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.
Yesterday, I wore a t-shirt to work for the first time! It was glorious. I have been back to work for two weeks now, after being out for 9 weeks recovering from top surgery. It has been going more smoothly than I could have possibly imagined! Physically, I’m back to 100%, and in terms of work dynamics, I’m right back where I left things, which is better than I could have hoped for. I pictured I might be the odd person out, after being away so long, but everyone genuinely seems happy to see me. Our supervisor even got muffins for the day I came back!
So, work uniform: We have four styles of shirts we can wear – all of them are navy blue with the school district’s seal embroidered in yellow. The choices are:
long sleeved button-down
short sleeved button-down
Every 2 years, we can order 5 more. I had been down to only 5 total, though, for years, because I continually ordered more and more size S short sleeved button-downs, and they kept being too big. I had 5 that my spouse had tailored and hemmed (thank you!!!), and that was it. I had 2 t-shirts and one polo shirt, which I had ordered at some point, but never wore. Until yesterday!
Why didn’t I just wear a t-shirt immediately upon returning? This might be mild paranoia, but I didn’t want to change things up immediately for fear of fanning whatever rumors might be going around about the type of surgery I had. I only told 2 people at work, and I didn’t really want to talk about it. The short sleeve button-downs have pockets with buttons that just happen to fall right where my nipples are! Haha. So, I looked pretty much the same before and after surgery, in those shirts. I wanted a little time to pass before I moved on to what I really wanted to do: Wear a t-shirt!
I gotta say though, t-shirts are not as conducive to this hot weather. (It is soooooo hot in the school.) They are 100% cotton, and they get wet with sweat. The short sleeved button-downs are cotton/poly blend, and they are billowy and wick away moisture.
Once it’s fall, winter, and spring, I am going to be loving it though. I just need more shirts though! I think this is one of the years we get more – I’m going to order 5 small t-shirts!
In other work related news, I added a new page to my blog. It is called, glossary of janitorial words and phrases. I’m sure I’ll be adding to it as I think of more. Check it out – it might make you laugh (or possibly gross you out)…
There’s a trans-kid out there who could use some words of support and encouragement right now. (There are many trans-kids out there who need help; here’s one way you can make a direct impact!) Tell Ollie your story and how you get through hard times related to depression and gender dysphoria, by sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I sent one in last night!
It started with, on Tuesday, I read an email that was dispersed through a closed Facebook group I am a member of, and I contacted the writer, Aldana, to see if I could share her message. The following is posted with her permission. Please do forward to specific people who might be interested, via email! If you would like to re-blog or share on social media, please contact me at email@example.com first… Aldana has conveyed that it’s a fine balance between wanting to get the word out and get more letters sent in, and on the other hand, the potential of it spinning out of control, having the message get watered down, and possibly having the surprise no longer be a surprise.
Aldana, a friend of Ollie’s father, wrote, (Edited version.)
I apologize for an email coming out of left field but I need some help and I hope you might be able to point me in the right direction. My name is Aldana and I have a very close friend who has a 17 year old transgender son named Oliver. Ollie just came out the end of last year and suffers from extreme gender dysphoria and depression. He has been going through a really rough time for a while now. He needs help and support so badly, and his dad does too.
I looked up local mentorship programs to send to his dad because I really believe that if Ollie had a mentor in his life, he would have someone to relate to and to talk about what he is going through. Besides sending mentorship information, I thought there might be another way to help Ollie feel love and support right now. It might be a long shot, but I wanted to put it out there just in case you might be able to help me make this happen!
I thought that it would be so great and powerful if people who went through similar hard times and came out the other side, were able to write a letter to Ollie telling him their story and how they overcame their challenges. This young soul is in desperate need of acceptance and love and I would appreciate any help or guidance you can give me in helping me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project happen.
I went ahead and created an email account that I can give to his dad to share with him once people start writing him letters. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am hoping to get about 30 but would be grateful for any amount to be honest.
I know this is an ambitious project and I want to thank you in advance for any help or guidance you can offer. You have my permission to forward this email to anyone you think might be able to help me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project a reality. Thanks for your time!
