On being “mis-gendered” for the first time. The right way.

I’ve been travelling with friends and colleagues in a foreign land recently.  Although my work companions and friends know me as a transgender woman, such a creature is illegal in this particular place.  Ballerina giraffe behind bars?  No thank you.

As an aside, that is a particular fear I have which gave birth in my teens.  I was arrested and thrown in jail, a choice story for another day.  Just those words put a dirt stain on one.  Oh well.  Now spoken, the topic must be addressed.  I was 16.  Like my older siblings before me, we had taken turns caring for an elderly woman who lived up our street.  Apart from being old, she was a paranoid schizophrenic and so struggled to go outside or to have people trusted around her.  I remember the day, bright and sunny blue-sky early spring, standing on a street corner with an older brother, and this elderly white woman with a black nurse spoke to my brother and asked if we lived nearby.  This brother has always been an affable, approachable human, and pretty soon the two of them were chatting away.  Starting the following day, he began to work for her.

I remember asking him why he had agreed to do it, as I didn’t understand at that age the idea of working for someone who was a bit of a pariah in our neighbourhood (for she had had periods of true madness), and how all it takes to be seen as the “other” is for you to simply appear to be inaccessible—you don’t even need to hold yourself apart, others will happily do it for you.  What I learned from him on this day, and on many other days over our common passage through this world that continues, is the importance of volunteerism, of giving back, of being a good human.

Yes, he was paid, but it was not much, certainly less than he would have been paid to do anything else.  I was still too young, though over the coming years, I too was roped in.  Others in my family as well.  We might take out her trash, go to the store, run errands, accompany her on a shopping trip, clean her house, and one of my brother’s girlfriends trimmed her toenails and helped her with her bath.

Despite being unable to go upstairs in her house, she had a photographic memory of the place, the contents of her closets, and could direct you to an exact outfit she wanted to wear, the closet it was in, how far along the rail it might be.  All gorgeous dresses in their plastic from the dry cleaning.  She was precise and it was a glorious pile of a house on a street corner in one of the nicest parts of town.

She lived a much-reduced life, divorced because of her mental illness, she slept in the cook’s room, a small bedroom off of the kitchen and pantry, and carved out an existence in that space.  She was intensely precise about her shopping, the things we had to buy, and she explained that it would not do to get it wrong, or we would have to go back.  A peculiarity of her ailment, one which saw her hospitalised from time to time.  Her living room was untouched space, this vast swath of tightly woven oriental pile, a soft pink-beige whose only design came from the tassel at the ends, or from the way that the surface was raised and recessed as the threads had been cut, leaving a sort of cameo-entaglio play which was just enough to create variations in texture and light.

In short, the very presence of grandeur, of memories of a good life, of entertaining, were thunderous in the silence around her.  She was lonely.  Our service to her was a big part of dispelling that loneliness.  She would have us come and do small tasks, precisely scheduled, scattered over days.  Something for her to look forward to.

Later, when we moved house, it was no more a walk up the street, but instead a 10-15 minute walk or a very short bike ride.  My police story is coming to a close.  I had a moped.  A hard-working boy like me had means.  I was going over to her house to take out the trash, a 15-minute pocket in her day.  Picture the scene.  It was summer.  We are in a version of idyllic, white American suburbia.  There isn’t a lawn or front garden out of place, there isn’t one shabby house, the streets are lined with gorgeous trees and red-brick walks.

I hopped on my moped and sped right to her just after she gave the call.  And in so doing committed a crime.  I crossed the double yellow lines at an intersection before I was in the intersection, perhaps 5’ short of the actual wide-open lineless square the defined the turning space.  There was a plain clothes policeman there sitting in an unmarked pickup truck.  Just after this infraction, he was on my tail, and watched me as I ran not one, but 9 stop signs as I turned the 9 blocks to get to her house.  There are stop signs everywhere in suburbia.  There are also no cars, and great visibility.  But what I was doing was to be classed as “reckless driving on a moped.”

After he ran me off the road with his pickup, forcing me to nearly crash into him, and having to pull up and jump the curb, he handcuffed and arrested me right in front of her house.  I watched her as she watched me, curtain on her front door pulled back, as she was waiting for my arrival as she always did.  One of my neighbourhood friends (he was actually my closest neighbourhood friend) walked by and looked away, down and to the side, anywhere but to a place that might connect him to me.  Alll I could think was, “at least you could say ‘hi’.”  Character reveals itself in moments of stress, regardless of the source of that tension.  For it is the tension that pulls on the fabric of life, and for just a moment, the weave loosens and we can see through it.

