B.C. on Gender: Scenes from Trannieland

Hard Core

During my transition, people have told me how brave I must be, and remarked on how hard life must have been for me and how difficult it must be to be transgendered.

To some extent, I feel like people want to see TGism as really tragic. Maybe they can cope with it better, then. Unfortunately, I feel like I've kinda reinforced that thinking because I've spoken about some of my moments of frustration.

More often, though, I see TGism as a great source of fun. I enjoy screwing up people's notions of gender. I get pleasure out of watching people squirm because their ideas of binary gender have been thrown off.

So, I thought I'd record some of those scenes from trannieland that make me grin.

Recent Scenes

All the World's a Stage

The other day, I was in my favourite coffee shop on Yonge street, and I recognized the guy behind the counter.

"Excuse me," I asked, "but were you in a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1989?" I was sure that he had played Marcus Lycus. I remember that he played the role like a used car salesman.

He looked shocked. "Yes, I was. It was the worst show I've been in. How did you remember that? Did you see the show?"

"Actually, I was in that show," I replied.

"Really? I don't remember you."

"Well... I used to be a guy then. I played one of the proteans." I'm very good at playing third spear-chucker from the left.

He crossed his arms, and thought for a moment. I could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears.

"Well, look at you. You look great," he said. And then, in that sort of gay male lilt, he added: "I'll have to get the name of your doctor."

We talked briefly about the cast, and had a really cool time just chatting. But there was someone in line behind me waiting to order a double cappuccino or something, and so I couldn't talk for long.

Banking on It

I got my new birth certificate with my new name on it in mid-September, 1997. One of the things that I did, shortly after my name change, was change the name on my bank accounts. One of my on-going frustrations with my bank has been that there is no process to get a "preferred name" on my Interac (debit) card -- instead of sending me a card that read "B.C. Holmes", the card always had my legal name on it, and that was always awkward when I was presenting myself as female.

I asked one of the tellers at my bank who I speak to get a name change processed. The "customer service person" was busy doing some lengthy banking transaction, so the teller said that she would handle, although she'd never done so before.

First up, the teller was really cool about the name change and she really tried to make the process easy for me; her only problem was that she wasn't experienced, and it therefore took a long time.

First I overheard her getting instructions from another teller: "Well, get a copy of her marriage certificate, and include that with the name change form."

When the teller asked me for my marriage certificate, I told her that the name change wasn't due to marriage. I produced my change of name certificate, which listed both my old name and my new name. She looked down at the certificate, and I could see the exact moment when she "got it".

So she filled out the paperwork, and had me sign it. But as she tried to get the computer to recognize the change, there were problems. At times she would have to call someone over to help her with an error message that was appearing on the machine. One conversation stands out in particular.

Teller1: "I'm getting this funny error message. Do you know why?"

Teller2: "What are you trying to do?"

Teller1: "I'm processing this name change."

Teller2: "Are you trying to add her to this account?"

Teller1: "No, it's just a name change."

Teller2 (Points at the screen): "But these are different people."

Teller1: "No. This is the old name, and this is the new name."

At that point, the second teller became completely confused, so the first teller went to get someone else's input. I started giggling.

Finally, the name change was finished. All told, the name change took about an hour. Near the end of the process, the second teller came back to help out with something, and at one point just started staring at me. I wiggled my fingers at her, in a sort of "Vir Cotto"-wave.

Old Scenes

My Life, In Revue

The Revue Cinema is one of Toronto's repertory theatres, and it's also only a few blocks away from where I live. I don't get there very often, but every once in a while, they'll be playing a good film.

The manager of the Revue is a guy named Keith; I went to high-school with him, and he's the brother of someone I was once dating. But we fell out of touch, not seeing each other for many years.

One day, Siobhán and I had just bought tickets for a film, and we were standing in the lobby waiting to go in. Keith was standing nearby, so I asked him: "Do you see more of your sister, now that she's in the same city?"

Keith: "No, unfortunately. Wait a minute." Then he peered at me, using that expression reserved for people who are trying to remember who you are.

Me: "You won't figure it out."

Keith: "You're right. I don't remember."

Me: "Do you remember B.C. Holmes?"

Keith: "Yes."

Me: "That's me."

At this point, Keith literally took a step backward, and his eyes widened. "Ah," he said, completely thrown off guard. Then he disappeared to do some cinema chore.

