I had an interesting gender moment earlier. I was on a training course for my weekend job — domiciliary carer; we were doing stroke awareness and Parkinson’s — and got in twenty minutes late because traffic was a bitch.
You ever have that moment when you walk into a room and everything goes pin-drop silent? Yeah. Twenty-eight pairs of staring eyes and everyone’s obviously female except for the trainer, who’s obviously male, and I don’t know any of them.
“Sorry I’m late,” I say, all smiling teeth and leather jacket and body language that yells ohshit. “Traffic.”
The trainer nods at me. “No problem. Grab a seat.”
The room is tiny. There’s one seat in the house and it’s right next to the instructor. I settle in and realize they were right in the middle of a Q&A because the instructor swings around and asks, “And what visible symptoms of a stroke do you know, young man?”
It’s the leather jacket; I love it, but damn does it get me into trouble sometimes. The black button-down beneath it probably isn’t helping, either. Or the recent haircut.
Dilemma: I’m stuck with these people for the next five hours, at work. Do I correct the trainer (with what? “Well, technically I have ovaries, but I’m actually going by male pronouns right now, so thanks,”) and embarrass the hell out of him, or do I drop my voice and play male for the next few hours and hope I never have to run a joint-shift with any of the other carers in the room?
Some of them have already made me: I can see it in their faces.
Added problem. I don’t want to be called ‘young lady’ for the next five hours. But I’m also twenty paces away from the main office and they sure know I’m estrogen based — and they’re prone to dropping in.
I have all these thoughts in about a quarter of a second, then open my mouth and say, “Slurred speech, paralysis, confusion.”
I can relate.
The trainer grins, relief all over his face, and I can see his thoughts: Thank god, one other guy in this sea of women. And look, a guy with a brain.
Oh dude, if only you knew. I can already feel heat in my face — I was always a crappy liar; worse with an audience — and none of this is going to end happy.
He uses me as his young-man-example for the next hour and a half (“Strokes are more common in men than women — sorry, buddy!”), and at least three if the woman are eyeing my throat like they want to cut it open and check for an Adam’s apple.
I don’t take off my leather jacket; I’m not binding today because I didn’t want to cause confusion at work, and that’s an irony that stings because now I want a flat chest like I want fresh air. I sit with my legs spread and my shoulders crowded down, claiming space and ducked low all at once, uncomfortable and obvious.
Then we take a break. I go get lunch.
When I come back, it’s just the instructor and two women in the room, and the instructor’s looking at the sign-in sheet. I slide back into my chair, more settled now that I’ve had the chance to get out and breathe for a minute. He comes over, looking slightly strange, and points at my name.
“That’s not a boy’s name.”
“Nope,” I agree. I should say more: I want to educate him about butch and transmasculine and Bear-freakin’-Bergman; I want to load his arms with textbooks and his head with knowledge, and lead him gently by the hand around the internet. I want to give him Boys Like Her wrapped up in a ribbon. I want to say, ‘Hey, I’m still your mate, and incidentally if you follow me into the car park later and try to start anything, I’m well-prepared to kick your ass across an acre of tarmac — but in a friendly way, and we can get beers after’.
I really want to not fail this course.
So I say one word, steady-voiced, and watch him calmly. He blinks.
“Jeez, I’m sorry,” he says, and rubs the back of his neck.
I shrug. “No big deal; happens all the time.” And I like it normally, dammit.
The rest of the group comes back in. The lady next to me leans over and greets me with my name. Asks me how I’ve been, if I remember working with her. I don’t — I’ve always been bad with faces — but at least now I know why she’s been staring at my jugular for the last two hours.
“I’m good,” I say slowly, wondering if she’s going to mention the fact that half the class still think I’m a guy, the teacher is bright red, and the morning’s basically been weird.
The trainer calls me ‘young man’ again ten minutes later, like a reflex; then he trips over his words, drops a slide, and goes even redder. I smile, call him ‘dude’, hand his slide back, and take off my leather jacket.
We learn about Parkinson’s, and on the way out one of the ladies hits on me.
This afternoon I gave blood for the second time ever, bought a multi-tool, and found a check for $200 from my clinically-insane-but-lately-endearing mother waiting in a card on the doormat. Apparently “blessed Easter” is the time to give money.
And I passed the course.
Like I said, helluva day.