My Two Transgender Encounters

I’ve known a couple of people who these days would be called “transgender,” though I’m not sure if they themselves would embrace the term.

Using the grammatical term ”gender” as not-quite-a-synonym for “sex” creates an anti-concept  that confuses any discussion in which it’s used. “Transgender” inherits the confusion caused by “gender” and adds some of its own. But we’re stuck with it, at least until the social pendulum swings back the other way, probably over-correcting as usual.

At any rate, the two transgender people I’ve encountered seemed a little offbeat but no more so than a lot of other people.

In college, my casual friends included Jerry and Roger. They lived in the same dorm as I did, showed up at some of the same campus events, and seemed pretty ordinary. But if they were casual friends of mine, they were inseparable friends of each other. You never saw Jerry without Roger or vice versa.

Until one night. I rarely go to parties, but there I was. And in walked Jerry — without Roger. Instead, on his arm was an absolutely stunning blonde woman. And you know the rest of the story. Jerry introduced me to his date, and as I leaned closer, I got a better look at her face — that is, Roger’s face. I mean, it was fine, but my expression must have been hilarious. I suspect I wasn’t the first. We had a good laugh, and got on with the party. Jerry and Roger mingled, while I did my usual thing of standing in a corner wishing for the party to be over.

More recently, I often went to a local cafeteria for dinner. I haven’t been there lately, since I’ve lost 40 pounds and I’d like to keep them off. But another one of the regular customers seemed like an elderly woman, decked out in some kind of old-fashioned Southern belle getup. She wore one of those great big floppy hats, along with a veil like I’d seen on some old ladies, so you couldn’t see her face. I’d never seen “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but from what I’d absorbed through social osmosis, she looked like a Blanche DuBois type.

Apart from the Southern belle thing, which was kind of odd, I never paid much attention until one day when I was behind her in the cafeteria line. And I saw her hands. That is, I saw his hands — no question about that, any more than there’s a question about the actual sex of the women’s powerlifting champion shown in the photo above. As far as I know, nobody ever bothered him / her or wished him ill. I wondered what kind of angst or personal experience led to his choice of apparel, but we’ve all got our quirks, and his was more benign than a lot of them.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Foreword Reviews called it “intriguing and vital to living.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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