I’m up early, 5am early, still the sodding night early, making breakfast for my partner who leaves at six. Then shower and hormones and getting dressed. I apply my normal makeup, a routine that I apply day in, day out, just enough to camouflage my age and shallow my pores. My daughter laughs that I look the same after makeup as before, but I don’t mind, I look like me.
There is an accident on the motorway that delays my morning commute to work; I send fervent hopes into the ether that the mangled car bodes only temporary pain for whoever was inside but the quarter of an hour lost is gratefully given; I don’t want to go to work today.
My office is, like my job there, quite new, the people inside are kind and accepting, but today I’m worried. Worried that they’ll be looking at me, judging me, asking themselves if I’m a real woman. I’m here because I’m a Linux techy, a good one, if you believe my cv. I transitioned 4 years ago, with 20 years of white male privilege helping me and 20 years of self hate and depression hindering me. From others, a default assumption that I could do the job, or at least learn how, that I understand the core technologies and deserved respect. That is gone now; as a woman to the outside world as well as to myself, the proof must come first, the assumption that I can’t, the questioning of my skills routine.
Could I have made it here if I’d had the support to transition as a child or at University? It seems unlikely; 20 years of faith in my ability versus 20 years of dismissal of it by the men of my profession. I would trade these options in an instant if I could.
In anonymity, I am accepted now as a woman, oestrogen and surgery have crafted my appearance within society’s acceptance and only my voice occasionally lets me down to betray my exposure to damaging testosterone. And so I must worry; will I have to speak to anyone today? Will they think I’m not a real woman because of how I sound? Perhaps I will stay quiet in my corner and avoid the happy banter as best I can, hidden in plain sight concentrating on a screenful of kernel tuning subtlety, being seen not to engage with colleagues.
My career is that of a system and network admin, my bloodstream three parts coffee; but not today. Today I will be worried that I will make the other women uncomfortable if I cannot avoid going to the loo at the same time as them. They will think I’m not a real woman. I will embarrass them, I will be ashamed. I won’t be drinking much today.
Lunch will be at my desk, the sandwich I made this morning and a snack of cherry tomatoes to help fight my weight down; I feel the pressure of a customer facing role, grateful that today I will be in my office, safe from the judgement of strangers whose opinion matters
Upstairs, my boss might be reflecting on his Sunday read, unsure of the nuanced treatment he is apparently expected to show to someone he thought a woman. Perhaps this feels too much trouble, will sales be affected? I worry that he thinks I’m not a real woman, perhaps he will look to my contract and its trial period without rights, thinking that it would be easier if I weren’t here.
Tonight I need to go to the supermarket as usual, indistinguishable as I buy my food, yet on edge for any slip, any stare in a way I’ve not worried about for a while now. I need new tights but how will other women think of me in the lingerie aisle? I must pass, I must not cough; they might think I’m not a real woman.
It will be a relief to be in my car for the drive home though, music on in place of the cruel judgements of far distant journalists with just the usual frustrations of men embroiled in their evening prejudice of women drivers. A contemplative moment for sure as I pass the site of this mornings accident, the tarmac doubtless wiped as clean as yesterdays opinion piece in the mind of its author, the effects though, on those affected will endure.
Tomorrow, I will resume my defiance, for that is the only way to survive the onslaught of people as bigoted as Jenni Murray, but today I am cowed.
by Lisa Severn (@lisasevern)
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