I had to get a health physical in order to renew my foreign work permit. I’d gotten the physical when I first got to Taiwan 8 months ago. I understood the need for it, but man, bureaucracy…
First, you fill out a basic information form, twice. Name. Sex. Birthday. blah Blah BLAH. In duplicate. Why can’t this document be copied? I thought, as I took it to a woman behind a counter reminiscent of the DMV. She entered the information into a computer. Then directed me to where I could take a ticket and wait to be called. First station: a doctor. He flipped through my forms.
“Are you pregnant?”
“Do you think you could be pregnant?”
“Okay, give these to the nurse by the door.”
He handed me back my forms. After waiting in a long line, she measured my blood pressure, height, and weight, then passed me on to another nurse who gave me an eye exam. Then it was up a floor to get my blood drawn. Then down another hallway to the radiology wing for a chest x-ray. I grimaced as I saw at least two-dozen people waiting in the scrub top shirts patients are required to change into before being x-rayed. I checked in at the radiology counter, handing the nurse my folder of forms and passport. He typed some things into the computer, checked my forms, and asked: “Are you a man or a woman?”
I was shocked by the question, seeing as I just handed him my forms where he can read it for himself.
“A woman.” I said like it should be obvious.
“Okaaaay… in the computer it says you’re a man.” He stopped talking. Maybe he was thinking about how to solve the problem, but I was already not in a great mood from all the waiting, so I briefly snapped: “Nope. I’m a woman. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Oh no.” He said.
“What? Can’t you just change it?”
“No. Miss, you have to go back downstairs. I’m sorry.”
I’m actually used to being mistaken for a man. I have short hair and big shoulders. I wear androgynous clothes and no make-up. You grow to accept moments when waiters say “sir” when addressing you without taking a good look at you first. Or when women hesitate and do a double take upon seeing you in the women’s bathroom. In the moment, what pissed me off most was the fact I had filled out IDENTICAL forms of basic information including my sex and they still got it wrong. WHAT WAS THE POINT?!
I walked down the hallway and then down the stairs to the check-in counter, my braless boobs swaying underneath the scrub top I’d left on to save time for after this diversion was over. But probably not swinging so wild since they’re apparently so small people can’t recognize them as secondary sex characteristics of a female.
I marched to the counter. “I’m a woman, but you said I was a man in the computer.” She looked at the form I presented her, then up at me, and giggled apologetically.
“Sorry!” She quickly corrected the issue. That’s the usual response. Even though I get mistaken for a man frequently, when people do take a closer second look or hear me speak, they either apologize for their mistake or become embarrassed. The few times when I let their mistakes upset me, I just remember my breasts, my uterus, the two X chromosomes I’ve seen in copies of my karyotype. With one glance, other people may doubt I’m a woman, but I have no doubt.
As I was power walking back upstairs to the radiology wing, I became aware of my cis-privilege in a way I’d never before. I thought about how this whole experience would’ve played out had I been trans or genderqueer. How an attempt to assert one’s identity would most likely be met with disbelief, ridicule, and disregard in our rigid society where things have labels and are put in boxes and cannot be mixed up. But the truth is, the knowledge that I have two X chromosomes doesn’t make me feel like a woman. I began to feel like a woman when I began to be vocal about women’s issues. When I spoke up in conversations and shared experiences about feeling shunned or stereotyped because I was a woman. I feel like a woman when I see the way society treats me and other women and I want to fight back. I don’t think hormones and surgery make you a woman. They just make you look like those people born with two X chromosomes. They just make other people treat you like those people born with two X chromosomes. But you can be a woman without those two X chromosomes. You’re a woman when you get angry that other people mistake you for a man.