The woman on the bus, the elephant in the room

I had an appointment at the Sandyford clinic the other week. It’s where you go to get your official trans membership badge, where you learn the secret trans handshake and where you’re issued with your copy of the sinister transgender agenda. If you go often enough you get a free Richard Littlejohn voodoo doll.

Gallows humour aside, it’s a place many trans people go because it’s the only gender identity clinic in the West of Scotland. The likelihood that you’ll be there at the same time as several other trans women is very high; the likelihood that you’ll be heading there at the same time as other trans women is high too. So it was hardly a huge surprise when I got on the bus and an older trans woman got on after me.

If she’s reading this, I hope I’m wrong about you. I hope your life is full of joy and wonder, that the days are just packed and that everything I assumed about you was wrong. Because when I looked at you, I jumped to conclusions, all of them negative.

You looked miserable in a shapeless coat and a dated wig. You avoided making eye contact with anybody, spent the short trip staring at the floor, your body language submissive. Don’t look at me. 

You looked like somebody who’s learned that to be noticed is to attract the wrong kind of attention. 

What I should have done when we got off the bus was to smile in recognition. Not in a “you’re busted!” way or to strike up a conversation; nobody feels particularly chatty on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Just an friendly acknowledgement from one marginalised person to another: I see you.

What I actually did was to distance myself.

I distanced myself because there were three young men hanging around the traffic lights and I was scared they’d notice me; notice you; notice us. Two trans women, ripe for mockery, maybe more. So I walked a little faster, the clip-clop of my heels faster than your footsteps in your flats. I chose self-preservation over solidarity, and of course the danger was entirely imagined. The men looked right through me, and right through you too. 

I distanced myself because I was scared you’re a mirror. In my head I see two futures. In one, I’m happy. Still young, ish; fun and funny and fashionable and fulfilled with a loving family and a really hot girlfriend. That’s who I was trying to be that day in my skinny jeans, tunic top, Primark boots and take-no-shit swagger.

And in the other I’m one of the transsexuals I remember from 1980s documentaries, miserable in unflattering florals, mooching round a tatty C&A while security guards stare. 

Dowdy. Downtrodden. 

I don’t fear much any more, but I fear that.

You looked downtrodden, and God help me I acted like that was contagious.

I distanced myself because like many people of my age and older, I grew up in a culture where trans women (and it’s always the women) were portrayed as pitiful or perverts or both. Some of that stuck. You can’t swim in polluted water and come out clean. It’s why it took me so long to be proud of who I am, and why I wasn’t proud enough to walk too close to you.

I’m deeply ashamed of that. It’s not who I want to be, who I strive to be. Everybody has the voice urging them to throw others under the bus to save their own skin, but I try not to listen to it: I don’t want to be the one with Anne Frank in the attic shouting “she’s in the loft!” whenever I hear footsteps on the path outside. And yet all I needed to do was smile, and I didn’t do it.

If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. You deserve better. We all do.