When I was little (8 or 9, or thereabouts), my mother used to work in a restaurant. When we ate there for dinner, I would spend my time running back and forth between our table and the kitchen (sitting still was never my strong suit). One night, as I made my way to the back of the restaurant, I heard a gravelly voice call out, “Young man!” Somewhere, deep down, I knew he was talking to me. I turned and made my way to the old man’s table, where we had an uneventful conversation about my role as a restaurant “employee.” But the interaction stuck with me, and I exclaimed over and over to my mom, “He called me ‘young man,’ he called me ‘young man,’” never once wondering why I found that so exciting.
Now I understand, but knowledge has not lessened the excitement each time someone recognizes me as a man. As I write this, I am on a plane on my way to San Francisco (1). The airport was a rough couple of hours of presenting my ID and boarding pass with my legal name, of “Ma’am” and other such frustrations. But I received an unexpected reprieve in the form of the elderly couple sharing my row on the airplane. In a standard airplane balancing act, their coffees arrived before the woman made it back to her middle seat. I offered to hold the drinks while they shuffled tray tables and newspapers to allow her access to her seat. When the flight attendant asked to help, the woman replied, “We already have a cohort. This young man is helping us out.” Surprised, I smiled at the confused flight attendant, and held onto the coffees.
I am not yet read as a man all that often, so it still provides an unexpected thrill. After the rush wears off, I always find myself relaxing, as if I had been holding my breath that entire time, waiting for that polite but painful “Ma’am” shoe to drop. I don’t know when that sensation will fade, when it will feel like I am expecting to be read as male.
Yesterday, I got a much-needed haircut. When I’m home, I have a barber I go to regularly. He met me pre-transition/pre-coming out. I didn’t tell him much, just that I was changing my name, but after the initial awkwardness settled down, he began to give me tips about guys’ haircuts, etc. When I’m visiting my parents, there’s a nearby “Barber & Styling” place I go to – it’s not great, but it’s cheap and friendly, and I generally walk out of there looking presentable. They tend to funnel their female customers to female stylists. Even when I was trying to identify/present as a butch lesbian, I was always a little disappointed to be sent to the female stylists. But yesterday, a crazy thing happened.
I walked into the shop and lingered, waiting for one of the women to call me to her chair. But they all looked toward one of the male barbers, who beckoned me to his chair and grabbed up his clippers without much more than, “How short do you want it?” Brisk and efficient, he was the least talkative person ever to have cut my hair – I don’t even know his name, but he’s up there among my favorites. He cut my hair, automatically trimmed the little side burns, took a razor to the back of my neck, and charged me for a men’s haircut. Needless to say, I tipped him excessively, though he’ll probably never realize why. It’s incredible to me what a haircut and some ace bandages can do, even without T.
I don’t remember the conversation where my mom told me what my name would have been “if I had been a boy,” (2) but I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that would have been my name. Starting very young, I always found a way to tell my friends what my name would have been. At first, I passed it off as a joke, poking fun at the “super Jewish” (3) name, as if I had dodged a bullet, but it always rolled off my tongue more easily than my legal name, which echoed with an uncomfortable emptiness every time I heard it.
I tried hard to gain a nickname, but nothing ever stuck. My legal name is very popular, so every time there were a lot of us, I tried to go by my last name. But I was afraid to be assertive about it, as if pushing my last name or begging too hard for a nickname would reveal how wrong my legal name felt. I was a gamer, though, and I began to use the name I could have had as my character name for games like pokemon (yeah, I know I’m cool), where you had to choose a name. For more involved games – e.g. World of Warcraft – where players heard my voice and assumed I was a pre-pubescent boy, once in a while I even had the guts to introduce myself using the theoretical name, but not so often, even with the safety of an anonymous internet.
When it came time to “choose” a name, I made a token effort at going through the list of names, but the conclusion was long foregone. No one really seemed surprised – and, truly, it never felt like a choice. On some levels, I have always known my name. No matter what it says on my boarding pass, when I introduced myself to the couple in the seats beside me using my real name, there was no echo, no uncomfortable emptiness, but simply my name – rolling off my tongue with ease, as it had ever since I began to say it as a young child. For as long as I can remember, I have always known my name.
1 – Funny that, after years of presenting as butch and having people tell me how much I would love San Francisco, how much I would fit in, I am only making it out there as I say goodbye to my gay cover-up once and for all. This is not to say you have to be gay to enjoy San Francisco; I just find it vaguely ironic.
2 – It turns out my parents never actually came to an official agreement, but as far as I knew, until a few days ago, that was going to be my name.
3 – I’m Jewish, fyi.
“Young Man!” by growingupgareth.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at growingupgareth.wordpress.com.