December, 2013 bids fair to be the strangest month of my life. December has often been both less and more to me than ever I expected, but this one takes the cake, and it’s only its seventh day.
I’m dealing once again with Christmas and my wedding anniversary approaching, with the anniversary of the death of Th’ Luvly Laura coming just before. It’s still hard to deal with, and to add to the pain, I’m losin’ people again. In a span of two weeks, three of my friends at work will have been feted at retirement parties. One, my “Best Friend at Work” (The awkward title is a “Gallup Testing” thing), my buddy who was my partner in environmental compliance at our place of work for ten years, already had hers, on Thursday.
I heard her say that at least a hundred people came, and she’d been afraid few would. I watched the ebb and flow for three hours, and I’d say more like a hundred and fifty, maybe more. She was, as one manager put it, the face of the largest power plant in the Midwest. We even sent her to greet the President when he came to visit. And two weeks from now she’ll be gone, along with two others. Not only that, but over the next four months or so, at least three others plan to go. It was a depressing seventy mile drive home.
The next day (yesterday) we were both at a project-end meeting cum celebration. I was seated at a table, talking to her at the table ahead of me when a woman I didn’t recognize, but who was oddly familiar, came up to me, grabbed my hand and shook it and said, “Glad you could make it, Chuck. We worked hard for this,” and she walked ahead a couple of tables and sat down.
Now I was really puzzled. Her voice was evocative of somebody, but I still couldn’t place her. My face must have given me away, because my friend started to laugh. “It’s George,” she said. “George Wander... except that his new persona is Blwewqa.”
Say what? Somebody had started to talk just as she said the name.
I looked up, toward the woman, and she smiled back at me... and suddenly I saw George’s face in hers. The grey hair had been dyed a rich brown, the ponytail was gone, replaced by a “bottom of the ear” cut, and even sitting she carried herself like a woman. All visual cues aside, I was looking at a female version of George, a retiree who had been a guy when last I’d seen him several months ago.
The business for which we were there began. I gave her a thumbs-up and turned back to my buddy, but she was facing front. I think I saw her shoulders shaking. Later, I referred to a contribution by George in an answer to a question.
At the first break I found George, stuck out my hand and said, “Congratulations.”
Before I could say more she said, “It’s OK that you called me George, but my name is Brenda now.” Then she told me it was the first time she’d come to an event like this and let herself be seen by old friends and colleagues like me who had never had a clue.
I cannot fairly say I was not taken aback, but I said “This is a pretty courageous thing you’re doing here.” I was determined this would not spoil a pretty good working friendship, and I said as much.
Brenda smiled a little sadly and said that it had already spoiled a couple.
I’d no doubt it had. Some people’s lives are ruled by small-mindedness. I probably won’t see her again, but I might. She does some consulting work on another project in which we both have a history. If I do we’ll still be friends. Her change in gender diminishes neither of us, nor does it redefine our relationship as friends. I had no idea, but now that I know all I can say is that it’s her life and her choice. She gets to live it at her own pace and in her own style... just as I do mine.
Still and all, it’s a fair start on what looks to be a pretty surreal month.
*Names have been changed to protect the vulnerable*