I had my back to the outside wall at the El Rio in San Francisco’s Mission District. A sea of lesbian twenty-somethings was in front of me, dancing to hot salsa on New Year’s Eve and awaiting the strike of midnight on the Pacific Coast.
“This is crazy,” I thought…
I had spent a good chunk of time over the previous five years attempting to convince family and friends that coming out, transitioning and going through with the confirmation surgery was NOT succumbing to the mother of all midlife crises ... and for the most part, I had succeeded. But what I was about to do would likely raise a few eyebrows, if publicly known.
The girls were off on the great family ski trip, New Year’s weekend was two days away, and a moment of boredom scanning deep discount airfares led me to strike gold.
“Adults your age don’t do this,” I had thought before purchasing the ticket. They tend not to have confirmation surgeries either, I reasoned, so I was off to the coast and accepting a long-delayed challenge. That weekend, I would go to a club or two and attempt to have fun. Supposedly, women do that, and supposedly I was a woman—a happily married, lesbian woman. One who uses a reporter’s notebook a bit too much as a social shield, in all honesty.
I will admit it: I’m shy. Gender dysphoria often does that to people. I am still in the process of unlearning how to be a guy, and perhaps I had my surgery a bit too early. But it was the right move, and now I am in the middle of figuring out what Julie is supposed to look like in the long-term. I cheated on the “real life” test and have been paying a price for that. That would stop this weekend ... after a call to Soulmate explaining why I was in San Francisco (note to file: learn to ski.)
Flash forward: I had checked into my hostel shortly before and had prepared for the night accordingly. Anyone who knows me in real life also knows that I am inconsistent with female presentation (except in the workplace, where I am *always* in girl kit.) Some of this is by design: I prefer to model a “who gives a s*** about gender” approach for my teenage daughter.
That night I actually did some butch primping: tight black sports bra underneath the light grey women’s t-shirt, olive drab pants that strategically revealed the distinct lack of manhood and the
semi-practiced, semi-spiky shortish hairdo, all of which took only a good half-hour to accomplish. A close shave and an evening setting means no makeup required.
Primping done, I stepped back from the mirror and ... holy f***! I really looked like a butch woman.
I had done my homework. The El Rio was a historic lesbian-only club that had opened up to the full community not too long before. They advertised that they were transgender-friendly, but I was still nervous standing in the line to get in that night. It was all women stretching around the block. The good news was that I had my gear right. A look at my ID, then a smile.
“I like the hair,” the woman at the door said. I smiled back. This was a good sign.
The salsa was beginning to give way to hip-hop when the upcoming DJ saw me tight against the wall and came over. She was smiling too.
“You new in town?” she asked.
“Where are you from sweetie? I live across the Bay…”
She was African-American and as butch as they come. She was also very attractive. Suddenly all of my teenage fantasies were beginning to materialize.
“Nashville, ma’am,” I replied.
“Come a long way to be with us tonight. Can I buy you a drink?” she offered.
Ten years of military school prison was worth that line, and that moment.
“Thank you, but I’m just here to dance tonight…”
She smiled again.
“Where’s your partner?” she asked.
“Ski trip with my daughter.” I paused. “I don’t ski.”
She laughed. “Neither do I. But the question is can you dance? You have been hugging that wall tightly all night.”
She was wrong on that one. I had been attempting a mild bit of gyration for the last hour or so. Admittedly I do tend to dance like a repressed Canadian, but…
She continued. “Listen sweetie, let me get you that drink anyway. Then let me introduce you to someone else who needs a partner tonight. She’s attached too.”
She turned for the bar, paused, looked back, and then grinned. “And she dances like you.”
I was soon introduced to a local college professor. Hailed from Russia and married to her Israeli wife of ten years, with three children at home. She told me that Russians always go out for New Year’s no matter what... She was just glad she wasn’t the only married woman there that night.
The rest is private. I am happy to say that I did not do anything that would get me in trouble, but I had a blast. I was just one of the girls, for the first time ever.
There will be a next time.
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local 40-something trans woman.