It was when the cashier converted my US Dollars into British Pounds that I knew the trip was real. I was going to London, alone. I had never been and didn’t know anyone there. How would people react to me? My accent? I considered adjusting my look. How do British people dress?
The one thing I couldn’t adjust was my transgender identity.
The UK and I have always had a long distance relationship. We stayed connected through my obsession with Robbie Williams, Doctor Who, and British Bake Off. We needed to be together. One morning, I impulsively booked the cheapest flight I could and secured an Airbnb. I was going. Not even Brexit or reports of increased violence against the LGBTQ community could keep me away.
My makeup was perfect and I wore a feminine floral dress. I was afraid to disturb binary gender standards while abroad. After the six-hour flight from New York, the first person I spoke to was an immigration officer. I feared being detained and somehow ending up in a cell full of men. Mercifully, I breezed through and had my passport stamped.
One of my first stops was Buckingham Palace. I felt compelled to take a selfie. As I took the photo, I noticed a man staring at me. I followed my first instinct and fled. Through the Canada Gate and past Green Park, I thought I lost him. I was wrong. His clothes and demeanor told me he was a business traveler looking to get laid. He matched my frantic pace and wore a diplomatic smile.
“Are you a man or a woman?
“I’m a woman, obviously.”
“I’m so sorry, I was on a trip to Thailand before and needed to know. Can I walk with you?”
“I’m so sorry I asked you that. You are very beautiful. I wanted to meet you. Do you live here?”
“Yes. On the other side of the Thames. I have friends coming soon.”
I walked fast but he kept up. He grabbed me and forced me to locked arms. I considered if I should pull away and risk a struggle. I decided to lead us to a public place. We ended up in pub called the Silver Cross. As long as we stayed in the pub there was nothing he could do. We sat down and he ordered a bottle of Italian Rosé.
“I want to fuck you. I have a hotel nearby. If you are a woman, I want to fuck you.”
His eyes slowly scanned my body as if he were making a map. He took another sip. I hardened myself and look him in his eyes.
“I only have sex with people I love. Unless we have an emotional connection, that would never happen. Have you ever been in love?”
I disarmed him. His forehead started to sweat. I figured he was married and I made him think about it. I started to mention children. How wonderful they are. How I want to have a child.
“Excuse me for a moment. I have to go to the toilet.”
I intentionally sat close to an exit. As soon he was out of my range of vision, I ran out the door. I ran several blocks until I was comfortable with the number of people and buildings between us.
Shaken, I made my way to the Hungerford Bridge to see the London Eye. While taking pictures from the bridge, a man with a German accent must have clocked me as a tourist. He put a necklace in my hand and asked me to help him put it on. While I was savvy enough to keep my valuable near my breasts, I made the mistake of clasping the necklace around his neck.
The man turned to me screaming, “Thank you!” He wrapped his arms around me tightly. I put my hands on my boobs. My wallet and passport were safe there. A warm, prickly kiss touched my cheek and he walked away.
My valuables were with me but my sense of safety was gone. What’s next?
I headed back to my AirBnB. With the door locked behind me, I was safe again.
My eyes glazed over as I stared out the window. The view of the apartment parking lot became darker as the sun went down. I couldn’t stay hidden in my room forever. I decided to venture out again.
Close to my building was a place called Paya and Horse. I mistakenly assumed it was a restaurant. Immediately, I was offered a drink for five pounds. I couldn’t refuse. The owner was a Serbian man with a collection of hats hanging behind the bar. I noticed him change hats at least three times although he wouldn’t admit it.
One by one, a regular would approach the bar. Each time, the weathered pub owner would introduce them as sketchy or shifty; not to be trusted. Then the owner would playfully encourage them to flirt with me.
“Don’t be shy! There is a pretty girl here! Talk to her!”
