I was nervous when I arrived. Had my information been right? Was she used to trans patients? Would she be supportive and helpful or weirded out? Would this be a waste of time or the freeing experience I hoped it would be?
I looked around the lobby. It was small and well furnished. A large coffee table occupied the center of the room, surrounded on two sides by a small sofa and an armchair, which for some reason made me think of my grandfather. On the opposite side of the room, there was a water cooler and several large unopened refill containers. On a table near the door was the item I was looking for.
"Matt 12:00, 6 pages," read a yellow sticky note affixed to some papers clipped onto a clipboard. Yellow seemed like a bad omen, sort of a boring choice of office supplies.
The name on the sticky didn't have the same pang of regret, didn't leave the bad taste in my mouth that it usually did. It felt more like a farewell to an old friend and for a moment I could understand that look I had seen in the eyes of those close to me on occasion when they realise I really am a girl, like a fond memory of a friend you never got to say goodbye to one last time before life swept you both apart.
I sat down on the sofa and filled out the paperwork. I took my time; I knew I had come earlier than I needed to. It was all standard medical and legal histories and explanations. I have filled out similar forms plenty of times, hundreds might not even be an exaggeration.
One question, "What brought you into the office at this time," made me smile a little. There were several answers: A lifetime of lying to myself and others in order to protect society from the truth and myself from the violent recoil that truth often invoked? Four years of trying to find a mental health professional that my insurance would cover and that would see me without me having to try to kill myself first? (I have literally been told that in order to be admitted to a behavioral health center I would have to attempt suicide. Does that seem like something you should say to someone mentally unstable enough to want to be admitted to a psych ward?)
I settled on answering with, "gender identity and transition."
I finished the paperwork 20 minutes before my appointment and decided to use the small restroom in the corner of the lobby area. On the door was the sign which is often used to designate a unisex lavatory: a picture of a person in a dress with long hair next to a person with short hair wearing trousers and in between the two silhouetted figures: a solid, vertical line. Every time I see one of these signs a little voice in my head laughs maniacally and wonders to itself, what would life be like if the world realised how imaginary that line really was.
I finished up in the restroom and got some water in a paper cup. Time seemed to drag on as I waited those last 10 minutes on the sofa. Magazines I really had no interest in were strewn across the coffee table which lie between me and the door to the room in which the therapist I had come to see was currently seeing another patient. Her 11 o'clock. Maybe she really would be understanding. Surely I wasn't the craziest person she'd met in that room.
Finally, the door opened and I got my first glimpse of the office proper. It looked equally homey and well furnished, leather sofas, mahogany shelves and desk. I hardly noticed the other patient leaving as the therapist looked toward me, smiling, and introduced herself. "I'm Laura."
I shook her hand in a manner that I'm sure would have gotten me stern looks from all those people who have tried to teach me over the years to no avail how to handshake properly. I was too busy trying not to faint or run screaming out of the building to care about the etiquette of shaking hands.
I had come out to plenty of people over the years, I have been telling friends and family that I am actually a female with varying degrees of articulation and success since I was about four years old. I had not, however, come out to a perfect stranger.
I tried to distract myself from the mounting anxiety by looking around the room as she motioned me to one of the sofas and took a seat opposite me. I was pleased to see on her desk a stack of sticky notes of a variety of colours; she just happened to be on yellow. That was comforting for some reason.
Laura asked me about my job first, probably noticing how nervous I was. She'd glanced through the papers I'd filled out while I was getting seated so she probably already read my reason for being there. I found myself sort of brushing off the job question, answering quickly and in few details once I realised my issues were no longer a secret to her.
Over the next fifty minutes she asked me questions about how long I've known, my experiences with gender, confusion when I had learned about intersex and third gender, and finally what my "real name" was. It was a great feeling having someone who was, I assume, cisgendered understand the importance of that word, "real." It was also very moving to me to find that she required no explanation. That is something I have never encountered, even among trans people.
We talked about reactions of friends and family, difficulties presented due to the taboo nature of transsexuality, of the fear of rejection at work and the lack of legal rights for transgender people in the US, about clothes, appearances, passing, and the inevitability of being read. I cried several times. Not the built-up explosion-cry I often have when talking or thinking about these things, but just a half hour or more of carefree eye dampness, unabashed tears born from constant struggle. The freedom to just let them sit there on my face without shame was exhilarating.
I walked away from it all feeling lighter, like when you get a haircut and your head feels like it'll float away off your neck, only it was my whole body. I could feel the hope of the future on my spirit like the rays of the sun on my skin.