On the first day of a previous job, I knew I would be the only woman in the office, which is not that uncommon in tech jobs, but I got confused when I met my coworkers and was introduced to Mark who looked more like a Marcia. He was shorter than me, had shoulder-length hair and a curvier body than I’d expect in a man. I thought to myself, Mark? Really, you’re Mark? Are you sure? But everyone was calling him Mark so I called him Mark too.*
Three months later when we were called into a meeting after Mark had left work early, I was not at all surprised to learn Mark was transgender, in the process of transitioning from male to female and was finally coming out at work. Mark would now be Marcia and it was a relief because it cleared up a lot of gender confusion I’d seen over the past few months. There was that time we’d all gone out to lunch and the waitress had said, “Here’s your credit card, Mark. Oh, sorry, Marcia,” and Mark had not said anything to correct her. Or the time Mark talked about having survived cancer, but would not specifically mention what type of cancer because, as I learned later, it was a type only males got. Or that time my mom dropped by the office and I nearly tripped over myself in a rush to introduce Mark to her as a man, to prevent her from possibly using the wrong pronoun when talking to him. Or the time we were walking to get coffee and I remember thinking Mark really needed to be wearing a bra. All of it finally made sense and I was glad it was out in public.
Everyone on our team seemed to handle it well. There was a bit of awkwardness the next day, partly because we had to get used to calling our coworker a different name, and also because I didn’t want to do anything to make Marcia feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. After a few days it all seemed fairly normal, though I was still in the process of educating myself about transgender issues, which basically consisted of renting the TV docu-series TransGeneration from Netflix. There were still occasional odd moments, like when I complained about menstrual cramps to Marcia on instant messenger, and wondered if that was ok. It’s not something I would talk to my male coworkers about, but Marcia was a girl, so it seemed all right. Marcia dressed more femme than I do since I usually just wear jeans, a t-shirt and running shoes, which made me wonder if someone might walk through our office knowing a transgender woman worked there and assume that it was me. I was also a little disappointed because I’d been happy that I was finally making a male friend instead of just female ones, until I eventually realized, uh, no, I wasn’t.
A few months later I went out to a karaoke bar with Marcia and some friends. We were eating fries and burgers at our table when a large, hairy guy who was clearly drunk came over and started hitting on Marcia. The guy’s friend came over, apologized for him and dragged him back to the bar. But the drunk guy came over at least one or two more times to gawk at Marcia, clearly attracted to her.
It was terrifying.
Please, please please, I thought to myself, do not let him figure this out. How would this guy handle it if he discovered Marcia had been born biologically male? He didn’t seem like the type who would brush it off. He was much larger than us, stronger, and intoxicated. It felt like violence could erupt at any moment if he noticed Marcia’s Adam’s apple. Would he tip the table over? Would he punch her in the face? Would it make the local news?
Thankfully, the drunk guy and his friend left the bar without figuring things out, as far as I could tell. However, I have been thinking about that incident ever since North Carolina passed a law last week that allows LGBT discrimination in our state and makes it illegal for transgender people to use the public restroom appropriate for the gender they identify as. If Marcia were to come to North Carolina, by law she would have to use a male bathroom even though she looks female. What would happen if that drunk guy from the karaoke bar was in the bathroom when she walked in? How would he react? I’m scared he’d do something that I would hear about in the news. I’m scared we’d end up campaigning for hate crime legislation in Marcia’s name, like the latest Matthew Shepard.
I find it odd that people in my state think transgender people like Marcia are the ones to be feared, when it’s exactly the opposite. Transgender people are afraid of them. Any transgender person has played out a thousand scenarios in their head about the horrible things that could happen if they encounter narrow-minded people capable of harming them. Being outed without consent makes a transgender person extremely vulnerable, and that’s what this law will cause to happen.
Most people probably don’t know someone who is transgender, or don’t know that they know someone who is transgender. Perhaps people think it’s easy to spot someone who is transgender, when in fact many people transition so well that you can’t tell they used to present as a different gender unless you’ve been told. Knowing Marcia has made me learn more about transgender issues than I would have otherwise, and it’s given me a personal perspective on things like these. I don’t picture some faceless transgender person when they talk about this law, I think about Marcia. And even though we’ve drifted apart for various reasons over the past few years, knowing Marcia has impacted me forever. If more people in my state were better educated about transgender issues, I think they would be less fearful and this law would have been less likely to exist. You shouldn’t have to know a transgender person to know this law is wrong, but it probably helps.
I have spent the majority of my life as a liberal person living in a conservative state, be it North Carolina or Indiana or Kentucky. It can be disheartening a lot of the time, and sometimes I think about moving somewhere less right-wing. Things have gotten worse since I moved here six years ago. There’s been a ban of gay marriage eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, a voter suppression law enabled by the Supreme Court, cronyism in the state university system, the loss of a Democratic governor and a Democratic US senator, and now this terrible law. (Not to mention a horrendous new tourism logo.) But I also know that for things to change someone has to hang around and vote for people who aren’t bigoted, particularly since they’ve passed laws making it harder for people to vote at all. I guess right now that someone is me. Hopefully that will eventually make North Carolina a better place for people like Marcia to visit, though it’s currently not somewhere I’d recommend she live.
*Her name’s not really Mark/Marcia. I changed it to protect her privacy.