Each time, they would walk off, red-faced and defeated. I was equal parts flattered and terrified. Halfway through a pint of Fuller’s London Pride, a younger man with shaggy blond hair and thick-framed glasses walk in. He carried a confidence that the other men didn’t. I watched him walk to the bar and hoped that the pub owner wouldn’t tempt him to talk to me. He did.
As he approached me, I noticed his Tapout tank top gently draping over his muscled shoulders. Fighting sports are very popular in the UK. Through conversation, he revealed that he was half Scottish and had been living in London for the last decade. His eyes revealed that he was attracted to me.
We shared stories about Mary Berry and Simon Pegg. He gave me a tutorial on how to speak with a proper British accent. We revealed that we both scream-sing “Angels” by Robbie Williams on car rides. Our eyes met as we both reached down to play with his friend’s dog. I was disarmed.
My sides started to hurt from laughing and the pub owner had to quiet us several times. My mind was playing different scenarios. One was of another life where I was born a cisgender woman and we had several blonde, muscular babies together. The other was me fighting for my life because he learned I was trans.
Several beers later, my legs were shaky. Beer is stronger in the UK. It was time to escape. I knew the way back the Airbnb, but I needed to get there without being followed. I was planning different scenarios when the pub owner started to turn off the lights. He was closing early.
We were all outside and my new half Scottish friend stayed close to me. The entire pub said goodbye and I was alone with him, his friend, and their dog. So many of my rules were already broken and I was incredibly vulnerable.
“Let’s see the Buddha! It’s in Battersea Park! We can take the dog for a walk, then take you home. We have a job in Scotland tomorrow. Where are you staying?”
“Um… around the corner. I can just find my way.”
“Don’t worry, we’re going that way, too. We can walk together so you won’t get lost.”
It was like being confronted by a coiled snake, I was afraid to make any sudden movements. I decided to walk with them.
Battersea Park at night is pitch black. The lack of visual clues allows other senses to take lead. The texture of the ground. The cold crisp wind from the Thames River hitting your skin. The smell of hay from the park zoo.
As we walked down a trail, I felt his shoulder and elbow touch mine. He wanted to lock arms. I pulled away and asked about the zoo. Anything to create space while we walked home. We walked through darkness and I used his friend’s dog to divert any physical contact between us.
My voice. My pitch. We were engulfed in darkness. I had to raise it higher than usual. Under no circumstance could I be read as a trans woman. I never hide my transness. I’m proud of it. This was different. I had to keep it a secret. My life could depend on it.
We started to see street lights and I asked questions about the city. As long as they are talking, I’m not the focus. I’m safe. They started telling jokes about movies like The Matrix. Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s transition from masculine to feminine came up. I braced myself.
“Maybe I’ll cut my balls off. Then I can make a solid film.”
I looked at them and burst into laughter. Laughing at the situation I was in, not the joke. I couldn’t believe what I heard. This wasn’t the place to defend my position on transphobic jokes.
Finally, we made it through the park. It was time to say goodbye. We all hugged and I said goodbye to the playful shepherd dog.
My half Scottish friend wrapped his arms around me and before I could react, kissed me on my lips. It was a gentle kiss that begged me to move to London and start a new life. I stood in shock, I watched them walk away.
He was so sweet to me while assuming I was cis. Would he still be sweet if he learned that I’m trans? I’m still the tall, olive-skinned beauty that sings “Angels” in the shower. I never want to know the answer.
I made it back to my Airbnb in one piece. Behind the locked door, I sat on the bed and fell into a trance. My mind had trouble processing the day. All the adrenaline flowing through my body made my hands tremble. Hundreds of what if scenarios speed through my mind. I started to question whether solo travel abroad is a good idea. Would I ever travel like this again?
The answer is a resounding, yes. Is it more dangerous for a transgender woman to travel alone? Absolutely. I can’t stop being transgender. The dangers I face are real everywhere I go although they change based on the environment and the culture I’m in. I won’t let discrimination based on my identity stop me from living life.
I will see the world and the world will see me. Trans-identity included.