My brain fissures at the junction of expectation and reality.
My surroundings tilt. Diesel engines cough. The freeway din blares and florescent lights buzz. Everything will be different now. This man plans to beat my ass for offending his sexual and gender sensibilities. I taste gasoline in my mouth.
Hot pink with black piping along the ruffles, the shirt sang an ode to men of my childhood, of corduroy, satin and velvet, wide lapels and flared trousers. Men manly enough to wear a pink-ruffled shirt. On testosterone less than a year, the shirt grabbed my hand and spoke with a silver tongue. Follow me, young lad, and I will teach you about men—things you have never imagined!
A male friend had offered to help me shop for men’s clothing in Chicago’s secondhand shops—an activity I had never done even as a woman—when we found it. He encouraged me to try it on.
I knew it would not fit. My gangly, long arms rarely fitted contemporary clothing—male or female—let alone a second-hand shirt. But the wily shirt had other ideas in mind. First one arm, then the other. Each sleeve ended at its respective wrist bone.
“In the name change of _____,” the clerk read out. At the podium across from the judge, I answered affirmatively in a voice of a thirteen-year-old boy.
Having sworn to tell the truth, the judge inquired why I sought to change my name. Leaning into the microphone, I spied the black piping and said, “Imafemaletomaletranssexualheretoobtainmylegalchangeofname.”
He masked his surprise well, asked me a few more questions, signed the name change request and concluded our encounter with, “I wish you all the best young man.”
Instead of my usual fast-food restaurant, I pull into a truck stop on my weekly road trip from Chicago to Detroit. I walk into the men’s room, a space rife with the thrust and tug of men’s lust and hostility, a space I struggle to negotiate. A very tall man—a giant, in fact—skinny and white, with a salt and pepper beard looks up from his piss stream and glowers as he continues to pee. Big mistake to come in here wearing this shirt. Quickly, I enter a stall, wait until he leaves, relieve my bladder, and proceed to the sink.
The exterior door shuts behind me. The humidity hits my face and I begin the short walk to my car.
There he is again!
And he’s walking towards me!
He lifts his hand. I proceed forward a few steps then plant my right foot behind me and this is it, I’m going to die here in northern Indiana in a filthy truck stop because I was too stupid to change my pink ruffled tuxedo shirt and he is going to kill me and and no one will help me and the paramedics won’t treat me when they find out I’m transsexual .
I stared at the elegant black piping sitting perfectly on my wrist bone. In that shabby, cramped secondhand store on Broadway Avenue, the shirt chose me. Only later would I learn of the shirt’s talismanic properties.
In the judge’s chambers, the shirt worked some mysterious aura. When the judge ordered the clerk to say my name, he must have asked himself, How could such a young-looking man in such a far out shirt possibly possess such a feminine name?
He could have denied my request or done something worse. But he chose compassion. I’m convinced it was unparalleled, protective juju of the shirt swayed him. How could it not? Who but a female-to-male transsexual in the girlboy-man phase of transition—desperate, alone but fearless—would wear such an outrageous garment to such a solemn proceeding?
The man makes a fist. I feel stuck, cannot run. The fumes of gasoline in my mouth.
Then extends his index finger—what, is he going to poke my eye out?—and points at my shirt.
“Man! I love that shirt!” Assumptions explode away from his fulsome praise. “I wore one of those at my wedding thirty-five years ago. Haven’t seen one in years!”
He drops his finger, relaxes his hands, and leans back on his heels.
“Man, you gotta a lot of balls to wear a pink one, though!”