29 August 2008

From Passing to Passing Through

So what happens when you're a transgender woman less than eleven months before surgery and you go into the city's most resolutely bourgeois (as opposed to merely affluent) neighborhood with four days of growth and wearing lipstick, a flared printed skirt and sleeveless blouse?

Well, if your four days' growth is anything like mine, nobody seems to notice. In fact, nobody seems to notice that you're a woman who's not young, but possibly youthful--certainly not yet middle-aged, though old enough to be.

People have actually told me things like that. I could practically read it on the mens' faces. It didn't matter whether they were professionals, shopkeepers or the construction workers who were ripping up a couple of streets. I don't know whether those weren't gender-savvy or simply didn't care. Or, perhaps they knew and like--or are simply intrigued by--trans-women.

Maybe I shouldn't probe for the motives behind courtesy, and simply enjoy it. I don't remember who told me that. Someone-most likely the same person--said that I am entitled to it, even if I am a newcomer to living in my gender. And the best way to honor anyone who's good enough to be courteous, in whatever ways, is to allow that person to extend the courtesy to you, and be grateful for it. Above all, don't abuse it. And don't see it as entitlement. I've seen more than one trans woman demand--whether with verbal or bodily language--that doors be held open for her.

One certainly encounters a lot of it in the neighborhood I mentioned: a stretch of Metropolitan Avenue that extends from Middle Village into Forest Hills. Along that stretch is the electrolysis school where I go for treatments. The place--for better and for worse--has a 1950's-suburban feel to it. The houses on the side streets are bigger than those in other parts of Queens, or the rest of the city. Some of those houses are surrounded by stretches of grass that might even be called lawns.

And, along Metro Avenue itself, one finds the kinds of stores found in the "downtown" areas of so many towns all over the US about fifty years ago. Nearly all of them are small and family-owned. You can tell that the owners know their customers: I would bet that the at least one of the women's clothing stores I saw caters to women who went to school with the store's proprietors, and to the customer's children, grandchildren or neices. And there's even a soda shoppe that you might expect to see on a set for Happy Days. Eddie's Sweets--Now tell me, where else is there a shoppe with "Sweets" in its name?--has the counters and fountains that you've seen in all those pictures and movies made in and about the '50's. You can almost imagine your parents (or grandparents, if you're younger than me) sharing an ice cream soda in a fluted parfait glass. I'm told they make their own whipped cream for their Sundaes. I'll definitely have to check it out.

Hmm....an old-fashioned soda shoppe with old-fashioned courtesy. Is there a connection? ;-)

Anyway, I've gotten to the point where I don't miss a beat. When I first started to live as a woman, I used to pause and wonder what was going on when a man held a door open for me. I remember coming out of the Jeu de Paume. Marie-Jeanne and Janine were waiting outside. Marie-Jeanne gave a knowing, and slightly scolding, grin as I hesitated at a door held by a well-dressed man. After I finally walked through the door, Marie-Jeanne gently chided me: "Joo-steena, tu es en France. En france!"

And, when I went out with Mom and Dad on her birthday, Dad held open the door to the restaurant. Mom passed in front of me, but I waited and hesitated. That was the one moment when Dad looked frustrated with me. He was trying so hard to be what he thought a man should be to his daughter! (Hey, he even took me out clothes shopping two days before that!) But I think I reverted to Nicky's behavior: If Dad held the door open, Mom passed through first. Then, as I followed, I would wait a second for Dad to follow me, and I'd reach back to prop the door.

Funny thing is, now I don't even think about passing through a door held by a man (or boy) who's a complete stranger, or at least didn't know me before I began my transition. Same thing with the men at my job: The older ones invariably hold the door open, and I think nothing of simply walking through and softly thanking the man who held the door. The younger professors may or may not hold the door, but the male students--of whatever background, and whether or not they're in one of my classes-- extend those cuourtesies as often as the older men. In fact, the really "ghetto" young men--as opposed to the ones who are trying to seem "ghetto"--are just as consistently courteous an anyone else.

I know I'm long past the point at which "passing" as female is a game. And the days of "Is it a guy or a girl?" or "Which one do they think I am?" are , I hope, over. Now I'm just a woman of a certain age, as far as seemingly all strangers--and most people who know me--know or care.

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