A significant milestone has been creeping up on me almost unnoticed. It may sound incredible to younger folk, who have grown up in a world in which self-expression is unfettered, but it took me until my forties to finally step out into the world dressed as a woman. I remember in Autumn 2011 visiting a shop that specialised in supporting the TG community to purchase a wig. The very nice lady who helped me explained that they had a customer who came in dressed. I remember expressing my astonishment; the thought had never seriously crossed my mind. Being TG was an itch that I needed to scratch in private.
There followed in December that year an unsuccessful photo session in Manchester, to provide photos for an online profile I was developing. While I felt good at the photo session, the results were dreadful (the lighting was all wrong) and the disk of photos went into my dustbin. Undeterred, however, I purchased a digital camera and began experimenting, posting photos to Flickr, where I discovered a wonderful group of like-minded t-girls. This was a monumental step for me – it was the first time that Karen had been presented to the outside world, albeit in a virtual sense. Below is one of the photos from my first session with a digital camera – still there in my Flickr profile. The butterfly was starting to emerge from its chrysalis; these digital photos were the first steps on the road to my emergence fully into the world.
As 2011 turned into 2012, the urge to get “out” began to present itself to my conscious mind. The urge grew, and in May 2012 I stepped out onto the streets of Leeds to attend Leeds First Friday. In some senses, this didn’t feel entirely like getting “out” because I stayed in a hotel full of t-girls and spent the evening with other t-girls. Perhaps the most significant milestone in my development was when I travelled to Manchester later that year to attend Sparkle. On the Friday evening I wandered off into gentle drizzle, on my own, and had my first experience of mingling with society as Karen. I have written about that experience elsewhere in these pages, and won’t repeat myself here. Suffice to say, my life changed from that point on.
The first few excursions were accompanied by a pounding heart and a sense of doing something profoundly new and rather risky. Would my disguise slip, how would people react to me, what if they read me? Would they think I was some sort of pervert? As years passed I gradually became more relaxed about getting out. I no longer experience a pounding heart, although I know that I’m more vulnerable en femme and people do occasionally react strangely. However, scrapes have been few and far between and on the whole, I have found people to be incredibly warm and accepting; sometimes curious, and intrigued, but usually very happy to treat me as one of the girls. Being out has passed from momentous to everyday, but it is not for one moment something that I take for granted. It is the means by which I hold together the complex parts of my once fractured self. I plan carefully for excursions, setting time aside in my diary. Even during lockdown, I took trips out, if only to visit the supermarket, because I know that in a complex and mysterious way, it is necessary to be Karen from time to time. Perhaps in other circumstances Karen would become the only expression of the person who I am, and perhaps not; I do not know – there is simply who I am now, in the circumstances in which I find myself, with the commitments that I have. But for the freedom that I have – particularly as somebody who grew up in much less tolerant and understanding times – I am profoundly grateful. Where I will be in ten years’ time, I cannot say. But if the next ten years bring half the contentment that the last ten have, I will count myself very fortunate.