This is less of a travel guide and more continuing evidence that one’s own fears often go unrealised. There are a lot of pictures, so I apologise if I destroy your computers 😛
So what happens when a stressed out, Irish, rainbow-haired, obviously trans woman filled with trepidation goes on the holiday of a lifetime? She has the holiday of a lifetime! I was with the two men in my life, amazing friends who have supported me through thick and thin, I knew I could rely on them.
I had spent months getting ready for this trip, eyeballs deep in transition with hardly a clue of how to prepare. The days leading up to the trip were filled with the stresses of packing whatever I needed into one small rucksack and getting it right. I finished packing literally at the very last second before I left for the airport. Trying to fit all the cosmetics I believed to be necessary into one of those little plastic airport security ‘bomb material’ bags was a nightmare.
I wore a new dress out, something that usually creates anxiety over how I look, especially when I’m not known for wearing dresses. It was going to be at least 30*C so jeans weren’t really an option.
Day 1 – To Barcelona!
The first trial was of course airport security. I didn’t want to get pulled over, patted down, or put through the body-scanner so I did all I could to ensure I had no metal on my person: earrings out, belts off, shoes off, my denim jacket with metal buttons off. As I stood in line waiting to pass through the metal detector I thought ‘Crap, bra clasps! Aren’t they metal?’ I had dressed as ‘femme’ as possible to avoid awkward questions or pat downs, and while I didn’t panic, I expected the alarm to whoop, to have all eyes on me. I passed through the detector…….not a sound. I grabbed my luggage and moved on. Phew! The holiday can begin.
Actually wait, I need to use the bathroom before we get on the plane. I was still copping out so I joyously used the disabled toilet as an alternative, no fuss, no muss. Time to go to Barcelona!
We arrived at Barcelona airport around 8:30pm. I’m a nervous pee-er, so as soon as we got off I had to go again. I wasn’t sure what to do; I was all dressed up and had never used the women’s bathroom before. Another disabled toilet, thank crumbs. (FYI: Please keep an eye out for any actual impaired person who may be on their way to use the disabled bathroom; it’s made for their requirements after all.)
Stepping out of the airport we felt the Iberian heat and crushing humidity instantly.
We hopped in one of the taxis and made it to our apartment without incident, taking in the wondrous sights. The apartment was beautiful – for me, it was safety. I wasn’t on edge, but to have that private space helped keep me calm. We had our own private patio with all modern decor, a home away from home.
Our mission for the night was simple, go check out our surroundings, get food, get beer. The whole time leading up to this trip I figured I would have Catalonian bigots shouting ‘él es transexual‘ and chasing us at every corner, but no. We found a little cafe just before closing time; they served us beer and free croissants with warm smiles and friendly chatter. On the way home we met a couple of young American backpackers, invited them back and got wasted late into the night. What a good sign for things to come.
Day 2 – Exploration and beach
I woke in bountiful spirits, saved from a deserved hangover thanks to the heat. I had to get up before the boys to get ready for the day of exploration. I nervously got dressed and applied my make up to the best of my ability since I rarely wear make up. For all the intensity of the heat I had to be covered head to toe, I didn’t want to show off my man skin because it would make me feel very paranoid, very dysphoric.
The plan for the day was simple, embrace Barcelona! The boys went out briefly bringing back breakfast and beers (what alliteration!) then we made our merry way just after the noon sun had passed. We walked for hours, stopping regularly at cafes and bars.
I had my eyes open the whole time, aware of any dangers to my obvious transness. I observed the Barcelona women, mostly wearing conservative tops, denim shorts, and bare legs. I had to laugh, my problem wasn’t passing for a woman, my problem was passing for a tourist. It was a style blending fail but I could not care less, rather a badly dressed tourist than an obvious transsexual for all the dangers I invented in my head.
We got some tasty local seafood from a restaurant on the Ramblas, and I found a saviour in the gender neutral toilets. Next we made it to the beach. As soon as we sat down, getting back up was out of the question, it was just too nice. Sure, I got a somewhat dysphoric as the women without care lounged in their bathing gear and swam in the waters, I was jealous that I couldn’t just strip off and run into the sea with no attention directed at me. Nothing half a dozen mojitos couldn’t fix for now. One day I will be able to wear that bathing suit with confidence, and I’ll have a better time than anyone with that freedom.
