Enter The Realm of the Pendragon
Claire got into the office early the next morning. She'd managed to get through another internet-free evening thanks to a combination of catching up on lots of reading and an early night. Although she hadn't left the house any earlier than she usually did, the traffic was in her favour for once and she breezed her way in, somehow getting to the building a good 20 minutes before her usual arrival time.
She set her computer booting up while she went off to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. Humming softly to herself, she quickly made her drink and went back to her desk. She logged in and the computer automatically began to open up her e-mail programme for her. Right at the top was an e-mail from Julia. She clicked on it with a groan, fully expecting it to be a great long list of all the things that she was expected to do that day. To her surprise, it was a very short reminder that Julia wouldn't be in the office for the next two days because she was taking an extended weekend away in the Peak District where she would be uncontactable by either phone or e-mail. Claire blinked and read the message again. There was nothing further to it, no list of things for her to do at all. She couldn't believe it. She'd finished all the work she'd already been given and it was unlike Julia to leave her with nothing to do. She fully expected to get a second e-mail any minute until she looked at the time that the first one had been sent.
"Half past seven this morning," she commented. "I suppose she's probably well on her way by now so that leaves me with a couple of days with nothing to do! Well, at least I'm getting paid for it!" She stretched leisurely in her chair, completely unaccustomed to the freedom she had just discovered and smiled to herself. "If I'd known earlier, I could have had a lie in and not come in till 10 like Rhea does."
She leant back in her chair and sipped at her coffee slowly. She had a good hour all to herself before her friend came in and she intended to make the most of it. The office was quiet, most people hadn't arrived and wouldn't do so until closer to 9am. She bit her lip, feeling nervous about what she was going to do. She knew there would be repercussions if she was discovered but she simply had to do it anyway.
Feeling determined, she put her mug down next to her keyboard and opened up a new browser window before she could change her mind. As her heart started to thump painfully in her chest, she called up the search engine and rapidly typed in a single word: transgender and clicked decisively on 'search'. A full page of entries was displayed with the words 'Results 1 - 10 of about 8,910,000 for transgender' right at the very top and she gulped at the amount of results that simple word had given her. Thankful that she had plenty of time to go through them all, she started to scroll down the page. She wasn't entirely sure what she was looking for but she thought that she'd know it when she saw it.
"Oh my goodness," she whispered, "All this information! Why didn't I think of looking on the internet for this kind of thing before?"
She found a site that appeared to be an encyclopaedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender information and decided that that was as good a place as any to start. She took a deep breath and prepared to take the plunge. She glanced quickly around her once more to make sure that there was no one around her who could see what she was doing. There wasn't; the office was empty. The only people she knew that could be watching her and who she hoped would have better things to do than sit and follow her internet surfing were those in the IT department.
She had been informed on her first day at the council that internet access was constantly monitored to make sure that people were not abusing the service or using it to avoid actually doing any work. Claire had no idea how they could be watching what everyone was doing online but had decided early on not to take any chances. She very rarely went online at work, even though she was itching to check her personal e-mail practically every minute of every day to start off with. There were occasions that she had to go online, to find hotels or train fares or something of that nature but she made sure that she was online for the shortest amount of time possible and didn't do anything other than what she had gone online to do. And now... now she was contemplating the one thing she'd been so careful not to do in the whole year that she had been working for Baxter Council. With a final check around her, she clicked on the link and watched as the website opened before her eyes.
Half an hour later, the phone rang, frightening Claire to death and making her jump a good foot in the air. With one hand on her chest to calm her rapidly beating heart, she answered it on the next ring.
"Hey Claire? It's Rhea." Claire was surprised to hear the familiar voice of her friend on the other end of the line.
"Oh, hi Rhea. What's up?"
"Claire, I don't think I'm going to be coming in today. I've just spent the past hour throwing up and I feel like shit, I really do."
"Rhea, that's horrible. No, you shouldn't be expected to come in if you're not well, don't worry about it," she soothed.
"Well, just let Julia know for me?"
"I would but she's off doing her walking thing or whatever it is in the Peak District, remember?"
"Is that this week? I thought it was next week."
"I hope it's this week, I got an e-mail from her this morning saying she was going. If it's not I expect I'll get another e-mail from her saying she's come back."
Rhea gave a small laugh. "I imagine Julia knows exactly when it is, after all, she's hardly the type to get a date wrong now, is she? She's so organised, she probably plans her periods."
Claire mock-gagged at the phone, glad that Rhea couldn't see her response. "Indeed," she commented noncommittally. "Anyway, you should get yourself back off to bed. I hope you're feeling better soon."
"Thanks, Claire, see you soon."
The girls hung up and Claire looked at the phone thoughtfully. If Rhea wasn't coming in for that day at least, then she was going to be alone in their part of the office and able to do whatever she pleased. She glanced over at her monitor where the website she had been looking at was clearly on display. All she needed to do was make sure no one in the office saw what she was doing. That shouldn't be too hard, it was always obvious whenever anyone came down to their end of the room. Feeling slightly better about the whole thing and pushing the thought of the IT boys sitting watching her progress from site to site to the back of her mind, she turned her attention back to the monitor.
