I have discovered that I have a magic power.
A hospital in my jurisdiction uses a fingerprint scan to permit access to secure areas, like the Emergency Department and the Birthing Area. Last year, before I was out to the public, I had to give my name and fingerprints to the staff.
Since then, my name has changed. Since then, every time I have to get into a secure area, my old name flashes briefly on the display above the scanner. It’s a small thing, and so in the frantic bustle of transition it was low on the priority list.
But, after several months on other shifts, I was finally working during business hours when I had a free moment. So I parked in the lot at the hospital and walked briskly from the air-conditioned interior of my patrol car through the muggy heat to the air-conditioned office. I was in uniform. The pleasant young woman behind the desk greeted me and smiled knowingly as I took a moment to breathe in the air-conditioned office air. She asked how they could help. I told her that my name had changed.
“Oh!” she said, with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. She turned to a different computer. “Let me just pull you up in our database…”
As she got logged in, we chatted about the weather, and I expressed enthusiasm for the fact that her chair was seated directly in front of the air conditioner outlet, and she nodded, grinning. She agreed that it was a prime location. We chatted. All friends, here.
A list of names appeared. I saw mine.
“Now,” she said, “what’s your new last name?”
“It’s my first name,” I said. “It’s ‘Grace’, now.” I pointed to the line with my old name.
“…Oh!” she said. Her smile became mechanical. “Okay…” She edited the name slowly, as though expecting me to correct her. When it was done, I smiled and said, “Thanks very much!”
“You’re welcome,” she said, professionally polite, and she stood and faced me squarely, her body language mechanically polite. “Is there anything else?”
“No, that’s it. Have a good day!” And I left.
It happens that the hospital has two identical but separate systems. I don’t know why. So I made my way to one of the secured areas, where the second system lives.
The nurse behind the desk greeted me as I walked through the door I had just opened with my fingerprint. “Can we help you?” she asked, a little quizzically. They don’t routinely see uniforms in that area. “Yes, please,” I said. “My name has changed and I’d like to update it in the security system.”
“Okay,” she said. She worked her way through a system she plainly did not use much. “And what’s your name?” I told her. She glanced at my nameplate to be sure of the spelling. She typed. “Come on around, and we’ll need to scan your fingerprints four times.” I recognized the procedure I had gone through originally, months before, and I realized that she was entering me as a whole new person. Darn, I thought. Why didn’t I think of this before? I went through the procedure. She directed me to test the system, and I did. She commented to a newer employee, “And now she’ll be able to get in whenever she needs to!”
“Thanks!” I called, from over by the door.
She smiled. All friends, here. “You’re welcome!” she called.
And I left.
A day or so later I managed to damage the keyboard of a laptop which I own personally but sometimes use for work-related stuff. It was technically usable, but awkward, with several critical keys misbehaving. I dropped by the local repair place, in uniform, laptop tucked under my arm.
The pleasant young woman behind the counter lit up when she saw me, straightening visibly and smiling broadly. “Hi!” she said. Her eyes crinkled.
“Hi!” I said. “I have to confess that I damaged my keyboard.” She tutted at me. We discussed cost to diagnose, probable cost to repair if that was the only damage, and logistics. She presented these facts with friendly enthusiasm, as though she had managed to surprise me with a thoughtful little gift. Yes, because the replacement part would not arrive until tomorrow, I would be permitted to pick my laptop up at the end of the day and limp along with it until the next day.
I returned a few hours later, still in uniform. The pleasant young woman behind the counter glanced my way. Her eyes slid off of me and back to her keyboard. “Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” I said. “Okay if I pick my computer up?”
She considered. “I’ll ask the tech. Excuse me a moment.” She got up and walked into the back room. I looked around at the displays. No other employees were looking in my direction, but none of them were pointedly not looking, either, or had just shifted so as not to be looking.
I wondered who had told her. I wondered why. I wondered if she had figured it out all by herself. I suspected that she had not.
She returned with my laptop and set it on the counter. “Thanks,” I said. “Do I owe you anything?”
“No,” she said, her expression professional. Polite. Civil. “We can settle up tomorrow.”
“Okay!” I said. “Have a good day.”
She turned back to her computer. “You, too,” she said in a tone which hoped for no reply, her eyes on her screen and her body focused on her keyboard.
I returned the following morning to turn my laptop over for repair. The same young woman was behind the counter. She was professional. Civil. I was friendly.
When I picked it up at the end of the day, I was looking a bit frazzled. I had just directed traffic for a few hours in the mugginess, and had only had a chance to rinse off and dump body heat in a quick cold shower, and run a brush through my hair. Here was meet fodder for pleasant conversation, if she cared to.
She was professional. Civil.
I was friendly.
We settled the bill. Ouch.
“Thanks very much!” I said as I left.
“You’re welcome,” she said, her eyes on the screen just a little too intently for her tone to achieve true carelessness.
No one in a professional setting owes me anything other than professional, polite service. I know this. Neither the first woman or the third woman did anything wrong.
But you know, if you’re not looking for it, it’s not obvious that I’m trans. So I get a front-row seat on the contrast between how they behave when they don’t know I’m trans, and how they behave once they do.
Before, they welcome me. Afterward, occasionally they still welcome me. But often, they tolerate me, and wish that I would go away.
I have a magic power. If you haven’t examined your own culturally-implanted transphobia, I have the power to make you display it. I sometimes wish that I did not have this power. I would be content to be ignorant of your transphobia. It would make my life easier. It would make your life easier. Ah, bliss.
But there it is. I have this power, and it manifests whether we like it or not.
Maybe someday I’ll get used to it.
Maybe someday your reaction will prompt the person next to you to say, “Dude. Really? That is NOT cool.” and then turn to me with the welcoming smile instead of the civil one, and say, as though you care, “How can we help you?”
Maybe if I’m not used to it by then I’ll have the presence of mind to say, “You just did.”