“Passing” at work

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about work.  During my depression, I was in and out of work a few times, totaling 8 weeks of sick leave.  It’s been difficult to get back into the swing of things.  Some changes were made, and I wasn’t in the best place to acclimate to new routines.  It’s starting to get a little better, just in time to get disrupted again for summer cleaning (switching from an afternoon/night shift to a day shift starting the week after next.)

But this post isn’t really about that work stuff.  It’s about something that brightened my day yesterday.  A parent of a student saw me as male, and it made my day.  I know the term “passing” is problematic because it connotes a deception is taking place and it sets up a discrepancy amongst those who “pass” and those who don’t – it shouldn’t be about that!  We are who we are.  Despite all this, I really like the word and feel like it describes my experience.

Here’s a few past posts where I talk about it:
Recent instances of passing
Passing as a teenager yet again
Thirty-one year old kid working as a school janitor
Rumors flying around the kindergarten classroom

I feel like people generally see me as female.  I gotta say I’m even (very pleasantly) surprised when I’m seen as male; I feel I am not masculine enough.  When I am seen as male, “passing” accurately describes the experience, because I am not male (I am definitely not female either).

Yesterday, a dad and his son approached me while I was cleaning.  The son forgot his spelling homework and had to get access to his classroom.  I said sure and which room and we went there.  I unlocked the door, turned on the lights, and stood waiting, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.  The kid came back from his desk with a book but no spelling homework.  The dad asked,

“Where’s your homework?”

The kid sputtered, “I guess when we were clearing out our desks I must have put it in my bag?  But I do need this book.”

“So we just bothered this gentleman for no reason?”

I said, “That’s totally fine.  At least you got your book!”

The dad continued, “Tell him you’re sorry.”


“Not a problem.  You guys have a good night.”

I was conversing with these people and spending more than a second in their presence.  And the dad saw me as male!!!  And whether the kid knows I’m biologically female (I’m not out at work… yet!) he didn’t say anything one way or the other.  It felt really validating.  I held onto that feeling as long as I could.

In other news, the NY Times is giving trans-people an opportunity to tell their story in 400 words or less.  It’s totally awesome!  Here’s the link to what’s out there already, and a chance to share your own story:  Tell your story.  I already told my story!

Kids have strong opinions about my gender

Yesterday, my partner and I met up with my childhood best friend and her family; they were in town for the holidays.  They have two kids, ages 6 and 3, and the three year old was overwhelmingly interested in me.  I’ve never had this experience before – usually kids stay their distance, giving me sideways glances or staring and staring and staring.  I’ve been interacting with kids more at school (while I’m working) a little more lately, realizing that although I’m a janitor, I am also an authority figure they see regularly, who can help point them to preferable behaviors.  (No running, no going down steps sideways, no slamming and throwing your garbage in the general area of the garbage barrel at lunch, etc.)

This was a very different dynamic though.  We were hanging out at a nearby public greenhouse and plant conservatory, and the three-year-old daughter took any opportunity to climb all over me, instruct me to pick her up and throw her up in the air, and get right in my face.  She was overhearing everyone use male pronouns for me, and she yelled, 2 inches away from my face, “you’re a girl!”  And then again.  And again.  “You’re a girl!”  We all laughed.  It was funny.  Because she’s three.  It was also the most jarring thing I have experienced in a very long time.  Her mom went ahead and explained very simply and directly that I get to say who I am, not her, and everyone has their own feelings about who they are, and only they get to say.  She tested this with, “you’re a boy!” but then went on to state, “I’ve never seen a boy who sounds like a girl.”  “I’ve never seen a boy who looks like a girl.”  And again.  And again.  Holy cow, kids love repetition!!!

She also declared many times that I am her mama.  Whoa.  (She later clarified that she was making a joke.)  Again, all of this is funny and easy to let slide because she is a three year old, but I gotta admit it was actually hitting my psyche a little bit. It helped that her mom (my friend), let us know she often does this.  She’s super outgoing, and she’ll hone in on one adult of a group she’s with, and that person is 9 times out of 10 the most handsome adult male of the group.  I’ll take it!