I bounced down the aisle to find a seat, quite amused with myself.

The San Francisco Treat

About a year ago, my family and I went off to San Francisco for vacation. And one of the things that we wanted to do was ride the cable cars through the city -- remember the cable cars that used to appear in the old Rice-a-Roni ads? Well, when we were there, they still had Rice-a-Roni ads on the cable cars themselves.

I went to buy our tickets for the ride, while the rest of the family held our place in line. The ticket booth was staffed by a young man, probably in his mid-twenties. The thing I remembered most about him was his friendliness -- he just exuded friendliness. As I ordered my tickets, he pointed at the triangle button I was wearing on my waistcoat. "What's that button mean?" he asked with a smile.

I smiled back and said: "Transgender."

And his whole manner changed. "Oh," he said, clearly understanding the word (this was San Francisco, after all). I handed him my money, and he fished out some change, but his eyes never stopped staring at me. He reached over and his hand fumbled around the stack of tickets, and still he didn't stop staring at me. And then, finally, he handed me my tickets.

"Bye," I said.

Scenes from Work

I changed jobs shortly before full-time transition. For reasons that are a bit too complicated to go in to, I didn't transition at the time I changed jobs. But I made sure that my new employers knew that I was transgendered when I was hired, and that they would have to be willing to deal with that. Although I started off presenting myself as male, I was pretty far along in terms of electrolysis and hormones, so people often read me as female, anyway.

Two work moments really stand out:

The first moment happened mere days after I started. I was sitting in a new employee orientation session -- you know, the really irritating ones where they try to get you do all kinds of "fun" games? One of the exercises involved interviewing the person sitting beside us, and then introducing that person to the rest of the group.

I was partnered with Alison, a really nice woman, who, when she introduced me said: "This is BC, and she joined the company in March, and she used to work for IBM, and she works in Technology Architecture, specializing in Internet technologies." And I was supposedly presenting myself as male.

After that introduction, the facilitator of the meeting looked confused and said: "I have a question."

And I thought to myself, Okay, here it comes.

And she said: "What's Technology Architecture?"

Several weeks after that, I made my first appointment with the person in charge of employee relations in Human Resources. Going in to the meeting, I wasn't quite sure how much she knew about me in advance -- as I said, I made the company aware that I was transgendered before I joined, so I'm sure that Human Resources was consulted about this point.

Although she knew that the company had hired a transgendered employee, she didn't know that it was me. So, I told her that I was the one. I briefly explained that I considered myself uncomfortable about my gender, and that I planned to change my gender.

And then, being very careful not to offend me, she said, "excuse me if this is a foolish question, but which way are you changing?"

I sat there, surprised for a moment.

Finally, I said: "Male to female."

"Ah," she said. "I wasn't sure."

Fwiends, Women, Countwymen

My friend, Paul, was a professor at University of Edinbourgh; we went to high school and University together, and then he went out west to do graduate work in 1990. We saw each other once, in about 1992, when he was going through Toronto, but for the most part we haven't seen each other in quite some time.

Well, Paul was looking at professor jobs in Canada, and he came over for a job interview at McMaster (in the nearby city of Hamilton). And he arranged to visit that weekend.

Paul was one of the people who first found out about my TGism because of my web page, and he had said, in retrospect, that he wasn't sure whether or not he was going to be exposed to it during his visit. At that point, I was still in weekend transition -- spending all of my weekends presenting as female, in preparation for full-time transition.

He arrived Saturday afternoon; I met him at the door.

Me: "Hi. C'mon in."

Paul: "Okay."

Me: "Can I take your coat?"

Paul: "Sure."

Me: "Would you like some tea?"

Paul: "Oh, yes, please."

I left Paul in the living room with a mutual friend, Harry, who'd come over for Paul's visit. I went to the kitchen and plugged in the kettle. When I returned to the living room, I brought Siobhan and Ldot with me.

Me: "Paul, I think you've met Ldot, once, several years ago, but you haven't met Siobhan. Siobhan, Ldot, this is my university friend, Paul."

Suddenly, Paul was taken aback. "Oh," he said to me, suddenly aware. "I didn't recognize you." All the time he'd been in the house, he was wondering where I was. He didn't realize that the person that he was speaking to was me.

Copyright © 1999 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated January 9th, 2000.
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