Bumping-Into-Old-Acquaintances-After-Transition-Mila-Madison-The-Weekly-Rant-Transgender-Universe. - What happens when a transgender woman runs into someone they used to know and the person has no idea who she is. - The Weekly Rant with Mila Madison

There is nothing quite as awkward as having someone you know not recognizing who you are. For a transgender person however, this can be a common occurrence. Nevertheless, it is still strange when it happens, particularly when you are asked if you are somehow related to your old self. I have bumped into people I went to school with who didn’t recognize me, old friends, and I even had some distant relatives who didn’t realize who the hell I was. I literally bumped right into one girl I used to know as I was entering a ladies room in a restaurant, and nothing. She was the bartender there and even served me drinks without recognizing whom I was. Either way I am usually on guard for such situations as it is just something we deal with as transgender people.

“I had the feeling that he didn’t quite recognize me as he approached, and I already started to wonder where this interaction was headed.”

So there I was at work when an old coworker who I had not seen in a few years came to my desk to ask me a question. I had the feeling that he didn’t quite recognize me as he approached, and I already started to wonder where this interaction was headed. I was prepared for the difficult conversation I was about to have once the lightbulb went off for him. I braced myself for the encounter as I started to go through my responses in my head. All this was going on in a matter of the ten seconds it took him to walk over.

Bumping-Into-Old-Acquaintances-After-Transition-The-Weekly-Rant-Transgender-Universe - What happens when a transgender woman runs into someone they used to know and the person has no idea who she is. - The Weekly Rant with Mila Madison

He reached my desk and he introduced himself as if I were a new employee he had not met before. Now mind you I have worked with this person for 13 years, however it has been a couple since we were on the same shift. I continued to anticipate that light bulb going off in his head as he asked me my name, but it just didn’t happen, well at least not in the way that I thought it would. I thought I was prepared for anything, but he asked me if I were married to the former me or somehow related to the former me being that we had the same last name, and I just froze. Now I am usually pretty quick on my feet with these types of things, but this time I was a complete blank. I mean, I know I obviously look different these days, no argument there, but given how often I am misgendered or accidentally deadnamed at work; I was not prepared for an answer as to whether or not I was married to myself.

“I just assumed everyone at my job already knew about my transition.”

So now I am blanked out. Nothing is popping into my head and this guy is looking at me as if I have some serious issues. I could have come up with anything, “He is my cousin,” or a simple “No,” or even an honest “We are one and the same,” but I was a complete blank. After a really long period of nothing coming out of my mouth, he just simply apologized as he felt that maybe he was getting too personal and he walked away. Now as my brain started working again I thought that maybe he did realize who I was after my freezing episode, but he didn’t. In the coming days, he continued to treat me as if I were this new employee that he was just getting to know. I just assumed everyone at my job already knew about my transition. I have also noticed a difference between the way I am treated by cisgender guys who know I am transgender compared to guys who don’t know. It is some sort of built in societal vibe they give off, and they probably don’t even realize they are doing it, but it is something I notice from many of the men I work with. It could also just be in my own head, or perhaps a little of both. Regardless, I wasn’t getting such a vibe from this person.

So as the days continue to go by I am left to wonder whether I should just tell him or not. In one way it is extremely validating that he does not see the old person. I wish everyone at work saw me the way he does to be honest. On the other hand, I do feel guilty over not saying anything. There are much bigger problems for us to deal with as transgender people than whether or not someone knows who you are. In the end, I decided I am going to keep the clock running on this one and see where it goes. I am sure at some point someone may say something about me to him, and I will be ready to have that awkward conversation. For now I just want to enjoy the moment where I don’t have to explain my transgender existence and be able to laugh at myself. After all, there are so many other things a transgender girl can worry about.

  • In a different context, there’s this: When I run into someone from my past who has learned of my transgender status, I often get those “wow you do drag really well” comments.

