A couple of weeks ago my musician friend and I had a show in Victoria. We had been booked into a downtown hotel by the theatre, and when we walked into the lobby we were greeted right away by the friendly and handsome man at the front desk. Because I think it is somewhat relevant to the story, I am going to state at this point that my musician friend is a trans guy, the man behind the counter appeared to be rather unabashedly gay, and I am unapologetically butch. Just so you can get an image.
I had to drop my bags and rush off to do a school gig, so my friend headed up to our room alone. He told me later when I got back that the front desk guy had called up to our room a few minutes after I left to enquire as to which pronoun each of us preferred, and whether or not my friend knew if I would like to be addressed as Ms Coyote or Mr Coyote. My friend told the front desk guy that he uses “he” and that I mostly use “she” – and that he was pretty sure I liked to be called Mister.
Both my friend and I were so touched by this very rare display of respect and understanding that we contacted his manager to give him a rave customer service review, and we both left a copy of our most recent CD at the front desk for him. I didn’t see him again for the rest of our stay, but I will never forget him. His name is Curtis.
I wrote about this exchange the next day on my Facebook status and was swamped by a deluge of “likes” and comments. People from all over the world writing that this little slice of nice had made their day, or given them hope for the world in general.
I remember feeling just a tiny bit sad about it all in the end, that so many trans and gender variant folks and their allies are so accustomed to experiencing or hearing stories about disrespect and beatings, or another murder, that this one small account of someone taking the effort to not misgender either of us would warrant this kind of gratitude and relief.
It’s not like the guy gave us both blowjobs and backrubs and hand-fed us peeled and chilled grapes or anything. All he did was treat us with the same kind of respect and care that most hotel patrons expect without question.
Later that weekend, back in Vancouver, I went into the Bay department store with my sweetheart. We were hunting for a suit for me for our upcoming wedding. My femme partner and I are big fans of the Bay, not just for their many sales and scratch-and-save coupons and quality purse and men’s underwear selection, but because of their staff, which almost always fall into one of two categories. The first is young and pretty well-dressed gay boys, and the second is over-50 working-class women who take no bullshit and know where absolutely everything is.
I am very fond of both of these cross-sections of humanity, so I tracked down a sweet fey fellow with long eyelashes refolding dress shirts in the menswear department. He clapped his hands together when he heard we were getting gay married but said that the real suit expert was Dennis. I have changed his name to protect the guilty, but let’s call him Dennis. He called the suit expert over, and Dennis sauntered up, already for some reason kind of put out that he was being asked to do his job.
Pretty boy explained that we were getting married and that I needed a suit. Dennis let out a sigh, and then narrowed his eyes at me and ran them, disapprovingly, up and down my frame.
“This is going to be difficult,” he said, and a look of almost disgust flashed in his eyes.
He flicked a cheap suit off of a rack and shrugged the jacket off of its hanger. “You can go ahead and try this, but I don’t know if it will work.”
I half-heartedly tried the ill-fitting jacket on, and then we left. I was so mad that I had to deep breathe a little in the food court to fend off tears. Men’s bodies come in all shapes too. There are men with hips, and tits, and asses. Men with guts or six-packs and giant thighs or super long legs. Dennis’s job is to find suits that will fit those men’s bodies, or sell them ones that can be tailored to fit properly.
He wasn’t really saying that it is impossible to find a suit that would fit my body; he was telling me that he didn’t feel like I had the right to wear a suit at all, that finding me clothes that I felt sexy and attractive enough to be married in was just not worth the effort on his part.
So I took my rage and indignation and marched it over to Harry Rosen and got fitted for a custom-tailored suit. Lucky for me, I am privileged enough now, after many years of just getting by on a writer’s income, to be able to afford this luxury. The tailor there took one look at me and asked if I preferred a “masculine line” for my charcoal-grey Italian wool wedding suit. I nodded, and he reached for his measuring tape.
“Very well then,” he remarked. “I know a few tricks.”
I guess my point is that it doesn’t take very much effort to ask someone who they are and to respect the language and labels they prefer. In fact, if you are dealing with the public in any way at all, you are not actually doing us a favour; you are simply doing your job. And it makes me a tiny bit sad how truly grateful we will be.