The more I accept, acknowledge, name, and validate me, the more me I am. Or something like that. It’s been a while since I have done anything intentional or purposeful to hide the fact that I am transgender. I’m dressing (not well, but) like the real me, wearing men’s clothing and shoes and watches and other accoutrements. By the same toke, neither have I done anything with the express purpose of identifying me specifically as transgender. I’m not taking hormones, I don’t deliberately carry or present myself any differently in the world. But something has changed. I feel it. And it is being reflected back at me.
There is someone I have worked with for several years now. I will call her Alice. Alice has begun to respond to me very differently in the last year or so and I’m just now putting the pieces together (slow on the uptake I think I am). At first there were some awkward, off-hand comments. Comments about *gender*, comments about my *boyishness*, comments made in jest. Comments I can’t even remember exactly, but that left me a bit jolted with a “did I hear you correctly and what did you mean by that” kind of feeling. But I let those pass. There was nothing I could really grasp onto anyway.
Several months ago we were in a meeting together with other people and I asserted myself. I was in the right and quite directly confronted someone else (someone I will call Bertha) for some pretty bullshit, irritating behavior that was out of line as well as stepping on my professional toes. I didn’t raise my voice or change my posture. I simply stated facts and somewhere between request and require I asked Bertha to take responsibility for her inappropriate actions and basically cut the crap. Before I actually finished speaking, though, Alice interrupted me to *protect* Bertha! Alice called me “out of line” for my “angry outburst” and said I should not be speaking to Bertha in the tone of voice I was using. I was brought up short, completely stunned. And I sat there speechless, spluttering and red-faced in my oafishness.
I like to think I know myself pretty well. I have never shied away from naming my own foibles (of which there are many). And I have always been quite vocal and clear about my very short fuse and my limited patience. But this was not an occasion where my fuse or my lack of patience was the problem. I was merely being direct. And it was not Bertha’s first infringement. In fact, Alice and I had actually talked (on more than one occasion) about Bertha’s behaviors. And in those conversations Alice wholeheartedly agreed with me that Bertha was out of line. She even offered to speak to Bertha about it at one point! I guess I sort of assumed Alice would back me when I confronted Bertha. So what the hell happened?!
Well, first off, I’ve never been very confrontational and people know that about me. And this incident was pretty confrontational. So that was out of character for me. I did take the bull(shit) by the horns, and stood up for myself in calling Bertha out. But I wasn’t yelling, screaming, enraged, threatening. And I wasn’t wrong. At first I thought it was because I’d done it in front of other people. And while that may have had something to do with Alice’s desire to *protect* Bertha, and while it may not have been the kindest thing I’ve ever done, I don’t believe that was what was behind Alice’s interference. I even checked in with the other person in the meeting, after the fact, and she didn’t feel I was at all wrong or remiss.
I believe the problem was Alice’s perception. You see, Alice has always been a strong feminist, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, standing up to and confronting patriarchy, sticking it to The Man so to speak. Even though she is a member of an entitled class; a white, straight person of means. She prides herself on the fact that she can and does use her privilege to stand up for women of lesser advantage. And I believe that Alice was responding to me as a man (attacking a woman) in this instance.
Why do I think this? Alice has watched me change over these last several years as an outsider. I have never confided in her, spoken with her or shared with her in any way that I am transgender. She is not my friend and I don’t feel close enough or safe enough to disclose anything even nearly this personal with her. That being said, she is within a certain circle of people who engage with me regularly and she has been witness to my transformation. My clothing alone has changed dramatically. I used to wear flowing tie-dye caftans, dashikis and salwars. I now wear khakis and button down oxfords. If that’s not a visual mind-fuck I don’t know what is. On top of that, since Ruby arrived and I have been somewhat sleep deprived and run-down, I have been fighting a cold that has left me nasal-sounding and hoarse.
I know too that my inner struggles and evolution are sometimes just as noticeable. I have been told dozens of times that I have a *glass face* where my every emotion and thought can be read by simply looking at me. The reality is, I am metamorphosing in front of people’s eyes. And Alice, someone seeing and interacting with me daily, can hardly know what to make of it all. I get that.
In addition to those things, when I met with Alice to review that meeting, one of the things Alice said was, “I think I may have upset you in the meeting when I referred to you and Bertha as both ‘strong women’ and, well, I’m not sure if you identify as a woman.” What?! I. Was. Flabbergasted. Stunned. Stupefied. You could have knocked me over with a feather. In other words, I said nothing as my eyes glazed over and filled with awkward tears. I simply did not know what to say. And I did not want to be having this conversation. And definitely not with Alice. The moments of awkward silence stretched out until I was pretty sure I couldn’t take it anymore and might have to run screaming from the room. Luckily, Alice went on talking. In addition to the fact that she felt she may have offended me by calling me a woman, she also felt my anger was problematic. In fact, she suggested I check in with our H.R. department and see if they offer an anger management group, because I should definitely attend if they do. I’m not sure what else she said. Because by that point the sound had cut out in my head and all I could experience was that gray, black, and white lined fuzzy static.
As if that weren’t enough, several weeks later Alice and I were the first to arrive in a conference room for another meeting where we sat awkwardly alone together and she decided to share with me that she has been getting very involved in the LGBT Aging Project. She’s learning a lot and loving it. Getting very involved. She went on (and on) to say that she has been going to workshops and lectures and is hoping to bring all she’s learning back to train and teach our staff at some point. She’s looking forward to rolling out an LGBT-inclusive series of workshops and education in our workplace. I sat quietly nodding and making what I hoped were semi-interested but not encouraging grunts as I prayed desperately for someone else to enter the room and stop this conversation. In addition, she went on, she is very committed to her own learning as well as the education of others and the inclusion and equality of LGBT people everywhere. And actually, all that she’s been learning has led her to wonder, in fact, actually, she had been wondering for a while now, and her involvement in all this learning and growing through this LGBT project, whether I am taking hormones?