What We Need

 Not too long ago, I was standing at the front desk of a hotel in London’s Kings Cross/St. Pancras neighborhood, waiting for some assistance.  Granted, that’s not exceptionally noteworthy in and of itself, but when I happened to glance at the guy standing next to me, things got interesting.

It was like looking in a mirror.  Well, except for the guy’s hair, which was bleach-white and kind of spiky-ish,  (Apparently, my hair is more of a green color.)

But there we were, side by side, waiting for assistance at the front desk of a discount hotel in London:  two female-bodied men.

 My mind clicked into high gear when I realized that I was looking at a trans guy standing right next to me!  I had been at the LGBT tourist center just the day before trying to locate where the trans guys in London hang out and had no luck there, and here was a guy not three feet away.

This is not the Ku Bar in SoHo over which the London Gay Tourist Office is located. The London LGBT tourist office is actually above the other Ku Bar in SoHo.

(The London LGBT tourist information office might has well be renamed the LG tourist information office because there wasn’t much information that I could see for the B’s and the T’s, although I went at a time when it wasn’t staffed by a live person.)

I contemplated what to say to him.  What if he didn’t want to be bothered?  What if he just wanted to be left the hell alone?  What if he’s very early in the process and I say something that freaks him out? What if he isn’t trans?  These questions went through my mind as I quickly studied him.

After analyzing the situation a bit more, I decided that I would just offer my hand, introduce myself and see what his response might be.  Yeah, I would shake his hand and tell him my name, and maybe he would give me a knowing smile and we would go get a cup of coffee (or tea) and exchange notes on being trans in our respective countries.  And then maybe he would introduce me to other guys in the city, and we would hang out and it would be a blast!  Yeah, I would just offer my hand and introduce myself. 

As I started to turn toward him, a woman appeared behind the front desk and handed my white-haired counterpart a sheet of paper, at which he abruptly turned and strode out the door of the hotel.  I stood there watching him go, my hand midway on the upswing to a handshake, unable to decide whether I should go after him.  If I caught up with him, what would I say?  “Um, er, nice to meet you, uh…   trans person?” 

Right.  That wouldn’t have been cool.

Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense"

The thing is, it wasn’t the first time this had happened.  There have been a number of other instances where I have ‘seen’ people who I believed to have been trans.  They have been pre and post-transition, MTF, FTM and other designations.  I’ve seen them in a number of different places – at the airport, shopping mall, restaurant, grocery store…  Some of you might think I’m just seeing things, but honestly, I feel like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense when he finally confesses his secret to Bruce Willis:

I see trans people…  all the time.

When I see people that I perceive to be trans, I want to say to them, “Hi there!  It’s so nice to see you!  I like meeting other trans people!”  Or something to that effect.  The problem is, you can’t just walk up to someone and assume they’re trans, or even ask if they are. 

I mean, forget the issues about whether the person actually knows they’re trans, or might not even be trans, or might be in a delicate place in their process where they can’t admit they’re trans (to others or maybe even to themselves). 

All that aside, some trans folks just want to blend into the crowd and to be left alone.  After transition, when mind and body, gender and sex, are congruent, some trans people don’t even think of themselves as trans any more and they may not want somebody bringing it up.  Some trans people feel that there’s more to them than just being trans, and so don’t want to focus on it. 

But even beyond all of that, the bottom line is, it’s really not anyone’s damn business.

Having said that, there must be people like me who wouldn’t mind being greeted by a brother, sister or other compatriot under the transgender umbrella.  In those cases, with two like-minded trans individuals (at least like-minded along those lines), it would be helpful if we had some way of identifying each other, a signal that says, “Yes, I’m trans, and I don’t mind acknowledging it.” 

That’s what we need!  A little sign that we could use to ask whether someone else is trans and okay to be greeted, and also to show that we are trans and are open to saying hello.  It could be a secret symbol, something only trans people would know, like a super-deluxe-double-decoder ring!  Or maybe even something simpler than that, a hand signal of some kind.  And it would only be known by trans people, so if the other person isn’t trans, we won’t be outing ourselves.

A.S.L. Letter T

 How about something like the American Sign Language letter “T”?  Seems simple enough.  Just flash that “T” for “trans” on the bus, in the movie theater, in the classroom, and see if any other fellow trans person is around and wants to communicate.

