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Laugh a Little (2013)

Laugh a Little (2013)

©2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (2013, 24 June). Laugh a little. TG Forum.






Twenty-three years ago I wrote a piece called Tripping the Light Fantastic: Saying Sane and Whole While in Transition. It initially appeared in XX: The Official Newsletter of the XX (Twenty) Club, Inc. and was immediately reprinted in a half-dozen or so trans community magazines and newsletters. Before long it appeared on the World Wide Web, where it remains today. You can read it on Sara Becker’s web page or at my website.

What resonated most with readers was my first point:

Keep Your Sense of Humor (and if you don’t have one, cultivate one). You will only be as unhappy as you allow yourself to be. You can plod miserably along, or you can enjoy yourself. You can find humor in the ludicrous situations you will find yourself in and the things people will say which have a whole different meaning because of your gender status. Those you meet along the route will prove amusing, if you allow them to be. They will be your comrades in arms, and some of them will become your friends. If you approach transition with a sense of wonder and awe, your experiences will be more pleasurable than they will be if you inject fear and guilt. Yes, it’ll be damn difficult, but you can still have a good time. Being miserable and depressed does not make for a good prognosis.

I think they picked up on the most important of my nine points. A sense of humor is a valuable asset to carry through life. It protects us from insult. It amuses our friends and frustrates our enemies. It’s a salve for our anxieties and a tonic for our soul. It makes us live longer and gives us better lines on our faces as we age. And for those of us who change gender roles, it’s a critical skill.

I have an acquaintance who can joke about most things, but when it comes to her transsexualism, she doesn’t consider it funny at all. She takes great offense at the slightest statement that might suggest the speaker knows of her transsexualism. She denies her transsexualism in the face of all reason, even when approached in confidence and told “I know, but it’s okay.” When that happens she blows up like an IED and turns away a potential friend who, rejected, more often than not begins to return the hostility.

My friend has other traits that don’t endear her to others, but it’s her denial of her transsexualism that most turns people off. Consequently she’s had problem after problem in the twenty years since her surgery. She can’t find a job, and when she does find one, she can’t keep it. When she goes to the doctor’s office the staff talk about her, and the doctor won’t listen to her complaints. When she makes new acquaintances, she turns them off within five minutes. I wouldn’t want her life.

More than a few other of my transsexual friends are thin-skinned when it comes to their transsexualism, and so quick to become offended. Once at a rainy Atlanta Pride I and three other ladies of shared experience left muddy Piedmont Park for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We were sodden. When we pulled up to the door a valet opened the driver’s door and said to the lady driving, “Welcome, Sir.” Then he looked again and said without hesitation, “Welcome, Ma’am.”

As we otherwise enjoyed our meal the three of us noticed our friend seemed to be steaming —figuratively and literally. We soon realized she was brooding about having been called sir.

I pass well, but as I dress for comfort and not style and only on occasion wear makeup or jewelry, I sometimes—always at first glance, and more often than not from behind—get called sir. The speakers immediately apologize, and I hold them at no fault. If anyone is responsible for misperceiving my gender, it’s me for giving few clues to help them out.

I told my steaming friend, “Be angry if you want, but not at the valet. He called you sir as he was opening the door, but as soon as he saw how you were presenting, he called you ma’am. What did he do wrong? Nothing.”

That first friend I talked about? She would have read that poor valet the riot act in the pouring rain in that parking lot and caused a commotion inside the restaurant. More importantly, she would have missed a pleasurable meal. Fortunately, my companion lightened up and we had a delightful time. She gave the valet a big tip when he brought the car around and called us ladies.

I’m mellow by nature and a big believer in karma. I see little to gain and much to lose by hating people or needlessly making them angry or taking offense at something that wasn’t meant to offend. Deliberately disrespect me? That’s another story. But in the 24 years since my transition, few people have deliberately treated me badly or even accidentally called me sir. When the latter happens I tend to have fun with it.

Once I was running the six-mile circumference of Stone Mountain. It was hot and I was sweaty and my baby-fine hair was sticking to my head in clumps. As I stopped to catch my breath a young girl of about three, passing with her—she was young enough to be in a perambulator—asked in all innocence whether I was a boy or a girl. I thought it was a legitimate question and gave her five points for her powers of observation.

Before I could answer, her mother, face red, scolded her for rudeness. She was ashamed I, a stranger, had been asked such a question, and more ashamed, I think, because she perceived me as female and thought the question hurtful. I smiled and told her not to be concerned.

Back in the day the U.S. Passport Service had a policy that allowed transsexuals scheduled for surgery outside the United States to obtain a one-year passport in their target gender. My surgery was in Brussels, and I applied for and received my document.

When I was a month or so post-op I took the letter given to me by my surgeon (Dr. Michel Seghers) to the post office to apply for a full ten-year passport. I went to the Decatur post office, a large facility about five miles from downtown Atlanta. I figured they would have served other transsexuals and so would know what to do—but when I arrived, the passport renewal station was set up in the main lobby. The woman working the desk had never seen a one-year passport before.

“I’ve never seen one of these,” she said.

“If you’ll just send it and the notarized letter I gave you to the passport office in Miami, they’ll process it,” I said.

“But I’ve never seen a passport with a one-year term!” she said.

Five or six people were in line behind me and I could feel impatience building as she continued to stare at my passport. I explained the department’s procedure several times and even went so far as to show her a printout of the State Department’s policy, which I had brought along in the event of just such an occasion. She continued to marvel at my passport.

Finally, I leaned forward and said confidentially, “Look, I had a sex change, okay?”

She looked at me as I took a step backward and then said, loudly enough for everyone in the lobby to hear, “You mean you want to be a man?”

I gave her a big smile and said, “You have one more guess.” I still remember the expression on her face as she figured out what I was telling her.

I got my new passport.

It’s normal for transsexuals to be self-conscious, especially just before, during, and immediately after transition. We monitor every social exchange, looking for clues. “She called us ‘you guys.’ Was she letting us know she’s figured us out?” “That man is staring at me. He knows.” “Was that compliment for real, or was she just telling me she’s okay about me?” When there’s a pronoun misattribution, its panic time—but it needn’t be. Unless it’s a situation that could easily turn ugly, have fun with it. Be self-depreciating. If asked, say, “Yes, I am, and I’m proud to be.” Most of all, remember the other party may be as uncomfortable as you. A bit of good humor may earn you a new friend.

Mark Twain once said, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” We should remember that.