In August, I told my first live story ever at Taipei Story Slam. In September, I told another. From these two positive experiences, I got invited to tell a live story – like one I would tell at Story Slam – on ICRT’s Morning Show with Terry.
Like all the previous live storytelling I’ve done, I was internally freakin’ out for hours before the show (p = 0.0067, n = 3, Arreglada-Prueba Test). I had practiced the story a decent amount, but who knows what would actually happen in the studio.
I always get to this point right before telling the story where I can’t actually remember the pieces of it. It’s like, I know I know what I’m going to say, but I can’t remember how the pieces fit together. I guess that’s where the practice is crucial, because my mouth just subconsciously moves from one part to the next without me needing to actively remember. But I wasn’t sure if with the added pressure of potentially bombing on the radio would heighten my nerves and cause me to bomb on the radio.
Once the story got going, I began to relax. It was weird telling a story (especially a story about my experience as a woman) in front of an audience of just three dudes. They were awesome listeners, even laughed a few times, making me feel more comfortable. But I basically just stared at an empty corner of the room the whole time and pretended I was telling my story to a cabinet. I’ll remember that strategy for future shows…
Walking down the street, people stare at me.
I’ve been here one year and I still haven’t gotten used to the staring. I know I’m different. I’m a black female foreigner with a short afro, a tall frame, broad shoulders, and no make up. I just have to accept that people will want to take a longer, curious look. And sometimes still be confused by what they see.
My first day at my school, a fourth grader asks: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
Ummm… I think to myself, seriously. I’m wearing a skirt…
“I’m a girl.” I reply.
Kids I understand. Their worldview is extremely limited. But adults?
I am at the hospital for an ARC health check. You’ve probably done it too. Fill out a basic information form, TWICE. Name, sex, birthday, blah Blah BLAH. I hand my form to the woman behind the counter who enters my information into the computer.
The first station is a doctor who asks me if I’m pregnant. And then it’s on to the blood pressure station, the eye exam, upstairs to get blood drawn, then down another hallway to the radiology wing for a chest X-ray. I feel like a mouse in a maze.
I grimace as I see at least two-dozen people waiting in the shirts patients are required to change into before being x-rayed. I check in at the radiology counter, handing the nurse my folder of forms.
He types something into the computer, checks the forms, looks at me, check the forms again. “Are you a man or a woman?”
“Ummmmm…” I am shocked by the question because I just handed him the forms where he can read it for himself. “I’m a woman.”
“Okay………. in the computer it says you’re a man.”
He stops talking. Like that’s the end of the conversation. Maybe he’s thinking about a way to solve the problem, but I just snap: “Nope. I’m a woman. I don’t know what else to tell you.” I consider showing him, but think that’s probably going too far.
“Oh no,” he says.
“What? Can’t you change it?”
“No. Miss—” He makes sure to say Miss whenever addressing me from now on. “Miss, you have to go back downstairs. I’m sorry.”
So now I’m pissed off. This is not the first time I have been mistaken for a man. I’ve grown to accept moments when waiters or cashiers say “sir” when addressing me without taking a good look at me first. Or when women hesitate and do a double take upon seeing me in the women’s bathroom. But what pisses me off most about this instance in the hospital is that I filled out IDENTICAL FORMS of basic information including my gender and they STILL GOT IT WRONG.
I walk down the hallway and down the stairs to the check-in counter, my braless boobs swaying wildly underneath the x-ray scanning shirt I’ve left on to save time. But apparently not so wildly since they’re so small people can’t even recognize them as a secondary sex characteristic of my femaleness.
I march to the woman behind the counter. “Hi. I’m a woman but you said I was a man in the computer.” She looks at the forms I’ve practically shoved in her face, then she looks up at me and giggles apologetically. “Sorry!”
As I powerwalk back upstairs to the radiology wing, I become aware of my cis-gender-privilege. This “mistake” was frustrating to me because it was a waste of my time. It was also a slight challenge to my female-ness and that’s upsetting, but I can always think of my breasts and my uterus that bleeds every month and the two X chromosomes floating around in my somatic cells and reassure myself that I’m woman.
Meanwhile, there are people struggling to be able to check a box on a form in a hospital for a gender that society says they aren’t allowed to be because they were born something else. Or there are people fighting to forgo gender boxes entirely and be genderqueer, or gender fluid, or non-gendered in a rigid society where things have to have labels and be put in boxes.
At the start of this new school year, I got the inevitable question from the first graders: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
“I’m a lizard.” I reply, trying to shatter their conceptions of gender.
“NO! Are you a boy or a girl?”
“I’m a lizard,” I assert.
“Are you a boy lizard or a girl lizard?”
“I’m a lizard lizard.”
Hopefully that’s a start.