to manage concerns around bathroom use, etc.
Of course, if you drew the short straw and got a bad response, none of this matters because you are unemployed and possibly homeless. Don’t freak out. This is what the contingency is for. If you did it right, you have friends who can help you out with a place to stay, you have money in hand for HRT and living expenses, and hopefully you have updated documentation you can use to start looking for work. Also, by now you should be quite passable and comfortable in your new persona, so prospective employers need not even know about your past. Just take it one step at a time.
Come out to everybody else. Friends, family, clubs, religious groups etc. – everybody needs to be told, and how you decide to do this is largely down to logistics and what you’re comfortable with. Some people like to announce it in person and be right there in order to field any questions and manage the gossip, for others, a letter or an email with a bunch of recipients proves to be a better approach. I chose the email, and mailed everybody a documentary DVD to explain the technical stuff.
Schedule surgeries. If you plan to get SRS, FFS, Breast Augmentation or whatever else, now is the time to schedule them. It might seem odd that I leave this so late in the entire process, especially considering how long the waiting lists are at the top surgeons, but until you are sure you have a supportive employer and thus a stable income, it’s a huge risk to take. Granted, you may be fortunate enough to work for a good employer where you were able to come out much sooner, and in that sort of situation, the earlier you can schedule your surgeries, the better. Failing that though, this is the safest approach.
Aaaaand finally … Go Full Time. For better or worse (hopefully better), you’re done. You’ve transitioned socially. Congratulations!
And that’s about it for Transition 101. I’ll be following up with a few additional posts with links to resources, terminology, etc. and hopefully, if I can find guest writers, some transition guides from other perspectives. This is it for Mina Magpie’s (Really Rough)Guide to a (Mostly) Stress-Free Transition (For Girls) though, so thanks for bearing with me!
Just on a final note, this guide simply reflects my experiences and those of people I’ve spoken to over the years. Everybody’s circumstances are different though, and ultimately you have to find what works for you. Hopefully though some of what I’ve said here might serve to give you perspective on your own situation. Good luck with your transition.
Please note that this is the fifth post in a series entitled Transition 101.
By now your appearance and manner should have significantly feminised to the point where you are getting double-takes and confusion about your gender on a fairly regular basis, no matter what you’re wearing. This is the point at which I started buying female clothes and gradually started coming out of the closet, dressing androgynously and telling some people. The nice thing about androgyny is that you can go either way with a bit of work, so you can still pass as a guy when you have to, but with a bit of make-up and the right clothing, you can pass for female, at least at first glance.
Go Part Time. Maintain your male persona for work and such, but start going out as you. This is terrifying initially, but it’s a hurdle you do have to get across at some point. You’ll find though that it’s not nearly as bad as you think it is. Most people are too wrapped up in their own affairs to really take note of the people around them, and those that do will often not say anything for fear of appearing foolish if they turn out to be wrong. As long as you’re not attracting attention to yourself with unusual dress or over-the-top make-up, you’ll be surprised at how comfortably you breeze through.
All that said, young kids and teenagers are the bane of many a trans-person. They are hyper-observant, as a rule, and usually don’t have (or choose not to) apply the same kind of social … etiquette that adults would. So avoid them if you can, but as long as you aren’t notable in any other way, you should be fine.
Start coming out to the people you trust and rely on most. Their perceptions of you will have gradually shifted with the changes in your presentation and manner and with the physical changes brought about by HRT and hair-removal, so it won’t be quite as jarring and difficult to accept. If you have trusted friends at work, even better, because they can help to manage perceptions and attitudes in the workplace for when you do finally go full-time. Just be sure that the people you tell can be trusted to keep the secret. The last thing you need is to get outed at work before you are ready for it.
Apply for your name change, and if you can, gender amendment. The process can take a while depending on where you live, so getting this out of the way now just means that you will be able to get your documentation in order that much more quickly when you go full-time.
