TinaCortina's Blog

Musings of a Tgirl

Belfast Butterfly Club – Irish Times review


I saw this article a couple of days ago.  It struck me it was a review of the Northern Irish equivalent of “Fabuliss”, which many of you know is my local meeting place for tgirls quite close to me.

I’ve not read a lot about the transgendered in Ireland, whether Eire or in the North.  I know a couple of girls that have been there on business who have been able to meet up with a few friendly faces, but somehow I can’t imagine Belfast or even Dublin to be especially accepting.  Steeped in its largely rural roots with a strong religious fervour whether catholic or protestant would not lend itself (I would have supposed) to acceptance of transvestite or transsexual expression ……so I was quite pleased to read a largely supportive article in the Irish Times (see below).  Contrast that with the tone of the Daily Mail article, (which I referred back to recently) when they sought only to sensationalise and ridicule Fabuliss and its organisers, and maybe Ireland is not quite as ‘backward’ as I’d thought. 

It would be interesting to get the take of any Irish girls out there.

I’ve travelled all over the emerald isle (albeit mainly on golf/ other sporting occasions) and always loved their hospitality, their music, their humour, (the Craic!), but I’ve never really discussed their attitudes to minority groups.   On their travels it seems everyone loves the Irish.  If one forgets for a moment the IRA and equivalent paramilitaries in the North and the civil strife that almost tore the country apart, one tends to think of the Irish as very easy-going and charming companions that would get on with anybody, yet the article below appears to hint that the transgendered need to meet in secret, that it would be a rarity to be able to just be out there in the street, to go to normal pubs, clubs and restaurants as one might do in London or (with care), most parts of England.

In following the link to the butterfly club (http://www.belfastbutterflyclub.co.uk/), I notice they don’t publish where they meet and the website (and their meetings) sound a bit old-fashioned,  a little like the Beaumont society, stuck in the 1970’s when there was nothing else….but in fairness, it has been going since 1991.  But it does sound like they could do with an injection of youth, and maybe the young tgirls themselves are a little more adventuresome.  Fabuliss has it’s fair share of ‘middle aged tranny’s’  but there is a good mix of ‘pretty young things’ as well, even if I am a bit old for that.  On the other hand, the Butterflys are sufficiently organised to be a charitable trust (rather like another group I hugely admire, the River City Gems in Sacramento, California) and have in the past if not currently, received substantial grants to provide support functions for the transgendered and their families and have even run conferences.

Anyway, the key thing was the tone of the article.  It seems pretty fair-minded and gave a platform for the girls there to talk a little about the why’s and wherefore of what they like to do.  So well done the Irish Times!

I give you the link to the article online, but knowing these links don’t last forever have reproduced the article below.

Have a great day

Hugs TinaCortina x

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http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/magazine/2011/0305/1224291099776.html

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BUTTERFLY CLUB : They use fake names, live in fear of being discovered and meet in secret, but Northern Ireland’s transvestite community have found a sanctuary in the Belfast Butterfly Club, writes Fionala Meredith

IT’S A FEW DAYS before Christmas, and at a small suburban social club near Belfast, preparations for a party are well under way. The mince pies are heating up in the oven, sausage rolls and salads are set out on the table, and the sparkling wine is open and ready to be poured. It’s a freezing night, and as members of the club arrive in their party gear – short silky skirts, spaghetti-strap tops, diamante-studded stilettos – they huddle up to the three-bar electric fire, trying to bring a little warmth to chilly fingers and toes. It’s a familiar scene in all but one respect. This is the Belfast Butterfly Club, and the party-goers are middle-aged men dressed in women’s clothes.

The Butterfly Club is a secret place, a private retreat where cross-dressers and others from the transgender spectrum can meet, talk and give each other support. Safe from sarcastic wolf-whistles, mocking comments or more serious abuse, they can – for a few hours every week – become their true selves, without shame, fear, pretence or guilt.

This is a rare glimpse into a hidden world. Linda and Aoife, two long-time members of the Butterfly Club, meet me at the bar of a nearby hotel, before bringing me to the club venue. They have already checked that the hotel is a safe place for them to appear “en femme”, or dressed as their female personas: such caution and watchfulness is a necessary part of their everyday life.

“The fact is that for every transsexual you see there are at least 100 transvestites you don’t,” says Linda, who is president of the club. “Almost all transvestites live in the closet. The vast majority are married with families, have good jobs and positions in society. They come from all walks of life: lawyers, policemen, doctors, teachers and politicians. When the army was on the streets, there were many from the military. There is a huge subculture. So many people are leading secret lives.”