"Hey Claire," a voice said from behind her some time later.
She jumped and turned round rapidly to see who it was. "Oh, Matthew! Hi! You didn't half make me jump!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, quite genuinely. "Did I disturb you?"
"Not at all," she admitted. "I was just engrossed in reading something and you startled me."
"Oh? Anything interesting?" He had come to stand beside her and now glanced over at her computer monitor. He didn't recognise the website as such, but he certainly recognised the pink and blue logo on prominent display at the top of it. "That doesn't look like work," he teased.
She blushed slightly. "Well, it's not, is it? I've not got anything really to do today and I'm all on my own. I thought I'd make the most of the privacy and the internet connection to look up some more information."
"Talking of internet connections, that's why I came to see you." He handed her a cd-rom in a thin plastic wallet. "That's the anti-virus software I promised you. There's a read me file on there too with all the instructions, how to install it and all that kind of thing. You should be okay though, it's pretty straight forward."
"Thanks so much!" she smiled. "So I just install this and then what?"
"I'd take the anti-virus you have already on your pc off first, if I were you. Then install that, run a virus scan, and if it picks up a virus which it should, it'll give you instructions on what to do. It's all pretty straight forward." Claire looked at the disc in her hand with a concerned expression on her face. "Look, if you get stuck and you're really struggling, give me a call." He helped himself to the pad of Post-it notes on her desk and scribbled his mobile phone number on the top one. He peeled it off and offered it to her stuck on his index finger. "Just, not too late, okay? I don't want to answer the phone to panicked heavy breathing at 2am." He grinned at her, emphasising the joke.
She peeled the Post-it note off his finger. "Gotcha, no heaving breathing at 2am." She read his phone number to make sure she had it correct. "I'd better put this somewhere safe," she said. She pulled open the bottom drawer of her desk, got out her backpack and rummaged around in it for her purse. It wasn't exactly a purse as such, more similar in style to a fabric surfer wallet. She carefully folded the Post-it in half and pushed it into one of the wallet pockets.
While she was doing that, Matthew had looked over at the monitor and was trying to read the information given on the screen. "What website is that?" he asked finally.
"I don't know, I just put 'transgender' into a search engine and had a look at the sites it brought up." She dumped her bag back into the drawer and pushed it closed with her foot before swinging back round to face the computer screen. "Is it not any good?" she asked anxiously. "I really didn't know what I was looking for.
"Well, if I were you, I'd start with the basics. Have you got a piece of paper? I'll give you some sites to check out."
"Sure, here you go." She passed over her notepad and a pen.
Matthew perched on the edge of her desk and began to write. "Okay, I would say the best place to start is with a Trans 101, that gives you all the different definitions and general information regarding pronouns and that kind of stuff. Then, I'd read through the Standards of Care. These are guidelines that are there to help all the practitioners deal with us as individuals but unfortunately a lot of practitioners out there seem to think that they're laws. I'd definitely look at version 6 which is from 2001, but you could also look at version 5, that was from 1998 just to see the difference. A lot of practitioners don't seem to know that version 6 exists, even though it came out a few years ago, and they're still using version 5." He looked up to see Claire's totally overwhelmed expression. "Okay, scratch looking at version 5 and I won't quiz you on it either."
She sighed in amazement. "Is it really this intense?"
He shrugged. "It can be, it depends how much you want to get involved, I suppose. I'd advise any transperson to look at this information first, so you might as well know the same kinds of things that we'd have to know, how else can you support us if you don't have the complete knowledge?"
"Good point. So what else?"
He prodded the sheet of paper with the top of the pen. "I've put down here a couple of personal websites. They're really good for showing exactly what the process is and what people have to go through, but you also get a really good idea of their feelings and thought processes too. These ones in particular have a hell of a lot of reference material on their sites." He paused for a second before scribbling down one last website address and underlining it. "And this is my own site."
She peered over to take a look at it. "Wow, you have your own website," she gasped in amazement.
"Yep, I certainly do. There's bits of my own personal journey on there, but the majority of it is information to help out other transpeople. Resources on therapists, surgeons, trans-friendly places, all that kind of thing. It's my part in giving back to the community, besides, I'm an organised kind of person, so it suits me to do this."
"Do you get a lot of people contacting you then?"
He grinned. "Oh yeah. They tend to find me one way or another and so I spend a lot of time helping out people who are newly out or just getting started with things. I'm happy to do so, I've been there and done it all so I might as well make it easier on those who are needing the information to get going."
Claire nodded thoughtfully. She could see how other people would go to Matthew for help and advice, he was a very friendly and approachable kind of person and seemed to have the necessary patience to answer lots of questions. She fiddled with a button on her shirt cuff, trying to get up the courage to ask him a very vital question.