Here’s what I wrote to Ollie:
My name is Kameron, and I’m a 34 year-old trans-person. (Oh man, that makes me twice your age!) I wanted to write to you, share a little bit about myself, and hopefully learn more about you.
When I was 17, I was going through a really rough time too. I felt depressed, and stressed out about trying to make friends, plus juggling school, cross-country running, and a part-time job. (I worked at McDonald’s. It sucked.) On top of all of this, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure out my sexual identity (gender identity questions ended up coming later for me) and to be more open and honest. I was really shy.
I decided that I must be a lesbian, since I was so masculine and it seemed like I would probably date women, although I wasn’t so sure about that. I didn’t know about transgender identities. I didn’t know of anyone who was trans, or even what that really meant – it wasn’t talked about at the time, and I didn’t know about any resources. I could barely come to terms with the idea of being gay, anyway, so maybe it was for the best! To end up exploring these things in stages…
After a couple of months of feeling such intense pressure in my senior year of high school, I broke down and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks. The rest of that school year was really really hard. I had to drop out of a few of my classes. I went to more study halls and art classes, but that didn’t really help. I was not able to focus on my school work or anything else, not even TV!
Things did get better though, slowly but surely. I don’t want to sound too cliche, but it does get better. At least for me it did. And I think if you were to really ask people who struggle with depression and gender dysphoria and everything else, most of them would tell you the same thing.
My mom was supportive, and she found out about an LGBT youth group that I started going to every Sunday morning. (It prevented me from going to church with my parents, but I was secretly happy about that.) I will say that I found it difficult to connect with people at first, because I was so shy, but I at least started to feel a little bit more confident at my school. At the time, my school didn’t even have a gay-straight alliance or any club like that! Does your school?
When I went to college, a lot changed for me, largely because it was an opportunity to re-invent myself. Everyone was new. Also, I learned about so many things I was not aware of, including gender identity. Do you have plans to go to college? Even if you don’t, there are all sorts of opportunities to be the person you see yourself as, even if most people know you as someone else right now. Whether you join a new gym or start a new job or join a new group, I feel like people are more and more accepting and understanding about transgender identities, by the minute, these days. It’s really incredible how fast things are changing.
I would not have believed I could be where I am today, when I was 17 (the year you were born! Were you born in 1999?) I changed my pronouns to he/him/his about 10 years ago. I changed my name socially, and I want to change it legally too. I was on testosterone for a few years. I just had top surgery 3 weeks ago! My transition has ended up not being as straightforward, partly because I identify as non-binary, but that’s a different story. Also, I got married to a totally amazing person, and I have a blog, and I’m a radio DJ, and despite having some bouts of depression at different times, I am usually happy and want to get as much out of life as I can!
I’ve been thinking about you and hoping that things are at least getting a little better, every day. I wonder if you’d want to write back and forth more? I’d love to hear about what kinds of stuff you like. I just talked a whole lot about myself, but I’m actually more interested in learning more about you! Also, if you want to ask me something, go for it! I doubt I will think anything is “too personal.” I’m pretty open!
Your pen pal,
For years, I’ve had this idea of the path I would follow for coming out at work. First, I would tell a few people in person, including the principal and my supervisor. Then I would talk to the principal about my plan for coming out to everyone else, and make sure that it was fine by her. This plan entailed writing an email to the school requesting male pronouns and a name change. And maybe a brief explanation about how I feel about my gender. Then I would try to be alert and correct people in the moment so that the adjustment period would move along quicker. Maybe I’d actually feel closer to certain people during this process. Currently, I am far away from almost everyone.
Paths often diverge into other directions, or gradually end or loop back around. I made it through quite a few of these steps, and each time, I felt an urgency to move ahead, and relief and pride for disclosing more about myself:
A little over a year ago, I came out to the principal of my school (workplace).
Then, about 5 months ago, I cam out to the head of the kitchen.
Four months ago, I came out to my co-worker.
Most recently, about 3 months ago, I came out to my supervisor.
