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(Not Quite) Playing the Game

Scenes from an evening out that show how women take control.

I approached the bar ahead of my two friends. I didn’t know the pub and I opened with my ritual examination of the fridges; you never know what gem you’ll find. The barmaid came up to serve me. I said to her that I was checking out the fridges and she told me to take my time before starting to serve my friends. Not much there of interest; your basic Kopparberg hell. I turned my attention to the meager selection of cask ales. Only two on so this is easy.

“That one is probably the best of the two,” said a shorter, large man leaning on the bar, indicating the one on the left.

“Oh right,” I replied noncommittally as I waited for the barmaid to get back to me. I was struggling to read one of the keg clips so I leaned in to see.

“So you’re a real ale girl?” he continued as I waited.

“Yeah. I’ll try that one,” indicating the one on the right, “I like citrus flavours in my beer.”

The barmaid caught up with me. I tried the one on the right to start. It was OK. A bit timid for my taste and rather thin, as I tend to think of beer that lacks depth. The guy watched me as I did the things: give it a smell, hold it on my tongue and let it do its thing. Not sure, tried the rest of the sample. Nah.

“Not hoppy enough for me. Can I try the other one?” I asked the barmaid, who nodded and grabbed me another sample glass.

“You like hops?” The man again, good naturedly. I’ve seen his kind before where I work: friendly guys, usually harmless, often good fun to chat to actually. I was keen to join my friends - they had grabbed a table - but he was being polite.

“Yeah well I’m more of a Wild Weather or Sirencraft type girl - whatever’s weird.”

His eyes glazed over: he had no idea what I was talking about. But he nodded, “Well so am I but they don’t have that here.”

As before, the guy carefully watched my tasting and reaction. I nodded, “Yeah this one’s got a bit more going on. Pint of that please.”

“Handle or straight glass?” asked the barmaid.

“I don’t mind.”

“I told you that one,” the guy interjected.

“Yeah it’s a bit punchier. Not hugely my thing but it’s all right.”

“I quite like this one,” the barmaid chimed in. I nodded with a smile.

“Oh yes, I forgot you like your ale,” the man said to the barmaid, who smiled and nodded as she finished pulling my pint and handed it to me. A handle. The guy turned to me as she walked off, “So what do you drink then?”

I didn’t want to get into a conversation. My friends were settled, but I didn’t feel I could just walk away.

“Well what I really love are Trappist beers and sours. Actually, Tap Social is in Oxfordshire, not far from here, and they do a brilliant sour called Bleeding Heart Numbskulls. The flavour is different every batch; the one they have at the moment is rosemary and plum - and it’s gorgeous. The rosemary’s the thing with plum notes underneath. Quite sharp.” I make a puckered face to demonstrate my point.

“Wait, are you talking about those?” he motions towards the spirits behind the bar.

“No, it’s beer.”

He blinked, “Really? Well. I’ve never heard of a beer like that.”

“Well there you go!” I said sweetly with a smile as I made my way over to my friends.

I got off the train and made my way to the barriers. Grabbed my purse out of my handbag and discovered that I didn’t have my ticket. I knew what happened: I threw away the receipt and I must have thrown the ticket away, as well, when I stopped off to meet my friends. The barriers were still closed despite the hour. I swallowed, slouched and walked up to the attendant, feigning panic.

“I’m really sorry! I can’t find my ticket! I came from D- and I have no idea what’s happened! What do I do? Oh my god I don’t know!” The man said nothing, opened the barrier and waved me through. “Oh thank you so much!”

I assumed my habitual upright posture as I left the station, smiling to myself. A guy came up to me asking for change. I shook my head firmly as I turned my music back on. He backed away.

Since transitioning, I’ve learned when to play the fool. When it’s better to be underestimated and when you need to go ahead and show ‘em what you got. When to let them think they’re doing you a favour and when to be clear about what’s yours. When I was given a male role, I never considered much whether I needed to be meek. It wasn’t so important to assume a status, depending on who was approaching. But I do now at every exchange.

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