I have been considering what might happen if I increased my testosterone levels.  And these exchanges really sunk in, as one more thing, in a way that makes me feel motivated to move in that direction where I appear and sound more masculine.  I am still positive that I do not want to live my life as a visible male, but how cool would it be if people had some serious trouble knowing?  I would love that (as long as they were respectful in the not-knowing).

This kid’s reaction was interesting, because usually it’s kids more than anyone else, who are not quite sure whether I am a girl or a boy.  If I am asked this question, it’s coming from a child.  I’m usually not told, strongly and forcefully, by someone making eye contact, two inches away from my face!  Haha.

Recent instances of passing

Some trans* people strongly dislike the notion of “passing,” because it implies a deception is taking place.  They’re not passing as male/female, they just are male/female, whether others see them as such or not.  I definitely respect and appreciate this viewpoint; for me personally though, I embrace “passing.”  I relish the times I pass as male because although I don’t feel myself to be male, exactly, it feels awesome and validating when that’s what others see.  If this were to happen 100% of the time or even 18% of the time, it’d start to feel disorienting, alarming even.  But when it happens on occasion, it’s one of my favorite things ever!

It happened three times in the past two weeks.  And, it was not only thrilling, but totally unexpected and unprecedented.  Because in the past, I’ve passed at a distance, or with kids, or maybe with people who are much much older than me, or I pass until I start speaking, etc.  But two out of three of these recent occasions, I was fully interacting with someone roughly my age (meaning:  making eye contact, conversing, spending more than a couple seconds in their presence).  I’m not sure if this has ever happened to me before, or if it has, it’s been a long time.

Makes me think that testosterone is doing something very subtly, above and beyond appearance.  Like an aura or an energy or something that can be sensed by others.  Because I look the same as I always have; I sound the same.  The only thing I can think is that my shoulders might be slightly more filled out now; I might have a little bit of a different stance because of that.  Ultimately, if it’s an either/or, in my opinion, I think I look female, and I love it when people think otherwise!

At Work:  It was spring break, so the building was almost empty except for my co-workers and me.  We were eating lunch, and my co-worker saw through the window that UPS had just pulled up, so I went down to receive and sign for the packages (usually administrative assistants would do that.)  I let him into the office, talked to him about how everyone’s on vacation, small talk like that, etc.  I signed his form, and he said, “Thank you, sir!.”  I said, “You’re welcome.”  And walked away, beaming.

At The Mall:  My partner and I never go to the mall.  Seriously.  We have been together for 7 years and have been to a mall together once before, in that time.  (Oh wait, no, twice.  We went mini-golfing in a mall for a friend’s birthday.)  In addition, I have been to a mall one time by myself in that time.  We really had to go to the Apple store though because she finally upgraded to a smart phone, and then proceeded to smash the screen by dropping it on a concrete floor.  Her protective case was on its way, in the mail!  So we were just going to go there and see if they could do anything for her – a long shot, but might as well try…  They could not do a single thing for her but they were very nice about it, as if they were her good buddy and just could not let her down, haha.  We then walked out of the Apple Store and were directly confronted by a kiosk selling phone cases and a sign saying, “We fix phones here.”  She asked, “how much?”  It was reasonable and was only going to take 20 minutes.  Seemed like a good option, so we watched the guy work his magic with teeny tiny screwdrivers with magnetic tips.  He talked to us about how he’s only 22 years old and he already owns 10 of these kiosks.  He’d just gotten back from Miami Beach for a entrepreneur conference, and he was on his way to Seattle.  We chatted with him about phones, what there is to do for fun here, etc.  I left to go find a bathroom and come right back.  Then I left to sample teas at Teavana and come right back.  Then I wandered away into a clothing store.  My partner got her screen replaced(!!!) and when she came to get me, she told me that while I was gone, the kiosk guy asked her if I was her boyfriend!  She told him “Yes.”

