I haven’t written one of these since 2014! That’s way too long! My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor. Heads up – this post might contain spoilers! And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)
She doesn’t start out as a janitor. She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident. She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive. When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,
“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”
And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about! She gets placed at West Haven High School. We see her in a bunch of scenes at work. I’ll try to break it down a bit:
Uniform: She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands. She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that. Plus a beanie. It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed! I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty. Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor. I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.
The Work: We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti. This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments! I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions. Not worth it!
Storyline: There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing. Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him. The reply? He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears. This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.
“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”
Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him. It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed. ???
There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant. She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything. Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,
“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool. …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”
It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through. I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally. But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.
Here it is, finally! Photographic proof that my name plate finally arrived the way I want it, after many delays and a mix-up. If you want to read about the backstory, here are two past posts:
From December: The “Mx.” got way delayed
From last January: I came out at work, cont’d
The short version is that I asked for the Mx. a year and 3 months ago, following my legal name change. A full year passed before anything happened, and it came through as Kameron [last name], which was not what I wanted. So I talked to the principal again, and luckily, she was pliable. A month ago, I saw a name plate in the admin. assistant’s trash (only because I empty her trash), that said, Ms. [last name]. Meaning, that Staples messed it up even though it got submitted the way I wanted it. Another week passed (during which time I was wondering if I’d have to check back in with the admin. assistant or not. Glad I just waited.) and, finally, there it was, on the custodial door.
Within a week of me coming out at work, a new protocol had been put in place for how we should go about cleaning bathrooms. And for the first time, it applied to all cleaners in all bathrooms, not just guy cleaners going in women’s /girl’s bathrooms, or gals going in the men’s / boy’s. The timing of it was not lost on me.
1. First, call out to see if anyone is in there. If they are, wait.
2. Next, take a sign that is now velcro-ed to the back of all bathroom doors, and velcro-adhere it to the front. This sign reads, “Do Not Enter. Cleaning in Progress.”
3. Close the door, and then do whatever you’re doing, whether it’s just loading more paper towels or full-on cleaning the bathroom.
Before this, we only had to be conscious if we were in bathrooms that were opposite to the ones of our gender/sex.
When I came out to the principal and assistant principal, one of the first and only questions they asked was about bathrooms. Which bathrooms did I plan on using? If she (the principal) could make a suggestion, it would be best if I only used the gender neutral bathrooms. I was polite in response, even though I had not thought this through, and at the time, I used both the women’s bathrooms and the gender neutral bathrooms. All I said was, “A lot of people are worried about bathrooms when it comes to trans-people.”
As it is, a year later, I really only do use the gender-neutral bathrooms because different people within the school have different perceptions about where I’m at, and I want to protect myself and also foster the idea that I am neither male nor female. I didn’t plan on this. I thought I’d be continuing to use both women’s and gender-neutral ones. But I’m not.
I clean one set of bathrooms in the “centrum,” an open plan area where the first graders are taught – there are 3 regular classrooms, 2 resource classrooms, a big open area, and two bathrooms. These bathrooms don’t have doors on them, and also therefore, there are no, “Do Not Enter, Cleaning in Progress” signs accompanying them. Since I do get a head start while the first graders are getting ready to go home, I always yell, “Anyone in here?” even before just dumping the trash / cleaning the sinks. (Due to placement, there’s no way I’d encounter someone using the restroom from the sink area.)
A few days ago, I was doing my routine and called out like always. No one answered. I was putting in a new roll of paper towel. Then I heard a toilet flush. Also a bunch of kids were to the immediate right of this bathroom, putting on their winter coats and boots. I finished loading the paper towel, deciding that it would have been a bigger deal if I had just left it half loaded in my paranoia to escape the bathroom. The girl washed her hands and then I ripped off a piece for her to dry her hands.
Kids who were right there had a very lively conversation!
“There are no boys allowed in the girl’s room.”
“And also no girls allowed in the boy’s room.”
“But why is he in there in the bathroom then?”
“He has to be in there because that’s his job.”
“He’s putting more paper towels in there.”
“But still are you sure he can be in there?”
