In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!
#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.
The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.
#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.
We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.
I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.
My co-worker’s last day was yesterday. He is moving on to work security at one of the middle schools. Some people have a lot of co-workers; I really only have just one. I have a supervisor, a co-worker, and then a 3rd person who works per-diem 4 hours per day (so, a co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same.) We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked at the same time, and for the majority of each day, it was just us in the building (along with after-school activity groups.)
He started roughly 3 years ago, and we got off to a rocky start. I can’t really explain it, but it wasn’t just rocky – it was jarring, and jagged. It was, in effect, a disastrous mix. Things slowly repaired themselves, with time and effort, and I learned a ton about human connection and priorities, during this process. Maybe someday I’ll really write about that, but it won’t be here.
In some ways, we are opposites he grew up in a rough part of the city and now lives in the suburb I grew up in, and he generally stays put out there. He seems to know everyone there. I moved to the city as soon as I was able to, and I never spend time in that suburb, unless I stop at the grocery store after work, or get gas, etc. I feel a comfortable level of anonymity within the city…
We had a complete turn around within the time we worked together – he was the person I confided in the most. He actively participated in being my ally in a bunch of different ways. I wrote about this a little, over a year ago, here:
I came out to my co-worker
As soon as I told him about my preferred name, he started using it when no one else was around. He called me “Kam-Ron” at first, and then just shortened it to “Kam.” This later became, “Killa Kam” and “Cuz.” He lightly pressured me to come out at work when he could feel it was imminent. I appreciate it more than he’ll know. Well, he does kinda know – I explicitly told him yesterday that I wanted to thank him for being my ally, most specifically.
Super early on, he organized a district-wide work happy hour at his dive bar. I was the only one who showed up. Later, he narrowed down the guest list, and our co-workers / kitchen staff hung out one time outside of work. That was a first! He later bonded with me through my enthusiasm with a local community radio station I volunteer with. He came on the air with me on two occasions, taking pics and putting them on facebook and just hyping it all up in general. One time, we met for lunch before work. That was a first.
Last night, I picked us up some tacos from that place we had lunch the one time, and we just chit-chatted one last time. He had gotten a bunch of cards from students, like whole classes-worth, and a couple of gifts from teachers. He was exuberant, like he often is, gesticulating a lot, not sitting down, etc. I was low-key, like usual, trying to offset that a bit. While still being interested / engaged.
I’ve never met anyone like this person. I observed the ways he navigates through situations with my eyes and ears perked. Out of everything I learned from him, I think the most all encompassing thing was what he summed up as “teamwork makes the dream work.” (He would say this a lot.) But not teamwork in the way I knew of teamwork – this is a different brand of teamwork. I thought of “teamwork” as doing the same thing at the same time with another person or group of people, until the job was done. But whenever I tried to enact that with him, we would usually clash. His teamwork involves a network of small favors with as many people as possible, like, “I do this, which motivates you to do that,” kind of thing. Which may or may not work depending on the other person, but he is an extremely motivational person. In addition to just going way above and beyond, in that rare situation which arises from time to time, just to help you out.
He made a personal connection with probably almost every single person, whether principal or teacher or part-time staff, in the entire school. And now he’s moving on to go do that in a school that’s twice or maybe three times as big.
I’ll miss him.
I also wrote about the co-worker I had before this co-worker, here:
Saying goodbye to my mentor / co-worker
That was when he retired, two and a half years ago.
The day before yesterday was my first day back to cleaning up after students. It was terribly hot and humid (more so in the school than outside) and I promptly got a gross warm-weather cold; all stuffy in the head! I’m back to working late nights. Overall, it will be good to get back to it; right now it feels awfully lonely.
As an ode (of sorts) to my co-workers, and working all together this summer, here’s a partial list of the most frequently talked about topics:
– basements / sheds / generators / dehumidifyers
– cell phones / provider plans
– donuts and other snack foods
– grilling food / alcoholic beverages / being a host
– “got any weekend plans?” / “how was your weekend?”
– teacher quirks
And not a whole lot else…
The cool thing about having been writing here for over a year is I can go back and find out what I wrote, at this time last year. Here’s what it was.
I’ve been thinking lately that I’m writing lots about trans and queer identities and experiences (awesome!), but that I’ve been ignoring the other half of my moniker. So, I’m going to start a new series, from time to time, that highlights portrayals of janitors in movies, TV shows, books, whatever. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while!
First up: Good Will Hunting. 1997. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Screenplay by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
In this movie, Matt Damon plays a bad-ass boy genius working as a janitor at MIT. He solves an impossible math equation (in secret). He then is “discovered” by a professor, is forced to see a therapist in order to avoid jail time (for assault – he likes to get into fights), and is trying to find a balance in his life between love, his natural talents, and what he actually wants to do. (Writing out this summary from memory, the movie sounds so outlandish and absurd. It’s actually pretty gripping; look out for Robin Williams in one of his more serious roles, as Will’s therapist. Also look out for an awesome soundtrack by Elliott Smith.)
The first time we see Will, he is mopping a hallway floor. The movie people might have wanted to get a janitor-consultant for this movie (haha), because he is doing it all wrong. Will is pulling the mop straight out of the bucket and slopping it all over the floor (without wringing out the excess water ahead of time.) Completely unrealistic. Also, the hallway is full of students, which is not an ideal time to pull out the mop. Talk about slipping all over huge puddles of water en masse!
Later on in the movie, Will is talking with his therapist, Sean, about careers. (I’m condensing the dialogue a little, for efficiency.)
Sean: I mean there are guys who work their entire lives laying brick so that their kids have a chance at the opportunities you have here.
Will: What's wrong with layin' brick? That's an honorable profession. What's wrong with... with fixing somebody's car? Someone can get to work the next day because of me. There's honor in that.
Sean: Yeah, there is, Will. There is honor in that. And there's honor in, you know, taking that forty minute train ride so those college kids come in the morning and the floors are clean and the wastebaskets are empty. That's real work.
I could be reading too much into it, but the tone of the therapist’s voice, while delivering that last part, is complete, total snark (his character plays up the snark quite a bit though – to match Will’s tone.) Basically saying, “just keep sticking to what’s ‘honorable,’ and see how far you get.”
Sometimes, I too talk with my therapist about being a janitor. She has said, “you are probably the smartest janitor.” She must not have caught Good Will Hunting, haha. I’ve conveyed that sometimes I find it totally absurd that this is my job. (I may not be a bad-ass boy genius, but still, in a lot of ways, “janitor” is a strange fit for me.)
In spite of this, I can easily see myself retiring from this job. (Retirement at age 55, here I come!) There is absolutely no “career” I can envision pursuing (I’ve always felt this way. Maybe that will change with time; I won’t hold my breath.) I mean, I envision pursuing lots of other endeavors – writing, radio DJ-ing, volunteering in myriad ways, but “janitor” seems as good a way as any to actually make money…