One of the indignities of being an office temp is that you don’t always get your own email address. For a couple of months there I was Mary.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought, when I opened my email for the first time. Mary, could you do this? Mary, could you do that? It was like everyone in the company was a drag queen at happy hour.
The irony was wasted on no one. When my supervisor introduced me around the office she would say, “This is the new Mary.”
“Actually, I’m more of a Phyllis.”
She did it a couple of more times and I feared I might have to get all GLAAD on her ass. I tried to come up with delicate ways of explaining that what was she was doing was homophobic; the gay equivalent of Mammie. But nice.
Thanks to the home personal perm, people ask me if my name is spelt with an “I” or “Y”. It’s silly but I find it emasculating. “Toni is a woman’s name. I am man!” I’ll say, sounding exactly like a woman. Being innocently addressed as Mary by predominantly straight people made me feel exactly the same way.
During the provincial election I scrutinized votes at a polling station. There was a lull in traffic and an election official tried to entice me into a copy of San Diego magazine. A girl in a bikini was on the cover and he waved it around like a hula girl.
“God, get that thing out of my face,” I thought.
Another scrutinizer, a senior, said, “I think he would be more interested if it were San Francisco magazine.”
“Did he just call me a fag?” I wondered, or was he telling the official, “No stupid, he’s gay.” It sounded more like the latter, but if it wasn’t, I could take him.
In the office I was Mary for less than a day but online I was this weird gender fuck. It didn’t matter how many times I started an email with, “This is Tony…” people would still reply with “Mary…” And it always sounded like Charles Nelson Riley was saying it.
After a while I just didn’t care. To a small group of people I was Mary. Until they met me. The name Mary carries a lot of connotations with it: Virgin Mary, Mary Tyler Moore, Mary Hartman. The average person is not usually expecting, “Get off the cross Mary.”
“But Mary is too nice to be a man,” said one.
Still, there were those who were unclear and resigned themselves to address me as Mary/Tony, which I could live with. Until someone spelled Tony with an “I”.