By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
It being a new year, I thought I’d give you something very different this month: a little glimpse inside an all-too-common moment. I think it’s one many trans people will recognize. The specific incident is fictionalized, as are the characters involved, though the scene is drawn directly from my own actual experiences and the characters based on an amalgam of people I have known. Sometimes it’s more effective to show than it is to tell.
“I’m just not going to be able to call you Jennifer. I can’t think of you as anything but Jack. I’ve known you too long. You understand?” my old friend Nick tells me with a perfunctory question mark.
“You will. Now that you’ve seen me in person, you’re gonna have to.”
I pause to redirect the conversation.
“Have you figured out what you’re ordering? I think the pastrami sandwich looks good. With lots of mustard.”
“You hate mustard,” Nick reminds me. “You used to scrape it off your sandwiches at school.”
“Weird side-effect of the hormones for me,” I explain.
“One day, like seriously, I went on a Wikipedia binge reading about mustard and just decided I really wanted to like it. Now I love it. All kinds. I still think that bright yellow stuff people put on bologna and white bread is pretty nasty, but besides that.”
Staring distractedly away from me, my friend says, “I keep trying to get the waiter’s attention, but he won’t even look over here.”
I glance over at our waiter, who is determinedly wrapping silverware in napkins.
“Yeah, well, he doesn’t seem real happy to be waiting on us. He keeps giving me dirty looks. He called me ‘sir’ when he dropped off the waters.”
“I didn’t hear that.”
“Yeah, he did it a couple times,” I point out. “The first time, I just let it go. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of our conversation. Then, when he did it again, he was gone before I had the chance to correct him.”
“Dude, that’s messed up.” Nick catches himself and awkwardly stammers out, “Uh, sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to call you ‘dude’, I… I mean…”
“It’s cool. I think of ‘dude’ and ‘guys’ as Gen-X Gender Neutral. So what are you gonna have anyway?” I say, shoving the conversation back on track.
“The steak bomb,” Nick answers, appreciative to be back in familiar territory. “I can’t eat them at home. Sara doesn’t like it. Besides, you can’t find a good East Coast steak and cheese grinder in Chicago. It’s all Italian beef.”
“I have to pee. If I pass our waiter, I’ll tell him we’re ready to order.”
“Make sure you wash your hands, Nerd face,” Nick jabs at me with an old, old nickname.
“You’re never gonna let me live that down are you?” I ask, knowing the answer.
“Oh, hey, I think he sees me,” Nick makes a big wave with his arm. “Hi! Waiter! Can we order?”
Approaching the table with the barest hint of a clearly fake service smile, the waiter addresses Nick directly.
“What would you like?”
“I’ll have the steak bomb. No mushrooms. A side of fries. And a cup of coffee,” Nick tell him.
“Cream and sugar for the coffee?” the barely smiling waiter asks.
The waiter turns to me, dropping even the slight hint of a fake smile he had been wearing.A
“And you, sir?”
“Ma’am,” I insert simply, as I have a half dozen other times just today.
Making it clear he was not making a mistake, the waiter looks directly in my eyes and responds with a very definite, “Sir.”
Smashing down the rage boiling inside of me, I lock eyes with the waiter and clarify.
“No, actually, it’s Ma’am. I’m a woman. A transgender woman.”
“Hm,” is the only response my explanation and self-outing elicits.
Out of habit and self-preservation I move on, before the sick feeling in my stomach makes me start to sob or scream.
“I’ll have the pastrami and Swiss on rye, extra mustard please.”
Returning to the expected script the waiter barely asks, “Anything else?”
“I’ll have coffee too. With cream and sug-”
Before I can finish, our waiter turns on his heels and is gone.
“….. Ah. Okay… Ummmm, thanks… Bye…” I say to the spot where the waiter had been standing.
My friend Nick and I are silent for a moment. He breaks first.
“Dude! Sorry. That was so rude! He didn’t even apologize or correct himself, and then he just walked away!”
“Yeah. I wish I could say that kind of thing never happens,” I tell him flatly.
“Weren’t you about to go to the bathroom?” Nick asks, grasping for normality.
Comforting myself with the snark of old friendship—and also, now nervous to use the restroom, but not wanting to say so—I reply, “Yeah, I’ll wait. No way am I leaving you alone and taking the chance of the food coming while I’m gone!”
“Heh-ha,” Nick smirks.
“We’ve known each other since we were kids, Nick,” I continue, clinging to the normal feeling and comfort of familiar banter. “You’re the closest thing I have to a brother. I’d trust you with my life, but I’ll never trust you alone with my food. I’ve had about as much salty tea and pepper filled cornbread muffins as I ever want to taste, thank you very much.”
On more solid footing, Nick glances to see the waiter solidly not looking towards us.
“Hey, let’s mess with this a**hole and loosen the caps on all the condiments before we leave.”
“I love you too. Jerk.”
“It’s really good to see you… Jennifer. Nerd face.”
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.