At the Public Market:  I was looking at mushrooms when a little girl (3 years old?) turned and almost hugged my leg, thinking I was her mother.  When she realized I wasn’t she startled, and then asked, “Is you a goioiol?”  “What?”  “Is you a goioiol?”  I squatted down to her height and clarified her question, “Am I a boy or girl?”  “Yeah.”  “I’m a little bit of both.”  She seemed to accept this.

Other recent instances in which I passed:

Effeminate pirate orders fruity drink on party boat
Passing as a teenager yet again
Thirty-one year old kid working as school janitor

Rumors flying around the kindergarten classroom

A couple of days ago at work, I was passing by 2 kindergarteners who were putting on their boots, getting ready to go home for the day.  One whispered to the other, “Is she a boy?  She looks like a boy.”  I thought it was super cute – it’s cute how kids think that if they whisper, there’s no way you can hear them.  It’s cute how kids’ gender categories are only “girl” and “boy,” no matter how old the person they’re talking about is.  It’s cute how kids are so curious.

Then tonight, a book fair was going on.  A mom and her daughter arrived a little early and the mom asked me where it was being held.  We were about half- the-hallway’s-length away from each other; I gave her directions to the cafeteria.  She said thanks and I started to turn the corner when I heard her say, “Oh, I was just wondering?”  I turned to face her again and she continued.
“What’s your name?”
I told her my name, which is a slightly androgynized version of my very feminine name.
She said, “Oh ok, sorry, I thought you were someone else.  My apologies.  For my daughter.”
“Sure, no problem.”  She then told me her name (I forget now) and, “Nice to meet you.”

I walked away from that having no idea what motivated those questions or who she might have thought I was.  No one ever mistakes me from someone else.  I don’t mean to be boastful, but I’ve been told that I have a very distinct face so many times that it’s become a source of internal pride.

As I thought it through, all I could imagine was that this was a kindergartener here with her mom (she looked to be kindergarten age).  The kids had been increasingly wondering whether I am a boy or a girl, and this one kid even spread the word to her mom.  And her mom was helping clear it up for her.  I’d rather it not get cleared up!

This is why I’m seriously considering going by a masculine-sounding name.


The Soft Sell, Part 2

A couple of days ago, I decided I was going to be more direct in coming out to some people.  I’ve had a tendency in the past, to soft-sell the way I identify and my preference for pronouns (in the situations where I have come out), and I wanna change that.  So, the next day, I had a conversation with my parents!  Definitely not the first of this nature, but this time I asked them specifically to use male pronouns, and I talked to them about some steps I might or might not take in the near future.  My mom was supportive, but I have an idea she will have difficulty remembering to use male pronouns.  My dad was evasive.  His body language told me he was uncomfortable.  He would have stayed silent the whole time if I let him, but instead, I asked him, “Dad, what do you think about this?”  And he replied, “It doesn’t matter to me.”  Which is so vague as to what he means; in the moment I decided to spin it positively by saying, “Yeah, I mean I am still the same person.”  Ultimately, it’s exactly how I expected them to react, and I’m not really phased by what they might think.  I would just like to see them try.  We’ll see.

I feel like now that that conversation is out of the way, I can plan to spread this news to other relatives.  I’m thinking of emailing some aunts and their families in the near future because it might be cool to finally talk about myself, haha.  Basically, my dad has 4 sisters, and they all have families, and I don’t know much about them, and they don’t know much about me.  Even though I see them all at least once a year.  We just don’t talk about our lives.  I don’t think they even know I’m married, or that I’ve been in this relationship for the past 7 years.  I’ll probably start thinking about it more concretely and drafting an email this week!

Oh, also I told some friends who didn’t yet know, that I’m on testosterone.  That was fun!  They were super supportive (of course) and also pretty curious.  And!  I just emailed the volunteer coordinator at the local gay alliance (where I have recently started volunteering in the office) to let her know my pronoun preference and to ask her to help me spread the word if pronouns come up in conversation.  I felt like I’d really like her (or just someone) to help me with this because 1. I am very reserved and 2. I don’t see many people during my shift, don’t have many opportunities to bring it up in person.  I think that she will be a good person for this – she’s super friendly and outgoing and non-judgemental as far as I can tell.