With name change (and perhaps even gender-change) in hand, get all of your documentation reissued and updated before you go FT. ID documentation and driver’s license, degrees, diplomas and certificates, bank accounts, tax stuff – all of it needs to get updated, so make a list.
Now, assuming you have managed to get your name changed, but they wouldn’t grant a gender amendment, (because your authority requires SRS, for example) I would suggest you still get at least basic identity documents amended, even though you’ll just be doing the same again later on. Believe me, there are few things as scary as getting pulled off the road by a cop when you’re not even passing as a guy any more, and your driver’s license has you sporting a beard or looking like Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Having picture ID that matches how you look just makes everything that much easier.
“Phase Five: Full-Time Friend”, is where everything comes together. Full-time or bust baby. See ya tomorrow.
Please note that this is the third post in a series entitled Transition 101.
Welcome back to Transition 101. Yesterday I talked about how important it is to get in the right place mentally before transitioning, of having a clear Intent. Arguably as or even more important, properly researching and planning what you actually need to do and how to go about it is next up. Laying a good foundation is critical in determining how successful your physical transition will be, and plays a much larger part than most people would care to admit in how others react to that transition. So of we go…
Start by drawing up a schedule and starting a journal. I know it sounds a bit OCD (which I freely admit I am), but I can’t stress enough how useful these proved (and still do!) in my own transition. I didn’t even follow the schedule most of the time – often I would miss deadlines or accomplish a milestone sooner than expected, but it helped me to define a clear sequence of what I had to do. As a motivational tool it was also critical. Seeing a looming red circle on the calendar focusses your attention really nicely.
The journal is just as useful. Keep track of your physical progress, make to-do lists and note down your conversations with the various government departments, banks, schools, businesses and the like you’ll have to deal with – besides providing you with a historical record you can refer back to, it’s also administrative ammunition. Being able to name names and dates when you’re fighting with the Department of Home Affairs or the bank often ends up making a huge difference.
Finally, start a file and organise everything about your transition in there. Get a copy of every blood test and report. File every bit of correspondence. Print out and keep useful research so you can add your own notes and highlights. My file has proven invaluable to me.
Save. Start saving every cent you possibly can. Walk or cycle instead of using the car (good for other stuff too, like your butt 😉 ); Where you can, stop going out; Cut back on luxuries (and essentials) and learn to live … frugally, for lack of a better word. All it takes is some creativity, and you’d be amazed at how much you can cut back on your spending. Something as simple as changing your diet to primarily vegan can halve your food bills, for example (worked for me!), and I even read a forum post once by a trans-woman who was saving almost 100 USD a month by subsisting on instant noodles and multivitamins. Not something I’d suggest, but it worked for her in saving up for SRS, so who am I to argue, really?
So yeah, find ways to save that work for you, and stick all that extra money somewhere risk-free where you can’t get your hands on it easily. Fixed-savings, 32-day notice accounts and the like have served me very well in this. Even better, if you are able, try and generate additional income through extra shifts or a second job, or by starting a low-investment business of your own part-time, or by contracting your skills out. Be creative.
Leading on from point two, start feeling out the people who support you financially. Find out if your employer has official procedures for dealing with trans people, and whether they have past experience with transitioners. Most importantly, find out what your rights are, so that if you are dismissed unfairly, you know how to fight it. If you’re still living at home with your parents, or they’re supporting you while you study, try to get a sense of whether they will be willing or able to support you in your transition, and more importantly, whether they will continue to support you, full-stop. All too often people start to transition without a contingency in place, and then to boot they’re fired or get kicked out, and they end up on the streets. Don’t let this be you.
Network. You can’t do this alone. You might manage the transition thing by yourself (if you’re really brave, lucky and persistent) but somewhere along the line you will need support. Your money will run out, or you’ll hit a legal or administrative brick wall, or you’ll need a lawyer to help you hang on to your job, or you’ll just need somebody who can listen. So start making allies. Build up your friendships, focussing on people you can reasonably expect to at least be tolerant of your situation. Engage people where you work or go to university/school/college, get active on internet forums and chat. Be the helping hand and the shoulder to cry on. It may sound extremely cynical, but as much as you need to build up financial capital, you have to build social capital as well, because the world is built on relationships.