I thought my supervisor was the major road block. That once that was taken care of, the rest would happen quickly and effortlessly. Because it seemed to be what I had been wanting for years. I wanted to tell all these people, I thought, so that I could move on to the next stage. But now I’m starting to think differently. I’m wondering if maybe I wanted to tell these people because I actually wanted them to know this thing about me, and not just as a means to get to the next thing. Because as soon as the euphoria of telling my supervisor wore off, the urge to move forward surprisingly died down. Currently I feel no desire to follow the next step(s) in my plan.
I could speculate as to why that is: The rest of the plan is too scary, so I’m tricking myself into believing I don’t really want it. This seems unlikely because emailing the rest of the school and then replying in the moment seems totally do-able if that’s what I want. Doing that stuff is so much more hands-off, and low key, as compared to coming out to someone face-to-face, especially if you don’t know how they’ll react.
Another guess: I’m worried that people won’t understand. I haven’t legally changed my name yet, and I do not plan on changing my gender marker on legal documents. I also don’t plan on using the men’s room. (Luckily there are 3 “staff” restrooms within the school.) Will people be confused by my “partial” or “selective” transition? I’ve talked a lot about this in therapy over time, and I keep getting assured that people will take what I say at face value, and I don’t need to over-explain. I always thought about using a quip about bathrooms in my mass email: “Although I use the women’s restroom, don’t worry – I will continue to clean them all.” Or something like that. If people don’t understand that I am not transitioning into manhood, then so be it, right?
Another guess: Maybe I’ve actually reached the balance I’m looking for. Maybe I don’t actually want to be called by my new name, and male pronouns in all areas of my life because my gender is not that binary – maybe I actually need a little bit of both. This seems possible… I guess that time will tell.
Or: I am focused on my upcoming top surgery right now, that other gender-related issues are on the back burner. This might be the case. Again, time will tell.
Above all, when following any transition path, whether it’s laid out in stories in mass media, or the WPATH-SOC, or a therapist, or within each of us, it’s essential to listen to that heart/gut combination voice. Not the voice inside your head. Not the voice of peers transitioning. Not the voice of medical professionals.
That voice that says, “this feels right,” or “this does not feel right,” or “I’m not sure about this yet so I’m going to slow down and/or try a different path for a while.” This voice always has a simple message, and it’s always there, even if it seems buried by other, less important voices. Sometimes it’s a complex process to try and figure out what you want to do with that voice’s message, but the message itself is always simple and straightforward.
My voice unexpectedly told me that it’s not time to come out to everyone at work right now, if ever. At a time when I was sure my voice was going to say, “full speed ahead! You’re almost there!” it actually did a 180. And, although a part of me wants to just complete a task that has been on my mind for years, it is much more satisfying to listen to this voice than to check off one more thing on my transition to-do list.
Speaking of to-do lists, here’s one version of my transition to-do list, from almost 2 years ago: Gender identity related “to-do list”
There have been many, many versions of this, with lots of revisions. That’s part of what it means to be on a path…
About 7 months ago, I came out to the principal at school. She asked me what she could do, and at the time I said nothing right now, but eventually I’d like to send out an email and go by a new name and male pronouns. I still cannot foresee when this email might happen, but I did get myself one step closer a couple of weeks ago.
I was filling in for my supervisor (working during the day while school is in session) and so I had some time to drink coffee in the kitchen and stuff. About a year ago, I told the head of the kitchen that I was getting testosterone from my doctor (because I was leaving to go to an appt. that day), and that I don’t feel like either a man or a woman. She didn’t say much at the time, but it felt pretty exhilarating to tell her anyway. She was also the first person at work I told I was getting married. One week before the date. I barely see her unless we’re working together over the summer, but over the years and years and years, I feel somewhat close to her, closer than anyone else probably.
