Life lately has been all about marking time. The divorce is underway; I’ve settled into the apartment and friends and family have stopped offering condolences when they see me. During the week, my job keeps me busy during the day and my kids leep me busy most evenings. On Sundays I get to be myself all day long. It’s the new routine of my life, and it is becoming … well, routine.
This past weekend, though, I had to devote my Sunday to more pressing matters: my fourteen-year-old Saturn needed new wheel bearings. I commute 35 miles to work each day,and have a teaching schedule that makes getting to a mechanic difficult; so whenever possible, I have to make these sorts of repairs myself. Luckily, my soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law (a) is a certified mechanic, and (b) has the most pimped out garage I’ve ever seen. So I gave up my Sunday skirt for some grubbies, kissed my neatly shaped nails goodbye, and got all grease monkey.
No doubt, fixing a car is something that feels extremely manly. It’s dirty and it’s mechanical and it requires a significant amount of upper body strength at times. It’s also something that attracts other men; what began as just me and my father-in-law soon became me, my father-in-law, Kevin who lives nearby, and his stepson.
The snap ring, it turned out, was rusted to the steering knuckle; but hey, doesn’t Uncle Jim have a machine press? So Uncle Jim got involved. And when the press didn’t work, there was the metal saw, and then the hammer, and then the blowtorch. It was a symphony for men — metal pounding metal, sawblades screaming into steel, the persistent churn of the air compressor in the background.
By the end of the day blackness covered my hands, crawled up my forearms, and spotted my face; I stank of sweat and engine; and my grubbies had gotten even grubbier. I stood in the bathroom with a bottle of dish detergent, scrubbing at the grease, and happened to glance in the mirror.
You’re kidding yourself, right? I mean, seriously? Just look at yourself.
I’d spent the day not thinking about being transgender. I’d slipped, as I so easily do, in to Him mode, just one of the guys. It’s disappointing how effortlessly I can still lose myself in the role even when my heart isn’t into it. And faced with the man in the mirror — large, bearded, greasy, manly — doubts began to creep in.
You’re not a woman. You’re not even close. You couldn’t pass for female if your life depended on it.
It was hard to muster a counterargument to my own mental skepticism. Body image has been an issue with me for a long time, even before I came out to myself as transgendered. Heck, I still wore a beard because, the last time I had shaved it, I was so discouraged by the face underneath that it didn’t seem worth the effort to keep shaving. A woman? Me? It was, to quote Vizzini, “Inconceivable!”
And then I thought about how others must see me when they find out about my transgender status. My father-in-law, for example. He knows. What must he have thought of me, watching me fight with rusted brake pins and lug a steering knuckle across the neighborhood? “He thinks he’s a woman? Ha!”
I’d like to say that I just shook it off, but that would be a lie. It wasn’t until much later, after I’d gotten back to the apartment and taken a proper shower, that the mental funk of the afternoon began to wash away. Even now, several days later, with some of the grease still clinging to the unreachable crevices of my fingerprints, I’m reminded of how absurd this whole journey must seem to those around me. I can’t deny how I feel, but am I making the right choices? Am I pursuing the right course? Is it a fool’s errand or a mental defect?
It’s hard, when the doubts creep in, uninvited and unwelcome, but undeniable all the same.