So far, this is pretty fun!

The Soft Sell (Upping the Ante)

I’m thinking differently about coming out to more people, lately.  Like, I’m starting to plan for it, as opposed to trying to figure out whether it’s something I want to do or not.

Mainly, I’m thinking about telling some people that I’m on testosterone (and what that means in general and what that means for me), and asking them to use male pronouns from now on, when they refer to me.  I could go around doing mental gymnastics about this forever.  Do I have a right to impose this on others? (yes!)  Do I want to? (not sure)  Will others take me seriously? (not sure), etc.

I do not generally pass as male.  And I’ve been on low-dose testosterone for almost 11 months, and I still don’t pass.  And I plan on being on it for the rest of my life without ever really passing as male.  This is what I want; I’m right where I want to be.  Except, I feel more male than female, inside, and I want that recognized with male pronouns.  Also, I just want to be more visible as being non-binary, and the visual/pronoun incongruence suits me.  I could go my whole life without anyone guessing I’m on T (I think).  I know that I could go my whole life without being seen how I really feel.  And that could be said for a lot of people.

I (sort of) came out to my parents in November.  I did this at that point only because I was getting married, and pronouns were going to be used, haha.  C’s family consistently uses male pronouns for me – that’s how I was introduced, and how they know me.  It’s awesome!!!!!  My family does not, and I’d never brought it up to them.

So, in preparation of the getting-married day, I told my parents, over dinner, that I don’t feel like I am either gender, and I avoid pronouns when I can because none of them feel right, but when I have to use them, I prefer male pronouns.  I said, “So, I wanted to tell you this because other people use male pronouns for me, and I wanted you to know why, so you would know what was going on.”  My mom was nodding emphatically the whole time I gave them the spiel.  My dad was making eye contact with the TV rather than with me or my mom.  I know he heard me, technically, but I know nothing beyond that.

Yesterday, I was talking about coming out, in therapy.  And I relayed/reviewed this scene with my parents (’cause we’d already gone over it, at the time it was happening), and my therapist looked surprised and replied, “Oh, I didn’t realize you had given them the soft sell!”  And when she said that, all I could do was visualize Soft Cell (see below) and stare at her, confused.  It took me a while to register what she was saying.  And I was all, Damn!  …but, she’s totally right.

These guys know how to keep a secret.

These guys know how to keep a secret.

My parents do not use male pronouns for me now that I’ve explained this to them.  I didn’t ask them to.  At this point, I don’t actually expect them to because I haven’t told anyone else within their circles, and even I think that would be too weird and uncomfortable for them.  BUT!  It has made me decide that I want to tell more family members and then start expecting that they will make the change for me.  I know it will be hard and I will feel vulnerable.  I know some people probably will be able to just switch with no problem, and some people may never actually do it, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask.

As of now, here’s what I’m looking at:
Friends / Community – use male pronouns, I feel understood
C’s family – use male pronouns, I feel understood
Work – use female pronouns, about half know I’m married to a female, they probably all think I am a lesbian
My mom’s side of family – use female pronouns, all know I’m married, they probably think I am a lesbian
My dad’s side of family – use female pronouns, use my birth name, no one knows I’m married, they probably think I’m a lesbian
My mom – uses female pronouns, I feel understood (interestingly), knows I’m on testosterone and how I identify
My dad – uses female pronouns, I don’t know what he thinks
My bro – He’s been living in Turkey for 3 years and I have not had much contact.  In the past though, he has used male pronouns, I feel understood.

I think that I have a lot of work to do.

Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective

I spend a lot of time in both men’s and women’s public restrooms.  Or more accurately, girls’ and boys’ restrooms – I clean toilets, and I work at an elementary school.  There are also a few gender neutral bathrooms, for staff, which is pretty great.  For a tally, there are 3 girls’ gang bathrooms and 3 boys’ gang (That’s really how they are referred to, which totally conjures images of ruffians scribbling graffiti all over the walls and pulling all the toilet paper off the rolls.  Oh, and smoking and fighting and stuff.), 3 gender neutral bathrooms for staff, one women’s room, one men’s room, and 7 bathrooms within classrooms (also gender neutral).

For my first half-hour of work, kids are still in school.  I like to get a head start on some areas I can access before they leave for the day, and gang bathrooms are one of the places I can start.  But only if I’m sure no kids are in there, and they’re not likely to come in. Especially for the boys’, because technically I am female.  This is very serious.

Before I labor over that point, here’s a little back story about my take on which bathroom I personally should be in:  Over the holidays, I got to hang out with two out-of-town friends who are both trans*.  They were both describing dreams they’ve had where they went into an unaccommodating bathroom, like stalls were missing or it was more of an open locker-room vibe.  And they asked my partner and me if we’ve had public restroom anxieties, and we both replied, “No.”  And in that sense, it’s true.  I strongly feel myself to be non-binary and genderqueer (and my sense of self is closer to male than female), yet I really have no questions or reservations about which public restroom to use.  If a gender-neutral or family one is available, I will use that.  Otherwise, I will use the women’s room.  And if people are doing a double take or wondering if I should be there, that’s kinda their problem.  Because it’s the bathroom I feel more comfortable in.  I didn’t always feel this way.  I used to always feel very anxious about the whole endeavor of going into the women’s room.  Honestly, I’m not sure what changed, other than the fact that I’d rather be in there than in the men’s room, and I’d rather feel calm than anxious?

What if, though, I were just a few degrees closer to feeling male and presenting masculine?  And/or I felt more comfortable going to the men’s room, but looked the way I look now?  What would that mean for me at work?  The whole system of safety according to separation of genders would be breaking down.  Like, what if I were out at work, and asked for male pronouns and used the men’s / boy’s room?  Would there be a lot of upheaval and confusion?  Or would everyone be accepting and cool with it?  I really can’t make that call in advance, but it’s interesting to think about, even on this basic level of which bathroom is it “safe” for me to be in at the same time with children?

Daily, I have to be in and out of both bathrooms.  And as of now, f I get a call that there’s a problem in a boys’ room, I gotta get out wet floor signs and yell into the doorway, “Anyone in here?”  (I do this for the girls’ room too, even though I don’t technically have to.)  If I’m already in there and a boy walks in, I have to make a huge deal out of the fact that we are both in there.  And I have to walk out immediately.  This happened just yesterday in fact.  I knew I was taking a chance, starting to clean the bathroom before school was out.  A first-grader came in, and I had to be all, “Wait one second.  Let me leave and then you can go in.”  He was really flustered and turned right around and was really hesitant about going in at all after I walked out.  I had to repeat a couple of times, “You can go ahead now.”

Why all the paranoia?????  I follow this protocol because people can loose their jobs over shit like this.  And a part of me understands it, from a safety standpoint.  But at the same time, we are instilling and reinforcing really irrational fears and gender rigidity into kids!  The situation is anxiety provoking, all around!

During the majority of my shift though, I walk in and out of bathrooms without any hesitation because my co-worker and I are the only ones in the school.  (There are evening activities most days, but everyone needs to go to designated bathrooms at those times.  They can’t just wander around the school.)

This may sound kinda weird, but bathrooms are a good place to kill some extra time.  I like to practice peeing standing up, without an STP device.  (Basically because I don’t have one; I’m thinking about getting one.)  Interestingly, I do this still in the girls’ room.  I never actually use the boys’ bathrooms (it’s been ingrained in me too).  Also, bathrooms have mirrors, which used to come in handy when I was just starting to get into doing drag.  I’ve spent countless work hours listening to my mp3 player and practicing lip synching and dancing, in front of mirrors in the public restrooms.  I like to use the mop handle as a microphone stand.  It’s pretty fun.