I wasn’t carrying my driver’s license at the time.  In America, it is illegal to be out in public without identification.  Apparently, even as a minor.  This one aspect of life being British is one I cherish above all others.  Another aside…the one time I have been pulled over for a traffic violation in England was for running a stop sign.  I also did not have my driver’s license on me at the time.  The police officer took my word for it on where I lived, what my name was, and asked me to “pop round the station” the following day to just show them.  I did.

Anyway, picture me, standing there.  My hair was long and wild.

“Are you on drugs?” he said.  After all, a boy with long hair had to be on drugs.  He handcuffed me and I remember thinking how fricking tight they were.  They hurt my precious little white boy wrists.  He was the wrong kind of white.  Angry white.  He had a hairline moustache that run across the top of his lip.  Clipped, tight, mean.

He called in a squad car, and I got to ride to the police station in the back seat.  My moped was loaded into the back of the pickup truck.  I lost my driver’s license; I spent the afternoon in a cell and got to read some great graffiti (my favourite?  “Shawn was here” with a date, followed by another date, and another, and another), and had to go to court.  I also never got my moped back.

When I went to traffic court to see if I could have my license back, we sat before a beautiful woman judge, an African American woman.  I was there with my father, who had told me to ‘eat humble pie’.  The officer was there too.  There was a factual reading of the case, we were each asked to add our versions of the story, and at the end, she rendered judgement.

She apologized to me.  She told me that I could go down the hall and get my license back.  And then she ripped into the police officer.  She told him, “if I ever see you in my court for something like this again, I’ll have your badge, do you understand?”  I don’t think he liked being dealt with in a manner by someone he most likely considered ‘uppity’.  As for me, I left her courtroom in love.

Later, I had to go to criminal court.  It was my birthday, and my father was once again in attendance.  As a small measure of our relationship, it was the presiding judge who first wished me happy birthday.  That was just before smacking his gavel down and pronouncing that I should pay the state $1,000.  It hurt.  For someone who made $4.25 an hour for 8-hour shifts every weekend, that was a lot.  And yes, I had to pay it.  It was better by far, however, than the jail time that the state prosecutor recommended.

Why have I told this story?  As through this experience, I learned just how quickly you can be plucked and processed by the State, just how quickly any semblance of friendship can be stripped away, how you can become a pariah simply because the State or one of its agents has labelled you as such.  And the powerlessness is real.  America cultivates an obsession with state power.  It is dangerous all the more because most people don’t often see it.  While organisations such as the ACLU are often derided for their left-leaning principles, we don’t need to look far to be reminded of just how powerful and disenfranchising the state can be.  The African American experience provides a reference point, showing them as canaries in the coalmine for social injustice.  Good citizenship means to query state power.

This experience of mine, as quaint as it seems, has given me a lifelong distrust of the police, and of the state, and a near-irrational fear of state authority figures.  My wife is aware of this.  She deliberately shared with people that I am trans in the country that I was travelling in, potentially putting me at risk, but also ensuring that I was not going to present as me in even the slightest way.

So, for almost two weeks, I rocked boy mode.  It was the first time since my wardrobe had completely changed over.  To pack, I had to rummage through boxes in the basement.  And it extended even to my underwear.  As I slipped my naked legs into pristine white boxer shorts, I thought that after the operation, I would be happy to wear boxer shorts, as there is something divine about the female form in the boxy shapes that men’s clothes are cut in.  I decided I would keep a few pairs.

Finally, without further circumlocution, the point of the post.  I was and about in a foreign land, interacting with people who don’t know me at all.  My hair was pinned up, and my body has been dosed on oestrogen for almost a year, with its consequent changes.  I was hiding my breasts under the folds and layers I wore to keep warm.  The only nod to my transgender womanhood were the skinny legs of the pants I wore and that my hair was pinned up.  I have a nice neck.

The first time it happened, I thought maybe I had misheard.  I was given female pronouns by a shopkeeper.  This is a male-dominated culture, a place where trans people “don’t exist” because to be out is dangerous.  These people didn’t know me.  I gave very little outward sign of my true nature.  And I was in full boy mode, all the way down to my socks and underwear.  But by the third time it happened, I was sure that I was being gendered female.  I couldn’t believe it.  I still struggle to believe it.

