History Class

the Urban Librarian

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Trans-living in the USA

My darling DC has all sorts of people; it’s something I love most about my new home. At work, I’m constantly approached with ‘I have a question? Explain this for me please, yes?’ It makes time fly by with frequently hysterical cultural-bridging convo’s. This week’s big-ticket topic was trans-gender issues.

A lot has been going on this week, and most of our conversations have been on equality and how to treat people anyway, so it was great timing. A women’s health charity hypocritically tried to pull funding from the number one organization actually helping real women. Hundreds of people that managed to survive a revolution were injured or killed at a football game in Cairo. And Mr. Soul Train, Don Cornelius, passed away after a lifetime crusading for equality and understanding.

I’ve talked about my Middle Eastern restaurant before– it’s a damn fun place to work, and I adore it. I’m also the only white girl there, and have become a sort of Urban Librarian for everyone. I’m called upon to explain everything from whatever the hell the Republican debates are talking about to the meaning of the term ‘rain date’. [I’ll have to explain that one later, it was an adorable conversation.] Our customers are always the best source of topics, though. We serve people from all kinds of backgrounds: political, social, national, linguistic, sexual. The staff are all generally accepting, but sometimes they still manage to surprise me.

The other day, I went to find a server to tell them he had two women at a table of his. Three of them were discussing something when I walked up, and they turned, looking thoroughly confused.

“Is that woman a man?”

I knew it was coming, obviously. When I first seated her, I could feel it building. She was an older woman, in a skirt-suit and sweater any other 50-something woman in DC would wear, and possibly still in the transition process. The only reason I noticed it so clearly was to start forming how to explain it to a few of the guys. It didn’t take long for the conversation to come.

I smiled at the guys and shook my head, “No, she’s a woman. She’s trans-gendered, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t female.”

The server that had brought them drinks and was the one to ask in the first place shook his head. “No, I know that, I just meant… was it alright that I called her ‘ma’am’? Because when I asked ‘would you like anything else to drink, ma’am?’, she gave me a weird look.”

That took the wind out of my sails– here, I’d assumed I would have to explain what ‘trans-gender’ means, and then work through some cultural barriers and stigmas. They had no issues with it, and just wanted to know which pronoun to use before approaching the table. As one of the managers likes to say, ‘Sorry, Charlie! No bananas!’

So I told them that maybe she’s still new to post-transition life, and was just reacting to being treated the way she always should have been: as a woman. She still had a very deep voice, which definitely threw the servers for a loop, but I was sure of the correct pronoun. When the other woman had arrived, she said “I’m meeting a friend– oh, she’s already here!” So I admit, I was cheating a little bit. But from what I’ve learned, the general rule of thumb is go with your gut reaction– the first perception is probably who they really are.

What made me smile the most, though, was how chill the guys were with it all. I have plenty of good-hearted friends that believe in LGBT rights and fight for civil rights in general. They’re American, and I’m sure they’d be just as confused as my Moroccans with how to interact with some transpeople. So this high comfort level among my co-workers just gave me all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings inside. I call them my DC family often, and it’s times like this that make me proud of the association.

I’d like to link everyone to a fellow blogger I tripped over and follow religiously now, The Adventures of Transman, “Just another middle-aged guy raising a family… except I gave birth to mine.” His perspective as an in-transition transman and parent is breathtakingly profound, and without a doubt will have you crying with laughter. Since I found him on here, I thought it was perfect timing that I had such a conversation at work and felt compelled to make it my post today. Happy reading!

In honor of Don Cornelius, Transman, and my wonderful LT family, let’s boogie:

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