Now, if you are really sure about somebody, you know them and trust them, you might consider coming out to select people now, but I’d advise against it. Even if they are the dearest friends in the world, they will subconsciously gender you according to your appearance, and coming out so early only makes it more difficult for them to bridge that gap between their perception of you and what you are telling them. As you gradually feminise, the disconnect will become less and less acute, so that, by the time you do tell, the mental leap is that much smaller to make, and they are likely to have less of a problem processing it.
The same does not hold true of Significant Others though. Remember that, unlike family or friends, you have a responsibility towards your spouse or partner, and to your children. When you enter a relationship as a spouse or a parent, you commit to put their needs ahead of your own, and if you’re going to transition, they need to be a part of that decision. A spouse who suddenly discovers that her husband has been on HRT for 6 months and is well on the way to transition will feel very deeply betrayed, justifiably so. SO yeah, if you are in a committed relationship with somebody, it is your duty to come out to them first, before you take steps down the road to transition. You’ll have to negotiate a compromise that suits you both, and unfortunately that might include separation or even the end of that relationship. It is much more likely though that you will be able to minimise the hurt caused (to yourself and your partner/children) and to salvage the relationship in some form if you are upfront and honest about what you need to do, and involve them in the process.
Now, parents are a special case in this. On the one hand, having their support early on can often make a huge difference, psychologically as well as procedurally, but on the other hand, if you’re still dependant on them, a bad reaction on their part can literally end up destroying you. So yeah, when to tell your parents is a tough call you need to make yourself. If you are dependant on them though, my advice is that you treat them in the same way you would an employer – build a contingency plan first.
Start working hard at losing weight and muscle. Even though you might not be overweight, what muscle and fat you do have is laid down in a distinctly male pattern, and HRT won’t change that, it will only cause NEW muscle or fat to be deposited in a more female pattern. Even after almost two years on HRT, I’m still carrying a bit of male-pattern weight around my middle that stubbornly refuses to move and I have a fair amount of upper-body muscle left, despite working really hard at it. That said, I used to weigh about 25 kilos more than I do now, so I’ve done well thus far – being on anti-androgens and turning vegan really stripped the muscle off big time. Other approaches such as a palaeolithic diet or Adkins or the like are good for losing fat, but not so good at losing muscle – for that you need to cut your protein intake way down. Vegetarian or occasional Piscetarian also works well, though more slowly.
To lean out your physique and gain a more feminine shape, take up yoga, belly dance, street dancing and/or aerobics – join a class or invest in/download some videos or whatever, but get into an activity that places an emphasis on tone, flexibility and grace over strength and endurance, for example.
Educate yourself on the WPATH and alternative/modified Standards of Care (SOC), local laws around name changes, gender change and stuff, and the details of HRT, SRS, FFS and all the other aspects of transition. Besides wanting to be confident and well-informed when you approach potential service providers, it’s also vital to know this stuff, because often your service-providers won’t, and it will be up to you to educate them or fill in the gaps where they aren’t able to do the job properly. Also find out where you stand with everybody as soon as possible. Find out whether the service provider has past experience, what his or her process is, what version (if any) of the Standards of Care they follow, what changes they’ve made to those Standards of Care, what their requirements are for specific referrals, etc. Get it in writing if at all possible. If you’re already seeing a psychiatrist or an endo or whatever, clear these things up as soon as you can, either by asking explicitly (remember, tact and delicacy are your friends) or failing that, figuring it out from past interaction.
Observe women. Read about women. How women move, interact with one another and with men, how they react in different situations – most of that is socialisation, stuff girls learn from moms and aunts and peers and so on as they grow up, though alot of it is informed by evolutionary psychology. We don’t have the benefit of that socialisation, so we have to make up for that lack by knuckling down and studying, at least initially, while we’re still presenting as male and interacting with the world as such.