So we were sitting drinking coffee, and this was around the time I was going to be taking a day off to travel outside of Philly to go to a consultation for top surgery. We were talking about the time off my co-worker was taking, so I just said that I’m taking a day off and I told her why. At first she was surprised and asked me why I would be getting surgery (she might have thought I had breast cancer?). I explained that I don’t like my chest the way it is, and I talked to her again about how I don’t feel like either a man or a woman. We talked about what she’d do if she did have breast cancer, and we talked about people who have gotten breast reductions. I then told her I’d like to go by male pronouns and a new name at work, but I’m just not there yet. She said, “Well you need to do what will make you comfortable.” Then a teacher came in needing something, so the conversation was over. But I was pretty much in disbelief I was able to tell her all this. It wasn’t premeditated like talking to the principal was. And she seemed to react positively.
Normally at work, I don’t see her because our shifts overlap by only about a half hour, and I don’t really have a reason to go say hi every day. But a couple of days after my trip, she came and found me and asked me about how it went. It made me feel really good – I did not expect a follow-up. I told her the out of town consultation went really well, and the one with the local surgeon did not go well. She name dropped a local plastic surgery practice that might do what I’m looking for, and I found out later through a facebook group that some trans-guys have gone to one of the plastic surgeons. Not sure whether I would pursue that or not, but it was nice she was thinking of me.
I’m not sure what’s holding me back from coming out at work, exactly, but it does feel like these spontaneous conversations are just more natural than a mass coming out email would be. I still think the email is necessary because I can’t talk to every person (or even more than a couple), but it just feels daunting…
*Back to school is in quotations because as a janitor, I didn’t actually leave school. We’re just gearing up for everyone else coming back.
I spent this summer waking up at 5:20AM every day, working to get the school ready for students and teachers. We are winding down from that (we’ve been wound down for a while – we started out really fast and got done early). I’m back to late nights (2-10:30PM) without much to do other than dump the trash of the few teachers who have been coming in to set up every day. It’s been nice that the cleanliness of the school is at a standstill. We can just look around and say, “we got all that done.” And we don’t yet have to work to maintain it. Kids start back on Wednesday, so that will all change in a couple days.
While we were busy though, we were rushing through things. We scrubbed every desk and chair. We cleaned surfaces in the rooms, shined the sinks, dusted. We scrubbed the old wax up off the floors. I single-handedly waxed every floor. 3 times over. I’d like to know how many square feet that was. Tens of thousands? Maybe even a hundred thousand? Or a lot more?
It has been a relief to drop back to the later shift and not feel like I’m stumbling, half-awake, in the mornings, just to come home and start dreading about waking up early again. I had been going to bed at 8:30PM! My mental health has been better overall, but not great. I’ve been mildly depressed all summer.
Going back to late nights has been lonely, and strangely, a lot of my worries have centered around what to eat before work. I need to fit in breakfast and lunch. I don’t know what to eat. I also don’t really know what to do, all by myself, other than oversleeping. I’m forcing myself to do some things I don’t really feel like doing, as of now. I guess the hope is I will grow into it; I will like it once I’m doing it. I’m going to be a radio DJ starting pretty soon. I’m also going to take a writing class.
I’ve been realizing that I’m living with a lot of dread lately. Whether that’s residual from mental health issues earlier in the year, or whether that’s just me being me, I can’t really figure out. It’s been helpful to notice it while it’s happening though, and just focus on the here-and-now. Remind myself that I’m actually fine in whatever I am doing presently, so just be more involved in that, rather than thinking about all the perceived horribleness ahead.
For example, I’m dreading going back to doing the exact same thing, at work, every day. But, it really is what I make it, from moment to moment. Unlike most jobs, I don’t have unpredictable things pop up daily, or new challenges to tackle, or people to deal with. It’s just me, in my head. I need to remember that it’s important to change what’s on my iPod frequently – new music, new podcasts… And to talk to people on the phone. And although I don’t believe her, my therapist keeps telling me that I’m actually in control of my own thoughts. So I can choose to keep obsessing about something negative, or I can move on to more interesting topics. In my mind, I am powerless to whatever my brain ends up dwelling on, and I get stuck feeling whatever feelings those thoughts conjure up. I should work on that…
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!
