[The above picture shows me, not at an auto parts store. It’s just a recent picture].
I live in a small town east of Reno, in the middle of the northern Nevada desert. On the surface, it’s very rednecky. You would not register surprise if you walk past a random business parking lot and every vehicle therein is a pickup truck. It happens often. A local poster advertised a gun show at the local convention center, with the extra enticement of “free beer!” That pretty much sums up the spirit here.
On the plus side, crime tends to be low, people tend to be honest, and government red-tape issues as to business tend to be low, so here I am.
After I came out as a trans girl, I figured it’s futile trying to live here, so I was already half-way packed up and with some of my stuff moved to Las Vegas, when it occurred to me that, rather than assuming the worst, I should give the locals here at least the opportunity to be nice to me.
As it turns out, most people here have been super-nice and supportive of me even though I am, obviously, a trans girl living openly as such.
Shortly after I came out, I would typically be wearing androgynous clothing but girly hair and some jewelry & make-up — not too much, but enough to culturally convey “I’m a girl” even while having a masculine facial structure — in other words, a trans girl, openly so. Yet, at the time, I also looked sexy to some guys. I know this because in that same general time-frame, I was doing escorting. I was sometimes making $100, $200 and once even more than $300 per hour — and this was literally selling time, not sexual services. Finding guys who thought I looked hot was not a problem. Not that I made this sort of money often, but every now and then, the extra money and appreciation were nice. My main revenue was from my software development business, so the escorting was more for fun than money (and yes, such revenue is taxable, regardless of how much fun it is to make it). Anyway: as it turns out, being sexy as a trans girl entails some problems.
The people who have been nice to me are vastly too numerous to track, so I gave up on that, and I just kept track of the people who were mean to me. There were few.
Two or three years ago, I had a bad experience, albeit non-violent. I walked into one of the three local auto parts stores in town. Two teenage boys, aged eighteen or so, were standing near the counter.
A social recipe that I used to employ is: give people a chance, and start with a sincere smile. So, I gave both of them a friendly smile. They each looked horrified.
This might be a good time to detour into a relevant concept: homophobia. It’s basically where someone feels an attraction to someone else and he thinks that makes him gay and it deeply bothers him — so he tries to be mean to whomever he is attracted to. It’s basically the asshole-adult version behavior of the little elementary-school boy who is mean to the little girl on whom he has a crush. So, if someone homophobic is attracted to me, then he goes into an internal meltdown and if his friends are around, he feels the need to act mean towards me to hide his embarrassment. That’s how many trans girls get beat up or killed. So, looking hot to a homophobe can be dangerous.
In this case, it wasn’t dangerous, but certainly unpleasant. The two boys started to make mean comments, and one of them loudly sympathized with the guy who worked behind the parts counter, since (they said) he was stuck there and had to deal with the freak show (meaning: me) whereas they were free to go. The parts counter guy just looked awkward, but a parts counter lady spoke up, to her immense credit, and basically made it clear to the boys that their rudeness wasn’t appreciated. That meant a lot to me.
Over the years, I’ve seen this pattern (of me trying to smile disarmingly at guys and getting a mean reaction) repeated so many times that I’m not willing to risk it any more. So, nowadays, I avoid eye contact with guys. I do hear what they say — in fact, I actively listen, in case there’s a cue that I should anticipate violence and get ready to defend myself. Even without making eye contact, I hear mean comments now and then, but it’s almost always when the guy is among his friends. Solo, guys tend to leave me alone. In my opinion, this fits the homophobia premise well.
I save my smiles for girls, and that typically has a great success ratio of smiles radiated vs. received. I’ve also graduated to wearing a more feminine style of clothing.
Yesterday, I showed up at another of the local auto parts stores. I was wearing elegant 4″ high black ankle boots, tight-fitting black slacks, a black t-shirt, and a purple top that would have been a sweatshirt top except that it had a more-elegant cut. My boobs are no longer indiscernible and I don’t need to wear a bra so I don’t. My hair had been done the day before, so I had a blonde mane of pretty hair surrounding my face. One rednecky customer pointedly looked me up and down. He didn’t say anything. I ignored him. The rest of the crew behind the counter were all young guys, mostly a new group whom I haven’t yet gradually won over by being nice and savvy. Inwardly, I groaned.
I’m fixing the fuel injection system on a 1998 Audi A8 car that I own. It’s a rare car, so the parts had had to be specially ordered. This had been done, and according to the computer, the parts were somewhere in the building, but nobody could find them. Minutes went by as the guys rummaged and became ever more embarrassed. I stood there, being patient. How much this was appreciated didn’t register on me until I glanced up at one of the counter guys walking past. I hadn’t planned to make eye contact but I did. He looked back at me and gave me a sincere, nice smile. As it turned out, he wasn’t the only guy with that attitude. Soon, all three guys were being exceptionally nice. Plus, they finally found my parts. I made a little joke about how I’m supposed to be the blonde there, making the silly mistakes — not them. They smiled at that, too. As I left, I chose to look back benevolently, though I felt like a girl in a perfume ad, looking over her shoulder at someone. The counter guy who’d smiled at me was just standing there, doing nothing but looking at me with a sort of dreamy smile as I was sashaying out the door. We made eye contact again, I smiled at him, and then I was gone. Good encounter.
Next, I needed parts for which the only option was the third auto parts store in town. In I walked. There were two counter workers. The lady noticed my unusual accent and struck up a friendly conversation. The guy was mostly quiet until the lady had left and then he became a little more chatty, though with the utmost professionalism. He looks like a younger version of Will Smith, the actor. He looked up my phone number for frequent-shopper benefits and found my previous name. I’d changed it as part of coming out as a trans girl. I explained how that used to be my name, but if he would please edit it into non-existence I’d appreciate it. This in turn led to a conversation about me being a trans girl in a rednecky town, which I gather has similar challenges as being a black guy in the same rednecky town. He said some benevolent, wise and encouraging things, and handed me my parts. This made it an even better visit than the one to the previous store.
All in all, as a trans girl, it’s a difficult journey at first, but it soon becomes much better. By now it’s downright nice, though I’m always socially on guard when I’m out and about. This has become second nature to me, and I’m okay with it.