There was a line for the toilets, male and female cubicles where the signs didn’t matter and whichever door opened first, the next person went in. When I got near the front of the queue, bursting from too many watered down drinks, a girl came out of a female cubicle and the man in front of my gestured for me to go ahead of him. A pass!
When we had our fill we went to a nearby park overlooking Las Ramblas for a smoke. A couple of French ex-pat guys came over, offering herbs of a sort. Soon after, a drunken local came over and talked to us, he shook Sean’s hand, shook Chris’ hand, then proceeded to plant two slobbering kisses on each of my cheeks. ‘So, ah, you like boys?’ He asked.
The French fellow asked if we were looking for anything else, herbs or spices, if you get me. One of my boys wanted something special for the festival coming up, so we went adventuring with the stranger. One piece of advice we were given was to not go into anybody’s house. Our new acquaintance took us on a dizzying tour of the city to which point we had no idea where we were, but we were on our way to someone’s house.
My friend wanted to go in alone, but the two of us were worried and tagged along, into a dingy set of apartments. We climbed a flight of stairs and the French guy delivered a certain knock. A giant of a man answered the door with a threatening look. He let us in and went to sit on a chair in the middle of the kitchen, looking intently at the door.
We went into a small living room where a slight, off his rocker looking fella got into an exchange with our French friend. We didn’t understand their conversation, but it was along the topic of ‘Why did you bring all these people here? I told you not to bring people here.’ Not a good place to be, especially being trans, but it was a good opportunity to use a bathroom again.
Anyways, we got what we needed and scraped back down the scenic yet intimidating alleyways back to civilization. We drank a bunch more sangria before parting ways with Mr. French and set about finding our way home….and pizza. I had my iphone for directions back to the aparetment, searching google maps whilst my friends covered me from potential muggers.
For all the fears of muggers, we rarely felt watched or threatened, though we remained vigilant. For all the talk of snobbish residents refusing to speak English, most shop patrons were very friendly and prepared to meet us halfway along the language barrier.
On the way home we picked up a bottle of rum and somehow an Argentinean man. Another night of heavy drinking in the 3am warmth. At a point I was drunk lying on the couch, being purposely unresponsive. The Argentinean asked my friends, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but is this a man or a woman?’ My friends paused, before offering a non-committal response ‘That’s up to you, she’s whatever you think.’ More education is needed here; the best answer would have been simply ‘she’s a woman’ spoken with certainty and indignant authority. Even with that, he was confused but didn’t care and I offered all the subtle and not so subtle cues when I came back to life, to show him who I am.
Dragging Sean to bed was an adventure of its own, too much rum. Time to rest up for another day!
Day 3 – Theme Park!
The plan for Friday was set in stone, get the train to Salou to visit Portaventura theme park. I dressed down because I didn’t want to be flying around roller-coasters in a dress all day.
We lucked out in the best way, even for being the height of summer, the park was almost empty, and the longest queue had a 20 minute wait. The first ride we came to was Furious Baco. Chris had never been on a roller-coaster before so we made sure to get front row seats. We had no idea what to expect, I figured it would be the usual, trundle up high on the tracks before tumbling down, but instead it went from 0 – 80 mph in 3 seconds. It was terrifying at the start, the intensity of the G-force but afterwards I couldn’t stop laughing, however Chris was traumatised and said he wouldn’t go on anymore rides.
We walked about the park, eating and getting drunk again. The two boys were too chicken to go on many of the rides, so thanks to the minimal queues I gleefully went on rides again and again running around like an excited lost child whilst they patiently waited and enjoyed the scenery. After a while I managed to get Chris on one more ride, the Dragon Khan, which still haunts him to this day, and Sean came with me on the Giant Shambala.
