I was looking at some of my recent blog posts, and realised that some people reading this might not have any idea why I go out to cafe nights every Tuesday night, and one Wednesday night every month.
I've mentioned plenty of times that it happens, but I think that the closest to explaining why was probably the post I've been tagged in March last year.
As far as I know, the cafe night concept originated in Brisbane, being organised by someone I've never met, and I only know as Bernie.
The idea is to have a group outing that happens consistently, on a regular basis, in the same location. The purpose of this is twofold. It is to provide an outlet for those of us who are out enough to want to get out regularly, and by doing so make the events happen at all. Far more importantly, it provides a known safe destination for inexperienced and infrequent crossdressers and timid transsexuals, some of whom are taking their first steps out in public.
The Brisbane group go out every Wednesday night, while our Newcastle group go out every Tuesday night. The Central Coast group go out on the first Wednesday night of each month. There are other groups, including a group in Western Sydney who go out every second Monday night and a group in Sydney who go out on the final Friday night of every month. I'm told that in the early days of the Brisbane cafe nights, Bernie often dined alone, just to ensure that if anybody else turned up, there was someone for them to meet.
Back in February 2008, I was one of those infrequent crossdressers. I had been to monthly meetings held by the support group Seahorse NSW, and to a couple of their restaurant nights between 2001 and about 2004 but the meetings were in suburban Sydney, over 2 hours drive each way from our home. The distance was an effort at first, but add in a young child and rudeness from some of the other members and I simply stopped going. Between 2004 and early 2008, I dressed rarely and went out even less.
I was involved in a work related court case in 2008, and the stress had me almost suicidal at Easter. I spent a lot of time that Easter with my son, reminding myself that I had to be here for him. Whenever I was up to it, I went to the cafe nights to escape for a while. I also went out a few other times, to local shopping centres etc.
Without the cafe nights, and the people who started them, I would probably still be hiding in my closet, getting out furtively a handful of times each year. For that, I feel that I need to make a special mention of two very special people. The first is Pip, who, as previously mentioned, passed away early last year and is sadly missed. The other was a great friend to Pip in her last few years, and was the other of the two instigators of the cafe nights. Her name name is Linda Karen (aka LK), and even though she always says that starting a cafe night in Newcastle was Pip's idea, her role in starting and establishing them was also very important. It was Pip and LK who dined together and tried different restaurants before settling upon the one that the cafe nights have been at for over 3 years now.
Somewhere along the line, and I'm not sure that I could identify exactly when, I changed from being one of the infrequent crossdressers who was venturing out into the scary world outside to being one of the core group that keep the cafe nights going. I set myself a goal at the beginning of this year to get out on average no less than once every 5 days, and an underlying assumption in that was that I intended to get to every Newcastle cafe night. So far, I have been to every cafe night even if my average hasn't quite met my goal.
I believe that the cafe night concept is an important one, being a form of support group that doesn't require incorporation, committees etc. It is also important because it gets transgender people out into the community, not only helping them to get out, but also allowing others in the community to see and interact with us.
From personal experience and from talking to others, I know that most crossdressers who are in the closet are paranoid, believing that they will be ridiculed by other people if they dare to go out. The experience from going out to cafe nights over the past few years is the exact opposite. We have had people strike up conversations for all sorts of reasons. One of the best conversation starters has been my lace patterned tights, which I wear from time to time. I've lost count of the number of times women have complimented me on them.
I'd love to see similar groups start elsewhere, and I'd also love to know if any similar groups already exist elsewhere. While I think that there is a place for traditional support groups that meet in private, I feel that cafe groups are far more effective at getting people out of the closet and accepted in the wider community.