Next week it's International Women's Day. A chance to celebrate the role women play in society, to advance the cause of those who have their rights mashed into non existence every day and to develop awareness of issues like inequality and injustice. Next week I will be serious and join events planned to help my fellow women and to ensure a future for my daughters and sisters that is equal, fair and bright. However, for now, I'm going to be self indulgent and frivolous and contemplate another aspect of being a woman; going out and enjoying myself....with other women.
What would I do now without 'Girl's Nights Out'? These days it would be difficult to imagine myself surviving work without them. In seven years of working for the Community College that employs me, I've seen hours get longer, management grow more unforgiving and the chance to chat over a coffee at break time with my friends severely restricted. Management can tend to think that staff take over many breaks or spend too long over them. They want to see value for money and more work for the money they pay us. I could see the argument for this in a factory, but our students are people who need breaks too. They find their studies hard enough without having to spend even longer in the classroom. They too miss the chance to catch up with friends and to relax between classes.
I realize that before beginning my transition, I spent much of my time on my own at work, neither networking with colleagues or sharing much socially. Training in College as a Kindergarten teacher was a strange experience and not what I'd expected. Being closet trans, I opted for a career that was almost exclusively dominated by women. I wanted to be identified as a woman but for many reasons, I coudn't show it back then. Painfully aware that I would never give birth and maybe never have a family of my own, I wanted to work with younger children. It was a job I enjoyed so much, at least in the classroom with the little ones around me. But in the staffroom/teacher's lounge it was different. True, I was welcomed with open arms as a 'man' in a female dominated environment. Well, when I say 'welcomed' I guess I mean celebrated. I was feted as some sort of pioneer, a guy who wasn't afraid to be different and who could bring something new to Early Years education. 'Early education needs more male role models' was something trotted out to me again and again. The awful reality was that I felt terribly excluded. I wanted to be an ordinary woman, a kindergarten teacher, to have a class of my own and to just melt away into the background. I would have given anything to be like everyone else.
A guy in a workplace full of women is constantly the butt of mainly good natured jokes relating to his outward identity as a male. You don't get included in a way that is comfortable. I didn't get invited whenever the girls had a night out. I could understand why, having a guy around might have spoiled things I guess. The conversation just wouldn't have been the same. At the time I felt resentful. I did the same job as they did, I had the same interests, why shouldn't I be welcome?
These days I rely on my evenings out with the rest of my friends. True, many of us are divorced or separated, none of us will see thirty any more and we tend to have a rather worldly wise attitude to men that colors our conversations. There are a few guys who work with us. They do get invited and encouraged to come along, quietly nursing a pint while we share bottles of wine and talk too much. More often than not they make their excuses. I feel for them but I can't help smiling. I can't help thinking: 'There but for the grace of transition go I'. I know that having them around would change the conversation entirely though we'd still have fun, (probably at their expense). I feel faintly guilty that now I'm a woman I enjoy all of this. I really should know better shouldn't I?