17 October 2014
Today I’m going to write about something that was, perhaps, inevitable.
About a month ago, I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in at least fifteen years, or about five years before I started my transition. We used to teach at the same college; in those days, this person was an adjunct instructor who was working on a PhD. For a brief time, we shared an office; after that, our offices faced each other but we didn’t see each other much, as we were on different schedules.
I met this instructor at a workshop that was held on another campus of the university system in which both of us teach. This former colleague of mine is still at the same campus in which we worked together so long ago (or so it seems). Since we last met, the now-professor finished a PhD, got tenure and is now director of the college’s Writing Center.
Someone with whom I now work introduced us. I didn’t need it, as the now-director of the Writing Center looks like pretty much the same as in those days, just a bit older. Besides, this person has some physical characteristics that time could not have altered, and an accent only slightly diminished.
But—need I say this?—I’ve changed a bit since then. I think I still had a full beard the last time I saw this instructor before last month. Hormones and age have altered my face and body at least somewhat and, needless to say, I was dressed in a way I never would have dressed—for work, anyway!—in those days.
“Happy to meet you,” my former co-worker said.
“The pleasure is mine.”
It was, really: this person seemed calmer than—and as gracious as—I recalled. Still, an unease tinged my pleasure: Did this person with whom I once shared an office, and a lunch or two, not realize who I was?
On one hand, that was what I hoped. Meeting me as Justine, and not recalling me as Nick, means that, in at least one way, my transition was as complete as I could have ever hoped it would be. Plus, it would also mean that my onetime work-mate had forgotten some times when, frankly, I was an asshole.
On another hand, I felt a sadness that came back a few times over the next few days. I wasn’t thinking about some relationship I could have had with this former colleague: We were co-workers who were cordial and sometimes friendly to each other—which, I guess, is how such relationships should be. I had no romantic feelings or sexual attraction and, as far as I could tell, this person didn’t have such longings for me.
Rather, seeing someone from my past who, apparently, only saw me in the present got me to thinking and gave me some flashbacks. I couldn’t help but to wonder what it would have been like to have lived as Justine then, or before. Perhaps I wouldn’t have worked at that college or, for that matter, in any college. Would I have been one of those young women who were among the first in their offices, boardrooms, courtrooms or other workplaces, as many—who were around my own age—were in my youth? Would I have become the writer, the artist, I had wanted—and still want—to be?
Or would I have been some guy’s wife and the mother of his kids (some of them, anyway)? If so, what kind of man would he have been? Or would I have run off, by myself or with another, to live or work in some “womyn’s” collective?
Given the kind of person I—and the way the world—was, perhaps things wouldn’t have been that good. Perhaps I would have spent some years walking the street where I would die. Then again, I could just as easily have died on that same street—or some other—at someone else’s hands, or from bottles or needles.
For all I know, I might have been the colleague of that person I bumped into last month. And we still might be working together in that same place, and I might be a professor—or have another position and title.
Of course, we never can know what kind of person we might have been. But seeing someone I hadn’t seen in a long time got me to thinking about it. What if she had recognized me? What if she did?