There used to be a trope in movies and tv that included a school reunion that someone had undergone a sex change. It was a cheap punchline, based on shock and discomfort for those putting the pieces together. Oh, quarterback JOHN is now JANE. What’s this weird boner?
But how do you play these scenes out in real life? Last week, I had a work meeting during which I had to re-introduce myself to someone I had worked with several years ago. Someone who knew me prior to transition and who has not seen me since. Someone who I don’t think would have found out otherwise. Someone who is now at the top of my food chain and is my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. To make it all the more awkward, this re-introduction would be in public, in front of colleagues who have only known me post-transition.
Moments like these face a huge amount of uncertainty. It’s like coming out all over again. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking, which made me even more self conscious because I feared my peers, lacking context, would think I was intimidated in front of figures of authority. With a shaky voice, I re-introduced myself with my new name. I commented that we had worked together previously and left it at that. Nothing happened. He smiled and said “Yes, we did!” Nobody fainted.
Why do moments like these make me feel so exposed? I don’t think it’s shame about being found out as trans. I could live with that. Instead, I have a flash of a different sitcom trope, the walk-in-on-the-roommate-in-the-shower trope. That someone who has seen me in a dress has essentially seen me naked. It makes me feel powerless and wishing there were a way to scrub that mental image from their memory. Also, the validity of my identity feels threatened. Each time you come out again, there’s a fear that someone will tell call bullshit and leave you with a deep feeling of doubt and insecurity.
I dare a TV writer to write the old trope from the opposite viewpoint. Jane having to meet the high school class all over again at the reunion, trembling in fear that all the former classmates will see is John. It can still be comedy–after all, awkwardness plays well–but what would be in it that strays from the old trope is empathy for the one with the very most at stake.