Except, I just realized, we can’t use that signal because there are non-trans people reading this blog and then they would know the super secret trans signal.  Besides, the “T” sign might also confuse people who communicate with A.S.L., so we’ll have to come up with a different ultra-secret super-duper trans-signal.  After we figure one out, you trans folks out there can look for it using your deluxe decoder rings.  Then we can start giving each other the high sign right out in plain sight.

Yeah, that’s what we need…  (I wondef if they’ll pick this up in London.)

–ATM

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25 Responses to What We Need

  1. Jason says:

    How about trans telepathy, we could all work on our psychic skills and reach out with our minds? Or, since you’re into science, you could nudge researchers into integrating skin cell color changes squid and cuttlefish use to communicate into our skin cells so we could covertly “flash” each other for recognition. Then, depending on the response we got, if any, open a dialogue. Decoder rings are so old school ATM. : )

  2. j says:

    Jason you are a genius! Patent that idea and you could be a millionaire when they use it in the next Bond movie.
    I’ve decided to evolve poor-man’s solutions that work in nations where you don’t have advanced technology.

    1) The Transman’s Song:
    You hum hummm … hmmm … dudum tee tum hummmm when you stand next to someone who is trans. It’s a great way to send a signal. If he sings back to you, bingo!
    ATM, can you please create the song on the banjo and upload it here. Jason you are a genius, so you can upload it on youtube. This way ALL transmen will know the song and recognize it.

    2) My mom:
    She’s quite deaf. So when she ‘whispers’, it’s for the whole room to hear. You whisper “Ma.. I think he’s trans“ .. She’ll go “TRANS… HUUH?…. What did you say TRANS?” If you promise to keep my mom for a really long time, I’ll pay her airfare to your country. BTW, my mom things TRANS is transistor radio.

    3) Bluetooth technology:
    You can send messages via bluetooth on your phone.

    4) Trans-words:
    You approach someone and say “Are you a TRANS… (*wink*)LATOR?” …. “I’m looking for a cinema hall… do you think watching the movie TRANS … (*Wink*) FORMERS is a good idea?” You cant do this if you wear dark glasses because you have to wink a lot.
    I used this one to much success while hinting for things when I was a kid. Later on I saw the same technique in a spy movie.

    Actually on a more serious note, you just walk up to the person and ask them the time or directions after introducing yourself. Try to keep the conversation going. Even if the person never comes out to you, you’ll have made a new acquaintance.

    • You’re funny too J. 🙂

      The comment about Bluetooth reminded me of something that I heard about – I don’t know if it’s true – that there is a device that some gay men use to let other gay men know they’re gay and looking for some romance. They put it in their pocket and it sends out a signal that, if received by a similar device in another guy’s pocket, makes them both vibrate. The wearer can feel the vibration, but it doesn’t make a sound so no one gets outed. The two guys with the vibrating pockets can detect and find each other that way. Maybe we could use something like that. (Hey Jason, how about a vibrating decoder ring??)

      As for your suggestion to strike up a conversation with the person, I’ve done that. I was on a business trip to Birmingham not too long ago and on the flight back, I was reading something while everyone was boarding, and I heard a voice say, “How are you doing, Sir?” and a guy sat down in the seat next to me. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone greet me so directly when taking a seat next to me on a plane, and never has anyone called me Sir when they did it. I looked up and there I was eye-to-eye with a man I immediately saw as transitioned FTM. I think it was his voice that hit me before I even looked at him. Some trans guys, when their voices drop once they go on T, have a particular timber to their voices, like Loren Cameron (http://www.lorencameron.com/). Then when I did turn to look at him, something about the structure of his face, something I can’t put my finger on, had me immediately thinking, “This guy is FTM!”

      In fact, he reminded me a lot of Loren Cameron because he was HUGE, as in huge muscles. He was obviously a body-builder. I was convinced he was a trans guy, the longer I studied him. My impression was that he ‘saw’ me as well as trans because of the way he greeted me, but I wasn’t sure. Could have been simple Southern hospitality. I was trying to figure out how to give the signal that I was FTM and see if he would reciprocate, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I asked him a couple questions, small talk stuff about where he was going and what he had done in Birmingham. He told me briefly about his job, but nothing more.

      Finally, I hit on an idea. I turned to him and said, “Sir, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you remind me of a body builder named Loren Cameron.” I figured, well, if the guy is FTM, he would likely (although not definitely) know who Loren Cameron is and this would be a signal that I know who Loren Cameron is and that I am FTM.