It’s not surprising that the Butterfly Club, which was founded 20 years ago, feels the need for secrecy. As Trans Media Watch, an organisation which aims to raise awareness of the treatment of transgender people, points out, “people think we are child-molesting perverts, or pantomime dames – figures to ridicule, to be pointed out and laughed at, regardless of our feelings.” Linda believes that transvestites “have tended to end up on the cutting-room floor of life rather than in the winners’ enclosure during Ladies’ Day at Ascot.”

Tyres slashed, stones thrown, insults yelled – the Butterfly Club members have plenty of stories to tell. In 1998, four club members were refused admission to the recently opened Hilton Hotel in Belfast. Linda says it was her first real experience of “naked, undiluted prejudice”.

Linda describes another incident, which occurred just after she had been to see the Terry Johnson play, Hitchcock Blonde, in London. A group of young Italian men called out to her as she left the theatre. Linda was wearing a blonde wig, a low-cut black evening dress slit to the thigh, and a pair of green snakeskin high-heeled sandals.

“One of them had a small video camera trained on me and the others were shouting and smiling at me – ‘ bella, bella , oh, Diana’ they were yelling.” Linda quickly realised that the cries of “bella, bella” were not meant to be taken literally. “Like Hitchcock’s blonde heroines, I had become a victim of my own fragility, except instead of getting a knife in the shower from someone dressed as their mother I had been metaphorically perforated by the pizza boy for trying to look like somebody’s teenage daughter. Oh well, some you win and some you lose.”

Self-aware, stoical and wryly humorous, Linda refuses to be fazed by public ignorance. And she’s keen to emphasise that hostility or ridicule is only one side of the picture when out and about “en femme”.

“Sometimes you get compliments. Doors are held open for you, people chat to you in lifts and in restaurants, and women often smile at you.”

Michelle, a member who is married but who keeps her cross-dressing a closely guarded secret from her wife, family and work colleagues, says: “I am ecstatic when a real woman takes the time to compliment me on my female appearance. At this point I feel I am approaching getting things right, if not necessarily passing. For me the ultimate goal would be to pass, but I will willingly settle for ‘is she or isn’t she?’ ”

Passing – convincing strangers that they are genuine women – is the holy grail for these men. They study the looks and behaviour of “real girls”, or RGs as they call them, with forensic intensity. Talking is of particular concern, with some refusing to speak at all when in public, for fear of their gruff tones exposing them.

Michelle warns that “walking like you just stepped off a horse, or with a normal male gait, will give you away immediately”. But Michelle says that the real clincher is something more nebulous: confidence. “If you feel confident in the person you have created and comfortable with her, you should have a fighting chance of passing in public. But there are occasions when I have to admit to myself that I just don’t cut it. Some small flaw in my appearance will sap my confidence and all I can see is ‘a bloke in a dress’. My experiences of venturing out into the public as Michelle have been very limited to date and this is ultimately all to do with my own confidence.”

Growing older as a transvestite brings its own challenges. As the Turner Prize-winning artist and well-known cross-dresser Grayson Perry recently noted, for a transvestite, “getting old can be quite traumatic. When you’re really young there’s a certain androgyny about your teenage years so you can get away with looking pretty. Then you become more square-jawed and bolder and you don’t look so pretty in a frock any more.”

The men speak with wistful admiration of Thai ladyboys, envying them their delicate build and petite features.

“I want to be so good that no one would ever notice,” says Alice, who only came out to her family recently, after 25 years of guilt, anxiety and confusion. “I don’t want to look like a freak. But when it comes to passing, my height and build go against me, I know that.”

Tonight, Alice is wearing a dress bought for her by her mother. It’s a small but vital sign of acceptance: many transvestites never feel able to come out to their family, with some only emerging after their parents’ death. It’s not a coincidence that most of the calls to the club’s helpline come from “public phone boxes in the middle of nowhere”, as Michelle puts it, so great is the perceived need for secrecy. The caller is likely to have taken months or even years working up the courage to ring.

With luck, self-education and support, many transvestites eventually find comfort in their own identity. But it is a long, hard road. For most, the familiar feeling of disquiet at doing something transgressive and socially outlawed has been there from their earliest days, when they first started dressing up in their mothers’ clothes. “I knew instinctively that this shouldn’t happen, that people shouldn’t do it, and if they did, they hid it in order to avoid ridicule,” says Linda, who started cross-dressing aged 11.

Although not especially religious, Alice says she felt she was doing something “morally wrong”. “I remember the first person I ever told,” she says. “It was at primary school, and we were in the cloakroom, and I just blurted out ‘I wish I was a girl’. I didn’t mention it again until I was in my teens, and it took me another 25 years to come to terms with it.”