This blog is largely about working as a janitor and about living as a non-binary person. I’ve struggled with the chronicling-of-my-job side of it, and with melding the two aspects of my identity. Largely this is because I am not out at work. It’s hard to write about work if I feel a block. Also I’m not always sure what to share about work… I feel tentative about it.
I am out in other areas of my life – friends all use male pronouns; relatives at least know I prefer male pronouns. In new situations, I plan to let people know about male pronouns whenever I feel like I comfortably can. But work has been a challenge, in my mind.
A big part of that is, what would I be asking for, exactly? Male pronouns, and a name change down the road. What about bathrooms? What about my appearance? I won’t be looking any different, as opposed to other trans-people who transition from one gender to the other. Is this too much to ask for? And what about kids and parents? Where do they fit in? I see teachers getting on board (Maybe? One day?), but how much can I hope for it to trickle down to students and their parents? Does it matter to me that much?
Right now, this is hurting my head. BUT, a couple of weeks ago, I took a first step! I had been wanting to fill the principal in about my recent hospitalization and absence. At the time it happened, I was vague and just left it at I was hospitalized. I did want to let her know the nature of the occurrence and just touch base about where I’m at. I figured it would be a good time to also give her a heads up about my trans-identity. I didn’t plan to ask for any accommodations or change-overs at this time – just wanted to let her know.
So I waited for a good time after school when she was still in the building. I’d been psyching myself up for a few days, so the day I decided I could do it, it was definitely going to happen. It wasn’t perfect – I knew she was getting ready for a kindergarten registration event that evening, but it kinda had to be NOW! I kept it short, knowing she had other things.
I just popped in her office, said I’d like to touch base about where I’m at – she asked me how I was doing and I said, “Much better.” Which was kinda true in the moment, but not true later on. I’ve been on a roller coaster with new med adjustments and things, but I didn’t get into all of that. I just told her that the reason I went out was that due to personal stress and work stress, I could sense my thoughts getting extremely confused and disorganized. I sought out help from my therapist, and she’s the one who brought me to the hospital. I’m on new meds, for now at least (the principal asked about side effects) and seeing my therapist more often for the time being. The principal was open and supportive.
She started to wrap things up by talking about cleaning for tonight (with the event), so I knew I had to jump in with my other purpose before the moment passed. I said, “I do have another thing to bring up, about where I’m at. I wanted to let you know that I identify as transgender.” I went on to specify that most people who ID this way transition from one gender to the other, and I don’t feel that – I feel like I am in the middle. That I’ve been in this process for years, and work is the last place. That I’m on testosterone but such a low dose that my appearance won’t be changing. That I prefer male pronouns and plan to change my name at some point. She listened intently and asked what I needed. I said nothing right now, just time to maybe talk to other people within the school and come out on my own terms. Maybe at some point an email but nothing right now. Just eventually a name and pronoun change. I asked her if she had any context for knowing about trans-people, and she said yes. And that was about it. I wrapped it up really quickly and told her thank you. She said thank you to me too.
I don’t know what this means other than one tiny step. Right now everything has felt so hard, this feels like nothing. I think in time, it may feel like I opened doors up to take further steps, but as of now, it just feels like something I got out of the way.
Here’s to happier days ahead. I should be happy about this, and hopefully it will sink in later…
My co-worker just retired on Friday. This is someone I’ve seen almost every day for the past 8 years – not many people in my life I can say that about! (My partner, and others at work, basically.) I will miss him a lot. Some people have a lot of co-workers. I really only have just one. I have one supervisor, one co-worker, and one other person on the cleaning staff who is only there for 4 hrs a day (more of a higher turnover. A co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same).
We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked the same hours and we were still a team. I clean the first floor, and he cleaned the second floor. We probably only saw each other for a total of a half-hour every day. Still, I felt very connected with him. We commiserated together. We listened to each other. If I needed anything, I knew I could go to him. I knew if I helped him out with something, I was being highly appreciated for it.