But when I left the country, at passport control, the police officer said, “this isn’t you,” looking from me to my photo.  I had failed AI.  I was failing the visual inspection.  Thankfully I was able to answer his questions quickly and clearly about the stamps in my passport, and my friends were with me and able to vouch for me.  “It doesn’t look anything like you,” he said, “you need to get another one.”  One of my friends said afterwards that it was true, that my passport looks like a picture of a brother or a cousin, but not of me.  This was later confirmed by another friend.

Looking at myself in the mirror once again home, I saw a different me looking back.  Do I look like a woman?  No.  But for the first time in my life, I found that I liked what I saw.  I could see my own beauty.  I don’t want to convey a sense of vanity.  Rather, to describe what life with dysphoria actually feels like.  We should all be able to see our own beauty, both in whole or in its parts.

This is something that has eluded me for my entire life.  Ex-Mistress made me talk to her about my body, and to discuss with her how beautiful my body was, and to show it respect, and explain to her how the body I have has saved me from suicide.  I could see just enough of my ideal female shape in my own body, particularly my waist buttocks and hips, as a grew up, to ignore the male form I inhabited.  And there have been so many markers placed on the table for me to be happy about what I looked like: I was a model as a child, as a teen, and even as an adult, photos in magazines, on the runway, on the books for a while after graduating from university, with one of the most prestigious New York modelling agencies.

With all that, I still thought myself ugly.  I hated my face, my nose, my eyes, my mouth, my teeth, my body, my hair, everything about my physical form.  I refused to ever be naked.  I slept in full length pyjamas.   I never undressed in front of anyone, not even myself.

The gift of oestrogen is so profound.  I sleep naked for the first time in my life.  I am not ashamed or afraid of my body anymore.  Instead, I watch it grow and change with reverent curiosity.  And when I looked in the mirror the other day, what I saw looking back at me was a face that was almost pretty, one that I felt was the nicest-looking face I have ever had.

My transgender brothers and sisters describe something like this happening to them.  And we lose members of our tribe to suicide at higher rates than with any other known group of people—we are 100 times more likely to take our own lives for the cross we bear.  Can you imagine what it feels like to wake up every day in a body that you utterly reject, that you feel is a curse, that you are being punished for it?

If you aren’t trans you don’t need to feel it, or even understand it, but do please hold some space in your hearts for us.  And as for me, for the first time in my life I can feel that this is no longer my cross to bear.

8 thoughts

  1. there is room in my heart and thoughts for all trans people – all people should be treated equally. i look forward to seeing your picture when you feel free to share – hope you have a nice week – best wishes alan

    Liked by 1 person

      1. i am a Dom but know that I would be too harsh on any slave / submissive – i would want them to embrace the cane and that is tough. I could always use a slave – so i felt that I had to go the submissive role to women – I have always admired bossy / head strong women – I nearly worked for a woman many years ago and i think i would have enjoyed it

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s interesting. Sounds a bit like being a switch. I am not a switch. A big chunk of my professional life has been working for women. I generally thrive under a strong woman. I tend to compete with men…or at least I used to. Now I don’t know. I’ve been invited by a dominatrix to explore being a dominatrix, and I am quite curious about that.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I guess I am. Can’t quite figure it out. Perhaps more slave than submissive. I used to think the two were on a continuum, but now I am not so sure anymore…Am still very much finding out what that means, but the possibilities are endless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. good morning good morning, well if you are tempted by your Dominatrix to actually try and become a Dominatrix and You want a subject to experiment on then You can try me 🙂 i am sure that the Domme that asked You to try will be happy to keep an eye on You (and me – should You so decide) as mentioned (i think ) i have a Cyber Domme in South America and she enjoys milking me on stripchat, Xhamster and zoom – what she does is give the link out when i am on stripchat or xhamster and people can join – a lot seem to stay on the xham / stripchat site. if You want the links to those sites let me know. in the meantime i wish You a lovely weekend – and trust that Your continued chrysalism (if there is such a word) – as you turn from a pupa into a butterfly (a magnificent beautiful one i am sure) continues in a manageable way. apologies for the droning on and i hope you dont find it tooooo boring.
    best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

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