Chinks of darkness

This was very nearly an ‘unpost’, but I think I have given it just a little too much thought for it to fall into that category. I’ve had a lot of issues surrounding a wedding I was at this weekend.

Trans pride + love cat
A chiarascuro moment

Despite the lovely weather we’ve been having here recently, my inner life has been rather gloomy of late, with occasional chinks of light breaking through. Some days, though, I think I’ve come out the other end, only to find that chinks of darkness keep bursting up from the depths. I’ve even experienced both at once – a kind of emotional chiarascuro. Anyway, my background mood has been low for long enough that I’m wondering about going back to my GP and starting on antidepressants again (even though they were mainly for anxiety last time).

There have been aggravating factors too – although it’s always hard to work out cause and effect. Has depression made me see everything in a negative light, or have a series of unfortunate events colluded to bring me down? (I loved that series of books, by the way, but can’t believe I ignored Lemony Snicket’s dire warning that there would be no happy ending!)

At the beginning of this week, my mood had recovered (or so I thought), with only occasional pinpricks of despair piercing the general ordinariness of life …

Last week, I was turned down for facial electrolysis by the NHS, so the prospect of working out how I’ll pay for up to £12,000 worth of hair removal – hopefully well before I’m consigned to some godforsaken nursing home or eugenically eliminated by fascists – has definitely been hanging over me.

The breakdown of my marriage, the need to box up my separate life for moving out, the financial concerns (where can I afford to live? how will I live with no income? can I really afford to restart my PhD in September, if ever?) – these have been weighing on me.

The separate life that can’t cope with loneliness.

On Wednesday morning, I went into the university to take part in a psychology experiment (on the plasticity of peripersonal space). It sounded interesting and would earn me £7.50 for an hour of my time. (That’s a whole eighth of a session of electrolysis right there – woohoo!) I sat in the waiting area from ten minutes before the start time and stayed there for an hour. I emailed the research student, who first lectured me on punctuality, claiming not to have seen me, and then said that they had thought I was someone else’s participant because they didn’t recognise me (even though they’d never seen me before anyway)! I was offered another slot later in the day … but I declined. Naturally, I didn’t get my £7.50. (So I’m still £60 short of paying for my first electrolysis session.)

While I was sitting there, the thought going through my head, as several other research subjects arrived and were duly collected by their experimenters, was that I was being overlooked because I was a complete failure at ‘looking like a woman’. I hadn’t had precisely this experience before, but on one previous occasion I had been studiously ignored until a young woman took a seat and the experimenter, who had been loitering nearby until then, came and asked if she was Anna. So the possibility was in the back of my mind. The frustration of waiting in vain and the lack of remuneration were compounded by the confirmation that I was a fraud.

I shuffled off along the road home, and about half-way there, a red-faced, white-haired man allowed his dog to shit right in the middle of the pavement before walking on. Although he was a little way off, I wasn’t in the mood to let him get away with it. At first, I tried whistling to get his attention, but then I resorted to shouting – something that I would normally avoid because of the gender dysphoria around my chest-resonant, male-sounding voice. But I didn’t care in the moment. I didn’t care if other people saw a ‘man in a dress’ yelling to get the miscreant’s attention, or angrily asking him if he was going to pick up what his dog had just deposited. He said, a little sheepishly, that he was just going to get a bag. But once I was out of sight (or so he thought), he changed direction.

Shortly after that, I came to the church where my (soon-to-be-ex) wife works; I dropped in and asked her if she fancied going to a nearby café for lunch (we can still do nice things together). She said she had some shopping to do and that she’d prefer to go home. I told her I wanted to do at least one positive thing before I went home again, so I ended up going by myself to the café, where the soup of the day was sadly blander than their normal spicy offerings. (On the way from the church to the café, I had that chiarascuro moment I mentioned – seeing a chalk picture on a wall, which filled me with joy yet didn’t lift my dark mood. Later that day, an attempt to identify the creator of the picture would sour my mood still further.)

The wedding had been looming large too. I said there was a wedding, didn’t I? I had accompanied the hymns at a wedding service a couple of weeks earlier, for people I didn’t know, and that was fairly straightforward. This time, I was in charge of organising a band to do the music for an outdoor wedding ceremony, for a couple I know quite well, and I’d been asked to play a particular piece of piano music for the processional, which needed some practice. A lot of unknowns, and a bit of extra stress.