Bathrooms end up being a microcosm for people’s anxieties surrounding gender.  And I don’t totally get it.  But I can attest to the fact that it is indeed taught and reinforced at a very young age.  I can also attest to some differences between genders, based on the different states I find the bathrooms in or just trends and differences between the two, but that’s sort of a different topic all together.  And some of it is just plain gross.

Thirty-one year old kid working as school janitor

Last week I got my free flu shot, in the cafeteria of the high school I used to work at (I now just work at an elementary school).  I went around back, and luckily ran into a former co-worker who was dumping garbages.  It was cool to get to see him, and I was able to just go directly inside along with him, instead of going through the front, going to main office, checking in, getting visitor name tag, etc. etc.  I chatted with him for a minute, then followed others down to the cafeteria to get the shot.  A lady was there to organize us and hand out the forms we need to fill out.  She looked at me kinda sideways and said, “How old are you?”
“Me?  I’m thirty-one.”
“Oh, I thought you were a kid!”
“Oh, yeah, I get that sometimes.”
“OK good… well you’re lucky.”

I think she meant lucky that I look so young?  I do feel lucky – I like passing as a kid.   And I was even wearing my janitor uniform including ID badge on this occasion and everything, ’cause I was heading straight to work.  Don’t know of many high-schoolers who’d be sporting that outfit.

Passing as a teenager yet again

The other day, I was walking home from the library.  I had my red backpack on, full of new media.  My pants were probably partially saggy; I was wearing skate shoes, as usual.  As I mentioned last week, I’ve been in a pretty low mood, so I’m sure I was slouching quite a bit, probably staring at the ground as I went.  I was crossing the street to get to my side street before I realized some teenaged girls on a porch were yelling to me.

“Hey!  Yeah, you.”
“Yeah!  What’s your name?”
“[I said my name.]”
“No.  [Said my name again.]”
“Yeah.  [Still not my name, but realized it didn’t really matter.]”
“Nice to meet you!”

I kind of did a little wave and kept walking, worrying I was going to start running into them a lot since this was pretty close to my house.  This isn’t a direct account of an instance where I passed as male, but I’m pretttty sure teen girls wouldn’t have been so adamantly yelling if they saw me as, basically, a female-bodied person in their early thirties.  So I’m going to count it!

A grandpa is re-roofing our house

ImageWe’re getting a new roof on the house this week.  So loud!  They’re starting every morning at 7:30, and I’ve just gotten home from work around midnight the night before and am trying to get enough sleep in.

Yesterday, the roofers had a big pile of debris in the driveway, and I had to get through – I was leaving for work.  About 4 of them were there, shovelling stuff, and the foreman yelled out, “Clear a path!”  They started moving stuff out of my way, and as I walked past a garbage bin, one of the guys dumped a shovelful into it (which I had no problem with).  The foreman yelled, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Grandpa!”  And I got really confused.  Who is Grandpa?  Is he calling me Grandpa?  It wouldn’t be the first time – it’s kind of a thing that I’m called Grandpa, or “Baby Grandpa.”  But how would this guy know that?!!

The one they were actually calling Grandpa seemed flustered too.  Apparently he got yelled at for dumping stuff too close to where I was walking.  In his defense, he said, “I thought he was with the crew.”

“Grandpa” was later confirmed when I talked to the owner of the company on the phone, and he said if I have a question, I can ask Paul, the foreman, or Steve, “the one they call Grandpa.”

I like being mistaken for someone on the crew!!!  (better than thinking I was mistaken for “grandpa.”)

Later that day at work, I found an advertisement for a book in one of the teacher’s trash.  It was this book, “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” and it claims the way to babysit a grandpa is to eat olives served on fingertips; look for lizards, cool rocks, and dandelion puffs; and somersault across the room.  Not sure about your grandpa, but mine loves olives and he helped me out with a roofing repair about a year ago.