All the men speak of the thrill it gives them to dress in women’s clothes. Linda describes the early days of rushing home from work, knowing what was awaiting her. “As soon as I got in the door, I would dress, and then I would stay that way all evening. It felt brilliant.”

Michelle speaks of an “overwhelming feeling of well-being”. “It is a need to find out how it feels to walk in those heels; what it is like to wear a skirt or dress, the feel of stockings, the look of make-up and jewellery. Just to be a woman for a brief period.”

Aoife says simply, “I feel liberated, natural, truly myself – the way I want to be.” She believes that the clothes that transvestites choose to dress in reflect the style of the era in which they grew up. “It’s as though we’re trying to live the years we didn’t have.”

But purging – where transvestites gather up all their female clothes and destroy them, determined to leave their cross-dressing lives behind – is a common pattern too.

“During my 20s, when I met my wife, I told myself that it was just a wee phase, but it comes back to haunt you,” says Michelle. “I finally realised that it’s something you can’t walk away from.”

Aoife suffered years of depression and despair, even contemplating suicide at times. “My wife worked nights, and I would dress when the kids were asleep. But I went through awful guilt. I would put the clothes on, then take them off again straight away. It was such a release, being myself, but there was always the fear that the kids would find out. And no matter how many times you purged, it would always come back. It’s like telling someone who’s gay that ‘tomorrow you have to be heterosexual’.”

One of the most common erroneous assumptions is that transvestites are gay. But many of the club members are straight men who are happily married. Even those who are single have little or no intention of “transitioning” – fully changing from one gender to the other. Linda says that the effort of being constantly female would leave her “shattered”, and besides, she enjoys the male side of her life, such as playing sport.

Aoife is unusual: she eventually told her wife about her transvestism. “I couldn’t hold it in any longer. After I told her, I wanted to take it too fast. I had had a lifetime to contend with this, and my wife had only had a day or so. It was unfair to expect too much of her. But for her to accept it the way she does – she’s a wonderful woman. The first time I put female clothes on for her, she looked at my feet and said, ‘Those shoes are too tight. We’ll go and get you some new ones in the morning.’ ”

Linda wishes that the wives of transvestites could realise that their husband is still the same man they married. “All that changes is that he reveals to the world the softer underbelly of his character which lies beneath the crusty masculine shell, the shell they had already seen through anyway when they chose to marry him.”

Club members spend very little time agonising over the causes of their transvestism, or seeking to change it. “I don’t want psychotherapy,” says Michelle. “I know enough to be certain that I’m not going to cure this. Once you become comfortable with the idea that this is just me, things become a lot easier. It’s about acceptance.”

There’s nothing sleazy or threatening about the Belfast Butterfly Club. As they say themselves, they want it to be the kind of place you could take your maiden aunt to, and it is. Their motto – suaviter in modo (pleasant in manner) – suits this group of gentle, courteous people right down to the ground. As I close the door behind me, I’m reminded of the lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins in praise of “all things counter, original, spare, strange”. It’s good to know that there’s at least one place for them that feels like home.

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March 9, 2011 - Posted by | fabuliss, musings of a tgirl | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing. Very respectful attitude from the writer.

    Comment by Felicity | March 9, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks Fe, Yes thats is what I thought!

      Comment by TinaCortina | March 10, 2011 | Reply

  2. I think that is the situation for many clubs and their members of the transgendered community that they have to keep things somewhat subdued because of society’s attitude. In some parts of the world, even in the UK, one can be violently assaulted for just being one’s self. In places like Manchesters ‘Gay Village’ and other places too I assume, it is fairly safe as long as you don’t stray too far afield beyond the invisible boundaries. I feel many cross-dressers bring it upon themselves, not because they dress but more the way they dress. Yes I know, it shouldn’t be the case and people should be allowed to live their lives as they wish but on the other hand if you are going to be out ‘dressed’ it makes sense to do it properly wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps it is more dangerous a situation in Dublin or Belfast and that’s why they have to maintain a low profile.

    Shirley Anne xxx

    Comment by Shirley Anne | March 10, 2011 | Reply

    • Hi Shirley Anne, I agree. There are good places and not so good places. But you will always do better if dressed appropriately. I would love to get a passing comment from someone that is actually Irish!

      Hugs Tina x

      Comment by TinaCortina | March 10, 2011 | Reply

  3. Great article..

    Colorado country music club N-ireland

    Comment by Bill murray | June 2, 2012 | Reply


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