God, I hate teenagers.
I push the shopping cart along the pavement, one wheel doing the obligatory wobble. It is piled high with the bags that contain all my worldly possessions. a trans bag lady passing through a city that is synonymous with isolation.
Coventry is a wart on the arsehole of the universe. I hate this city, with its soulless architecture and dead eyed youth. I am leaving today for the Athens of the North, going home and not a moment too soon. I came here nine months ago in search of work, finding a position in the accounts department of a major international courier. My search for accommodation was less successful. I rented a single room in a house of multiple occupancy where I grew mushrooms on the walls whenever it rained. It rained a lot in Coventry.
I had to leave. Work was pleasant enough but the nights and endless weekends were dungeons of loneliness that I could neither endure nor escape from. The only people I knew were my co-workers and none of them seemed eager to be seen in the company of a six foot tall trans woman outside of work. There was no obvious prejudice but my paranoia more than compensated for its absence.
I had handed in my notice after one particularly bad weekend watching water run down the wall across from my bed while contemplating playing noughts and crosses on my forearm with a Stanley knife. I had completed the two vertical lines when I decided enough was enough and wrote my letter of resignation instead. Two weeks later and I was going home to Edinburgh.
I had left my room half an hour earlier, laden down with two large duffel bags and four smaller holdalls. I struggled under the weight of them and was also regretting not having worn flat shoes. I was debating with myself the merits of searching my bags for more appropriate footwear at the kerbside when I spotted the abandoned shopping cart on some waste ground. Problem solved.
I wait on the platform surrounded by bags, waiting for the train to Birmingham where I will make my connection to Edinburgh. I feel relaxed now, the hardest part of my journey is over. I push a loose strand of hair aside, tucking it behind my ear, and sip from a bottle of Coke. I smile to myself, home soon.
I glance around as I hear footsteps and my shoulders stiffen. Two teenage girls have joined me on the platform and are whispering to each other and looking at me. I think I hear "ladyboy" and I turn my back on them, my face flushing. I feel my ears burn as the blood rushes to them and I wonder if their red glow looks like a pair of brake lights from behind.
I have a phobia of teenagers. They are big enough to be dangerous without the maturity or self awareness to control it. These ones may be harmless but how can I tell?
A voice behind me says "excuse me" and I reluctantly turn to face her. Here we go again.
"Do you know when the London train is due?"
It is 'the test'. One of them has been dared to get me to speak, hoping to hear a deep masculine voice to confirm their suspicions. Been there, done that, bought more than enough t shirts, thank you very much.
I force a smile, not to be friendly but because it helps with the voice. I feel my vocal chords stretch as I shift them into gear for my best female voice and answer her question. She thanks me but looks disappointed, mission failed, no conclusive evidence exposed. She returns to her friend and they go into a huddle. I turn away again but keep an eye on their reflection in the glass covering of a notice board. I see that they are still firing glances in my direction.
My train arrives and I manage to get my bags on board without too much difficulty. I stack them on the luggage racks and take a seat facing the platform. The girls are staring at me through the window, more openly now as though the glass barrier renders them invisible. The train doors close and I settle back in my seat. Goodbye Coventry, I wish I could say it had been a pleasure. The train starts to move and I smile at the girls on the platform and flip them the bird.
I stare out of the window, seeing nothing. My mind is miles and years away, back when it all started.
My first night out as me, inappropriately dressed in knee boots, denim mini and leather jacket. It was so much about the clothes back then, a typical rookie mistake. Going out looking like a hooker is a not uncommon error for the newly emerged transsexual. I had it in spades.
I recall walking past a couple of drunks sitting on the pavement, each with a two litre bottle of Strongbow clutched in their grimy hands. Their words were clear as I strutted past them.
"She must be one of them supermodels."
Glowing with pride I walked on, not considering how blurred their vision must have been until much later. I took out a cigarette and lit up, inhaling deeply then examining the lipstick ring that had appeared on the filter. I had been so nervous leaving the house but now I knew that I would be fine.
Then I walked past the teenagers.
They were sitting on a wall and their heads turned as one to follow me. They clearly recognised me for what I was, and cries of "tranny", "shemale" and "she’s got a dick" pursued me down the road like heart seeking missiles. I was terrified as I expected words to be followed by blows but I couldn’t run. I literally could not run, not on my first time out in four inch stilettos.