More specifically, really educate yourself on body-language and feminine movement and the like. The subconscious queues you drop during your interaction with people makes a huge difference in how they perceive you.
Good books are to be had from the library or online, and you can infer alot by careful observation as well: To start off with, keep in mind that the key difference between a male and a female is that a male expands to fill the space around him, while a female contracts into her own space. So a guy will sit with his legs spread, his arms out and open. He’ll lean forward when sitting down or walking, leading with his head and shoulders, while a woman will lead with her hips, keeping her head and shoulders back. Guys tend to turn their hands and shoulders forward, while women pull their shoulders back, tuck their elbows in and lead with their thumbs or wrists. So by simply consciously turning your hands so that your thumbs are pointing slightly forward and out to the sides, you will already hugely alter your movement and presentation.
Start working on your voice. There are some excellent resources freely available on-line. Whether you end up needing to go to a speech therapist will be up to you – some people snap the techniques almost immediately from watching videos on-line, others are absolutely useless on their own, and most of us fall somewhere in-between. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the cost and time.
Start a good grooming routine. Buy or download a good book on female health and beauty (I own a few I can highly recommend: Mary Quant’s “Classic Make-up and Beauty”, Horst Rechelbacher’s “Aveda Rituals” and the Lorenz Books “Haircare, Skincare, Make-up and Fitness”). You’ll gradually want to start a facial routine, learn to look after your hands, feet and nails, get into the habit of using a skin lotion or creme, start growing out your hair and really looking after it. Part of this is finding a good hairdresser, and explaining that you want to grow out your hair – it’s important to go for a trim ever 3 or 4 months to take care of split ends and keep your hair healthy.
The caveat with hair of course is when you don’t have much of it. Unfortunately probably the most visible damage Androgens (especially DHT) inflicts is Male-Pattern-Baldness. While you MIGHT be lucky and find yourself growing some of it back once you start HRT, or have some success using restorative products, the reality is that hair tends to be gone for good. So when you do start going Part-Time, you will have to invest in a good, professionally fitted wig, and later on either start using a weave (a semi-permanent hair-piece that is blended in with your own hair – once it’s been “fitted”, it’s treated like natural hair. You go back to the hairdresser every couple of months to have it shaped and adjusted and stuff) or go for a surgical procedure known as a scalp advance, where the surgeon actually redistributes hair from other parts of your head to fill everything out a bit.
The preparation period – saving money, reading up on the SOC and HRT and legalities and stuff, building a network of friends and allies, establishing new habits and finding a good electrologist and therapist and the like – it can be helluva frustrating. It’s legwork, it’s slow, boring and it doesn’t seem to be movement in the direction of where you want to go, but it’s really, really necessary. The time you spend now on building up resources, working on body-language and voice and movement and just on observing and reading about how women interact will stand you in very good stead in the long run.
Up tomorrow, “Phase Three: Ch-ch-ch-changes”, where all the preparation, hard work and patience gives way to the mad roller-coaster of emotional instability, a crazily changing body, and weird looks from strangers. Yay! ^_^
Please note that this is the second post in a series entitled Transition 101.
“Know Thyself”. It’s one of those horribly over-used clichés that get tossed around all the time, and end up meaning very little. Which is a shame, because they are words to live by. Unless you really get to know yourself, you’re always going to be floating around in life just reacting to whatever gets put in your way. After all, journeys don’t start with a step, they start with an intention. Magick is the same. If you want to plot your own course in life, but you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? Likewise if you don’t have a clear understanding of where you’re coming from.
For somebody who is gender-variant and planning to transition, to whatever extent, knowing who you are and who you want to be is even more vital. Alchemy is not something to be taken lightly. You need to make sure that you know your subject as well as you possibly can, and have a clear, precise understanding of what you will be transforming that subject into. Transition is risky, lonely and all-consuming, and the subject is you. Know it well your subject well, or you risk failure.
