Since I got sober, really sober, less than a decade ago, I often feel like I’m coming up from under ground, post-apocalypse. If you’ve ever been on the metro escalator in Dupont Circle, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
There’s a whole world talking, and it’s articulating faster than I can listen, much less process. This sometimes feels like a brutal contrast to my own personal life, including my transition, which seems to evolve rather slowly and even begrudgingly, like a teenager asked to pick up her room. Time and time again, I watch (and with undisguised joy, I might add) guys sprout Amish beards, get surgeries, swagger on in to the men’s room – while I hunch and cave and compress the breasts, and curry my tiny face hairs, urging thickness in the one and diminution in the other.
This is how it goes. And I promise the next person who lets “it is what it is” fall unexamined out of their gaping maw shall be subject to an “it is what it is” tranny fine payable to me, Sam Peterson, in the currency of the realm. If you’re my friend, you can just turn around and come back in again. If everyone is saying it, it’s not deep anymore.
I was at a grueling meeting of the transpeeps last week, where two guys were expressing their fears about getting clocked as “non-actual-dude” in the men’s restroom. Frankly, it’s hard for me to empathize with that. They’re getting in the men’s room. Another gender-vague person and I had to emphasize that we don’t use the room of our choice. We fear outing, we fear violence. “I could probably take a chick on if I had to,” I assert with my usual sensitivity, thinking that if it came to fisticuffs around bathroom decisions, I’d fare better with my birth kind. Much of this fear is between the ears, too – nobody’s in the men’s room, checking the direction of someone’s feet; conversely, I doubt anyone would even give me a second glance if I went to the men’s room at school. I only don’t go there because so many people there know me as a “woman,” and I chafe at the thought of having to explain to my fellow DTCCers what me and my micro-penis and testosterone-flaccid boobs are doing in “their” bathroom.
My friend exists in a state that would be intolerable for me, who is a loud, gregarious, non-secret-y Sagittarian. They (I find ze and hir troublesomely academic, but in 6 months time I’m sure I’ll be ze-ing and hir-ing all over the jernt. See above for “begrudging evolution.”) work in a rather conservative environment, and have done so for years. They let other co-workers choose their pronouns for them. They’re not “out” at work. They live the double life we’ve come to recognize on Maury and Oprah - but when it’s up close and personal, it ceases to be entertainment and becomes unyielding heartbreak and humiliation. At least, for me, watching it. My friend is quiet, private. They conceal their life with every unspoken sentence, or reveal with the easily quashed quiet of the shy. If I have a thought, it’s out of my mouth like a gumball in a penny candy machine, no censor, sweet, cheap, delicious and possibly stale.
But I know the ignominy; my ears burn red at slights - strangers may never know they injured with their gendered assessment of me, who is now weirdly caved in from an indignity I can carbon date to the birth of my brother, who had something substantial by way of his diapers and proved me a girl. “This is your sister,” said my father to my baby sibling; I choked on it then and I’m still gagging now.
It is what it is. I embrace, with varying degrees of success, my gendered presentation. We’re all somebody else in our minds, anyway, aren’t we?
I think about a double life. I’ve cheated on partners, and I’ve been a drunk “sober” person – those lies made me sick like a steady cold drip from a window on a perfect fall night led to pneumonia one October. And I was drunk on those lies, too – they were mouth-watering and at the expense of another, an innocent one. But the double life of a transperson costs everybody. It’s a backwards cheat. I’m sitting here thinking “why am I denying anyone my fabulousness? Everyone needs a little shotglass of tranny!” – and while this is a truth for the ages it would be ingenuous and even criminal for me to insist that transpeople rub themselves on the eyeballs of the half-awake world. Much of the world has a violent, even lethal response for people who challenge their shibboleths.
Still, what’s the reward for silence? Like nicotine produces a toxin of euphoria, what’s my prize for keeping the good news to myself? What am I so afraid of? Is this my transphobia, or my default to people-pleasing? Yes and yes and I’m a little ashamed.
So I’m counting on you, Sister-brother. I am going to lean heavy on your broad back, and let you fireman carry me at least a bit of the way. I can’t do this alone. I need you out there. Help me be an honest transman – and if honest requires I bide my time and bite my tongue I will but help me. I’m not in this thing to be a dilute version of me – I know when the time is right they’ll want all my verve and zest and snap, a reduction even, sharp and savory and sweet. So take me by the hand please; push those doors open like a cowboy at the saloon Sweet Friend and let me in. And lastly, after we’ve washed our hands at the sink, careful not to look at one another, you’ll bravely remind me to zip.