I walked as fast as I could, wobbling on my heels a couple of times to the accompaniment of gales of laughter from behind me. I made my way home, head down, all too conscious of the unwanted tail between my legs.
I make my way unsteadily to the toilet on the train, avoiding eye contact with the other passengers. I enter and lock the door behind me, lowering my jeans and sitting. I am aware of a faint odour, as if I have been smuggling a fish supper in my knickers. That’s something no one warns you about when you transition, how hormones effect your natural scent. Apparently it works in the opposite way for trans men too. Pussies that smell of balls, balls that smell of pussy. Returning to my seat I once more gaze out of the window, houses passing by, fields, houses again, closer and closer to Birmingham and my train connection to home. We pass through a tunnel and the view is replaced with my reflection. I wonder yet again how messed up my anatomy must be for my face to be my Achilles heel. Makeup only does so much and I would be the first to admit I am no expert at applying it. From certain angles I am passable and I turn my head to try and capture them. I used to always wish that I had been born a girl but I increasingly find moments when I am grateful I was born trans for the perspective it gives me. Sure, life is more challenging this way but I am naturally competitive.
We emerge from the tunnel and approach New Street Station. I move my bags to the doors and toss them out onto the platform as soon as the train stops. The platform is deep underground but that won't be a problem. I find a platform attendant and ask where the elevators are. It turns out they don't have any.
I move my bags to the foot of the stairs and look up at them. Three flights with landings in between them. They are wide, so I won’t have to worry about blocking other people going up and down. I hoist two bags onto each shoulder and take a duffel bag in each hand. They seem to have gained weight since Coventry, perhaps Birmingham has stronger gravity?
I mount the first step, then the second. Step follows step, agonisingly slowly, my arms and shoulders aching. I reach the first landing eventually and have to set the bags down and lean against the rail, hands shaking from the effort. I look at the remaining flights of stairs. No way. But I have to.
I decide to try a different approach to the problem. I take two bags up to the next landing and leave them there, returning for two more and then two more again. This time it is my thighs that burn. The summit is in reach so I make one last push. By the third trip my legs are shaking so much that I miss a step and teeter for what feels like an eternity, my life flashing before my eyes as I anticipate a bumpy, painful, bone breaking return to the platform below. Somehow I finally recover my balance and make it to the top with my luggage. Checking my watch I see it took me over twenty minutes to climb those stairs but I still have half an hour until the Edinburgh train is due so I sit on the biggest of my bags and rest for a moment.
I am in a long corridor with numbered stairs leading down off it to the various platforms below, platform one at one end, platform twenty two at the other. At the midpoint is an board listing arrivals and departures so I reluctantly drape myself in bags and stagger along to read it.
My toes are hurting and again I wish I’d worn my Nikes instead of these boots. Vanity won out over common sense, because they do give me legs to die for. Legs, my secret weapon. Never mind the face, keep your eyes on those pins. But, damn it, my feet hurt.
I see that I need to be on platform nineteen so I shuffle off in that direction. I carry the bags down two at a time to each landing until I reach the platform, exhausted but relieved. I sit on the largest bag again and check my watch. I made it with ten minutes to spare.The worst is past, it took forever to move my bags between platforms but now I only need to lift them onto the train and I am home free. Edinburgh will be easy, off the train, luggage trolley, taxi rank.
The worst is past.
I look at the people around me. Three teenage boys are nearby, just my luck. I keep my head down and my eyes focused on the edge of the platform as I wait.
An announcement comes over the station Tannoy.
"Platform alteration. The one oh five for Edinburgh will now depart from platform one, would passengers for the one oh five to Edinburgh please make their way to platform one where the train is now arriving."
Time stops. If this were a movie the camera would crash zoom in on my eyes as my world collapses.
The edge of the platform takes a new significance, but a pointless one as there is no incoming train to jump in front of. No, that’s on platform one at the other end of the station, isn’t it? My gaze turns to the stairs, an unclimbable mountain. I look at my bags. I think of my ticket, non transferable, it is this train or nothing for I have no money for another ticket. I know in the pit of my stomach that my life has just ended here on platform nineteen of Birmingham New Street station.
Someone says something to me. I look up and see the three teenage boys standing there.
"I said, excuse me Miss, do you know where platform one is?"
"Grab a bag each and follow me, I’ll show you"
God, I love teenagers.