I’d have to say he taught me more than any other person, in my journey to becoming a janitor who is very good at his job. He always had an opinion about how things should be done. And he had a lot of tricks-of-the-trade up his sleeve. He always wanted to pass those on to me (and anyone else who had the patience to learn from him – most didn’t). He was really difficult to understand. He’s from the Caribbean and has a super thick accent. He also has a speech impediment (I believe) on top of that. Over time, I began to be able to understand every word out of his mouth. Most people – teachers and other people in the building – could really understand roughly half or less of the things he was saying. Even after interacting with him every day for years and years and years. Sometimes I felt the urge to be his interpreter, but I think he might have felt insulted, so I really only did this if it really seemed necessary.
One of my favorite word-disconnects he uttered, was anytime he was talking about someone with Alzheimer’s, it would come out sounding like “Old Timers.” How great is that? I’ve pretty much started using that in my own lexicon. There are plenty of other neologisms and intonations I’ve adopted from him. Just one way I will always remember him.
There was a party for him after school in the library (this is the first “library party” I’ve attended – usually I haven’t felt like I was welcome / I haven’t gone). We ate cheese squares and broccoli & cauliflower. We drank Pepsi and had sheet cake. He made a brief speech and he cried. I was touched. He was presented with a few gifts, including a scrap book the Social Committee made for him. I contributed two pieces for it. This is what I wrote:
I think that he saw me as male. Or at least as not female. He always referred to me as “Man,” or, more like, “Mon” (the Caribbean thing). He was old-school in a lot of ways, but he never once tried to do something for me (unless he was showing me a better way to do it) or told me I couldn’t do something / lift something. I always appreciated that. There’s no way I’ll ever forget him. He impacted my life in ways he may never know…
I’m not complaining; it’s not a bad thing! My surroundings sort of facilitate this, which is fine by me. As a janitor at an elementary school, I spend most of my time, during the work-week, with women and children (if I’m with anyone at all). Every teacher I interact with regularly is relatively feminine in her attire, mannerisms, and speech. (There are a handful of men who teach / work at this school; I just don’t happen to see them on a regular basis.) Every child running around me getting ready to head home for the day, is tiny. I wear a work uniform which is super masculine by default. (Like, we don’t have “women’s uniforms” and “men’s uniforms.” We just have uniforms.) In addition to the uniform, I wear men’s pants and men’s hiking boots. I imagine my movements are relatively masculine. I’m working, I’m using big, sweeping motions. I saunter around slowly, sometimes with my hiking boots untied.
I am surrounded all day long by tiny furniture. The classrooms I clean are for kindergarteners through 2nd graders. (My co-worker cleans the bigger kids’ rooms.) Some of these table tops are seriously 2 feet off the ground. I have to essentially bend in half in order to spray and wipe them all down, daily. (My poor back!)
I’m only 5’4″ (or maybe a little shorter than that. I like to think I’m 5’4″ – I’m at least that with my hiking boots on!) but I feel like a giant! Sometimes I sit down in the teeny tiny chair at the teeny tiny table and just catch my breath / think / relax. It’s sorta like I’m in a fun house, where my self-perception is distorted because of my surroundings.
I like this feeling a lot. It helps me feel more like the way I see myself. The only tough thing about it is when I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror (this happens at home too, it’s not just a work thing) and I realize how tiny and feminine I actually am! I seem to especially hone in on my neck, for whatever reason – it’s so dainty and slender and like it could snap right in half so easily. My wrists too; it feels like my hands could snap off at any time. These feelings don’t really translate into me feeling like I should be taking more testosterone and becoming more masculine. They’re just sorta… fleeting, at least for the time being.
Another thing that’s going on at work that’s somewhat related is: age. The kids stay the same; the parents stay the same. (Not really of course. Kids grow up. I just mean I’m perpetually surrounded by kids and parents around the same ages, they cycle through, while I get older and older.) I used to be the youngest person who worked at the school, for years. Now, there’s a teacher who is younger than me. When did that happen?! (It happened last year.) Also, parents keep looking younger and younger. Many of them are, in fact, younger than me now, which is a shift. In fact, just yesterday, a parent recognized me from high school. She was in a grade below me. It was super weird!
It’s just not the same as it used to be: kids and parents these days!