When I finally faced up to the very real possibility that I was, in fact, a “freaky tranny”, (Yeah, I really didn’t want to be, I’m ashamed to say.) I resolved to make damn sure first. My personal memory sucks and always has, so I thought hell, maybe there’s something in my past that is making me like this, maybe I’m confusing these feelings and they’re actually something else, blah-blah, etc. So I bought a blank exercise book, closeted myself in my room and just wrote randomly for the next three weeks, trying to recall bits and pieces of memory and use them to unlock other bits and pieces that I might have forgotten. A particularly useful technique was something I’d picked up from Scientology (DON’T say a word!), which basically involved randomly picking sensations, like feeling afraid, or tasting something sour, or seeing something evil, and then trying to recall an instance from your past where you actually experienced that. It took a while, but eventually I managed to build something approaching a picture of my past, and I kinda had to face up to the fact that these feelings I’d been feeling had always been there, despite my best efforts to suppress them or explain them away. It also forced me to be honest with myself for the first time, and admit that they wouldn’t be changing. I was in fact a transsexual. One with lots of baggage.
So knowing where I had been, I started to think about where I wanted to be. This was a much more gradual process. Having faced up to being trans, I spent a few months just surfing the internet, reading web-comics and personal pages and lurking on forums, trying to understand what it all meant. Gradually though I got an idea, realising that transition was not only possible, but that I might actually have a chance at a successful, happy life afterwards. Key to this was finding inspiration, people and stories that I could point at and say: “Hell, just look at what they achieved!”. I think this is quite vital. Unless you have people to look up to, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you are attempting is foolish and impossible, that you can’t do it. There are going to be many people telling you that, so you need some positive influences to counter all that negativity.
Reading about Harisu and Dana International proved to be the catalyst I needed. They inspired me with their beauty, determination and success, and I realised then and there that, however my parents might react, or the community, or the church, or whatever else, none of them could argue against the reality of these remarkable women. If they could do it, I could at least get part-way there.
I had to figure out where “there” was though. Where did I want to end up? Who did I want to be, and what did I want to achieve with my life? If you can’t answer those questions for yourself, then I don’t think that you are ready to transition yet. After all, what would you be transitioning to?
So gradually, I formed a mental image of the woman I wanted to be. What she looked like, what she did with her life, what other people thought of her and what she thought of herself. I drew pictures, I wrote about her. And finally I started to get a sense of her name.
I keep those drawings and poems and bits of prose near at hand to remind me of what I’m working towards whenever I get despondent or think this is all just too hard. It doesn’t always do the trick immediately, and I can wallow in self-pity with the best of them, but being reminded of who I WILL eventually be, always seems to get me back on track sooner rather than later. I don’t stop there either. I try to recall and review that image of my future self regularly. A big part of magick lies in visualising the effect you are trying to achieve, in putting your Intent out in the universe on a regular basis. The more often you do that, the more real it becomes to you.
I would suggest that this is an important and necessary step, even if you are entirely sure of and comfortable with yourself. Doing an introspection like this forces you to face up to your strengths and weaknesses, to face the mistakes and ugly things in your past and really put them behind you.
Just a final note on this process of self-exploration. Be honest with yourself. Nobody ever has to see any of this stuff but you. You can explore your deepest fears and dreams, the stuff you’d never tell another living soul about. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
Don’t be afraid of your dreams and desires either. Be realistic, absolutely, but keep in mind what people achieve on a regular basis when they really put all of themselves behind it. If you need to, plaster your walls with pictures of your role-models and their achievements, and just keep reminding yourself that you’re capable of equally amazing things.
Well, that’s it for today. Sorry of today’s instalment was maybe a bit more serious than usual – I get all weighty when I start waxing philosophical. I promise that the rest of Transition 101 will be lighter fare.
Up tomorrow: “Part Two: The Long and Winding Road”, which will look at the essential research and planning needed to give one’self the best possible chances at a smooth, relatively risk-free transition.
Laters! (Shoo. Go away now. Nothing more to see here.)
