I was surprised to realize that the civil courthouse shared a street with my second story San Francisco apartment.
I have coasted by their front door countless times during the eight years I’ve called San Francisco home: biking to and from my therapist’s first office and the discount art supply store; on my motorcycle loaded up with fresh veggies and flats of eggs from the farmers market; lost in a sea of people at the parade when the Giants won the World Series (the first time); on the bus to my best friend’s City Hall wedding. This time I knowingly walked past it on my way to a protest organized in response to the murder of yet another trans woman of color. There was a small but strong crowd gathered in front of City Hall and I recognized familiar faces from over a decade ago. The at-home-karaoke sound system couldn’t compete with the ambient noise of downtown San Francisco and I thought about how I could play with the properties of sound to fashion a DIY amplification solution for situations like these. As I lingered at the edge of the crowd, newlywed couples slowly emerged from the belly of the building and looked briefly into our crowd as they crossed the street hand in hand to their future. My immediate future was waiting for me down the block.
I wasn’t sure if I should dress up. This wasn’t my official court date, I was simply going to file the endless stack of papers I’d spent nights scrawling over to begin the legal process of changing my name and gender. I had Googled the steps to take months ago and had weighed the costs – filing for a name and gender change at the same time meant that I could forgo having to publish the name-change in a newspaper and that I only had to file for a fee waiver once. But what I had really been waiting for was to take my first steps out of the gray area.
I’ve been tuned into two barometers:
- The lion’s share of the internal pressure was relieved the moment after I had my first injection of testosterone and continued to weaken over the course of the following months as the hormones took effect and I grew stronger and more at peace. It dipped again the day I had top surgery and has been in flux these past few months as I’ve struggled with the internal battle around quickly bulking up. I desperately want to be bigger, but my internal alarm still rattles as I watch the numbers on the scale slowly increase; an artifact from being socialized (female/in general) for so long?
- The second comes from everything outside of me. Recognizing and coming to terms with being transgender was a huge emotional hurdle, and when I finally cleared it and raised my head and looked up and out into the crowd of my life (and they looked back) I still appeared the same. I asked people to change pronouns and they did because they loved and supported me, but strangers still gendered me female 30% of the time. Then things started to change. When I left for the Philippines (month 3) I also doubled my T injections and things began to change quickly. I didn’t notice at first while I was surrounded by people who knew me, but when I went off on my own, things became different. I was being treated like a dude by strangers in a subtly different way than I’d experienced before being just on the masculine-side of the female spectrum. I say “like a dude” because that’s how it started. “Hey dude, have you seen my glasses?” the Australian guy in the hostel asked. I shared a taxi to the airport on my last night with a 21 year old “dude” from LA. He talked about penises for 80% of our two hour ride. This new recognition stuck when I got back to San Francisco, and didn’t shift again until the fall. By that time I was post-op and my voice was rounding out. And each and every time I left the comfort of my city and my community, I was was once again surprised at how wonderful it felt to be seen just as me. Not as trans-me.
Legal documentation can be scary and ironically has also been kind of funny. Inconsistencies tend to rattle people’s internal comfort and I always held my breath as a bouncer or grocery store clerk checked my age on my drivers license. This fear amplified at the airport and for years I’ve managed to catch earlier flights because I got to the terminal so far in advance to scope out who was working for the TSA that day. Before starting testosterone I really did look like a very young man to those who read me male with my smooth face and narrow wingspan. I handed my license to the woman checking IDs at Fat Tire’s Tour de Fat beer and bicycle festival. She gasped and looked up at me exclaiming “this can’t be you!”. My chest tightened. She called to her coworker, “Maureen, can you believe he is 31?!” she laughed, “He looks like he’s in high school.” I exhaled. Usually, no one notices. But when they did, I was androgynous enough that I could easily be explained as being queer. I was still intelligible. I still made sense.
Since the turn of the new year I’m comfortably being socially recognized as male 100% of the time. The people who still mis-gender me are those who have known me throughout this transition, and where at one point the mistakes used to sting like a punch to the chest, my confidence and inner peace now allow me to just let it go. These instances where I am “she”-ed continue to impact how I gauge the degree that I’ve moved out of the gray area, and they tend to come in waves. Just last week a handful of my friends and colleagues mis-gendered me and in response I thought, what about how I am presenting is reading female, reading not male enough? It’s in those moments that I feel like I set back into the gray area.
There’s a chance I’ll get to spend my 34th year on this planet out of the country. After getting one too many looks from confused TSA agents asking me if I’m sure I’m not wearing a necklace when my body scan returns peculiar, and being so thankful that I always wear a soft-packer when I travel after being felt up to my groin when I opt for a private screening instead, I knew I needed to get my passport updated before I travel again.
On April 21st I’ll walk to the civil courthouse to see if anyone turns up to refute my request. This time I’ll dress up. And leave one gray area for a new.