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Commentary
Stories about LGBTQ+ identity and experience in western New England.

One transgender man feels lucky to be able to 'pass,' but it's not so simple

A counter at a restaurant in New York City.
vincent desjardins
/
Creative Commons
A counter at a restaurant in New York City.

Even before I was sure of my own gender, the world let me know I was different. Looking at me, strangers had a difficult time discerning my gender. Some would lash out in anger because of this. At school, around town, and especially at work, I was accustomed to being stared at and accosted.

Dealing with hungry customers at work was difficult enough. But my experiences with transphobia heightened the stakes of these interactions, and I often felt fearful.

In an effort to minimize conflict, I learned the differences between masculine and feminine customer service personas so that I could mirror the kinds of actions back to customers they might expect.

When a customer would approach me with a “Hey bro…” I would first consciously and later instinctively lower my voice, shorten my words. I wasn’t just taking an order, I was acting a part for my safety; I learned to show whatever version of myself they expected to see.

I remember once balancing on my hands and knees, cleaning up the sticky mess some elderly customers had made in front of a soda machine. Standing over me, they argued with one another, “That’s a boy!”

“That’s a girl!”

“No! A boy!”

Behind the counter, my co-workers knew me as a queer woman. For the low price of $7.50 an hour, I received a double lesson in workplace transphobia and misogyny.

As an adult transgender man with access to hormones, I am able to ‘pass’ as cisgender – someone who is not trans. It’s a privilege not available to many of my trans peers.

I’m proud to be transgender, but past threats still echo in my mind. I have internalized the years’ worth of scrutiny. When male customers come into my workplace, I still turn on the hypermasculine mannerisms, spreading my body out and speaking deep from my chest to greet them.

The performance is exhausting. I wait for the day I can drop the act.

Mac Godinez, in his mid-20s, is a student and writer who lives in western Massachusetts. He was also an intern at New England Public Media.

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