Added to that, it was only three weeks before this wedding that I’d been invited to the wedding reception. Having now been to one wedding, where I’d been very much in the background, I was painfully aware that most of the women there were wearing clothes, shoes and accessories the likes of which I didn’t possess. So I did a bit of last-minute shopping and bought a new dress in a sale (spending the money I’d earned from the first gig). It was actually slightly faulty, so I had to do a little bit of repair work on it. I also dug out a cheapish necklace I’d bought a while ago but never worn – it would just about do, I thought. New shoes? No chance of finding them in my size at such short notice, even if I could afford them!

On Friday morning, I was driven to the wedding venue by a couple from my church (our sound engineer and fiddle player). We took the instruments and sound equipment and did a trial setup to make sure everything we needed was in place. It was a slightly rainy day, and although I was occupied to some extent with the jobs that needed to be done, the weather conformed more to my general mood than it had done. By this time I’d also established that we wouldn’t be able to get the whole band together for a rehearsal before the wedding day. I do hate leaving things like that to the last minute.

On the way back from setting up (which went fine), the sound engineer happened to mention ‘a funny thing’ about the text he’d received from me that morning to make arrangements for the day. Because I hadn’t ever texted him before, he had some old contact information for me on his phone. He said it took him a little while to work out who ——— was when he saw the text. (He used my full deadname.) He went on to say that it made him think at first of another person we both know who has the same first name as I used to have (almost as if to reinforce the maleness of that name). He also told me that his one other trans acquaintance was someone he’d known for much longer under their deadname and that he consequently still had trouble using their current name (!). I was slightly taken aback by all this and said nothing. Needless to say, it made me uncomfortable.

When I got back to Edinburgh, I did a bit more practising of the piece that I was going to be playing for the processional (although I didn’t yet know how long it needed to be and whether I’d need to make any cuts). I also got all the music organised for the band, including a set of songs to play as guests were arriving. Late that night, I got a text from the bride saying that they’d timed the processional and had decided to use a short piece of recorded music instead. That wasn’t actually as much of a blow to me as you might think. I’d quite enjoyed getting to know the piece better anyway, and I was immensely relieved to have that pressure taken off me. It probably meant I slept a little better than I would have done.

Saturday. The day of the wedding. I got myself ready in good time and was quite pleased with how I looked when I was wearing the full ensemble that I’d put together. I got a lift to the venue with the same couple as before. We got there a little before the practice time we’d arranged, and had time to more or less do the final setup before the other band members arrived. In the end we started our practice half an hour later than I’d hoped. (Other people are so much more laid back about these things, but it really winds me up when people don’t stick to agreed timings!) We got through all we needed to do, though, and played as the other guests assembled.

The ceremony went smoothly and was lovely.

Afterwards, I had some cake and a glass and a half of Pimm’s (which, though refreshing, was also much stronger than I’d expected it to be!). This aperitif heralded the interminable and unpredictable social part of the wedding, the bit I usually hate: the milling around with people you barely know, the group photographs, the waiting, the not knowing how long it’s going to go on. It was pretty much as anticipated.

Although I spoke briefly to the bride and groom during this milling period, I didn’t kiss (or even hug) either of them, because I was far too self-conscious about my scratchy facial hair (in the case of the bride) and of being seen to disrupt cultural gender norms (in the case of the groom). (I have never kissed a man on the cheek or been kissed on the cheek by a man.)

We then headed towards the marquee for our meal. Unusually (perhaps uniquely, in my experience of weddings) I knew all the other people at my table: the two people from my church who had brought me to the wedding, another person from the church who had come with us, our church’s minister (who had conducted the ceremony) and his wife.

As the only vegetarian at our table, I was served my own starter, while others had a wide selection of animal parts to choose from already on the table – but I was more than satisfied. Speeches came after the starter, and were the usual kind of semi-offensive (and particularly sexist) banter that I’ve come to expect at weddings – I’m not quite sure why it has to be that way, to be honest. (Oh, and unsurprisingly, the MC addressed us as ‘ladies and gentleman’ – they had to get a bit of cissexism in there too.) The main course was served buffet-style and was even more dead-animal-centric. As we worked our way along the range of dishes, those on either side of me had their plates piled high while my solitary boiled potato looked a little forlorn! But by the end I had amassed sufficient salad to keep it company – and it was all very tasty. Strawberries and meringue finished things off nicely.