I just cleared out without further fanfare, but I felt kinda flustered. Personally, I still feel like I half belong in the girl’s / women’s bathrooms. Indeed, those are the ones I use the vast majority of the time when I am out in public.
I was intrigued that these first graders gathered that I was male. I honestly have no clue whether kids at the school I work at think I’m male or female. Whenever I’m asked (this happens so rarely), I do make a point to say, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” But short of that, I don’t have a clue what conclusions they come to!
One other thing that is tangentially related, I feel, because it concerns personal space: Since I’ve come out, had top surgery, and been on testosterone for long enough that my physique and how I carry myself has changed, I get touched a lot more at work. Some teachers pat or gently tap my shoulders and back. A few days ago, I was thrown way off when a kid patted my midsection for no apparent reason! It’s definitely different, and I don’t respond likewise with anyone, but I gotta say that I do think it’s a positive change – I think people can tell that I am more comfortable in my skin, and some of them act accordingly.
I’ll take it!
If you’d like to see what I originally wrote about this topic, back in January of 2014, here it is:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
I decided to write a Part 2 because this one felt outdated. And I still haven’t covered everything, not by a lot shot! (probably part 3 will appear in the future…)
I have not come up against very much resistance or ugliness as I’ve come out, in stages, in different ways, over the span of like 18 years. I’ve been called rude things out car windows. I’ve had uncomfortable and disconcerting medical appointments. I’ve faced silence-as-acceptance(?) from certain family members. I’m still dealing with people not grasping the right pronoun, or referring to my spouse as my “friend.” But these things have been few and far between, and although they do add up, they don’t feel terribly crushing. Most of the hardest feelings have come from within, and not outside forces.
Two weeks ago though, something came up that was deliberate, that would affect me long term, and that I can’t just let go. It’s my name plate at work.
I’ve worked at this school for over 10 years, and I’ve struggled to find my place within the rest of the staff. As a default, I’ve been distant and out-of-the-loop for the most part. It took me 6 years to get a name on the custodial door at all, and that only happened when a new person started and he got his name on the door. Then it was suddenly, hey, wait a minute! I had been fine without one, or so I told myself, because I’d rather not have one at all than be a “Miss” or a “Ms.” or later a “Mrs.” or even a “Mr.” All of those feel cringe-worthy and totally wrong for me. So when I was actually asked, and I said, “KT [last name]” and that was accepted, I was thrilled. That was the name I went by. It felt right. At the time.
And then it didn’t. I came out at work last December. Holy what, that was a year ago! Part of this included talking to the principal about my name and pronoun change. I also made it clear that I was not transitioning to male, exactly, and I’d like it to be known I identify as in the middle or as a little bit of both genders. She replied that that distinction was not necessary, and that was more of a private thing. PS- It isn’t. It’s my identity. Instead of deciding I needed to clarify in that moment though, I attempted to grasp onto other compromises and specifics. So that, when she asked me about my name on the custodial door, it was immediately a no-brainer. “Mx. [last name].” It’s another option, I said. It is in use. It’s a thing, I tried to assure her. I said, “If this is representing my name, then I don’t feel compelled to spell out [in a coming out email she was going to be sending on my behalf] how I am neither gender. The title will speak for itself, and people can ask me if they want.” The principal nodded. It felt very much like we had agreed on this. She had told me that it could say whatever I wanted although she would like there to be some uniformity with everyone else’s. Mx. seemed perfect. I assumed there was follow-through on this.
As the months went by and I still didn’t have a name on the door (my supervisor had ripped off my old one), I wondered what was a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking what’s going on? But then I was out of work in May for mental health reasons. And then it was summer, and stuff like that doesn’t get done over the summer. I again had a new co-worker. I decided I would just ride in on his coat-tails. It would be easier, and that was the route I preferred to take at that time. And sure enough, within the first couple of weeks of school starting back up in September, he got his name on the custodial door. And I still didn’t. It was Mr. [last name]. I went to the administrative assistant that day and asked about my name. She apologized for not adding mine to the order, and she said she’d order it right then and there. I gave her a piece of paper where I had written it out, so there’d be no confusion: Mx. [last name].