Let’s be honest. Transition is damned scary. You’re taking a leap into the unknown and doing something most people can’t even contemplate. You’re changing one of the most fundamental characteristics of who and what you are, one many people regard as the most immutable of all. You are actually changing your sex, not just anatomically, but emotionally and personally, socially, legally … Take a moment and let that sink in for a bit. You’re doing alchemy here. Transformation. Like real, actual magick. You’re changing reality.
So why would you go and make it harder for yourself than it already is?
And yet, that seems to be what people end up doing to themselves way too often when they do take the plunge. Time and again I’ve read of or met people who have lost everything during the course of their transition – Friends and family, career, income, home. It’s tragic and painful to watch, and such an easy trap to fall into.
I mean, finally coming to terms with being gender-variant, you want nothing so much as to burst out of the closet and RUN. You’ve hidden yourself from the world your entire life, and so the urge to do a complete 180 is overwhelming.
But as much as that urge to change the past and remake yourself drives you, you can’t let it control you. Transition is a major undertaking, and unless you approach it with some kind of a plan, you’re going to get into trouble. Probably a lot of it.
SO DON’T DO IT. (Don’t put tuna in the mix! ^_^) Patience is the keyword to a stress-free transition, patience and self-discipline. You need to make provision for unforeseen circumstances. You need to give people the time and space they need to come to terms with your changes, especially Significant Others like spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends or children/parents, not to mention the people who pay you. The more preparation you make up front, the better-equipped you will be for your actual transition and your new life afterwards.
Introducing the Band
The Transition 101 series is a kind of “ideal guide” of how I would have liked to tackle the whole process if I’d had the benefit of hindsight. I’m not even going to pretend like this is a particularly good guide – I don’t know that good or bad even really apply to something as subjective and personal as transition, but what I’ve shared here served me well, and I do hope that everybody who reads it will find something of value in here.
I divide transition into five distinct phases, and I’ll cover each in turn over the next handful of days, followed by a couple of additional articles on specific topics such as transition resources on-line, terminology, etc.
On a final note, I’m a Male-to-Female Transsexual person. Which of course means that this entire guide is written from that point of view. While I hope a lot here might prove useful to the FtM community, or to Neutrois transitioners, or whomever else, I can only write what I know. I would be absolutely DELIGHTED if I could find some guest writers to add other perspectives to this guide. (hintnudgewink! ya interested?! email me!)
So anyway, Welcome to Transition 101, Mina Magpie’s (Really Rough) Guide to a (Mostly) Stress-Free Transition (For Girls)! ^_^ See ya tomorrow for Part One: Knowing Me Knowing You.
Okay, so I ended up being gone a while, but in my defense, it’s been a busy, eventful, wonderful month. March that is. 😉
I’m now legally Mina! (Well, the real name I use in real life IN PLACE of Mina anyway ~_^) After a fair bit of fighting with Home Affairs, my name change came through last week, and on top of that, I got referred for an orchi … which happened 5 days later! Sometimes it’s amazing how things can just … shift literally over the course of a day or two after months of nothing so much as bashing your head out against a wall.
So yeah, I’m over the moon … and really sore. But the sore will pass, and in the meantime, Tramaset FTW! ^_^
Probably won’t be writing regularly again for a while yet – now the next priority becomes to find a job as a matter of urgency, but once that’s out of the way …
When the four of them rushed me, I honestly thought I was going to die. They were pushing and shoving and pulling all at once, demanding to know why I was there, How I’d gotten in, whether the bags were mine. They were drunk and aggressive and scary, and I thought I was dead.
The morning before I had finally left the backpacker’s, unable to continue paying rent. Between my previous landlady keeping my deposit and a month’s rent, my card being cloned and maxed, and the number of days my boss had been off sick the last few weeks (for which I didn’t get paid) I was done. I had about £20 in my purse, and not a penny in my account. After the disastrous swath Mars had cut in its transit through my sun-sign, I was tapped out and on the street. None of my friends were in a position to help me physically, and any financial help from afar would simply be too late. It’s scary how quickly things can compound and go horribly wrong. I could only hope that I had enough sense and guts to survive until my next pay cheque. I even entertained the notion of, if things went well, finding somewhere to squat my last couple of months in London, and at least clawing back some of my losses by not having to pay rent.
