I wrote most of this on Thanksgiving, but then life demanded that I do other things than finish it, until now. All names have been changed, for confidentiality.
There is a woman who lives in my city. Call her Nancy. Not too many years after I was sworn in, she was a teenager, hanging with a dicey crowd, occasionally getting in trouble, but never a bad kid. She was straightforward to a fault, very open. We got along fine, even when I had to tell her where the limit was (for instance, the limit on raucous shouting in the middle of the city at 02:00 in the morning). I saw a lot of her back then, and then occasionally over the years as she grew up a bit and settled down a bit. I haven’t seen her face-to-face for a few years.
Not too long ago, I was investigating a property dispute, and spoke with Nancy over the phone, identifying myself by rank and last name, as usual, and using my female voice, as always. I was in her area anyway, so I suggested that I swing by and meet her face-to-face, and I did.
I arrived a few minutes later. She caught sight of me, studied me with a polite smile for a second and then smiled broadly and said, “Hi! You know, I was a little confused, but I figured it out. You look good! How are you?”
I smiled. “Fine,” I said.
Her smile got even broader and in her characteristic straight-to-the-heart manner, she said, “Are you happier?”
I grinned. “Much,” I said. “I made it work for as long as I could, and when I had to make a change, I did.”
“Good!” she said. And we got down to business.
Awhile before that, I was dealing with an assault at another local business, one big enough to have its own security officers. At one point, I asked a question of one of them. We’ve known each other since before my transition. In smart paramilitary fashion, he replied with, “Yessir!” …and an instant later, said, “Ma’am, sorry”. I told him not to worry about it. A few minutes later, while I was waiting on a phone call, he told me that he thought that what I was doing was “incredibly brave”, and that he had tremendous respect for me because of it.
Not too long ago, I was called to cover a road hazard. Some garbage had fallen off of a truck, on a residential side-street. I spoke with a couple of the locals. The garbage was a bit nasty, and if we left it, neighborhood dogs would be spreading it in traffic, so we couldn’t leave it. At the same time, the plow crews from our Public Works department had gone home for rest and I didn’t want to call one in for something so minor. The locals seemed at a loss (and reluctant to handle the stuff), so I knocked on one door and borrowed a snow shovel. Another resident donated garbage bags. (I love the Stone Soup method of solving problems.) Once they saw me doing it, a couple of onlookers pitched in, and we got it cleaned up.
During one pause in the activity, one young man looking on said, “What’s your last name?” (I wear a name tag, but it was dark.) I told him. He smiled gently. He said, “I just want to say that I really admire what you’re doing. It takes a lot of guts to do that. I’ve watched your transition, and I think you’re awesome.”
“Thank you very much!” I said. “…you’ve, ah, been watching my transition, have you?” His eyes crinkled in amusement. He told me that he was trans himself, and he used to see me occasionally at [local business where my duties often take me], before he decided to leave after someone outed him and people started treating him differently.
In the first year of my career, I covered many domestics. The victim in one case was particularly terrified, but still able to be articulate and detailed. The case had a big impact on me. She also, unusually, addressed me reflexively and punctiliously as “Officer [Annam]”.
Recently, I stopped a car with a headlight out, and the driver turned out to be her. I went through my usual spiel, and ultimately warned her on the headlight and wrote her a ticket for another minor offense. After I gave her the ticket and I had answered her questions about it, she cocked her head and nodded a little for emphasis and said, “It’s good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” I said, and meant it.
She said, “It used to be… [name close to my old name]?”
“[My old name],” I said, “but not anymore.”
“That’s a beautiful name.”
“Thank you!” I told her that I hoped that her evening got better from here on out (I much prefer not to salt a wound; I never issue a ticket and say, “Have a nice day.”). We pulled away.
A couple of weeks ago, a bouncer at a local bar, whom I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in my life, caught sight of me and stepped over to pump my hand, saying, “Grace! Good to see you!”
So today, Thanksgiving, I’m reflecting on encounters like these, as I work my overtime. I drive around looking for stranded motorists (because Thanksgiving comes with stranded motorists as a garden comes with surprise cultivars you never intended to plant). I eat lunch hoping we don’t have to arrest too many people in front of their families (because nothing says “The Holidays” to a cop like an alcohol-fueled, multi-generational domestic.) And in my free moments, I ponder.
These sorts of things are always nice to hear. They help me maintain my bulwark against the myriad daily corrosions which come with being trans in this society. These corrosions are not as frequent or harsh for me as they are for some; I have been astounded to find that on casual encounter, I’m not visibly trans. I get along fine, in that almost everyone says, “Ma’am”, over the phone or in person, and “she” in reference to me. I’m pretty sure that people who don’t know I’m trans take me as I am without thinking about it. (There’s no profit in asking. People who knew you before can’t know, either, so you would have to ask the question of total strangers, which is perhaps invasive and unkind, since everyone will get to see their reflexive reaction, instead of their best one. And you can never be sure if someone is trying to spare you, so the answer isn’t actually useful. And there is always the risk that the answer will be shredding.)
But plainly, I am visible in another way. I transitioned in place, without moving or changing jobs, and therefore many people know about me. How could they not? And those people talk to other people, and I’m a novelty; to people who haven’t given trans people significant thought before, I’m a walking contradiction. And for every gregarious bouncer there are no doubt several hundred who simply see me and take note without commenting to me. But of course they comment to each other. There’s an ethic that one does not out a trans person as trans without permission. There are many good reasons for this. But most of the public don’t know about that ethic, and if they did, most of them wouldn’t care, the same way they don’t care about discussing the details of someone’s messy divorce, or the fact that someone’s relative is being treated in a new an interesting way for that colon cancer. Nothing is confidential, in gossip, and anyway, perhaps it’s not really gossip when someone is asked how they met me and they laugh merrily and explain that it was when, and I’m quoting directly, “This tall, upright, very formal man gave me a ticket, and we all later learned that he, now she, was Grace.”
Transitioning in place does turn those crisp, black lines of medical confidentiality into great, billowing clouds of gray which no one navigates well. I’m resigned to the fact that people talk. Stealth is dead. I’m visible.
And contacts like these drive home for me what a subtle and powerful thing that is, to be visibly trans in this very public way, and just by doing that introducing people to whole new vistas of “Why not?” Once, I felt cowardly and ashamed that I could not advocate effectively for the rights of people like me. Now, I’ve stood up, and having stood up, I do this work whether I choose it or not, just by looking after my community. I feel enormously privileged to be able to do this work. On this day, when Americans contemplate the things we have to be thankful for, I’m thankful for that.