I had a bit of a moment in work last week. Two in fact, in close proximity to each other. It made me wonder just what my colleagues really think of me – not if they like me or not, or if they think I’m good at my job, but wondering just how much of my trans nature they suspect.
There have been a few incidents over the past year where I have inadvertently (or occasionally advertently) given away clues. I’m going to take a few minutes to run through the various incidents that have occurred over the past year in work. My apologies if a lot if this is going over old ground, as I have mentioned most of these in passing at the time, but this is the first time I have tried to summarise what has gone on. As a quick bit of background, I work in a client-facing role in financial services (yes, it is as exciting as it sounds). In my team there are six of us; myself, Lauren (who knows the truth about me), Siobhan, Arthur, Graham and my boss Beth who is, among other things, a 5’11” biological woman. With her in heels and me in Bob’s footwear, she can look me straight in the eye.
The most obvious slip-ups with my colleagues were two occasions that I know of when I have failed to remove my nail varnish properly, and the little flecks of red or pink have been noticed and commented upon. The first time, in a meeting with my whole team of six, I was called out upon the red residue and asked straight if I had been “dressing up as a woman”. This was way back in around May last year, before I had even recognised myself as TS, and I flat denied it, instead making up a lame excuse on the spur of the moment about my youngest daughter having a great laugh painting her daddy’s nails. Then a few months after that some more nail varnish residue was spotted by Siobhan and Arthur when there were just the three of us in the room. This time I didn’t deny anything, I just put my hands under my desk and refused to say anything, giving an “innocent” whistle. The subject wasn’t brought up again with me, although a few days after that I overheard Siobhan whispering conspiratorially to Graham (who was present for “nailgate” part one) that I had got my nails done again. So the gossip express was thundering down the track.
It was round about this time when I decided to undergo counselling. I don’t particularly want to revisit that yet again on this blog, but as the sessions took place on weekday afternoons, I had to arrange to get out of work for those afternoons. So I mention it here to note that in order to get that time off, I had to say something to Beth – she’s the boss after all. So she is aware that last summer I had a personal issue for which I had to receive counselling. I told her that I couldn’t say what it was, and asked her not to ask, which she respected. Just out of concern (I think) she did ask me a few times how I was getting on, if there was anything she could help with etc, but I brushed it aside. However the fact remains that she knows that at least for a time last year, all was not well in the state of Kirstymark. Beth is actually the one person that hasn’t joined in with the “Bob is gay / Bob is a CD” banter. Perhaps she suspects that this is related to my counselling.
Fast forward another few months and we’re talking about conservatories, sun rooms and summer houses. Mrs Kirsty and I had been considering buying one for the back garden and I was showing off a few pictures of some of the models we had been looking that. Completely unprompted, Graham just announces “you could keep all your dresses and heels in there and if you put some curtains on it got could get dressed up any time you want “! Er, ok then. I laughed along but didn’t deny anything.
The next comment came from Graham again, in fact they mostly do, but this one originated with a comment from Arthur. Arthur was expressing his bewilderment that anyone could be gay – I genuinely don’t think he’s bigoted, he just can’t get his head round any man being attracted to another man. I can’t get my head round anyone wanting to eat a banana, so we’ve all got problems. So while Arthur was musing on this, I asked him how he would react if his 22-year-old son came out as gay. Arthur, to his credit, said he would love him just the same and would have to accept him for who he was. Lauren then asked Arthur “But what if it was a colleague? What if Bob announced he was gay? It might happen”. At this, Graham joined the conversation and announced
“No. That’s not what’ll happen. I’ll tell you what’ll happen. Within two years Bob will be coming to work in a dress and being referred to as Roberta.”
Well that was spookily close to the truth, or at least what I wish was the truth. So I just asked “How did you know?” but I think he thought I was joking. In fact, I was kind of joking, employing a double-bluff. But maybe he realised that and his nonchalant shrug was in fact a triple-bluff. He knew that I knew that he knew. Or did he?
Then just last week, I was standing at the bank of desks at which our team sits, talking to everyone about something work-related as I explained what was happening with one of my clients. Then I heard a voice shout out;
“Bob! Take your hand off your hip!”
Without realising it, I was standing in possibly the least straight-cis-male pose imaginable, the classic “I’m a little teapot” pose, left hand on hip, right hand gesturing away with straight fingers slightly raised. I must have looked so camp, which annoyed me as until fairly recently I thought I was pretty good at suppressing that type of thing. Maybe it’s a symptom of my self-acceptance that I no longer suppress these things automatically. And that’s a good thing, I think.
Then later that same day, Graham was complaining about a pain in his wrist and arm that he had been having for around a week. When he straightened his arm and moved his wrist in a certain way, he got a shooting pain right up his arm. As he was describing his symptoms, Arthur decided to take to Google in search of a diagnosis. After a quick search, he replied “Sorry to tell you this mate but what you’ve got is much more common in women than in men”. Without a break Graham turned round to me and asked
“Bob, do you have this?”
Oh yes very amusing. I just laugh along now, I don’t protest or deny anything.
That evening as I was walking round to the car park with Lauren, she brought up the subject of all these little incidents that mount up over the months. I definitely have a reputation for being a bit camp, or a bit girly in some of my attitudes, and she thinks that the rest of the team suspect there is more to it than a bit of workplace banter. The thing is, I reckon that if they think anything at all it’s that I have suppressed (or possibly unsuppressed but secret) gay tendencies. But Lauren asked something that really made me think. She asked what was the worst that could happen if they did find out. Or if I told them. What would the rest of them actually do. Not talking “officially” out at work, consulting HR, moving to being full time, just telling my team in confidence. We are all friends, what would they do? Gossip around our department of 40 people? Possibly, although I actually think it’s unlikely. Tell their spouses? Almost certainly. But nothing detrimental to my job or career. Why would they? I’m not talking about coming in as Kirsty, they wouldn’t have to see that. But I wouldn’t have to lie. I wouldn’t have to make up lies about where I was going on annual leave when I was actually going away as Kirsty. They wouldn’t have to gossip and wonder about me behind my back, I could answer any questions they might have within reason. The only downside I can think of is that if I tell them I’m TS and then continue to come into work as Bob, they might begin to wonder if I really am TS. But then again that’s probably more a question for me to ask myself. And I don’t know the answer.
So I have resolved on something. Not to actually actively do anything, but on what my future response is going to be. If I am confronted with a direct question again, I won’t shy away. I won’t change the subject or come up with a lame excuse. If I am asked a direct question somewhere in the ballpark of being trans*, or even gay for that matter, I will say one thing:
“If you really want me to answer that, ask me again and I will answer truthfully. But be very sure you want to know the answer before asking.”
I wonder if I’ll be brave enough to see it through?