(The author wishes to note at the onset of this little piece that it may appear to some that I am making fun of people who are challenged by gender identity issues and society’s response to them. Many of these same people clearly suffer with emotional pain and, in some cases, mental illness, frequently resulting from the negative reactions they get from the rest of us. Please know that I care about such folks, and that I have dedicated much of my adult work life to helping people with all kinds of challenges and struggles. That said, isn’t there a place for humor about all of us?)
I used to think that there were only two places in which people afflicted with delusions and/or who displayed a significant amount of audible monologue were okay doing so right in front of others: mental institutions and college campuses. Picture a scene from “Cuckoo’s Nest” with the gang and Nurse Ratchet –if you were fortunate enough to go to college, couldn’t you picture the same type of scene, maybe late on a Friday or Saturday night? Now I think that it’s not only a factor of place, that a factor of the effects of time may be important as well. I think this in connection with a sort of time lapse view of a few people I’ve gotten to know. Appearances and behaviors may be jolting at first, but if we see the same thing or the same person long enough, eventually the initial dissonance will fade to an acceptance as part of the general landscape, right? Finally, there is the factor of who’s doing the viewing and the concluding—a certain little town in Eastern Washington State helped me understand this.
In connection with a four year career I had selling land, I got to know a pair of identical twins who were originally from Vermont but who had successfully located in the Seattle area. One had grown up to be an attorney in the law firm his father founded, and the other had gotten off that path in his 20’s and instead created an insurance adjustment company. He now had two homes, one in Tacoma and one in Eastern Washington. Lucky for me, all three of us loved to suffer at the so-called game of golf, and that was my ticket to spend a little time in small towns including Sequim, Port Angeles, and Wenatchee.
There is a golf resort in an even smaller town near Wenatchee. This town that shall remain unnamed is small, even by rural Washington standards. It has a nice little stream and a couple of hotels that face each other across the “main drag.” The hotels convey a sense of modest history. They both have bars on their ground floors. The first time I brought my fiancée to one of those bars we got to see, speak to and share time with the roughly cross dressing human being my golf buddies had told me about, a person they unceremoniously referred to as “It.” (Remember, these bright professionals were born in the early or mid-nineteen forties and grew up in Northern Vermont—any West Coast sense of political correctness took a long time to get there.) This gentlemanly lady had large, loudly red splotches on her cheeks, and the bulky, garishly gold necklace couldn’t conceal a nice mat of dirty blond chest hair. Her voice was like that of a Boston cabbie who was working on his fifth beer after a 12-hour shift. The Inn’s bar television was tuned to a station running a Walt Disney on Ice special. Pretty soon the whole gang in the bar was treated to a loud, coarse announcement of, “Michelle Kwan!! I love Michelle Kwan!!” Please note that the others in the bar seemed like regulars, and none of them took any notice—at all.
So this probably doesn’t seem like much of a story, but here’s the second act of a two-act play: One summer evening, several years after the event described above, the twin who lives in Wenatchee called me at home (back when we all had land lines). He was almost breathless with the news he wanted to share. After more than a decade of living there and circulating with all the other regulars who called the valley east of the Cascades their home, he had realized with astonishment, that Old Clint Clallam—the chairlift operator who every winter drove an old corvette convertible with the top down and who was always gruff and who enjoyed making young mothers uncomfortable with his leering and his comments, was actually—wait for it—“It”!! “It” in the summer, OCC during the winter. And s/he had had this gig going on for 30 years!
So one final point and I’ll end this piece. Imagine that you are working in an emergency homeless shelter, and imagine that “It” comes to the door, dressed in very rough and indelicate women’s clothing and makeup, and tells you, in that gravelly and cigarette burned throaty voice that her name is Leslie, would you just nod and keep on keepin’ on? That’s what the neighboring residents do and have done for decades—and aside from a few minor skirmishes, no harm no foul.
The next piece will be about a Bangor area character who has me thinking similar thoughts.