Well, we just got back from our annual vacation on Cape Cod. Man did I need that! Amazingly, and thankfully, we had beautiful days filled with warmth and sunshine and good company. My body anguish seemed to be on simmer rather than explosive boil. Incrementally as I take steps toward being me, I find more peace. Teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy baby steps. I was still overly aware of my body, in that suffocating casement of my skin kind of way, and I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. Being in public in a bathing suit (board shorts and a rash guard) left me taking quick shallow breaths, causing a slightly irritating light-headedness. Still, it was better than it has been in quite some time.
Cape Cod, at least where we go, is generally open and accepting and liberal. With Provincetown so close by, folks on the Cape don’t tend to bat an eyelash at queer families. And even though I chose not to tell the family we were vacationing with about my trans-status, leaving awkward beach moments at “I have issues”, I was mostly just me and fine with that. I was vaguely aware, if not a bit perplexed, by my reticence to share that part of myself with these friends. Even knowing that giving voice to and naming my shame alleviates much of the pain, I said nothing. And I suspect I will analyze that and write about it at some later point.
Anyway, as I was contemplating the relative joys and stresses of vacation, I realized that I hadn’t written about our trip in June for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary. This past June, Emily’s parents took us, along with Emily’s sister, brother-in-law and their new son to Shaker Village in Kentucky. Shaker Village, having been a favorite destination of theirs when Em and her sister were kids. I had done a little looking online at the place and, as I love history of any kind (not to mention my interest in religion), I was excited to learn more about the Shakers and their world. In addition, I’ve never been to the South and I was looking forward to seeing new sights and visiting a new part of the country. I knew the South would be different than the relative, fairly liberal atmosphere of Boston that I am used to. And while I understood that as entitlement on some level, and expected the disparity, the actual difference when we landed in Kentucky was incontrovertible. As soon as I stepped off the plane I could feel the openly unfriendly questioning stares as distinctly as the air I was attempting to breathe. Shaker Village itself, with its tourists from near and far, was no better. Not that I was expecting a gay spa or rainbow flags festooning the buildings mind you. But this went beyond the pale of my expectations. The women were gawkily titteringly awkwardly almost friendly to me. And the men were slightly shy of hostile. Emily, who is feminine, very attractive and does not look *other*, did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. I felt paranoid, but not necessarily wrong in my perceptions. I wasn’t exactly afraid, though neither did I feel completely safe. I was conscious of feeling overly exposed and vulnerable. Though I don’t know actual statistics, I know enough to be familiar with the higher occurrence of hate crimes perpetrated against trans-individuals. I felt highly aware of who was watching me and how. I was purposeful in my actions, not venturing out alone or going in between buildings or through alleys. And I made sure to stay in public space where as many other people were as much as possible. It was not a pleasant feeling even though I enjoyed much of the trip otherwise. The time with family was fantastic and I was fascinated with the whole Shaker experience and history. But I felt lonely and alone having no one to share my inner experiences with who would understand or could commiserate. The constant pressure on the bruise of my inner shame, highlighting constantly how aberrant I am left me feeling broken and detestable. So much for Southern hospitality.
Home safe and sound and nearer to others who either are like me or do like me, I settled back into my regular feelings and routine. Except that I sprained the MCL in my right knee (playing hockey what else). The physical therapist I saw suggested I purchase orthotic inserts for my shoes to help alleviate some of the stress on my knee. I found that they had these pre-made, less expensive, orthotics in a well-known shoe store nearby and headed there on my day off. I was dressed for my day off; jeans and t-shirt, sneakers and a ball cap. A middle-aged woman was waiting on someone toward the front of the store when I walked in. I waited behind the customer she was waiting on and made eye contact with the saleswoman – utilizing the *when you get a minute* face. When she finished with the woman ahead of me, she turned sharply, watching me out of the corner of her eye and bent down busying herself with socks in a bin. I approached her even though her vibes were loudly screaming – I do not want to wait on you. As I bent a bit to try to make eye contact, she straightened and purposefully looked up over my shoulder and addressed someone (an attractive feminine-looking woman) coming into the store (she was actually still in the doorway) and literally hailed her like a taxi. “Can I help you with something?” she chirped as she swished away from me, side-stepping me to avoid making physical contact, never taking her eyes or attention off the woman in the doorway.
Apparently bigots are alive and well in the North too. She left me frozen with embarrassment (Pat would say shame) in her wake. But I only let myself stay there for the briefest of moments. “Well, she was mean”, I said to myself as I turned toward another salesperson standing behind the counter and directly in front of the exact product I was there to purchase. Guess I didn’t need her help after all.
Note to self: I will no longer accept the blame for other people’s intolerant, rude, mean, fearful, bad behavior.