Life in London, part one

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It’s been well over a month since I moved away from North Wales up to London. It’s certainly a whole world apart from what I’m used to. Every day on the way to work I pass world famous landmarks like the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. From my office, I can see The Shard, the looming skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, and the still rather bizarre looking ‘Gherkin’ (which I still think is a stupid name, and and truth be told looks more like something that’s kinda rude). The diversity I see in the crowds is completely different from the almost whitewash of faces I used to see every day around Chester. It’s a place where straight, white males aren’t necessarily the majority all the time (when I started my job, for example, there was only one guy in the group, and he is Asian. I’m 99% sure he’s straight, though). So really, London is a place where there is everything for everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

See, there’s bars, societies, clubs and many more for pretty much every group imaginable. If you’re gay or lesbian, you have places like Soho or Vauxhall to meet and mingle. Religious? Choose from a plethora of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, or even try out something new. If you’re a nerd, you are spoilt for choice with museums, comic book shops and gaming conventions, and on top of that virtually everywhere sells Star Wars stuff.

But what if you are trans*? What if you just want to meet people going through what you are, people who you can share your life experiences with and relate to their issues in return? Unfortunately, this is where it starts to get harder. See, there aren’t any trans cafes or bars. You won’t find a trans* bookstore or anything like that. Hell, you’d be hard pushed to find any trans-friendly nightlife whatsoever, and the ones that are openly available really aren’t geared towards a young transwoman like myself.

My quest to find a trans bar or a nightclub started the day after I moved to the city. I went to a small club in Soho with two of my housemates, known as Madame Jojos. Jojos is a trans cabaret night, held every Wednesday which costs next to nothing to get in if you identify as female. It didn’t start until 11, so while my friends really wanted to go to another bar first, I was insisting on going to Jojos. I had been stuck in a small part of the country nobody had heard of, with only one trans person I could think of (although he was living in stealth at the time, until he appeared on national television and subsequently won a load of money) – I was gonna throw myself into any trans night out and LOVE IT!

Stepping into Jojos, I found the place rather cramped and seedy. But I’d spent about three years of my life in Aberystwyth, where most bars are like this, so that didn’t bother me. In fact, truth be told, many things didn’t bother me about the place, and I can certainly see its appeal with some people. But it soon became apparent that Jojos main clientele were a little….seedy, to say the least. I had only been in there ten minutes when I found myself being chatted up for the first time in over a year, by an Italian who appeared almost handsome at first, but I quickly realised he was short. Very short. He didn’t have dwarfism, but he was just…tiny. I’m fairly tall even without heels, and this may seem shallow but I was really put off by his pint sized stature. But still, he walked over and started trying his ‘moves’, which came off hilariously badly when combined with his very broken English. I made it clear that I wasn’t particularly taken with him, but he still went on regardless. Then, without warning, he tried to shove his tongue down my throat.

At that point I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to throw him across the room, or to stamp his little face in with some kitten heels. But instead of being a strong, confident woman, I just made a stupid excuse that I needed a cigarette, and ran outside to have a smoke for the first time in months. He annoyed me, but I told myself that he’s just one little creep (emphasis on ‘little’), and as weird as he may be others were bound to be more gentleman-like.

They weren’t.

All the men in there seemed to be the same. Lecherous and seedy, with a poor grasp of the English language and no understanding of boundaries and personal space. It reached a head when an Iranian man (I believe he was Iranian, at least) came up to me, tried putting his arms around me and then proceeded to ask me to go to the bathroom with him. Enough was enough, I thought, and decided to leave – but not before saying to a man near the exit that he was the spitting image of Charlie Brooker. The creepy grin he gave me seemed to prove that these kind of people have no intention of having any kind of interaction without there being a sexual undertone.

The next place I tried out was the Wayout Club. Billing itself as one of the most famous trans nights out in the world (wouldn’t surprise me, as I can’t think of any others), it offers a more ‘higher class’ night out (as in, the place is not a dive). I went there by myself, as I was still new in town and didn’t want to spend a Saturday night in by myself playing Pokemon). But again, the Wayout Club was not the place for me either. Because everyone there was OLD.

