4 min

Passing the time

Usually, I let strangers keep believing I am whatever gender they take me to be

I’m not going to torture my reflection in the mirror looking for reasons, nor am I about to torment myself with annoying existential questions seeking answers.

I’m just going to accept it. I pass a lot more these days, and I’m not sure exactly why that is.

Some would say this means I am accessing male privilege, that folks like me who are regularly read as men are often treated with more respect and taken more seriously, especially by other men, and that the streets are safer for us than they are for our often more feminine companions, and of course they would be partly right.

But, as any tranny worth hir salt will surely tell you, passing as male among men is, for the most part, a tenuous and dangerous space to inhabit, and reality is rarely so black and white.

Sometimes I really like passing as a boy or young man, especially when I find myself in the company of winking dirty old men who see a little of the boy they used to be in the strapping young fella they think I am. I’ll admit it, it’s fun sometimes, not to mention educational.

But then there are other times when passing can be hazardous to your health, like last August at a truck stop bathroom just off the highway somewhere in Saskatchewan. That trucker was more than convinced that I was a smooth-shaven young tourist lad, and that he wanted to show me the full-sized sleeper he had on the brand new big rig that he had parked so proudly behind the restaurant. He was horny and aggressive and I had to be rescued by my lady friend.

Then there are times when it just gets weird and complicated, like it did last week with my new landlord.

I have spent good part of the last 38 years perfecting my method of coping with the gender confusion of strangers, and I have developed my own set of guidelines in terms of my own reaction to the often unpredictable behavior of an individual experiencing a bout of dysphoria or panic upon meeting me for the first time.

My first rule is not to say or do anything too gender specific, and to just let the stranger in question continue believing I am whatever gender they assume me to be. The catch is, of course, that I am quite often not certain just which gender box I should continue to help them make me fit into. This can get tricky quickly.

I recently relocated to Ontario for eight months, to be the writer in residence at Carleton University. After briefly perusing the rental listings in Ottawa, I decided to rent me and the dogs a little house in the country. I found a one-bedroom cottage on the water about half an hour west of the city, and tracked down the landlord.

Within a minute of meeting him it became apparent that he thought I was a young lad, as they say in the valley. I weighed my options, after silently calculating the odds that he would prefer renting the cute little house he wanted to retire to one day to a young lad, regardless of how clean-cut I might appear, to how he might feel about turning the keys over to a big old dyke, no matter how gainfully employed I might be, if only for the next eight months.

I took into consideration all the facts I had at hand: the guy appeared to be in his 50s, and this was a town of 400 people. I opted for letting him continue to think I was a young lad, and allayed any fears he might have about my irresponsible youth costing him any money by paying him four months rent up front in cash.

When he asked me for the third time just what it was I did for a living again, and looked increasingly skeptical when I repeated that I was the author of four books, I finally gave him one of my new CDs, just to prove to him that I was telling the truth. I really was a storyteller.

Ironic, I know.

A couple of nights after I moved in, the landlord dropped by with his wife. He was almost overly impressed with the new paintjob in the living room, but seemed vaguely nervous about something, or maybe he was just in a hurry to get home, but he was definitely acting a little weird, it was kind of hard to pin down.

I noticed he smirked knowingly and winked at his wife when he thought I wasn’t looking when I told him how the kitchen was going to be sort of a harvest gold colour, and the bedroom a rather complimentary shade of deep pumpkin.

We had moved on to discussing the water pump in the basement and getting the well water tested when he blurted out what he had obviously been building up to bringing up since he had walked through the door.

“I listened to your CD. You didn’t tell me you were gay. Not that I would care. That’s your business. It’s all good with me. I don’t care who you sleep with, or what colour you paint the hallway.” He smiled nervously, and swallowed hard.

“Thanks, Scott. Right back at you.” I told him.

This made him laugh, and his wife shift uncomfortably from her perch on the basement stairs. Scott continued, desperate to prove to me he was down with renting to a homosexual. “I don’t even mind if you have your boyfriend over or whatever, as long as you pay the rent.”

This, of course, was when it all became hilariously clear to me. Not only was I passing, I was passing as a gay man. My new landlord had done some soul-searching and had found it in his heart to warmly embrace my lifestyle, and trust my superior decorating skills.

There are now three gays in this village. When I told Patrick, one half of the only gay couple in town, about my dilemma, he crossed both arms and pursed his lips. “Well you’ll have to clear that up right away.” He was only half kidding. “This is a small town. There’s only room for one queen, and I was here first. And don’t you forget it, sister.”