To the Grocery Clerk Whose Name Tag Read Alice:
wanted to tell you: that was my birth name. I thought it would be perfect if I could hand you my credit card and say right then, Alice was my name when I was a kid. And you might drop your gaze to my credit card and see that it read Alex and we could share the moment of understanding that radiates from one transgender person to another.
But I didn’t hand you my credit card. I stuck it chip first into the machine and you waited with your gaze on the middle distance – perhaps the candy rack, perhaps the tabloid headlines – until the receipt unfurled.
You had wavy hair, light brown, that fell past your shoulders. You’d shaved, real close, but I could still see the whiskers ready to rise on your cheeks and chin. You had earrings, a pale pink ceramic rose in each lobe. A couple of your fingernails held chips of polish – black, I think – and your nails were neat but short. You wore the blue vest-smock of the grocery store, unremarkable, except for that name tag: Alice.
Nothing in the cauliflower, the seltzer water, the beer, or the black beans that I was buying would tell you a thing about me, or at least not the one thing I wanted you to know. You expertly slung each item over your scanner, your wrist turning at the precise angle to get the barcode to read on the first swipe. You knew all the numbers for the produce.
I wanted to offer a casual, no big deal fist bump: transgender pride! I wanted to say, good for you and here are some resources if you need them…I know a support group in the area… I wanted desperately for you to recognize me, for the two of us to acknowledge each other, to share a moment at the margins of that rural New Hampshire grocery store when we could say:
I am not the only one.
But. I wondered. Maybe you had grabbed someone else’s name tag as a joke. Or maybe the manager, who was bagging up my purchases, wouldn’t want you to talk about gender. Or maybe the person behind me in line would say something rude. The usual reasons for silence.
I have never been good at negotiating the visibility of identity. Gender is so close to the surface of the self and so deep at the core of who we are. I spent my childhood being seen in a way I didn’t want to be, a little girl trying to efface my little girl-ness with short haircuts and blue jeans and flannel shirts.
And you? You said hello, did you find everything you were looking for? In an unforced voice, high, light, gentle. A woman’s voice, if I closed my eyes. You looked perfectly in between. For every element that marked you as a woman, another marked you as a man.
And I? Now middle-aged, I have succeeded with invisibility. Short hair, whiskery cheeks, a voice on the edge of baritone. Nothing remarkable about me. Just another guy.
I know I am wrong to assume that this is what you want – to pass out of your in-betweeness, to disappear as I have. I know I am wrong in part because I envy you. Your visibility. Your presence. You standing in front of your cash register, facing each patron in this small New Hampshire town, with your name tag, Alice.
I just want to say: once, that was my name, too.