Last night I got unexpectedly sideswiped. One of the groups I lead was having its annual Christmas party. In 2014, it was simply a case of going for a really nice curry to an Indian restaurant and I enjoyed myself. This year, a different group of people are in place after a number of staff changes. They wanted to organise the party themselves and just for me to turn up. They decided to go to one of these 'organised parties'. I had, in my head a template of the evening. You see, I recently went to another one: it was fun and very relaxed and I thought I knew what to expect. So I ‘dolled up’ man-style: pressed trousers, shirt and wool jumper - same as the last one. Grabbing my money, wallet and keys, I headed out.
The cab arrived and I hopped in the front without looking at the other passengers. We conversed on the way but I didn’t look round. We arrived and I gulped. As the other passengers got out of the car, they were all in suits, shirts and ties. The ladies we were with - who were all in their 20s and early 30s and who’d travelled ahead - were dressed for a prom ball. As I started to look around there were a lot of men in black tie and dinner jackets. If a pavement swallowing service had been available, I would have paid good money to disappear. Not only had I unexpectedly turned up to my worst nightmare - women in the most beautiful make up and dresses, I was the scruffiest person in the room and wasn't appropriate as a man either.
Needless to say, perhaps, that it got worse from there. We sat at the table. Men on one side, ladies on the other. Younger ladies (20s-30s) in low cut tight dresses one side, older men [me included :o(] aged 40-60 on the other side. People having fun, running around, enjoying themselves one side, me looking everywhere else trying not to appear lecherous on the other side. The thing is that my usual defence, of ‘I’m admiring the dresses and the clothes’ (which is true), feels so lame when you are a fat 41 year old looking at a 20 year old young lady with everything hanging out. Whilst I genuinely am not trying to cop a look, that is not going to be what it is going to seem like to them. Plus these are people that ultimately report to me and I don’t want them to feel like their boss is like that - they need to be able to come to me when they need to talk / have problems etc. They can’t think that I was the one who ogled their breasts at the party. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more uncomfortable in my whole life and I couldn't get my head back into a positive space. The men went into stereo-typical British middle aged man behaviour: we shouldn’t dance, we are embarrassed by this lively party atmosphere etc. Whereas at the last one I was appropriate, I fitted in and I ‘enjoyed’ it and danced. This time, being dressed wrong, even for a man, feeling old AND dysphoric - I’m not sure how I didn’t go and cry in the toilet, because I sure felt like it. In fact I want to cry now.
I just hid at our table all night, smiled as much and as widely as possible. I clearly didn’t do a good job of it. People were concernedly asking me if I was having a good time. Always happens when people think you aren’t having a good time. The trouble is that they don’t know about my dysphoria and transgenderness. My discomfort looks like social awkwardness and being a boring old bloke. Actually, I was just losing a massive fight against my demons for the night and instead contemplating running away from everyone and everything and hoping never to see anyone again. Ever. Quite literally for the rest of my life.