The past week I have been traveling again. First to Switzerland and then to Rome in Italy, both were business trips. Last year I had some bad experiences were I obviously was not passing and got some really bad comments from people. For some reasons these things seem to be more common during spring and summer time so I really hope the experiences over the past week is a precursor of that this year as well.
There were two different kind of situations. The first one was when I together with three older male collegues were visiting Switzerland and one of them several time addressed the Swedish team with expressions like “Hey, boys lets have something to eat” (Grabbar, nu ska vi…). The hard part is that it is from a person that I have worked with for some time and really respects me for my knowledge and experience. So it is not at all meant to disrespect me but said spontaneuosly and almost without even noticing his error himself. I guess it has something to do with the English expressions “Hey, guys…” which can be used for both males and females in some occasions. What really sucks is that when collegues such as him has spent sometime with me there is obviously something about my appearance or voice that makes them not clearly see me as a female. At least not completely. Sure, these kind of comments can happen to genetic females as well but during the trip one of the Swiss officers even said “Let’s have the woman in the middle in the photo…” and he was referring to the other woman in the group. Again clearly spontaneously not thinking of me as a woman. Again not meant to be disrespectful because this was a high-level visit between two countries. Still it happens.
When I think about this I realise that this “Hey, boys…” happens to me at least every months or so at work. Or some other situations were someone starts by saying that, than pauses for quite a while and adds “…and girls…”. It happens in emails were they can start with “Gents, lets have a teleconference….”. It does not hurt the same way as when someone says “he…” maybe because it is an effect of a male-dominated workplace but somehow it adds to put a dent in my self-confidence.
The second situation was the Ergife Palace Hotel in Rome when I went to my room during lunch time and found the cleaning staff working in my room. I was wearing my pink shirt, jeans, Coach sneakers and Coach handbag. I met the young women working there for maybe 10 seconds before they went into the room again. Inside the room I heard them whispering in Italian and I understood that they were discussion whether or not I was a transvestite. I became cold and it felt so unfair. What did I do so wrong that they read my so fast? It is of course an impolite and unprofessional behaviour from hotel staff but that is not the thing. The thing is that it put another dent in the self-esteem saying I am not seen as real woman. Again.
All of this puts my recent issues of feeling very uncomfortable at bars and my feeling of not being able to believe in myself as being attractive in the eyes of lesbian women. I mean what is the chance that I am passing at all? And if I am not, what is the chances that she thinks it is ok even though she reads me as woman with transsexual background.
This is probably one of the more difficult aspects of my life I think – to relate to my own history. From the very beginning I have been very open with everything with life hoping that it would make everything easier since there are a lot of misconceptions and lack of information regarding transgender issues in general. It seem to really have helped since I have had hardly any negative experiences in my process. Of course it took me a lot of courage to start being open and “come out of the closet” so to say. That was not an easy process – and a lonely one.
So today I am almost facing the opposite. My dream have come true and I am my true self in terms of gender and sex but as I am probably passing sometimes it brings up the opposite question. When do I tell someone about my background? Some would argue that there is no reason to tell since I am a woman today and it is nobody’s business. However, no matter how you put the whole process have been such an important part of my life, my experience and who I am today. I believe that all people change and evolve over time and this was my experience – maybe more than most people experience but still. So in order to get personal with someone it is very difficult to not feeling the need to relate to my own experiences. Also have experienced the anxiety of waiting for the “right moment” to tell someone and that is not something I want to experience again. So this leads to the obvious Catch 22 when I so like being “just a woman” and also feel that I can’t deny my past.
A couple of months ago I was cleaning out my old office in Uppsala and taking care of the paper piles turned into a travel in time. The closer I got to the bottom I got closer to stuff from the 1990-ies when my situation was different. Seeing my old name is still a bit annoying but not as complicated as it was just one or two years ago. The real shock came when old pictures of me turned up in the piles and in binders from military schools and stuff. There I saw another person that was still me. Things like that of course remind me of my past in a negative way. Brings back memories of how scared I was to talk to anyone about my situation but also a very visible proof of the fact that I was not a woman back then. In my head of course but nothing that people actually saw and knew. I know that it shouldn’t but that of course affects my self image today.
This week a friend of mine suddenly looked at me and said that she just could not imagine me as a man. That was of course very sweet and just that kind of compliment that my still rather week self-image needs to be fueled with. For some reason it means more when a woman says it to me. However, later in the evening she said that she wasn’t sure about what she would feel about seeing pictures of me from before my transition. Not that I ever show people that but it made me start thinking. It put yet another aspect of my past. She said she was scared that these old images would get stuck in her head and I think that was a scary thought for both of us. However, since I do have a fear which is a bit like Cinderella – for lack of better words that the image of me as woman would fall just like Cinderella turns back from princess to an ordinary maid. I realized that things from my past then can be somewhat of a threat to me and my life today. Again, just like me passing or not, something I actually don’t have any control of. That made me a bit scared. I mean how should I know when these images can pop up – hopefully there weren’t many digital cameras back then.