Bumping into an old friend as a new trans woman

One of the fears present at the beginning of my coming out process was what would happen when I bumped into someone I hadn’t told yet, or who I wasn’t ready to tell.  Apart from being easily spotted wherever I go, I often travel to and through places where I do often bump into familiar faces…airline lounges, airports more generally, but also my favourite haunts in my favourite cities.  It isn’t quite like it used to be as I am less present (a proxy for relevance) in such places now than I used to be, but the chances remain very real.

That used to worry me.  Particularly were I to bump into work colleagues, clients.  This included pretty much everyone other than perfect strangers at the beginning, especially people connected to my wife or family—even more to my kids…at least before I had brought them inside the tent.  It is understandable to want to set the narrative and tone.

And this has certainly proved true.  The people that my wife has spoken to first are decidedly frosty to me…even ones that were close to both of us, including ones that were close to me and only acquainted to her.  We can conclude that her delivery is not very flattering to me.  She has been gaslighting herself, telling people she didn’t know…I think she finds it doubly humiliating to have married a “freak” with full knowledge.  I am amused that she told me that she was more disturbed that I was still kinky than that I was transgender.  One more lie.  Positioning from her lawyers no doubt, who likely told her that bigotry is not sexy.  Like my legalese?  And until they come up with a way to saying discrimination based on kink it is safe to assume that she will go on pretending that being trans is okay despite saying and acting the opposite.

I kind of like the thought of, “he likes to be whipped; I want to be divorced.”

Those fears of bumping into people connected to my personal life fell away very quickly.  It was in part the result of such wonderful affirmation I received from strangers.  This is something which continues and appears to grow, and is wonderfully sustaining.  Thank you ladies.  But it also came from so many people just not registering that they cared. The couple in the apartment next to mine just got in the lift with me and without batting an eye lid just started chattering away with me.  My closest friends gave me so much explicit support, the kind I will draw on before going under the knife.

But even simple acquaintances, those colleagues who know, loose friends, they are not making a big deal out of it, most not even discussing it.  This is as it should be, and I am not left ever feeling that there is an elephant in the room.  Reading and seeing how much fear there is the trans community, the real danger that my trans sisters and brothers face, I know that my experience is not necessarily common, and that I am very lucky.

Part of me wonders if it is obvious privilege.  Am I given a “pass” because I have money and I dress well, and benefit from a lifetime of playing the game in boy mode, now transitioning from a place of completeness?  Is this the upside to my cowardice, if that is what I can call it, from my suffering through a dysphoric lifetime for the sake of mammon, and meeting social expectations?  Am I just getting off easy?

Another part of me wonders if it is attitude.  I have outward confidence that is not uncommon in professionally successful cis males who have reached successful career heights.  This doesn’t just go away.  One thing for sure, though, is that I am consciously much more polite and solicitous than I used to be, aware that I don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.  I wouldn’t want to give my fellow travellers a bad name—lord knows we have enough nastiness in the political arena to contend with.

Is there something about the way I dress and present myself?  No makeup.  No wigs.  No hiding of any kind.  In other words, not pretending to be anything other than I am.  I do not pass, cannot pass, will not pass, and so would only be inviting pain for myself if I tried, if I worked on it, and reset my expectations.  I kind of feel this way about my voice.  I don’t see myself having my voice box operated on to feminise the sound of my voice, nor spending time on vocal training to make my voice more congruent with a trans person.  I kind of like my baritone.  It is a smoky Lauren Bacall type sound that seems to fit with my personality…and that isn’t going to change.

When people see me, they see I am not pretending to be something different than I am.  Do you think that makes a difference.  I see any number of trans people, and cross dressers, when I am out and about, and I see that there are those who cannot pass and try anyway and see others who can pass and try (trans radar will pierce just about any presentation), and others who are just ambiguous and seem to be happy with it.  That’s kind of where I am.

For some months now, I have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of bumping into people that I know/knew from the past, and being discovered as trans.  I was wondering when it might happen.  Well, the other day, it did.

Standing in the aisle waiting to disembark from a recent flight, the pilot came out and was talking to a stewardess.  I was facing the other direction, talking to a friend.  When I turned around, I recognised the back of his head/neck.  That is more a measure of familiarity than its inherent distinction.  I waited for a pause, got his attention, shook his hand, and reminded him of my name, knowing fully that he would know exactly who I was.

His eldest child and my eldest child were classmates and best buddies for several years.  His wife and my wife are both the same nationality, and we were all living in a different nationality, which threw us together socially.  We spent quite a bit of time together up until COVID, and then they moved with their children to another country, us too, and that was that. 

The rapidity with which he took me in was alarming, you could see every version of glance as he clocked my short dress, small breasts tenting the front, my long stocking-covered legs.  Each detail registering surprise as he surveyed me within seconds.

“I’m trans,” I said, by way of explanation and to break the ice.

“Gosh, I thought my midlife crisis was full-on,” he said, “wow.”

“Yeah.”  He told me that he had bought a business, caught me up on their moves, what his kids were up to.

“How’s the wife and kids?” he asked.

“We’re getting divorced.”

“Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that.”  My wife and I had speculated that they were headed that way too.  Not the case.

“It’s just as well.  She’s not too happy about it.”

“And the kids?”

“Their fine.  Kids nowadays.  They just gave me shit.  That’s how I knew.”

Then the doors opened and we had to scramble off, the joys of front-row seats.

“It was wonderful to see you,” I said making my way off the plane.

Just before we pulled out on the bus taking us to the terminal, I saw him walk purposefully to the other bus, look in, and then come to my bus, jump on, find me with his eyes, nod to me, and I nodded back, and then went back to my conversation with my travel companion.  The next thing knew he was standing next to me.

“I didn’t want you to think that I didn’t want to talk to you,” he said.  

“Not at all,” I smiled.  

“I won’t hide it,” he said, “I’m pretty shocked.”

“Well, it doesn’t happen every day,” I said.

“No.  And your wife, she’s not taking it well.  She didn’t know.  Didn’t suspect anything?  The kids?”

“She knew from when we first started dating.  Suddenly it matters.  I asked the kids whether they ever noticed that there were colourful underwear on the washing line, that were obviously not their mothers, and they just said they thought I was ‘quirky’.”

“Well, you are.”

“Now we know why.”

“Amazing.  She knew,” he said, shaking his head.  I could tell he wanted to ask more.  We talked about as much of a lifetime as you can in a short bus ride to the terminal.  It was good to see him.

Here was a man who was always a complete man’s man.  I am sure he was perplexed, didn’t understand something like this.  I can also imagine that his wife is very much a woman who likes a tough man, a rough man, a man who ‘takes her’ with robust energy.  She will likely be perplexed too.  She and my wife had a falling out over something or other.  Maybe this will bring them back together.  Who knows.

But after seeing him, meeting him, it simply contributed further to me not caring about being “discovered”.  I am changing in my outward appearance.  Otherwise, I am still me.  Doing my thing, only doing it better.  I guess he won’t be ringing me to have a beer anytime soon, but that’s okay, it was never my thing, and now I don’t need to fake it anymore.


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