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| Nov 25, 2013
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As I write this, I’m about to embark on the one and only activity for which I concede to wearing anything that vaguely resembles conventional man-clothes: flying. Next week, I’m beginning an eleven-day holiday on the Caribbean island of Grenada.

I should mention that I’ve flown to the Caribbean and the USA in the past variously wearing a sarong-style ankle-length skirt, a short denim skirt with opaque tights, and a calf-length summer skirt. So why not this time? It’s not that I get unduly hassled at check-in and customs. It’s not that airports can be dangerous places … although they’re one of the few environments I can think of where one can see the entirety of humankind in all its glory (the accident and emergency departments of busy hospitals are another) — at one end of the spectrum are well-to-do people travelling first-class to their private island paradises, at the other are gangs of yobs going on alcohol-fuelled rampages to watch their favourite football teams play abroad. The security measures which are obviously necessary at an airport means that anyone who gets involved in an altercation — whether they’re the abuser or the abused — is likely to be rapidly removed from the scene and detained for later questioning; this invariably plays havoc with their travel plans.

No. My reasons for abandoning my non-bifurcated leg-wear are more serious than this.

There’s an old story which regularly does the rounds on Facebook about a white woman who’s allocated an economy seat on a plane next to a black man. She complains bitterly about it, and is very vocal about her dislike of black people in general. A flight stewardess tells the woman that she understands the situation, that it’s unacceptable to have to sit next to an objectionable individual, and that there’s a spare seat in first class. She then turns to the unfortunate black man, and asks him whether he’d like to move into first class. The plane erupts into applause and a standing ovation as he gets up to leave for his new seat.

Of course, this anecdote and all its variants — white man/black woman, English man/Muslim man, thin person/fat person, etc. — are a complete load of bollocks. I’ve been there, so I know — it was on a round-trip to St Lucia in 2005. I was wearing a summer skirt.

On the flight out, there was a rowdy group of eight people — four couples — of varying ages between about 20 and 40, who thought it would be amusing to make loud jokes about me in the departure lounge at Gatwick airport. Fortunately, the flight was on-time, and the experience only lasted a few minutes. I didn’t see any of them on the plane, and they were so tanked up on Virgin Atlantic’s free in-flight alcohol by the time they got to St Lucia that they’d obviously completely forgotten about me. I was on a package holiday, and was quickly led away to a waiting coach for the transfer to my hotel, after which I didn’t see them again for the next two weeks.

As luck would have it, however, they were booked on the same return flight as me. There they all were, sitting across the far side of the departure lounge at Hewanorra airport, making loud comments about me, and generally being obnoxious. Finally, there came an announcement that the plane was about to board. But that wasn’t the end of it.

I walked onto the plane to be greeted by an unprovoked comment from one of the stewards: “You again!” Without sufficient time to prepare a suitably stinging reply, I just sneered back, and barged him as I walked past. I’d just settled into my allocated seat when a young man and his girlfriend walked up the aisle, checking the row and seat numbers as they went … then stopped dead in their tracks, with a look of horror on their faces. Yes, you’ve guessed it — it was the youngest couple from the group of hecklers that had so recently been the bane of my life in two airport lounges, realizing that they’d been allocated the seats next to mine! They were clearly uncomfortable with the arrangement, and couldn’t even look in my direction, but he nevertheless sat down by my side, with his girlfriend on his other side. I broke the ice: “I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?”

He waited until the plane was airborne, then asked a stewardess if he and his girlfriend could move. “Any particular reason, sir?” He mumbled something. The stewardess flashed a glance at my face, then at my clothes, then back at him. It was obvious what his answer had been. She went away — I guessed to check for spare seats — and returned a few minutes later. Now — had this been true to the anecdote, she’d have made a big speech in a loud voice about objectionable passengers, then offered me a seat in first class … I’d have pulled my bag down from the overhead locker to resounding applause from everyone. But that wasn’t what happened — instead, the young man and his girlfriend were offered alternative seats a few rows in front … but at least it wasn’t in first class. “You really should take time to get to know me,” I offered loudly as they got up, but they both pretended not to hear. Then to myself, but aloud: “Pfft. Couple of thick bigots.” They kindly left behind a pair of empty seats, which allowed me the rare luxury of stretching out for a sleep on the overnight flight back to the UK.

This drama was watched with much amusement by at least two of the couple’s six travelling companions from their vantage points throughout the cabin, and I was aware — especially given my last comment — that there might be a retributional backlash when we next met at Gatwick baggage reclaim. In the event, however, the whole group reassembled by the carousel, and despite standing just a few metres from me, not a single word was cast in my direction. Maybe no-one else wanted to risk looking like a fool. That was the last I saw of any of them.

So what has this got to do with my choice of clothing while flying? Well, although I didn’t get the standing ovation or the comfortable seat in first class as the anecdote suggested I should, it’s quite possible that the situation could have degenerated into violence. That doesn’t bear thinking about. Regardless of my innocence in the matter, my clothing may have been seen as provocative — especially in the light of the steward’s earlier remark and my reaction to it. I might have been seen as jointly responsible for the plane being delayed on the ground, or even being forced to return to St Lucia once airborne. I could have been in big trouble.

Copping-out through cowardice or threats of violence is something I won’t entertain, but when faced with a potential fine, criminal charges, or worse, it’s sensible to “adjust” one’s priorities. Since that day, therefore, whenever I travel by air, I dress more conventionally … though not exactly in what one may describe as “man-clothes.” Anything more than a cursory inspection will show that my Capri pants are actually from the women’s rail; those with even keener eyesight will notice my delicate silver ankle chain. And if I remove my trainers to rest my feet (as one is advised to do while in the air), the outline can be seen through my socks of palm trees painted on my big toenails. But all of this is way below most people’s radar, so I can get away with it while remaining sufficiently true to my principles. I call it “compromise,” while simultaneously sticking two fingers up at society behind my back. Anyway, it’s kind-of fun to be “incognito”; I’m so used to being on my guard every time I go out in public that to literally disappear into the crowd is, in itself, quite an exciting experience. But in case I’ve shattered your illusions about my commitment, dear reader, you can rest assured that, once in the holiday resort itself, my Capri pants and trainers always go into the suitcase, and my sun-dresses and strappy sandals are set out in the wardrobe.

For all my past dozen-or-so visits to Grenada, I’ve always stayed at the same resort on Pink Gin Beach, and many of the long-term employees have got to know me very well. When the staff — as well as the businessman who built and owned the hotel — refer to me by my first name like an old friend, it provides a form of credibility. Unfortunately, that hotel went bust last year, so this time I’m staying at a different resort a few kilometres along the coast on Grand Anse Beach. It’s unlikely that anyone will know me there; in addition, unlike the previous hotel, this one accepts children. So in many ways, this holiday is going to be a novel experience … which I’ll narrate another time.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Graham is an Englishman who proudly wears women's clothing with no attempt to pass as a female. His hobbies include winemaking, music and leading on telephone scammers making them think they can get his personal information, then telling them to sod off.

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