On “Going Full-Time” – Movement 2: Seamless
After beginning HRT, I started a gradual process of coming out as trans. I mindfully changed my appearance slowly. I would occasionally wear women’s jeans while out. Sometimes I’d wear just a bit of makeup to work. I would find opportunities to tell friends, family members, colleagues, and would reduce their anxieties by coming out . . . casually. Since most already knew I was open as a crossdresser, it wasn’t a total shock for anyone. Over the years I had consistently made decisions at odds with the rest of my peers. From living a semi-monastic life as part of a spiritual community in my early 20′s, right after having spent 30 days mountaineering in Colorado, to later taking off for Japan, becoming a parent, quitting a series of jobs after one week, and returning to school as an adult at a college with less than 100 students, I had earned a great deal of latitude. ”Oh, that’s just [Jen] doing [her] thing.” Further, I would frame this seemingly new decision to turn my restless curiosity to gender as a kind of experiment, and would disavow any set intentions for the future. It was therefore easy for others to see this as another phase of my admittedly odd path through life. All of this was, perhaps unconsciously, to downplay the significance of what I was doing.
And it worked.
Since I seemed so comfortable, since I wasn’t changing names or asking others to switch pronouns, as I wasn’t showing up to meetings looking like someone else, since I had no intention of “going full-time” in the foreseeable future, my transition began relatively seamlessly.
My therapist remarked on how unusual my process had been in this respect. Many trans women, particularly those of us older and in established careers, visibly transitioned quite suddenly. I’ve heard stories of people presenting decidedly male one day, then coming in to work the next in a wig and dress. Some planned a single day well in advance and from that point on were known by a new name and pronoun, often reinforced by a company wide memo from HR. My work involves literally hundreds of mildly overlapping networks, and contact with new people and organizations every day, which does’t lend itself to such unilateral action. My friends and family knew what I was going through, but in a concrete way there was nothing to provoke any change in their consciousness. I was still me, just a little . . softer, a little more at ease.
And so my transition continued with rare subtlety. I had no intention of any dramatic or sudden moves, and was quite content to allow time to slowly transform me.
Until my first “ma’am”.
I’m willing to bet all trans people remember the first time they’re recognized as their chosen gender by a stranger. It is a powerful moment. My first was foreshadowed by two ambiguous incidents. Twice I had either been called “ma’am” or “man”, but couldn’t tell which. I would normally have assumed the latter, but the context made the former more likely. At a Subway, another customer reached for a drink behind me, politely stating “Excuse me [x]”. Soon after, at a movie theater with my son, the clerk handed me tickets with “Here you go [x]”. I was in a haze for minutes after both events. Was I just called “ma’am”? Surely not. But would someone politely say “Excuse me, man”? About a week later, a clerk at Chipotle called me “ma’am”. Twice. Clearly. Even then, I wasn’t sure until he repeated the exact same phrases, but with “sir”, to the next person in line. I could barely eat my tacos I was so excited.
And with that, I had my first taste of what had heretofore been an inconceivable possibility.
Upon reflection I realized that I don’t allow myself to dwell on what I don’t think is possible. I can be quite audacious with what I think is possible, but anything else seemed . . . fantasy, a useless and even possibly damaging distraction. I had never truly considered going full-time, because I didn’t think anyone would ever see me as female. With that first “ma’am”, a new possibility was born.
And I wanted it.
But what does going full-time mean, as an act, when transition is seamless?