Turns out though that I have about as much sense and streetwise as what one might expect from any middle-class brat with no real experience of the really-real world. Not to mention that I am an absolute bloody idiot.
They shoved me upstairs, ignoring my entreaties that I had thought the house abandoned, that I hadn’t known they were occupying it, that I had not found their spot. I was quaking with fear – I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. I glanced back and thought of pushing them down the stairs and making a run for it, but really, the only direction was up, and I could be running into something worse. Of course, that’s just the rationalisation of it that comes afterwards … to my shame, at the time I was simply too petrified to act.
We entered their room through a door that for all the world looked like just another boarded-up dead-end. Once upon a time the room had most likely been a lounge or something, but they had turned it into a large dorm with four bare mattresses arranged along the walls, a lamp of some kind off on a table in the corner, dimly lighting the room.
They surrounded me. The short, scary one with the burn scars on his face took the lead, shouting at me about me coming into his ‘flat’ and stealing his things, and that if they found anything missing, I was dead. That’s what I think he was getting at anyway – his English was really bad, and half the time I couldn’t make out a word of what he said.
I tried explaining over the shouts and shoving, quite frantic by now, about how my landlady had kicked me out and kept my money, and that I was consequently on the streets. I had honestly just stumbled onto the house by accident, I pleaded. The ground floor was a mess of fallen beams and corrugated sheeting and boarded windows, and having tried and failed to get into the first floor, I had thought it unoccupied.
Eventually, whether they actually realised what I had been saying and took pity on me, or just wanted to wait till morning to decide what to do with me, they pushed me up another flight of stairs to the second floor, where there was a single, cleared-out room with a grimy little inch-thin mattress on the floor. Tears were flowing freely by now, (thank Goddess they only had candles) but I had enough sense left to introduce myself and shake their hands, and to start thanking them profusely for letting me stay … you know what they say about killing (and eating) something whose name you know … Not that I thought they were cannibals, but still, the vegetarian thing seemed to apply. I dropped my bags pointedly in the corner.
They listened for a few minutes before Slava disappeared back through the door, only to return with a blanket, which he shoved unceremoniously at me.
“You sleep!” He insisted in broken English. The other one was still scary as hell, but Slava seemed to have realised that I was just a sheeple in over her head. Way over, and that I was no risk to them. They left a moment later, deep in rapid conversation in what I could only guess was Polish, but who knows. I closed the door, watching them disappear down the stairs through a huge hole somebody had punched or hacked through the centre of it.
They turned the corner, and I lost it entirely.
I was panicking, literally pacing around like a caged animal. I was convinced that I was going to die there. In hindsight that fear was most likely totally unfounded, and for all I know they had really, genuinely decided to just give me a place to sleep. But in my mind they were already dividing my stuff up between them while contemplating whether to use cement boots or sell me to a pork-pie factory instead.
Slava returned with a pillow, shoving the door open as I choked back my hysterics. Pushing the pillow into my hands, he turned again and left without a word, pointedly pushing the door open wider as he left.
I had to get out.
I tried to meditate for a bit, just to calm down, but my thoughts were so jumbled up that I might as well have been chasing ghosts. After a while though I did calm. The moon was full that night, and few things soothe like that does.
There were two wooden windows, one welded shut in its frame by years of exposure. The other had been broken open though, and covered with a dirty sheet serving as a curtain. I peeked out, listening intently for any change in the boozy conversation from downstairs. The road was horribly busy, especially considering that it was past midnight on a Sunday … well, Monday morning, not to mention the ratty apartment building across the road. I’d never get out without being spotted, and there was no way I could survive cops getting involved. I wanted with all my heart to just leap out that window, to escape, but I would have to wait.
By three the lights across the way had finally all been switched off, and traffic had dribbled to circulating taxis and cop-cars every now and again. Most importantly though, the conversation from downstairs had finally gone quiet.