It took 2 months, but it finally came in 2 weeks ago, but it was all wrong. I checked the custodial mail slot like I do most days, and I was appalled to see two new name plates: one for me and one for my co-worker – both of them were our first and last names. No titles at all. My ears turned red, my pulse quickened. I paced around a little, trying to move forward with my work while processing this. The principal was still in her office, adjacent to the hall where these mail slots are. I started to gear up to approach her, but then I hesitated, thinking I should wait until I’m more levelheaded. I didn’t get a chance to decide because right in that moment, she left.
My first, more general thought was that this is disrespectful in a classist sense. Why should ours be the only names that don’t have a title with them. Other thoughts spiraled out from there, most prominently, “I don’t want to have to deal with this!”
When the name got put on the door, I told my co-worker that’s not what I wanted. (He failed to change out his name plate, so mine was the only one with a first name). I then told the administrative assistant, and she said this was the principal’s decision. Which I already figured; I just didn’t want to talk to her! For 5 days in a row, I gathered myself to go talk to her, only to be met with her on her way out the door right in that moment. So finally when passing her in the hall on the 6th day, I asked, “Can I talk to you before you leave today?”
That worked! I talked to her and it was no big deal on her end. I wrote out what I wanted, for a third time, and she said it’d be ordered the following day. Which was yesterday. We’ll see how long it takes this time around; at this point it’s been over a year!
These days occur consecutively every year – October 10th and 11th. It’s a good chance to kind of look back and take stock. And to see where I was at; here’s what I wrote last year:
World mental health day / Nat’l coming out day 2016
Before talking about this year, I just want to note that last year I said, “I’d say within the next 6 months I’ll be out at work and everywhere else. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing!” I’ve reached that point!!! Well, everything except that little plastic rectangle, but that is in-process (see below)!
This past year in my mental health landscape: I thought I was stable in a way that couldn’t be rocked, but actually I ended up back in the hospital again with another manic / psychotic episode. I know my loved ones went through a lot of stress and strife, but, in comparison to past episodes, this felt like a breeze, and it even felt healing in many ways. I do want to try to write about this, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully soon. I spent two months out of work, I got raised to triple my prior dose of Seroquel (a drug I continue to like a lot – a first for me), and now I’m down to double my prior dose. I’m off of any antidepressants right now. I’m worried I will lapse into another depression, but so far, so good. I’m starting to finally address the issues I’m having with oversleeping. But, to be honest, if oversleeping is the worst thing to come out of being in a really good place mentally otherwise, then so be it, I guess… For now at least.
In terms of National Coming Out Day, coming out is happening all the time, and I’m glad to be in a place where I’m neither invisible nor fearful of having to come out again and again and again. I love every opportunity. Take yesterday for example: I didn’t realize it was National Coming Out Day until that night when I went on facebook after work. And during that day, I had two instances of coming out. While I was working in the cafeteria during lunch, a kid asked me, “Are you a boy?” I replied, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” He replied, “Really?!” And I said, “Yeah!” I had a big smile on my face. Then later in the afternoon, I realized that my new boss(?) got his plastic rectangle with his name “engraved” and it was now on the custodial door, and I’ve been waiting for mine since January, when I changed my name. So instead of getting worked up about that, I just wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted (so there’d be no confusion) and explained to the administrative assistant that Mr. [last name] has his on the door and I’ve been waiting for mine. She apologized for forgetting to include mine in the order, and said she would go ahead and order mine. I gave her the paper: It said, “Mx. [last name].” She verbalized that back to me to make sure it was right, and I said, “Yep.” I should have that up hopefully within a couple of weeks, finally. This feels like such a victory!
There’s one other thing I want to mention regarding mental health: I started listening exclusively to a new-to-me podcast. By this, I mean, I listen to podcasts every day while at work. And previously, that would be somewhere between 5-8 different ones at any given time. Right now, for whatever reason, I’m just listening to one, all day every day. I’m sure I’ll get tired of it and get back to some of my other ones, but for now, it’s pretty mesmerizing. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. The host jokes that he does not give advanced notice for triggers because he would have to stop every couple of minutes to announce another Trigger Warning. And it is absolutely true. There is a lot of stuff about abuse of all kinds, dark secrets and shame, both sexual in nature and just like, the kinds of stuff that randomly pops in your head and you hate yourself for thinking it. The host lightens things up by being in turns uplifting and darkly humorous. Each show is somewhere between 2-3 hours (!?!), and he’d read people’s surveys they’ve sent in anonymously, and he will also interview one person per show. He’s doing all this seemingly on his own, and he’s making a living off of it. I’m kinda obsessed right now.
