When a stranger stares, it isn’t always what it seems

 (<a href='https://www.bigstockphoto.com/image-38890/stock-photo-red-wine-poured'>CJ</a>/Big Stock Photo)

(CJ/Big Stock Photo)

Through the month of June, we are asking LGBTQ readers to submit essays about experiences in their lives that have brought them pride, happiness, and triumph. Email speakeasy@whyy.org to contribute.

The road to transition for the transgender individual can be long and hard with many ups and downs. At times it seems as if there are more downs than ups: There is an expectation that when you are finally finished with all the psychological monitoring and the surgical procedures that everything will be wonderful. For me, anyway, it was an anti-climax.

All through the process most people you are in close contact with are understanding of your situation, be they friends or professional colleagues. However the world you re-enter does not always treat you kindly. Challenges to your authenticity can come in different forms: at work, in social settings, at times when people don’t feel constrained by societal niceties.

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It’s all too easy after one or two bruising encounters to tend to assume the worst.

My friend Marie took me out for dinner about a month post-surgery to celebrate the end of my journey. I chose a local restaurant. Had I known it was restaurant week, I’d have picked somewhere else, because it turned out to be very noisy. However, a corner table had been held for us, which helped to some extent. We got out of our coats, ensconced ourselves, ordered cocktails, and began going through the menu. It was extensive. This was a tapas restaurant, and we were enthused over the choices.

At one point when one of the wait staff came with iced water I looked up and saw that a woman, one of a party of four at the next table, appeared to be staring at me. I ignored her and went back to the menu.

When I looked up to order wine, I again noticed that the same woman still appeared to be staring. Again I just ignored her.

When the wine arrived and the server poured a little for me to taste, I again noticed the same thing. By this time I was getting a little irritated, but Marie said to just ignore her; it’s just how some people were. With that, the food started arriving and we ate and chatted.

We were debating whether or not we dared to have dessert or take the sensible road and just share the cheese plate when the other party were paying their check and getting ready to leave. The same woman got up and came over to me.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Can I talk to you?”

Oh Lord, I thought. Here it comes, the obligatory sermon and God hates you … “Sure,” I said dryly. (I didn’t want to spoil Marie’s evening with a row).

She said, “I feel that I’ve made you uncomfortable, and I want to apologize for that.”

I told her that it was ok. “Really, it’s fine. I’m getting used to being stared at,” I replied and gave her a brief summary of my situation.

“Oh my God, it’s nothing to do with that,” she said. “I just love your accent. I couldn’t stop listening to you talking. Your voice is so soft, so melodic. It’s beautiful. Where are you from?”

I gulped. “Scotland.”

“Oh. Thank you,” she said. “I spent part of my honeymoon there a long time ago and loved it. Your accent just brought back so many memories.” Then she smiled warmly and asked, “How are things going for you?”

I said, “Just fine. I had surgery about a month ago, and things are good.”

“That’s great,” she said. Her next comment floored me. “Here, let me give you a hug” — which she then proceeded to do.

She told me where she was from in New Jersey, said that she was in the city regularly and she’d love to meet for coffee or lunch. She took out a business card, scribbled her private cell number on the back, and handed it to me, saying that if I ever needed a friend, I should not be shy about calling. Then with a conspiratorial wink, she, her husband, and their guests were gone.

I was sitting there, dumbfounded by the way this had happened, when the waiter came over to our table with another bottle of wine. “Ladies,” he said, “this is with the compliments of the lady who was sitting beside you. She had me put it on her check.”

Marie turned to me chuckling and said, “That was a learning moment for you. Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”

Much later, I walked down to Penn’s Landing. Looking out over the city and the river, I really felt it and cried. That was a moment of real joy. I’d faced none of the stupid questions that trans people are confronted with, nothing about my gender, but rather a friendly invitation to talk about my accent, who I was, where I came from and the history of my country.

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