"Do you think, possibly, that I could get your contact details, I mean, to pass them on? For a friend of mine. I think he could maybe do with talking to you about some of this stuff."
Matthew nodded with a smile. "Certainly. I'll give you my personal e-mail address. Pass that on to your friend and tell him to get in touch. Like I said, I'm happy to help people out, even if they're just curious or questioning themselves."
He added his e-mail address to the sheet of paper before tearing it off and giving it to her. She accepted it with a quiet thank you.
"If I were you, I'd also advise your friend to take a look at those same sites I've written down there for you. The internet is a mine of information which comes in quite handy for people like us, because it can be quite hard to find it otherwise. Plus, it's anonymous. You can't exactly go into a library or a bookshop and try to get a book on Trans 101 without anyone noticing, you're bound to run into someone you know there!"
Claire laughed. "Especially in such a small town as this."
"Exactly, and small towns like this don't always have that sort of information ready to hand either, it's the kind of thing they'd have to specially order in. Additional embarrassment."
"Thanks for that, Matthew, you've been a great help. I'll be sure to pass all this information on."
"My pleasure," he smiled. "Now, I'd best get back off to work and let you start to inwardly digest all that information I've given you. It should keep you quiet for the next couple of hours anyway."
"I'm sure it will," she grinned.
"Okay, see you later." He slid off the desk and was about to walk away when she called him back.
"Oh, Matthew, one more thing?"
"Yes?" He turned back to her.
"Erm, you won't tell on me, will you?"
"For looking at this kind of thing at work. I know I shouldn't be doing it and I wouldn't be surprised if all the IT bods know what I'm looking at anyway, but I don't want to get in trouble over it."
"How would anyone know what you're looking at unless they come and see for themselves?" he queried.
"I don't know, I thought there was some kind of tracker or something that meant people could look and see what websites I'd been on."
"Not as far as I'm aware," Matthew replied. "Well, apart from the history and the cache, but if you clear those out you should be okay. You know how to do that, right?"
"Oh yes," she assured him. "I would have done that anyway, I clear it out regularly at home."
"Good," he said. "Then you should be fine."
"Okay. Thanks, Matthew."
"Not a problem." He gave her a smile and a parting wave and made his way out of the office.
After he'd gone, Claire sat back in her chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Although she was glad to find out that there was no real way people could check up on what sites she was looking at, she was extremely happy to realise that Matthew didn't think anything of the kind of sites she was visiting. "It's perfectly natural to be curious about this kind of thing," she told herself. She put the sheet of paper on which Matthew had listed various websites in his neat clear print in front of her and read off the top address. "All right, which site to look at first?" She ran her eye down the page until right at the very bottom she saw Matthew's own website which he'd underlined twice. "Okay, Matthew's site it is then." She rapidly typed the address into her browser, quickly checked over her shoulders in case there was anyone around and hit enter.
Some time later, her stomach gurgled and she realised she had been sitting there since she arrived several hours ago and hadn't had anything to eat or drink other than her initial cup of coffee. She had been completely amazed by Matthew's website. He was correct when he said that it didn't contain much of his personal journey but the small amount it did contain was enough to make Claire's mind spin. The things he had had to put up with, the changes that he had made to his life and to himself, the photos which documented his physical change, they were all the most amazing demonstration of what a person was prepared to go through to be themselves.
She sat back in her chair, gazing at a page full of pictures showing the little girl he had been growing into the young man he was now. It gave her goosebumps and she felt a little shiver run down her spine. As she glanced away from the monitor, her eyes fell on the sheet of paper with the web addresses that Matthew had written and at the bottom his personal e-mail address for her friend. With a final short study of the photographs, she quickly pointed her browser to a web-based e-mail service and when the page opened up, she rapidly typed in her username and password. After clicking on the link to compose a new e-mail, she entered the recipient's address and a subject ready to start typing the actual message. Her shoulders slumped as she tried to think of how to word exactly what it was she wanted to say.
After much deliberation and lots of deleting, she finally typed out some sort of introductory e-mail.
Date: November 11, 2005 11.52am
I was given your e-mail address by my friend Claire and she suggested that I contact you. She said that you're a very nice and friendly person who is happy to help people like me who are either new to this whole concept or are just trying to figure out exactly who they are so I hope that you don't mind my getting in touch with you like this.
Claire thought it would be a good idea as I have recently started to realise that I have had some gender issues for quite some time now. It was never anything I had ever been aware of before but I think it's something that I really need to address. I'm a bit confused to be honest, and I'm not overly sure exactly what to tell you.
I've had a look at your website and the entire thing just blows me away. You are so brave to go through all of that and I really admire you for doing it.
Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon.
Reading it over one final time, Claire bit her lip. She felt extremely apprehensive about this but she knew that it was the only way. With a small sigh, she signed her name at the bottom of the e-mail.
Unless otherwise specified.