    While I harbor no issues with those in the drag community, I myself don’t perform “in drag” so that label is not really me at all. I know those who say things like that don’t realize that there is in fact a difference between transgender and drag performers, but it’s pretty awkward to try to steer that conversation back on track in thirty seconds or less.

    Suddenly being thrust into the role of teaching someone about who you really are as opposed to who they guess I am is not really all it’s cracked up to be.

  • Erica Kensho

    My advice is this. The less emphasis you put on your trans status, the less the rest of the world will.

    In the first few years of my transition, EVERYTHING was tinged with my being trans… every interaction, every excursion into public, every phone call, every future plan… hovering above me was this cloud of “being trans.” I rarely had two days in a row where being trans wasn’t a source of, if not stress, distraction.

    Sometime around the fourth or fifth year, something just sort of changed. I became comfortable in my skin, and my identity. It had been some time since I’d been misgendered, my life had settled into a routine. Pretty much everyone I associated with either knew about my transition, or just knew me as Erica. Soon, I became focused on the same basic concerns that I had before my transition… did I pay all my bills this month? What do I need from the grocery store? I really need to call my (friend, sister, accountant, etc.) In other words, LIFE.

    Here and there things pop up that force me to refer to my pre-transition life, but I treat these things as trivial. If someone brings up my past, I tend to just minimize it… “Eh… I made some changes. Ancient history. So how are you doing?” If someone really wants to learn about trans issues, I might spend a few minutes answering their questions, but for the most part, I don’t want to talk about it anymore than I want to talk about the leg I broke back in 1995. It was a big deal at the time, it took a long time and a lot of work to recuperate from, but it’s more or less irrelevant to my life today.

    The only place where being trans really matters now is at the doctor, or when I interact with people specifically over trans issues. If I decide to start dating, then I will have some new issues to deal with, but I’ll handle that when the time comes.

    My life today is pretty much that of an ordinary, middle-age woman just trying to find her place in the world with millions of other ordinary, middle-age women.

    Of course, you’ve chosen to immerse yourself via your website, support work and advocacy, in the pressing issues facing the trans community today, so separating your own status as a trans person from the work you do is virtually impossible. Only you can decide if this is right for you, but it will limit your ability to sort of “put transition behind you” and just live “Mila’s life”, but I am really digressing here.

    Regarding your co-worker, it boils down to one thing… what works best for YOU? What is going to make you feel comfortable, and not feel anxiety every time you have to interact with this person. All of us who are trans spent years, often decades, deferring our own comfort to accommodate the norms of society. Once you chose to transition, that particular contract was broken. Now, you get to do what is right for you.

  • Paula Minnie Ellis

    I find it’s just easier to treat my life as if I was manufactured 4 years ago, with implanted memories of a past I never lived. I am almost completely disconnected from my old life. The four or five people who are with me now from my past are part of my present life – we have memories together that are new. The rest? It’s just easier to pretend that it didn’t happen, both for me, and for those who see me as a revenant of someone they once knew.

  • JennaPowell

    Several years back we bumped into an old neighbour who had moved away before I’d transitioned. We’ve bumped into him a few times between him moving and my transitioning and chatted, this was going to be an interesting experience.
    As we were waiting in the checkout queue at the supermarket he came along and stopped to talk to my partner and son. I was facing away from him so he didn’t notice me.
    Listening to him talking to my family it became obvious that he hadn’t recognised me. My partner’s reaction just had to be seen, as she talked to him she kept looking towards me waiting for me to do or say something but I didn’t. Eventually he asked her how I was doing. It was at that point I turned around and announced “I’m doing OK, although I’ve gone through some changes”. He reacted really well, there was a bit of awkwardness to the conversation, which may be for other reasons than him finding out I’d transitioned because of things that we’ve found out since.

    I also got in touch with a school friend via Facebook a few years ago. Her response when I contacted her was to ask if I was my own sister. She took the news of my transition really well too but it was interesting how the first assumption is that you are a partner or family member of the person that they used to know.