I tried to go out the window with my stuff on my back, but it was fairly obvious that that was a sure ticket to a messy end. I struggled awkwardly back in, tumbling arse-over-head through the window. I leapt under the blanket and prayed that that they had not heard. After a minute or two, with nobody rushing up the stairs, I sat up and rethought my plan.
After a moment or two, I dug out my stretching belt and tried lowering the bags down to the ledge on the first floor, but I wasn’t going to make it, and if they slipped, my meds, my phone, all my stuff might be damaged. Worse, it might wake the neighbours. So I hauled it all back in. Damnit…
I knotted the stretching belt to the blanket’s corner and tried again. Too short to reach the ground, but only by about a meter or so, so I decided to chance it and let go. I had to get out.
I crawled gingerly out the window, my heart in my throat. A car approached and I flattened myself against the wall, hoping my stuff would be safe down below. As it passed, I started inching my foot along the ledge, my hands locked onto the wormy frame with vice-like grip, I reached out with my left foot, full stretch barely reaching the big wrought-iron lamp-fitting. There had been a fire in the building’s past, and I just hoped and prayed the fitting was still secure. I inched out with my left hand and barely snagged the diagonal, slowly managed to work my way out onto the fitting, and … I was stuck. I could not go any further. Suddenly it seemed like I was miles up.
I was frozen, numb with fear. to get down, I would have to swing out from my perch, but it seemed like every bone in my body had turned to jelly. Nor could I think that the bracket would hold my weight. At that point the four roll-bolts in the wall seemed like thumb-tacks. The reach to the ledge down below was just too far, and I am neither Lara Croft nor Jason Bourne. And going back was equally terrifying. Looking back up at that window, it seemed impossible to get back.
A car approached, and resignedly I started calling out quietly for help. Gods let the driver’s window be down. No such luck. It seemed that the only help I would be getting would be from my captors, and that I could do without.
I took a few deep breaths to calm down after calling out quietly a few more times. If I tried to go down, I’d die for sure. But I’d made it from the window, so I could make it back. I had to.
Hours later, or what seemed it anyway, I tumbled arse-over-head back in through the window.
My stuff was down below, and at some point somebody would take it. Yet going out the window was beyond me. I needed to figure something out, but the only option left to me really, was to try and sneak past down the stairs.
I eased my way down, testing every step as I went. It was pitch-black dark, but the Goddess shone down outside, seeming to work a bit of magick as the old steps remained solid and quiet.
I inched my way around the corner to find their door closed, and I continued my way down with a quiet sigh of relief.
I reached the ground-floor and was about to make my way to the boarded-up little window I had come in through when I heard a loud squeak, followed by light and somebody entering. I froze. There was absolutely nowhere to go, no place to hide, and I was sure this would be it.
He walked right past me, his steps passing right over my leading foot. I looked right at him, but he did not even register me being there, didn’t even so much as blink. Need. That’s all I can think of. Need.
As I heard the door close above I breathed again and stumbled out through the door, gathering my stuff quickly. I balled the blanket up and dropped it just inside their make-shift door before walking away as quickly as I could without running.
I made my way to Liverpool Street so I could get dressed for work.
This was originally a post at a forum I frequent shortly after the events described here, which occurred somewhere in the middle of May 2008. I had had a run of bad luck over the preceding week culminating in my landlady finding out I was trans and giving me a day to leave, and I just had no options and resources. I was stuck in a foreign city with nobody to turn to and just starting my transition.
I’d been in nasty situations before, but never like … any with meaning. I’ve been afraid, but I never had much to lose. The fear was nothing but animal instinct, I suppose. But now … this was the first time since my childhood that I was really, really scared, that I wanted with all my heart to live. I was finally transitioning, finally clawing my way towards life. And paradoxically, it seems, that desire almost cost me. Stuck on that wall before, I would’ve just done it – taken the chance and let the chips fall as they will. But now – I just couldn’t. I had too much to lose.