The Inn of Chicago. I step out of my hotel room. Heart pounding. I feel like a spy who’s afraid of being found out. I step into the elevator. Thank God it’s empty. But floors below me, I’m joined by other patrons of the hotel. It’s a tiny space, like a closet. I’m afraid to make eye contact with anyone. But, the women don’t stand apart, trying to find a safe distance. What I sense is an air of ease, instead of the dis-ease I normally feel from other women in elevators when I’m in boy mode.
I step out into the freezing cold. I’m thankful for my parka. The faux fur protects my neck from the cold winds. I wait nervously for my first Lyft ride. Thankfully, the driver is a woman. And she’s none the wiser that I’m trans.
I arrive at the church as the first plenary for The Reformation Project conference is well under way. I find an empty pew in the back. Friendless. Scared. Feeling isolated, I choose to isolate myself by sitting alone.
This is day one of the conference. Day one of being out as myself. I hope for better on day two. With breakout sessions, I hope I’ll make friends. With that timid hope in my heart I decide to walk back to my hotel.
I stop at Walgreens to get deodorant. I gravitate toward the Secret brand. First time buying a woman’s deodorant. Yay. I get in line, hoping I won’t have to speak. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet. I’m not sure of my voice. Hitting the right pitch on the voice feminization app came easily enough. But it’s untested if I can actually sustain a conversation let alone sentences.
My cashier is a guy in his late twenties, maybe early thirties. My plan is to pay for the item and get the hell outta there. But the man strikes up a conversation. Shit.
I try to avert my eyes. Don’t want to make eye contact, lest I somehow be found out.
“Do you know what brand is the most popular with women?”
He’s referring to the deodorant. I’m caught off guard. I don’t half-understand what he’s talking about, I’m so in my own mind trying to fend off a fight-or-flight response. I wasn’t planning on talking to anyone outside the conference. And this is my first conversation ever while in the world as myself? With a guy?!
Trying to remember how it felt to strike that right pitch in the app, I speak softly, not so loud now: “What?”
He smiles. “It’s a Secret.”
It takes half a second for the joke to register. I laugh. Smile. He scribbles his name on the receipt, introducing himself. I thank him and walk the hell outta there.
I’m elated. Holy shit! He was flirting with me! Oh if he only knew I was trans. He’d probably freak. And I might be in mortal danger. Wishing to God for the day to speedily arrive when I can live out and start on estrogen—so that I won’t have to wear these breast forms that make for an unnatural fit for the bra, so that I won’t have to wear this wig that feels like a goddamn baseball cap—I walk back out into the cold.
The world now seems different. That much lighter. I stop into a Jersey Mike’s that’s across the street from my hotel, still elated from the unnecessarily longer-than-usual check-out experience at Walgreens. (I’ve only known check-out encounters to be very pragmatic interactions.)
The young man taking my sandwich order seems friendlier, the older cashier smiles and his movements are slow and lingering as he hands me back my change. By now I’m smiling on the inside. I know I should be offended somehow at this almost-could-be-seen-as-male-gazey-creepy behavior. But, I can’t help but feel flattered. (No! Stop feeling flattered! Topple the patriarchy! It’s a losing battle. First time out in the world, okay? Okay.)
But the more remarkable aspect of finding that I could be passable is how the world felt walking in it as myself—when amongst other women.
In Chicago I walked most places. At crosswalks, while waiting for the light to change, I didn’t feel the need to consciously stand apart from other women. And what I felt standing on those street corners was the absence of the standoffishness and guardedness that (with perfect reason) I have felt from other women when in boy mode.
Of course, moving beyond certain performative aspects of gender, these initial ways of interacting with the world gave me the confidence to open up, which led to making friends on the following days of the conference.
The last night on the rooftop bar, sitting by the fire, sipping rosé with Adrienne, Jane and Kathryn, and just talking…I felt as if all was right with the world (except for the goddamn wig).
A month later, I went out into the world as myself again to attend an event for trans folk put on by the Los Angeles LGBT Center. After which I decided to go to the mall and shop for a new jacket and go watch a movie.
Again, I experienced the world as a different place. A more welcoming place. A place in which I belonged perhaps for the first (or second) time in my life. The sales person at the clothing store approached me with a friendly smile on her face, genuinely wanting to help—as opposed to spying me out to make sure I wasn’t stealing anything.
The girl taking my ticket order at the movie theater struck up an easy conversation with me, complimenting me on my Doctor Who T-shirt. She was a fan, too. When asking if I was a member of their frequent customer club, she genuinely seemed to be looking out for my good—as opposed to trying to sell me something as per their employee training.
So, this was part two of a series of posts I promised in part one. But, since then I’ve decided to keep some memories for myself.
Here I leave you with this:
I understand the privilege of passing is a grace, something that my scared-as-hell self is so grateful for, but one I recognize as something undeserving. And I understand the oversimplification of the way I describe the world as somehow better when out and about as myself. But, it is the absence of a kind of dysphoria and the emergence of a kind of congruence of coming into my own as a woman that I wanted to reflect on as it really did give me a sense of wonder and elation. And I appreciate but in part, how this world has a long way to go in terms of dismantling patriarchy and healing toxic masculinity.
Now, a final memory from Chicago:
As I said goodbye to my newfound friends on that last night of the conference, on that long walk back to my hotel at 12 o’clock midnight, I found myself on high alert and wondering why the hell I hadn’t bothered to get myself a taser.
* The title of this post is borrowed from a lyric by Rich Mullins in his song, “Jacob and 2 Women.”