      He responded quickly with a comment, I don’t remember what it was, but it had nothing to do with Loren Cameron. We landed soon thereafter and as soon as the aisle in front of us cleared, he made a hasty exit off the plane. I’m still not sure whether he was trans or not or, if he was, whether he caught my “signal,” but if he did, he certainly didn’t want to talk about it.

      • j says:

        ATM thank you for that priceless anecdote!
        And I must share an incident when I got called “Sir” !!!

        I too was travelling cross country. To save money my parents and I decided to make the 28 hour journey by bus. En route, the driver stopped at a very rural Indian village. And all of us passengers alighted to stretch our legs.
        The moment we got off the bus, we were surrounded by village kids who rarely see city folk. They were very curious. They kept tugging at our clothes and wanting to touch us.
        It soon became clear that the only English word those children knew was “Sir”. I was so amused. They used the ‘Sir’ word on everyone regardless of gender. Grandmotherly ladies in voluminous Sarees were called ‘Sir’. My mom in a skirt was called ‘Sir’. I too was knighted by the kids “Sir, Sir!”. Before we could teach them the word “aunty” the driver said we had to leave. The last thing I remember was the kids chasing the bus down the dusty road, waving goodbye “Sir, Sir, Sir !”.

        As for the Bluetooth trick… it’s used by ladies of the night to solicit male tourists in Dubai and Egypt. Prostitution is illegal so they do it hush –hush with Bluetooth technology. Sit in a hotel coffee shop or mall and turn on the Bluetooth option in your phone and see what messages pop up.

        Back to your anecdote. I’m sure your greeter was a transman. Maybe he was bursting to come out to you. But so many things hold people back. Insecurities, living quietly with the knowledge for so long that even when the opportunity comes to express it, you feel you must be quiet.

        You are right we non-trans folks really cannot tell. And I hope it stays this way, given the prevalent attitudes towards trans people.

  3. I definitely find that I see trans people all the time now. Not even really looking for them, I guess I just notice all of the signals at once and my trans-dar goes off.

    “Oh hey, that guy is really short, he’s extremely young looking and has small hands.. is he trans?!”

    I’m pretty shy though, so I doubt that I’d ever go up to any of them even though sometimes I’d like to. Maybe if there was an international trans-signal it would make things a bit easier.

    Can we have badges that flip out of our wallets? It would be cool to feel like an agent of some really awesome top secret organization.

    • Badges that flip out of our wallets would be totally cool! But what about the ladies? I suppose they could have a flip-out badge that they keep in their wallets in their purses. That might work.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees trans folks all the time. I suppose we’re just more in tune to that than non-trans people.

  4. shanesdomain says:

    I believe because we are so concerned about our appearance that we can identify trans people out in public with great certainty. It’s almost like gay-dar…however in this case…I hate to say this (but it’s true) …our bodies give us away.

  5. Jack says:

    I’ve also thought it’d be nice if there were a way to non-invasively/non-judgmentally say “hey, I think the two of us are alike!” – especially since so many trans people are invisible.

    However, I’m afraid the ASL ‘T’ might not be the best choice for hand sign – it’s known as the ‘fig sign’ and is obscene in some cultures.

    • You know, I did that one, asked a person who I thought was trans if they were ‘like me.’ It was very early in my process and I was ignorant about the issues. In the end, it turned out badly. They freaked. That’s why I’m very careful now when approaching people that I perceive as trans.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the ‘fig sign.’ Will have to look up that one and see what it’s all about.

  6. Josh says:

    I read somewhere awhile back about making an introduction. It suggested stating the person looked familiar and asking if they were frinds with Harry Benjamin. If they replied yes, you’ll have your answer.

    • Hey Josh. Good one! I’m going to have to try that next time.

      • Len says:

        In gay bars over the years the “Hanky Code” has been used so that men who are searching for a specific kind of sexual partner (say they are a top and like leather, they would wear a black bandanna in their right pocket) could easily find someone who was also interested (a bottom who was also into leather would wear a black bandanna in the left pocket).
        So my idea is to make a bandanna that’s split down the middle pink and blue. If you’re looking to hook up with a FTM you would put the bandanna in your pocket with the pink on left blue or right (vise versa for MTF) and to find a FTM you’d just have to find the guy with a bandanna in his left pocket that was pink/blue.
        So maybe for a secret symbol (since i know not everyone can get away with wearing a bandanna to work) we could make lapel pins that are pink on one side blue on the other, and if your MTF just flip it over so that it’s blue then pink. Hopefully all the cis people will think we’re just stylish lapel pin wearing folks.