As top surgery results and testosterone have been working their magic, I have felt less hung up on how I am perceived. This is great news! I feel less drained when I go out in public, generally. I’ve taken things into my own hands when I feel like I’ve needed to, and this had not been psychically difficult, by any means! Here are some ways I have been true to my non-binary identity:
1. I Tampered With My Driver’s License.
Since I don’t live in Oregon or California, I still have to legally be either “Male” or “Female.” Although I legally changed my name to something more masculine, I opted to remain “female,” legally. This has led to feelings of dysphoria, but being “male” would have anyway, as well. So, as of a few months ago, I decided to put a bright neon sticker over my “Sex” on my driver’s license. At first it was neon orange. Currently it’s neon green. The color doesn’t make too much of a difference – just the fact that no one can see whether it’s “M” or “F” is huge for me. I’ve shown it at the pharmacy, bought beer with it, gotten “carded” at restaurants, shown it to bouncers at bars and nightclubs. No one has commented or had an issue with it – they just need to know how old I am, and that I am who I say I am! That’s it. (As an aside, when I traveled abroad, I did take the sticker off, because I didn’t think TSA agents would be too thrilled about that…)
2. School Pictures
I am an elementary school janitor – every year, I go through the same routines: first day of school, winter concerts, spring concerts, curriculum nights, open house, book fair, the 5th grade breakfast, last day of school, etc. No one can forget school pictures! They happen within the first weeks of school – this year, it was a week ago, today. As a staff member, I have to participate, and then I get some free photos, and I get a sheet of all the faculty and staff, every year. In the past, I have gone by the initials that I used to go by, which was “KT” and then [last name]. Unless I wasn’t feeling like speaking up (which was the case on a couple of occasions) I made sure the picture company had me down as “KT” instead of “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” or “Mr.” This year, surprisingly, I “passed” as male, as I saw the picture lady write down, “Mr.” and then ask me what my last name is. Without hesitating, I gave her my last name (new, legally changed), and then said, “Can you change that ‘Mr.’ to ‘Mx.’? It’s neither ‘Mr.’ nor ‘Ms.’ ” She replied, “I guess I can,” and I watched her cross out what she had and re-write “Mx.” It was awesome! I kinda can’t wait to get my sheet of faculty and staff photos this year.
3. Playing It By Ear, As I Go
This last one is a bit of a contradiction -I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I cannot assert my non-binary identity in every and all cases, so, if people are given a heads-up that I’ve changed my name and pronouns, in some situations, that is good enough. Especially at work. Teachers have been great about switching over. And I honestly don’t know how many of them get the nuances I’ve tried to convey. A couple of them for sure, because they asked me questions, and I had some really satisfying conversations. But in addition to this, there’s a larger group of people who are slowly hearing about it (or not) by word of mouth – mainly buildings and grounds workers. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, people I see now and then, but certainly not every day. If they get that I am a trans-person, and they are respectful, then, that is good enough. There’s this one guy who is over at our school a lot. A few weeks ago, he took me aside, and, obviously nervous about the exchange, he said, “So, I just want to know, because we are friends… It’s Kameron now?” He was just verifying something he wanted to make sure he was getting right, and, in my eyes, I was really psyched about this because he’s a guy that I think other workers look up to. So, the more positivity around it, the better. The less nasty gossip behind my back, the better. And, to that end, I just went to a union meeting two days ago, and the secretary addressed me by my old moniker, “KT.” I almost didn’t correct her, because… I don’t know… the picking your battles thing, I guess. BUT! Someone else corrected her, someone that I didn’t know knew yet! And so, I riffed off of that, asserting, “Yep, it’s Kameron now. I changed my name.” She shrunk into herself at hearing that, but, whatever. Another buildings and grounds guy took it from there, telling me loudly that his “niece” just transitioned recently into his “nephew.” We sat down and continued to converse so that anyone and everyone could hear, if they tuned in. He was just overjoyed to be accepting “Shane,” his middle-school-aged family member. At no point did I try to assert that I was neither male nor female. If he got the gist that I am trans, and he spreads the word with a positive attitude, then that is better than good enough. Acceptance, even if limited in understanding, is still worth it!
