I am a trans person. Specifically, I am a transmasculine genderqueer person. It means that I do not identify as either a man or a woman, but I tend towards the masculine side of the spectrum rather than the feminine side. While I would rather have a neutral gender, I prefer to be mistaken for a man rather than a woman.
But I do not pass as a man, even after being on testosterone for over a year and having just had the top surgery to remove my breasts. I wear a packer and men’s clothing, yet I still do not pass. It might be my still-beardless face, or maybe my long hair. But I don’t want to cut my hair; I love long hair on men. Maybe it’s my voice, which hadn’t dropped until very recently.
It’s only days after the shooting in Orlando, so I’m feeling vulnerable and nervous to assert my identity. Here’s what a day is like for me (note: other trans and genderqueer people will have different experiences; this is merely my own).
It’s the day after my testosterone injection. My leg is still a little sore from the shot, but that’s okay. What’s more sore are my armpits, where I recently (five weeks ago) had liposuction as part of my top surgery. I put on a compression vest under my shirt to help with the pain due to swelling, even though it’s going to be near 90 degrees outside and I’ll probably melt. But that’s okay, too. Mostly.
I also put on a jockstrap, which holds my packer in place. It creates a satisfying bulge in my pants, but not too much of one. It’s also hot, a giant ball of silicone and another layer under my pants, but that’s okay. I’m feeling rather fragile in my transmasculinity and wearing the packer helps. I don’t wear it every day, but I do most days.
I finish dressing (business casual), eat breakfast, and head out to work on the CTA. Today some woman on the bus is staring at me and won’t stop. I heft my book up to block my face from her view. I’ve gotten kind of used to it, since every time I ride, someone is usually staring. Usually it’s women, but sometimes it’s men.
She clutches her bag to her chest as I stand up to get off the bus, her face screwed up in fear as I walk by. On the train, a young woman sits next to me. Even though I am only taking up my own seat (and I am meticulous about this, since I have been many times a victim of manspreaders), she tries to spread into mine. She keeps rubbing her armpit all over my arm and poking me in the tender side with her manicured nails. When I get off the train, I smell like her deodorant.
Work is great. The vast majority of the people I work with have started using my new name, even though it isn’t legal yet. I can’t afford to change it yet, because I’m still paying off my surgery. It will cost me nearly $500 in Chicago to get my name changed. That doesn’t include the cost of a new license or passport.
One guy though, an outside vendor, keeps sending me emails addressed to my birth name, even though my address and Outlook profile have been changed to my chosen name. I had even put a P.S. at the bottom of all my emails, noting the name change. He has so far ignored it. My boss keeps forgetting and uses my birth name, too, though I know he’s not doing it out of malice.
I go to lunch. Two people, a (apparently) heterosexual couple, hurriedly cut in line in front of me. I’m not in any hurry, so I don’t worry about it. I’m checking Facebook on my phone.
But they stand staring at the menu so long the attendant behind the counter asks if they would mind if she took my order. The woman of the couple turns to me, looks me up and down, and scornfully says, “Yes, I do mind. She can wait until I have chosen what I want.”
The attendant looks shocked at the rudeness. I ignore it as someone just being petty. But the “she” stings.
They order, taking their time, and then it’s my turn. “Hello, ma’am,” says the attendant. “What can I get for you?”
The next attendant also says, “Ma’am, what would you like on your sandwich?”
The ma’ams hit me like little shards of glass.
I can hear the couple in front of me laughing. They keep glancing at me. She makes disapproving noises. I decide not to call the attendants out on the ma’am-ing, even though it hurts. I don’t want to make a scene, especially in front of the couple, who obviously think something about me is funny. It’s just not worth it.
While I’m eating lunch, I’m reading one of my favorite authors. It’s a mixed genre book, one that has horror and action and science fiction and fantasy. My favorite. I start a new chapter, and I’m shocked when one of the characters meets someone who is obviously being presented as trans. My heart drops into my feet when one of the main characters uses the slur “tranny.” In fact, she calls for the death of said “tranny.” The other main character, whose perspective the book is from, refrains from correcting the other character. And uses the wrong pronouns throughout the entire scene.
I lose my appetite.
I finish eating my sandwich and chocolate chip cookie anyway, though it all tastes like sand. I return to my job, trying not to cry. I’m not sure I want to finish the book.
I take a break to check Twitter, which is filled with vitriol over guns and the Orlando shooting, arguments over some screaming orange yam’s idiotic tweets, and the news of yet another shooting. One of the trans men I follow just legally changed his name, and I try not to drown in envy, try to be happy for him. I congratulate him, but all I can think about is how far away I am from changing my own name. I have air travel planned for October, and wonder what sort of indignities I will be facing with a presentation that is (hopefully more) masculine and a legal name that is feminine.
I take a phone call. They call me ma’am, too, even though they don’t know who I am and don’t know my name. So much for my voice having dropped.
I finish my day, trying not to worry about if someone’s going to start yelling at me on the train. On the way home, I’m stopped by a man who needs directions. He calls me ma’am, too. I start to wonder if I should create a “ma’am jar” and put a dollar in for each time I get ma’am-ed. I might be able to fund my name change in a couple of weeks.
I go home to my supportive husband, and try not to think too hard about the day.
It’s hard, being a transmasculine person that still doesn’t pass, no matter how hard I try. I ache to be called “sir” just once by someone I don’t know. I check my chin daily for dark hairs, though I’ve only ever seen them on my butt and legs.
But Orlando hangs over my head like a dark cloud. What is the cost of transitioning? Only a few days ago, bathroom bills and other anti-LGTBQIA stories were all the rage. Now it’s the murder and maiming of over a hundred LGBTQIA people. I can’t help but think about the deaths of so many trans women of color, and how petty my problems seem to be in comparison to theirs. But I cannot deny the pain and frustration I have with a world that refuses to see me as I see myself. A world that sorts us into ma’ams and sirs with no regard for how hard one is trying to be one or the other…or neither.
I’ll go to sleep, unable to sleep on my side due to my surgery scars. But I’ll wake up tomorrow, hoping for a better day. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I finally get called “sir.” Maybe tomorrow, the world will wake up and it will be a better place.