I went fishing with my dad Friday morning. He was to meet one of his old friends from church, Lon, so he asked me the prerequisite question- “How are you going to explain your haircut?”
(I find that a lot of stupid questions, like “What did you do to your HAIR?!”, are best followed with a stupid answer, i.e., “I got a haircut.” Somehow, this ridiculously redundant answer- explaining nothing at all of my trans status, of the tiny black shadow on my upper lip, of my distinctly male profile (thank you, backbreaking binders) or of my starkly male dress code- seems to be enough for anyone asking the question. They shrug and go back to business as usual. Why? Did they really find the information they were looking for in that simple, obvious answer? Couldn’t they have gleaned that from their own question? Do they ever WANT to know more, or were they just asking for the sake of acknowledgment? If they wanted to acknowledge, couldn’t they have asked in a manner that wasn’t so directly reminiscent of “OH MY GOD BOTH YOUR LEGS ARE IN CASTS, what did you DO to yourself?!” I wasn’t in a car wreck, people. I walked into a barbershop and paid someone to do this. Nobody stole my hair in the night. (Although I have considered, without following through, answering something to the effect of “I have cancer.” It would be an appropriately dramatic answer to their dramatic inquiry.) But why not something like, “Nice haircut,” or even “I see you got your hair cut, how’s that treating you?” instead of acting like I’m a chemical burn victim?
Or maybe they did want to know more, i.e., “WHY did you get your hair cut?”, in which case I would be stumped for a simple answer. But that question, “What did you do to your HAIR?!” seems to be the most common question and my standard answer is the one that leads to the least possible drama in any given situation. Maybe the short curtness of it turns people away from asking any more, as if I were saying this- “I cut my hair off for personal reasons that I obviously don’t want to go into because if I did, I wouldn’t have said something short and stupid like ‘I got a haircut.'” Who knows what goes through the heads of the Inquisitors. They’ll know all too much soon enough.)
Anyway, back to the story at hand. I was dressed in my fishing finest, my uniform since before I can remember- blue jeans, plaid flannel shirt, baseball cap, army boots. I’d never really cared about how it was assembled before, I just threw it on and went, untucked and looking more like I’d climbed out of bed with a hat on. But I’ve found that male dress isn’t always about what you wear, but how you wear it. The addition of the binder made for a flatter chest, of course, and now I knew to tuck my shirt into my pants and let the belt ride below my gut, not across my bellybutton and above the rise of my hips like I’d been more inclined to do as a gut-conscious female dresser. The short hair brought the dapper, mountain-man look all together, as though I were a 15-year-old version of my father (in spite of being the age of 21).
My dad looked me up and down and remarked, “He probably isn’t going to recognize you. How do you plan on handling this?”
Excitement filled my limbs. “Oh, dad, can’t we tell him I’m your nephew or something? That’d be so cool. I could be your nephew Tommy…”
He narrowed his eyes. “I’m not going to lie.”
My heart dropped, and I tried to salvage the situation. “Well, you don’t have to keep it up. It could be like a joke. You could introduce me, and we’ll see if he remembers me, and if he doesn’t, then we’ll let him believe it for a little while, just for the fun of it, and then tell him later, and if he does know it’s me, then obviously it’s just funny-”
“I’m not going to lie,” he repeated.
And that seemed to be the end of that.
I didn’t care too much. I knew it was unlikely that he would think I was my own long-lost nephew or something- after all, he’d seen me in pants and a binder before (kind of a no-no for a Pentecostal follower, but he hadn’t said anything). The only difference was the haircut. Besides, not everything had to be a gender experiment. I really just wanted to go fishing with my dad.
When we got to the lake, it took a little while to find him, but he came waving and all smiles up out of a boat ramp, with one of HIS friends. This was unexpected. My dad looked him up and down, looked at Lon, looked at me, and shrugged. “Hey Brother Lon, it’s great to see you. Have you met my son, Tommy?”
I looked up from the ground with lightning eyes and looked back and forth at my dad and Lon, and grinned. Lon said, “Hey, Tommy,” and we both laughed. I’m pretty sure he recognized me, and I’m pretty sure it was just a joke to him, but something significant had happened.
I remembered my dad saying, twice, “I’m not going to lie.” This meant that he acknowledged me, truthfully, as his son. I couldn’t stop smiling. I didn’t care what anyone else thought, this was what really mattered.
My biggest surprise came later in the morning. Lon’s friend looked over in between the long moments of silence and asked my dad, “So how old is he? Your son?”
I think he asked something else too, but the excitement at hearing someone use the right pronouns, someone who had been in my presence for more than a few minutes, someone who had even heard me talk a little, and this someone wasn’t even thinking about sidestepping female pronouns for my sake- I was just a person, just this kid- well, anything else he might have said flew right out the window.
I tried to answer as sanely as I could. “Yeah, I just turned 21.” I had to to try not to let my voice jump up a few dozen octaves. The joke had gone right over his head- I was just my dad’s son, nothing special about it.
This is saying amazing things to me. This is like the world opening up to me and going, “Yes, things aren’t going to be as hard as you thought. Yes, you’re actually making progress on your journey. Yes, you’re on a downhill slant from here. Maybe you’re even closer to the end of this particular journey than the beginning.”
It reminds me of a quote from “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish,” one book from Douglas Adam’s fabulous Hitchhiker’s Guide series.
“For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone for long enough with a Swiss Cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who awakes one morning to find the door to his cage hanging quietly open and the savannah stretching grey and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.
He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.
He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones till it now said something it had never said to him before, which was ‘Yes’.”