At the school I work at, there are two main sections to be cleaned – upstairs and downstairs. For the vast majority of my time there, I’ve always cleaned the downstairs. The water fountain was better. It was cooler in hot weather. There were more people to interact with. The rooms were cleaner (for the most part). I was closer to things that I needed to access: receiving room with supplies, dumpsters, the custodial office.
About 2 years ago, I cleaned the upstairs for roughly 6 months. It was not my choice – things were rough in a lot of different ways, and this was just one more thing. One more really big thing though, in my head. I was in and out of work a few times, due to a serious depression. When I was up there, it felt as if I could barely do the tasks, and the fact that they were recurring forever and ever was intolerable. I was rushing myself, always feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything. I was at a loss as to what to do about all the recycling, which for me is a “must do.” I just felt like I did not belong up there. I was trying to pop in and out of areas before kids were out of school, and then backtracking, which felt totally inefficient but seemed to be the only way to keep busy. Just being felt painful. And the fact that the being was on the second floor made the pain feel compounded so tightly within itself that I was struggling beyond belief.
By about mid-October of 2015, I was told I was switching back to the first floor. Apparently my co-worker wasn’t doing a great job, there were complaints, it was more important to be clean on the first floor than the second floor. ?? Anyway, at that time, I was sooooooo relieved. It was a visceral feeling. All the negativity was left up on the second floor, and although I was still struggling, I fit right back into the first floor. A few months later, I got on a medication that really started working for me, and the next two years went really well for the most part.
Sometimes a little too well: As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a manic episode in May, and I was out for two months, recovering from that. In a good way though – so far so good on the avoidance of a rebound depression. However, I lost my status at work. When I got back, it was clear that the new guy was now the new second-in-command.
In the past, this would have felt devastating, and I would have clung onto whatever control I did have, to the detriment of myself, only, really. I know because I’d already put myself through all that, big time. This time around, I decided to take it all in stride, as best I could. Instead of arguing about how I couldn’t do the second floor or anything like that, I spent time “staking it out,” I guess you could say? Just, spending time up there visualizing this or that and getting accustomed to the idea, before kids came back.
Now that school is back in session, I am IN IT. And it’s not actually bad. So far it has felt preferable, in fact. I’ve made some changes to my routine that really feel like they’re making a difference. Instead of bringing my cart plus mop bucket plus garbage barrel to each and every classroom, I am “sweeping through,” first with the garbage and rags to wipe everything down, then with the vacuum for all the area rugs, and then with the dust mop. I am taking WAY more steps going through multiple times instead of going room-by-room, but it’s feeling good. Feeling faster, even.
And the weather has not been too hot. And there’s a new drinking fountain up there as of a couple months ago – the kind where you can easily fill up a water bottle from, and it says how many plastic bottles you are saving by doing so. I love it! And I like the fact that the teachers clear out early up there, for the most part. And the rooms have been clean thus-far.
Best of all, I have my own “room” to store stuff, up there. That’s new. So while things are kinda turbulent with co-worker dynamics, I am so glad to have all my stuff and activities separate from theirs, more-so than ever before.
All the negative associations I’ve held about the second floor have pretty much melted away. A lot of that has to do with mental health and coming out at work. I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard to get in and out of places. I actually feel like I belong. When I talk with people, I like my voice. When I walk and do all this physical work, more muscle mass is making it feel much more effortless.
The only thing I’m dreading now is “gym use.” Coming soon will be screaming children using the gym for their cheer-leading practice, from 6-8:30pm. And once that’s over, it’ll be basketball all winter-long. We’ll see how well I can adjust…
Today is 6 months on 50ml injections / week. I didn’t know I would end up liking it as much as I am. At this rate, I may be on it for a while, whereas previously I was thinking roughly 6-8 months.