It’s not that I have anything against the elderly, but it certainly felt a little…odd. I kinda realised this isn’t the place for young transfolk, or indeed even actual transwomen (there were certainly no transmen). The place was filled with transvestites and crossdressers, none of which looked a day under forty. The men in there were also fairly old, most likely getting to the venue with their free travel cards. All except one guy. He was gorgeous.

We met when I was sitting by myself, contemplating on going home early, thinking this night was gonna be a bust. He seemed nervous, but he came over and started talking to me. It turned out that he, too, had the same expectations of what the club would be, and was crushed by the reality of what it was. We started talking, and found we had a lot in common. He was from Essex, but had easy access to London. Unfortunately, his train was leaving just before midnight, so our time together was fairly short. I decided that I’d had enough of the place too – it was getting late, and I saw nobody who came even close to our age bracket, so I called it a night.

He offered to walk me to the tube station, which I thought was rather gentlemanly of him, so I accepted his offer. We talked for a little while, and really hit it off. He had never really spoke to a trans person before in his life, and kept telling me that he couldn’t see me as anything but a woman (which I maintain is probably one of the highest compliments you can give a transwoman). We got to the station, and said our goodbyes. But before we parted, he asked something nobody has ever asked me before.

He asked to kiss me.

Let me set the scene (because I still find it romantic) – here we are, outside a train station. A rather busy train station, with elderly couples walking past, teenagers hanging about. The Tower of London is in the background. And that is where he asked to kiss me. Not in a club where nobody could see, in the place I’ve been so accustomed to snogging. But in public. A very public place. Naturally, I agreed. It was the best kiss I’ve ever had.

Sadly, this is where the fairy tale ends. He asked for my number, but he never called. I have no idea whether he just took it down wrong, or maybe he was paranoid about actually going on a date with a transsexual. Maybe he’s tried to call me, but as I have a new iPhone he’s been unable to reach me. I’ll never know.

I went back to Wayout last weekend, mainly to see if he’d returned there so we could pick up where we left off. He wasn’t there. But there were more lecherous old men, everyone eyeing me up (some apparently debating whether I was trans or not). I did meet someone, who admittedly wasn’t as charming as the mystery man I met a few weeks before. We kind-of hit it off, and when things were moving too fast I told him and he was respectful enough of me to not go any further. I’ve decided I won’t be going back there, as its really not my type of place.

I would love to write about a third trans place, but unfortunately, to my knowledge that really seems to be it for places to go. Some people reading may attempt to recommend Stunners, a dodgy bar that looks like something out of Fallout 3, and somehow combines the seediness of Jojos with the retirement home ages of Wayout. But I’d prefer to pretend that place does not exist, except maybe in the far out corners of the Twilight Zone.

Despite this, I have managed to make at least some trans friends. These lovely people I had previously met at an NUS LGBT conference back in May 2011. Without knowing of their existence here, I’d probably be quite jaded. I’ve been told that there are indeed trans* friendly places, societies, events. But these are more underground than the mainstream transgender scene, which seems to appeal to unconvincing crossdressers and perverts. For example, I’ve been told about Bar Wotever, a night in Vauxhall at a pub that’s for LGBTQ people. But that is held on a Tuesday, and like most people, I work a Monday to Friday job, so my chances of going aren’t particularly good. There are also a few other groups that meet, but again these seem to be fairly hidden from the mainstream (and with good reason I’m told, so as to not attract ‘admirers’ and the like).

I’m quite surprised at the lack of trans things to do. I don’t believe this is a fault of London, but rather there’s nowhere at all that caters to people like myself – young, transsexuals that just want interactions with people similar to us in a similar age bracket. In fact, other than META magazine (an online publication), there really is nothing for us anywhere. Maybe we are an untapped market.

But then, my trans identity isn’t the be all and end all of me. I identify as a woman before a transwoman. I have many hobbies. I enjoy writing, watching movies and TV shows, and even though I barely play video games any more I am looking forward to Halo 4. So there’s a lot more to me than being a transsexual. And over the coming months and years, I’ll be doing a lot of things that aren’t related to trans topics.

I just wish there were things for trans people like myself, that’s all.

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