Gender Uncertainty

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to blog, as I’ve been working on my long-term nonfiction project. But I wanted to share an interaction I had with someone recently. It sprang out of a recent visit to the grocery store:

The young cashier in the checkout line at Price Chopper scans my Chobani yogurt cups, Clif bars, single packs of tuna fish, produce, and other items. As the products move down the conveyer belt and the scanner beeps continuously, I study the physical features of the cashier, noticing that the person seems to straddle the line between male and female.

The cashier’s name tag begins with the letter T., and an older woman with blond hair and glasses stands next to him, training him. The young cashier wears earrings and a red polo shirt with a Price Chopper patch over his chest, and his distinguishing characteristics are large breast tissue, short, spiky black hair with bristly sideburns, and a soft, pink face with stubble on the cheeks and upper lip.

As I watch T. work, I keep wondering: Is he a woman transitioning to man, a man transitioning to a female, or a teenager with a hormonal imbalance or another endocrine condition?

If I had to guess I would say the person is a woman transitioning to a male, but uncertainty remains.

It seems obvious, whatever the case, that he/she wants to escape his or her present state of being. In this age of heightened awareness about the LGBT community, with new pronouns used to describe human beings, I don’t know the proper way to refer to the young person who stands across from me.

Yet I recognize the person’s humanity, no matter which way he or she leans.

And I feel sympathy for this individual. I hope he/she does not get ridiculed or feel shame about his/her gender dysphoria. I hope the person has a significant other to share life’s burdens with, someone to lean on while the transitioning completes.

I am empathetic because of my own experience with gender neutrality, during my college years in the late 1980s and early ’90s when the same uncertainty followed me, as my high-pitched voice, epicene features, and body lacking sufficient testosterone made people question whether I was a he or a she, a man or a woman. During this period self-hatred simmered inside me when people would make the mistake of calling me “mam.”

Later that night, when I pull into my apartment parking lot, accompanied by my wife, Pam, and our one-year-old son, Colin, I ask Pam if she has any thoughts about the clerk, if she thinks he’s a guy or a girl.

She says the person’s appearance is intentional, that he’s created a certain look because he’s gay. But she is still not certain about the gender. However, while we get out of the car, she says, “He was very good—very good customer service.” I guess that’s true. And I realize we can’t alter our looks, but our behavior and our job performance are gender neutral and within our ability to control.

And what I’ve learned from my nearly 50 years on this earth is that you have to deal with each individual at face value, person to person, and let all the identifying characteristics—age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation—fall away. I try to approach each person as a blank slate, a vessel for the spirit inside.

And not to pull God into this blog, but as a Christian, I strive (but often fail) to view each person through the eyes of Christ—looking at him or her with compassion and love—seeing everything disappear except the beauty and the value of the person’s humanity.

And I’m thankful for this divine lesson reinforced to me in a grocery store checkout aisle.

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