I have not noticed anything major since the 3 month mark, except for probably just my voice, and also some psychological changes, which can be chalked up to any number of different things, first and foremost my “mood disorder” and the tweaking of my psychotropic meds. (All for the better, thankfully!)
I also just celebrated 4 years with wordpress (got a notification from the company haha)! That’s pretty cool – I’ve been writing roughly once a week this entire time. I have over 200 posts “published.”
Also, locally, we just celebrated pride in our mid-sized city. We’re always a month behind everywhere else with that. Why? I have no idea! But I definitely do love the fact that it’s in mid-July as opposed to June. It makes it all the more easier for me to be involved, with work and everything else going on with the end of the school year. I’ll be making a post about that, as I do every year, for sure!
Speaking of work, I will be going back to work tomorrow, finally. I’m neither nervous, worried, or anxious. I’ll just see what’s what when I get there. I have been out for 2 months. Since my hospitalization in mid-May. That is a long time to be out. It has been relaxing, exciting, productive, and eye-opening. I hope I can keep that feeling with me as I go back to the drudgery of a 40hr / week routine.
Hey, my T shot is also tomorrow, so I can have that to look forward to, at the same time. And, the fact that I’ll be working again does not negate all the awesome things I’ve been up to. Gonna try being more social and friendly and network-y. Wish me luck!
Also, here’s my face:
I can’t believe there’s still so many intense conversations to be had! Why does it take forever?!
In general in our neighborhood, my spouse and I don’t have a rapport with people. Like, at best, I watched our next-door neighbor’s cat one time, and we went to a backyard fire at her place twice, like two summers ago.
We also have a neighbor a few houses down who borrows our lawn mower a lot. This is the guy I’m talking about today – I ran into him yesterday, off our street.
I was walking on a major road nearby, to a coffee shop to write some letters to friends. (I am still out of work on medical leave right now.) He saw me first, from across the street. We probably have only seen each other once or twice since last summer. He’s always super friendly, so he was shouting, “Hey, hey, how are you?” and crossing the street at the same time. I steeled myself (slightly), and returned the greeting, meeting him partway to shake his hand and ask how he’s been, what he was up to.
He was walking home after buying his lotto tickets, etc. but that’s neither here nor there. We talked about past neighbors that he’s kept up with, and about his plans for retirement. I told him my spouse was going back to school in the fall for a master’s program. (Oh, hey, PS: blog-friends, my spouse is doing this big thing coming up. Grad school!!!)
Then I told him that I legally changed my name to Kameron. And that I got my passport and driver’s ID and everything changed over. He asked me if this was a good thing, and I said, yeah, yeah it is. Then I realized he just has no idea, so I spelled it out – I said, “I’m transgender, I’m actually more in the middle, not like I am going to become a man. But like, at work and my friends and family, I use male pronouns, ‘he/him/his.'”
He started to get it then, and as soon as he did, he started apologizing. For being invasive, or something, I guess? I just kept repeating, “No, you’re fine. It’s not personal. This is a part of who I am. So, like my parents are all good with it, everyone’s all good. It just took me a long time. There’s a lot of discrimination. Like, say, fifteen years ago, it wasn’t even OK just to be gay. Things are changing though.”
He definitely got that. It immediately sunk in. He said, “Oh yeah, like you might have been depressed and now things are better for you? I bet people deal with suicides and stuff, right?” I said “Yes, and even bullying and hate crimes and everything. It’s bad. I mean, I don’t like to be negative, but yeah, it can be bad.”
He then proceeded to ask about operations and surgeries, and I just said, “Well, that part of it is personal. So, I mean, I’ll figure that out as it comes. But for now everything is all good.” He does not need to know about my top-surgery status or anything else of that nature, for sure!
He started apologizing again, haha.
I shook his hand again and said he was free to borrow our lawn mower if he needs it. We exchanged more pleasantries and parted ways. I felt really good about it. He kept referring to my spouse as my girlfriend, but hey, I can’t correct the man on every little detail. He got the gist of the most important stuff for now, and that’s more than fine by me! It felt like another tiny weight lifted off. Dang, how much extra “weight” am I actually carrying?! That’s still a mystery that is becoming just a little bit clearer…
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.