  7. Jay says:

    Back in the 60’s gay men used a pinky ring on their left pinky finger as a sign to other gay men in public. In the 70’s, a small earring was used, again by gay men, to say “Hey, I’m gay!!” to other gay men in public. One thing I do know about wearing things or super-duper secret signs and such is that, the cover on that secrecy gets blown might fast.

    I was at a convenience store not long ago when a relatively short man who appeared to be in his mid 30s, small hands and feet, with a “just starting to fill in nicely” beard of an older teenage boy, walked in. We spotted each other instantly and locked eyes. No words were ever exchanged, just that long knowing “I know you are like me” look… we smiled, never losing that eye contact, nodded our heads and that was it…

    Perhaps we could all get a tattoo…. a stylized TM… something tasteful, but only we would know what it meant… kind of like the pink triangle, only so much cooler…. and if someone doesn’t want a permanent reminder on their skin of that aspect of themselves… we could make buttons that you could wear on your collar…. ;o)

    J

    • So are you saying that back in the ’60s, gay men had secret pinky decoder rings? 🙂
      That’s cool…

      So you didn’t talk to the guy in the store? Well, I guess you did in a way.

      • Jay says:

        You know that eye contact, the smile and the nod were really a nice exchange. I felt pretty good. Perhaps had I not just completed my transaction as he was walking in the door and was about to depart, perhaps if he had grabbed his pack of gum or whatever and stood in back of me waiting to check out as I was checking out I might have struck up a minor conversation. I have been known to do that standing in line at convenience stores before.

        And yes, gay men had super secret pinky decoder rings… they were very cool until the rest of the world started wearing them too.

  8. Denise V says:

    I’m thinking of a ring with writing cut all the way through using tribal letters. You could use the letter T by itself or Trans or FTM etc. I like the idea of tribal letters as we are a tribe of sorts and the letters are so stylized that most folks wouldn’t recognize that it was writing in the first place.

    Sample cut-away ring that’s tasteful http://tinyurl.com/2bzml94
    Sample Tribal Letters http://tinyurl.com/2g7rmb2

    And for those that are out and proud and silly may I suggest this http://tinyurl.com/2b55p8v

    D.

  9. Mac says:

    Like the tribal cut away idea. It would also be great to have for our younger population to know a “safe” person to talk to. This blog reminds me of an experience I had last summer. I taught a summer camp to a group of 5th-8th graders for the instructor who had to bail out just before camp began. Two weeks of Engineering projects for the students to design, build, and compete. One particular student, I will call B for a boy name, had my curiosity. By looks, dress, and mannerism I could not tell whether B was male or female. My first inclination was to offer my hand and shoulder if needed. Don’t know why, just felt this child needed to know acceptance. B sat and worked with the females, yet in my mind at that time I kept thinking B was a boy in a girls body. I found I was reflecting on my childhood. Wanting so much to be a boy but not always being accepted as a boy. Wearing my hair as short and as much as a boys cut as was possible for the time and dressing in boys clothing as much as possible until I could buy my own clothes. What is this childs’ wish? Where does this child want to be? Is this child comfortable working in the group? Should I confront this child? Should I hug this child and offer assurance that it is okay, that everything will be ok? None of the kids in the class ever gave B any grief, teasing, or acknowledgement of having a male name, yet hanging with the girls. So, I left it alone, though every day I found myself studying this child, wondering what path lay ahead and hoping that the world will be more accepting and open to B’s future. B was quick to be sure I used the name on the roster, offering no explanation, just, my name is B. End of conversation. I still think of B every once in a while, wondering if I should have made more of an effort to talk, to let B know that it is okay to be you. Good Luck B, remember the world is yours!

    B came into my life for a reason. Our relationship may have only been a couple of weeks and it is likely we will not meet again, yet B made an impact in my life. Since camp, I have spent more time reflecting on my own childhood. You see, my grandma told me several times when I was growing up that “You were born before your time.” I often wondered what she meant and failed to ask. I wonder if she knew. One thing is for sure, she accepted me for who I was, no questions asked.

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