One unfortunate thing about being made to sit at a table with people you don’t know is the awkwardness of the smalltalk. But I didn’t actually find it any easier being at a table with five people I do know. I just hate that kind of enforced socialisation. It didn’t help one jot that the person to my left, the minister’s wife, is one of the few people in the church who consistently misgenders me (and she did), while the person on my right, the sound engineer, decided to join in on this occasion and, in talking about the physicist James Clerk Maxwell (how do these topics arise at weddings??), he said of me, ‘he has a physics degree, he knows much more about it than I do’. So this week, anyway, no one has really seen me as a woman. I just ignored the conversation and sat silently at the table. In fact, at one point I even got my phone out and went on Twitter!

By this point, I had arranged to get a lift home with the minister, who was planning to head back early, as he had a sermon to prepare for the following morning. That’s another thing I hate about weddings: the waiting for it all to be over – especially when I’m dependent on someone else to get me out of there.

Meal over, time for some dancing. ‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ Again. (It’s a recurring refrain, and if it irritates me, I’ve no idea how awful it must be for nonbinary people to feel constantly erased – and our minister unfortunately continued in the same vein this Sunday morning with ‘boys and girls’). The bride and groom were invited to take the floor for the first dance (to a Coldplay song, apparently), and I watched, along with the other guests. Then, as tradition has it, other couples were invited to join them, which they did. Obviously, I didn’t, because who would ever ask me to dance, or consent to dance if I had the nerve to ask them? Besides, watching older married couples dancing just rubbed it in that I had conspicuously failed in the lifelong-marriage stakes.

After the first dance, it was time for the band to take over and for the traditional ceilidh to get underway. People were invited to take their partners for a Gay Gordons, which despite the name is not in the least bit gay: couples facing anticlockwise, ‘gentlemen’ on the inside, ‘ladies’ on the outside. I don’t even know how to dance as a ‘lady’ – I wasn’t taught that part in primary school – and being gayer than most Gordons, I wouldn’t actually actually want to dance with a ‘gentleman’. Ceilidh dancing (which I must confess I used to enjoy, partly because it is so structured and predictable) has to be one of the most heteronormative social activities on the planet. How had I not noticed before? Even the one dance I know of that doesn’t involve couples – the Dashing White Sergeant – does usually involve sets of two women and one man, or two men and one woman. (It could easily be gender-neutral, but one dance doesn’t make a ceilidh.)

So I stood and watched the first dance for a bit, but realised I wasn’t going to be taking part. Even if, as I’d briefly fantasised, there had been another single, middle-aged lesbian (or bisexual) woman at the wedding, we wouldn’t have been able to make it work.

I had to get out of there quickly, and went for a walk around the gardens (which I hadn’t had a chance to appreciate before then, as I’d arrived on both occasions via the ‘wedding deliveries’ entrance, which bypassed the attractive parts of the grounds). I didn’t have a lot of time on my own, though, because I bumped into another couple I know, who were attempting to herd their small child, cutely adorned with a large pair of butterfly wings. And after a brief walk, I heard my name being called: it was time to go.

At church the following morning, I sat alone and didn’t really engage with the service particularly, but it was OK. Afterwards, the sound engineer (I realise now I should have given everyone pseudonyms!) showed me all the photos he had taken at the wedding, including a few in which I featured. One (of me sitting at our table) was all right. In the others I looked gargantuan, deformed and ugly, wearing a dress that did nothing for me. Seeing those, I wasn’t surprised that people found it hard to think of me as a woman. The two or three people who complimented my appearance were clearly being very kind in humouring me. (Actually, they only really complimented the dress – and perhaps my taste in choosing it – without going quite so far as to say that I looked good in it.)

There is another photograph, a selfie I took – of me and the minister’s wife. (I should definitely have given her a pseudonym, as she does have an identity independent of her husband!) I took it while we were seated at the table (after she’d misgendered me). We’re both smiling and we both look happy. I tend to look happy in old photographs, but on the evidence of that photograph, perhaps the camera does sometimes lie (or perhaps I’ve become more adept at deceiving myself and others than I care to admit).

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