At a point, the dread came, I needed to pee. Unsurprisingly there aren’t many disabled toilets in roller-coaster theme parks. Fudge it, today has to be the day. I walked into the woman’s toilet, I walked in as if I had been there a thousands times before, like I was supposed to be there, because I was supposed to be there. You know what happened in there? The big shock? I went in, took a pee, washed my hands, fixed my make up and left. Other women were in doing their business and they weren’t concerned at all.
We stayed late until the last train, and I was as happy as could be, loving my friends more than ever because they knew how important this all was to me, and the let me have my fun.
We went back to the cafe from the first night for custom cocktails and things got out of hand again. Still for all our boisterousness nobody commented on me, no-one called me out, no-one looked. Drinking in Barcelona is a chilled affair, everyone happily chatting outside, nobody bothering anyone else. The makeup was as set as it was going to be on my face, and any touch ups were done in a drunken haze. Too much blusher? Fudge it.
Day 4 – Festival!
Saturday is why we came, for the ‘Be Prog! My Friend’ festival at El Poble Espanyol. The music ran from 5pm to 5am, so we had plenty of time to do more exploring. We hopped on a tour bus, saw the Nou Camp, Casa Bastilo, Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia. The intense beauty and design, and sheer size of the city was mind-blowing. Our feet all ached from so much walking but we powered through.
Finally it was time for the gig. I wore the same red dress as our first day of exploring with all the embellishments I could muster whilst remaining still covered head to toe.
Disclaimer and trigger warning – recreational drug use.
We got a taxi to the venue, passing on the way the ‘Magic Fountain.’ Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it, but it was a series of mind-blowingly giant waterfalls, leading up a massive array of steps to the huge ornate museum in the distance. It was both spectacular and surreal.
After a little language trouble getting into the venue, we made it just in time for the Devin Townsend Project, followed by Camel.
During Camel, at around midnight, the boys decided to consume the spices we got in the scary apartment a few days ago. You’ve read this far, it was MDMA. I was a little worried because I wasn’t really up for taking it myself, but after a few more drinks and seeing them really start to enjoy themselves, I decided to take my dose.
I’d never taken this drug before, and it took about 45 minutes for it to start affecting me. We went and sat beside the crowd with a bunch of other people, surprisingly not being crumpled. The come up was intense, I remember closing my eyes and breathing a lot, just trying to cope with the sheer energy of the drug. By 1am, we were all completely banjaxed.
My confidence soared. Any experience I’ve had with drugs since my realisation has reaffirmed my identity as female, yet this is rarely the case with other transwomen I’ve discussed the subject with. They mostly say it makes them much more dysphoric, but I have found the opposite, it cements my identity and all but removes the aspect of feeling male. I don’t recommend testing this out for yourself, drugs are stupid.
I got my guys to come to the bathroom entrance the first time to keep an eye out but there was no need. I went into the woman’s bathroom, did my business, and spent a long time looking in the mirror trying to fix my make up and for a change embracing how I look. I felt quite safe as women came in and out, cheerily standing beside me as we made our touch ups, it was wonderful.
Then the crescendo came, Meshuggah! The concert was to run from 1:30am to 3am. The air was hot, the lights were bright, and it was just the most amazing circumstance to party to a band we’d all been waiting years to see. We made our way to the front and just let loose. For all three of us, the memories of the set were fragmented, but it still all pieces together into a whole. It was almost too much to take and was without doubt the most fun I’ve ever had at a gig.
After it finished there was an after party and I danced my wee buns off to The Algorithm at 4am with anyone else who still had the energy, while my guys again waited on me to have my fun. As we all got kicked out and the music died down, we became the loud drunken Irish folk we are, grabbing people to dance and sing along with on the way home. They spoke no English, we spoke no Catalan, but we communicated through music, turning a lot of heads as most others were walking more quietly out.
Somehow we acquired a German friend and we all walked back to our apartment, thanks to the direction of Chris, otherwise we would have been doomed in our drugged up states. Back at the house we drank heavily again into the tiny hours. At a point, Sean went out alone for an adventure, and Chris went into the living room for a lie down, leaving just myself and the German guy outside.
So, earlier inside we were talking about what German we know, all I remembered from two years of classes was ‘Ich habe eine lange schlanger’ which means ‘I have a large “snake”‘, to which our German friend said, ‘I hope not!’
