Friday, February 22, 2013

From Transition to Traveller

I used to wonder

A long time ago, back in the day, I used to wonder. I used to wonder if it would feel weird to live as a woman. I used to wonder if I would even be able to adapt, if it would be too strange, if it was even possible to make that change. Now just four months after transition, I have the answer. 

That answer would surpise my old self, I think, but it also would have reassured him. The answer, of course, is that it doesn't feel weird or strange or unnatural all. It's different, to be sure, and it still takes thinking about sometimes, but it's not strange. In fact, it's like finally being home after so many years away - the reaction that the differences cause is more, "oh, yes, that's the way it should be... I don't have to worry about that anymore."

Trial by Travel

I think a good example, and maybe the most surprising, is travel. Only a month after I transitioned I found myself traveling by air, renting cars, staying in hotels, all things that not so long ago seemed impossible. The TSA does not have the most trans-friendly reputation, and the processes of air travel tend to put one's background and credentials under intense scrutiny. Indeed, I know of people who otherwise live as female who travel as males to avoid that experience. In my case, since my documentation had been changed, that wasn't an option.

So travelling as a woman should have made me feel uncomfortable. Except it didn't. Even when I had to explain my situation to the rental car clerk, it was no problem. (When I told him I'd changed genders, he asked, quite innocently, 'Wow, how long did that take?' and I answered, '9 months or 50 years, depending on how you look at it.')

Across borders

However, domestic travel is a piece of cake compared to international travel. Once you get through the first screening for a domestic flight, you're done. Crossing borders involves multiple passport checks just to get on the plane and then one has to pass through customs and immigration. In each direction. If a change of identity and gender was going to be problem, it should be on international travel.

So when the time came, just 4 months after transition, to fly to Japan on business, I was a little bit nervous. Yes, I was prepared. I had my documentation in order. I had a new passport, with the proper name and gender designation, and I had my surgeon's blessing to fly only two months after surgery. I had my nurse recommended support knee highs. I even had prescription strength anti-diarrhea meds, just in case. (I know, I know, Japan isn't a problem, but it was a recommendation from corporate, so I went along.)

Caught by the TSA

So when I hit my first check point at Chicago I whipped out my shiny new passport. The agent looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again... then he looked up and said, "Naomi? Have you ever traveled with this passport before?" My heart skipped a beat... Oh my god... a problem already?!?! 

I fought to keep my composure and said, "No, I haven't."

He started to grin and said, "Well, you need to sign it!" and handed over his pen.

As I was apologizing and thanking him, he assumed that sort of half-patronizing/half-flirty tone (women will know what I mean) and said, "no problem, ma'am, it just shows I'm doing my job."  Hmmmm. 

At home abroad

And to be honest, that was the last time I really worried about it. I just flashed my newly signed passport when needed, smiled, and carried on. I met Japanese colleagues who had known me as Vern and we picked up as if nothing had happened. I went to dinner (by myself and with others), I shopped, I had business meetings. And it was all fine. In fact, it was better than fine. I felt more relaxed and able to enjoy traveling than I ever had before. Even in Japan, I was home. 

Now, make no mistake, I'm not that confident in my appearance, nor in my voice, nor in my general ability to "pass". I'm not petit, I don't dress very girly, my accessory collection is primitive, I don't wear much makeup, and by the end of a long day, my hair is positively a fright. But none of that is that big a deal. The big deal is that I'm me, even half way around the world. 

I wish I could tell that to my old self. It would be nice to reassure him, to tell him not to worry, that it will be okay. Most of all, to assure him that even while traveling being who you really are is coming home.

 Me, in Kyoto, 4 months post-transition, squinting into the rising sun.

Squinting into the rising sun at Kyoto.

No comments:

Post a Comment