The way I see myself, my confidence, is tied directly to how other people see me. More precisely, how successful people see me.
One of the clients from my office, Candace, owned a printing company. She has been the most successful person yet that has taken an interest in me. I was out at work so she knew I was transsexual, which has been a very very important thing to disclose if I don’t want to possibly get spit on, yelled at, or beaten up. She was 34. She liked me. She took me out to lunch to an Italian bistro with candles and white tablecloths. The waiter gave us a table right next to the window. We talked about work, gossiped about coworkers, and made general smalltalk for about fifteen minutes after we ordered and before the food came. She made me feel important. She didn’t try to hide her attraction to me, and neither did I.
“So where are you from?” she asked.
“I was raised in Orange County.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“Yes, I would like that,” I replied.
“To where?” she asked.
“I don’t know, probably New York.”
“That’s where everyone wants to go. Do you have a specific reason? A real reason?” As she said that, she smirked and closed her eyes slightly and stared directly into mine. As if just wanting to get out of Los Angeles wasn’t good enough for her.
I tried to be less demure than before and said, “Well, I don’t really feel a connection to this place like I think I should. People here are more judgmental than in other places. At least in my experience.”
“What experience?” she said sharply.
“Excuse me?” I asked, sort of shocked.
“What experience do you have? You’re 21.”
I never liked being dismissed for my age but she liked me, and I thought that made her criticism worth more than those of the people who typically talked down to me. She was also the first person over thirty to take me somewhat seriously with anything, so I felt like I had to accept her criticisms seriously. I was making excuses because I was attracted to her. I was supposed to use her advice as a guide to navigate my own life because she was older and she’d seen things I hadn’t, read things I hadn’t, experienced things I hadn’t.
I guess I had taken too long to reply, so she continued,
“You can make it here. I mean like, you want to make it here, if you want to. Listen, I’m from Minneapolis. I came out here with two thousand dollars and a bachelors from Mankato State and I still managed to make it out here.”
I was used to getting talked at like this by older people so my face probably didn’t change, but I was starting to get annoyed.
I sheepishly told her that I don’t want to live in Los Angeles.
She replied, “Everyone wants to go to New York, but you’re going to realize someday that it’s just a stupid dream that everyone has. I mean, not everyone can be a novelist and not everyone can work in creative fields. Trust me, you’ll get over it.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” I conceded to her because I knew she would have an answer for every challenge.
We walked back to the office and I asked if she wanted to smoke. We took the elevator to my car on the seventh floor and I grabbed my cigarettes from my car. I took two out and offered one to her, but she had her own. Smoking cigarettes in a parking lot always reminded me of high school.
She talked about her company and the new printer she had just bought. None of it really mattered to me and I couldn’t really understand it, but I listened intently.
Candace asked, “Should you be smoking? I mean, I take birth control and my doctor always gets upset because I smoke. Like, aren’t the estrogen pills you take just like birth control times ten?”
“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t, but I like smoking. Sometimes I get paranoid and rub all over my legs looking for blood clots.”
“You should quit then,” Candace said.
“Yeah, I guess I should.”
The more we talked, the more I wanted to sit to alleviate the pain in my lower back. I hopped up on the concrete ledge that protects cars from falling off the structure. I sort of rocked back and forth as I took a drag from my cigarette and I started to imagine what it would be like to fall backwards, seven floors, onto Sunset Boulevard. I wondered what it would feel like and what I would see. I wondered if I would be able to feel the moment my spine hit the asphalt. I wondered if my consciousness would start to leave me before I hit the ground. I wondered what the pain would feel like, or if pain even matters if I’m not going to remember it. I beat myself up for taking the thought that far and I jumped down and tried to continue the conversation but our cigarettes were done and we had run out of things to talk.
I was leaning against the concrete retaining wall when Candace turned her body so it was facing mine. “You know, you’re cute. You’re lucky that you don’t look so much like a transsexual.” The words stabbed me straight in the gut. I’m always reminded that I’m not a real woman but a transsexual. I didn’t respond but my face told her that I liked this backhanded compliment, only because I’m so used to hearing things like this.
Gracefully, in a single movement, she stepped toward me, gently touched my waist, and kissed me. I didn’t kiss back as enthusiastically as she expected, and she pushed her body back while holding my waist with both of her hands.
“What’s wrong? You don’t want this?”
It was hard for me to tell what she meant when she said “this.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know, I just have a lot on my mind, I guess.”
She kissed me again and I tried to enjoy it.
I see myself through the lens of other people. Candace is successful in the way I was taught to be successful. She has a good job with a steady flow of income. She owns a house on The Westside and everyone, from poor creative types to wealthy people in The Industry, like her. Candace made me feel important because I thought she was important.
I want to be important. I want to make enough money to rent my own apartment, I want to graduate from a reputable school, I want to create things that other people like, I want important people to like me. I should always be working, and I should always be working toward something better. I need to know that other people see me as the gender I am. I’m constantly trying to validate my own identity. Every time I’m misgendered, it halts every other thought and anxiety that was taking up space in my mind. Did my voice slip? Are my shoulders too wide? Are my hands too big? Candace identified as lesbian, and it made me feel validated that a sapphist found me attractive. Even the well-meaning, though, find ways to remind me that I’ll never be a real woman in their eyes, just a transsexual.
But these days, anyway, I’m seeing a therapist, and I avoid people like Candace. (Besides, my interest in Candace pretty much dropped off when she mauled me in the hallway in front of her apartment after bringing me there under the pretense of showing me her paintings. A friend, upon hearing this story, laughed out loud at my naiveté then quickly sobered at the look on my face.) This is where I am: “in transition.” From youth to adulthood, from trying to please, to trying to be comfortable with myself, from anxiety to acceptance. But still, always in the back of my mind, a gentle push from a concrete ledge, a numbing rush, and sky.