Hmm! I was passing. I was passing all night because of my confidence. I wasn’t the gnarly obvious transsexual that night, I was the crazy rainbow-haired girl in the red dress dancing and shouting around everyone, having too much fun. My voice was shot from all the screaming, frivolity and drugs, yet I was still passing because my presentation was so female that there was no reason for it to be doubted. And, we were all drunk, as well as partially deafened from the music.
So, there we are, I’m off my face, and I’m thinking, let’s try something out. I looked at him and tilted my head and gave him what I infer to myself as a sexy look.
‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ I asked
‘Yes, you are very beautiful.’
I giggled and maintained eye-contact, whilst still acting coy. I shuffled about in my seat looking at him and pointed to my lips.
We kissed. I’d never kissed a boy before. It was different. Whereas with any woman I’ve been with we danced our tongues, this guy was like a pit viper chasing a mouse down a hole. Whatever, it was fine.
We sat there for a minute, smiling at each other, and he said ‘Again?’ Why not.
It was far from the best kiss ever but I felt ok about it. There was no attraction, it was just a bit of fun.
Soon after, the guys came to and I started to crash out. I made my excuses and flopped down on my bed still fully clothed and made up, just in case German guy came in later and I ruined his night. He went away, while Chris and Sean stayed up all night chatting and getting more wasted. What a day!
Day 5 – Home
We were all in a sorry state in the morning. Our bodies were in tatters and our feet blistered, it was time to go home. We cleaned, and gathered all our stuff. The boys went out again to get us breakfast. I was too scared to go out alone to the shops the entire trip even though it would have been fine, and I’m so thankful they went out of their way to look after me.
I donned my travel dress and we made our way home to not-so-sunny Northern Ireland. The fears for airport security were heightened this time, I was dealing with folks who didn’t even speak English, this was the final hurdle. I followed the same routine as before and got through without any problems.
Upon arrival we realised that the annual 12 of July festival was being held on the 13th this year because the 12th fell on a Sunday. It was raining and it was cold as we walked a couple of miles back to my house through drunken hooligans. They were bloodied, violent, obnoxious, destructive and I was more scared to be back home than I ever had been on holiday. Thank goodness my outfit was red, white and blue, otherwise it could have gone badly, because if they smelled a transsexual, they would be on me like the hyenas they are.
We got back to my house and it has been raining ever since.
I hope you enjoyed the story of our holiday. You may wonder, what was the point in just detailing everything that happened? I want to show that it was just a normal holiday. Take out the word ‘trans’ from anything mentioned and it has the same quality of excitement and relaxation as any holiday a cis-person could have. Heck, this was basically a perfect holiday that few could match.
I can’t thank Chris and Sean enough. They didn’t say it loud, but I know they made a special effort to look out for me, they knew how big a deal this trip was, how scared I was. They are absolute legends and have been protecting me ever since I came out. For the loss of any relationships in transitions, the ones that remain become so much stronger. Love you guys. ♥
It just goes to show that whilst being trans there are some unique challenges, but with well considered preparation we can go away and live as our best selves; that whilst we need to remain aware and vigilant, we can have these amazing times, and not let dysphoria, or the attitudes of anyone else stop us.
Instead of worrying about the potential fears, this has been the most amazing opportunity to learn about myself, to show that I can do all the things I thought I’d never be brave enough to do. It shows that you can do it to!
I haven’t been in a male bathroom since, and with any luck I’ll never have to use one again. My confidence when interacting with people has accelerated whether I pass with them or not. I understand how the pieces of the transition puzzle fit so that instead of searching for unattainable perfection we can find what is good enough, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
So long as dysphoria is not the most active factor, we can push it away with the other worries and stresses of life and just bask in the shining glow of our true identities.
Go out and discover the world as you always wanted to, have no shame, embrace your pride, and show everyone what a badass you are!
Peace, love and happiness,
P.S. Here’s a video from the Meshuggah concert. The guy filming was just to the right of us. This video really helps piece together the memories, makes the hair stand on the back of my neck, and gives me goosebumps every time.
P.P.S Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you Chris, you can’t complain about what you don’t read 😛