Monday, March 18, 2019

Tyler/Valerie: Smile

I have I can't tell you how many interactions with people all day behind the counter of the coffee shop. They complain to me about the quality of our baked goods, about the weather, about it being Monday. They might make some remark they really think I'll like, or be bold enough to make a remark that could be construed as flirty. For the most part I try to keep a politely neutral expression on my face. One that says, I may not be thrilled to be here and I'm really not here to make friends, but I'm not going to bite your head off. Wecan talk for the five seconds it takes to foam a latte, whatever.

Some people are better at service than I am. Maddie is a perky burst of energy. Rafe can be chummy and bro-y at the drop of a hat. The new kid, Devin, is very upbeat. I'm personally not so good at hiding my real feelings.

You would think - being a transformed person, who has lived other peoples lives for years, faking things comes naturally. But maybe that's actually why I am so averse to it. I want my inner self to come through. And if she's a little blah most days, it's not without reason.

I at least know I am providing my best service whether I'm smiling or not. Me putting on a false face, I have to believe, doesn't improve my customer's lives for eve the 30 seconds we are face to face.

When I have something to smile about, I smile. Some days I come in in a good mood, some days Maddie and I have danceoffs (she wins - I just awkwardly shuffle my body like any rhythmless former-guy with ungainly boobs.) You know, whatever. I smile when I'm happy.

You know what I'm getting at here. The number of times I've had some guy say I should be smiling - and it's always a guy - I can't count. To this day I have no set response to it. Usually, if I think I can get away with it, I just don't react. If I'm lucky I can brush it off and go to the next customer. I've had one or two guys get indignant when I've taken this approach and hiss at me about what poor service I'm giving. Sometimes I play dumb, like I didn't hear them and see if I can get them to feel embarrassed. Sometimes I even will myself to flash a smile, but I always feel disgusted with myself afterward.

Universally, it makes me feel gross. I was a man, and I know not every many goes around saying stuff like that, but it doesn't really make me feel great about the totality of my former gender to see how widespread it is. Or to feel how small and powerless and objectified it makes me feel. Being leered at is one thing - I'm worth looking at, and it doesn't inconvenience me too badly. But to be latched onto by men who want to "see me smile" just feels so sinister and wrong and makes me feel like they see me as "less." It's a reminder that to a lot of them I am less - a target, a prize, than a human to be engaged with.

Yesterday, when it happened, I tried my usual brushoff. I wasn't having a good day. My hair was being uncooperative, I was feeling certain physical ailments I never dealt with before being a woman, I was just annoyed at the world. So when this guy drops his change into the tip jar - a whopping 15 cents - and I don't smile and say thank you, he gives me this glare, and says, "Hey, not even a smile? What's the matter with you?"

I could have gone into a whole thing, but instead I gave him the fake smile, and said, "Oh, thanks." He was big and bald and honestly looked like he would take a swing at me even thought I'm five-foot nothing and female. I was too scared to try anything but go along. It's one of the worst feelings that comes along with this life.

He reluctantly accepts this, muttering under his breath as he walks away with his coffee to go sit down.

So here's where it gets screwy. We have this regular - Kevin. We call him Silvertop because he's a  little older, prematurely grey, handsome like Anderson Cooper. Well, more salt-and-pepper but whatever. He comes in every day, reads for an hour or so, then leaves quietly. I like him, generally.

He gets up and he goes over to the guy. "Excuse me," he says, "Did you just tell her to smile?"

"None of your business, pal," says the guy, who looks like he would wreck silvertop in a fight.

"That's just incredibly rude," Kevin goes on to say, "You can't just say shit like that to random women. It's 2019, pal."

"Step off," growls the other guy.

Kevin won't relent. "I'm just saying, you don't know her story. Who's to say she's got anything to smile about, just because some stranger threw a quarter her way? Why don't you think about other people for a change?"

Big Guy stands up like he's going to start a fight, but to his credit, he just leaves the shop, staring daggers at Kevin the whole way. I'm watching this unfold and I'm feeling... angry.

"Hey," I say sharply.

"Yeah?" Kevin answers back.

"Don't do that."

He looks at me for a while, then asks, "I was just trying to..."

"Well, I didn't want you to, okay. I don't need you to swoop in and tongue-lash every asshole who comes in here. Have you seen this city? That's how you get stabbed."

He looked like he was going to defend himself a bit more, but then he caught himself. "My mistake, I'm sorry."

Then he sits back down and goes back to his book.

I spent the rest of the day in a huff. I told Maddie about it, but she didn't see the big deal - she'd love to have some guy defending her, especially someone like Silvertop.

"It just feels like two sides of the same coin," I said, "The first guy thought I owed him a smile. The second wanted to seem like a hero for rescuing me."

"He was just being nice!" Maddie protested.

Charli got it better, which I guess befits her background. Not that she's a manhater per se but she's even more wary of them than I am.

Still, I spent the rest of the night first wondering if I was too harsh, then getting re-annoyed with myself for thinking I could be too harsh. It's been a while since I've mentioned it but my "natural speaking voice" in this body is like an animated kitten. Even when I work to lower my register I still sound pretty cutesy. It's annoying.

I did wonder whether I should apologize. He has always seemed like a nice enough guy, quiet, keeps to himself, his intentions were good enough. Maybe I had a valid reason but there's also a ton of baggage I bring to situations like these.

The next day when he came in, he gave his order. I gave him a smile to try to convey... an apology? The idea I might have been wrong without fully admitting it?

"I'm sorry again about yesterday" he said unprompted. "It was presumptuous of me to step in. Way out of line."

"Yeah, well" I said steeling myself to give a rare apology, "I shouldn't have jumped down your throat. I was really just... misplaced anger and stuff. Really, it was a decent gesture."

"Well, I was chastened," he said, "And you spoke your mind. I respect the hell out of that, even if I'm on the other end of it."

I appreciated him saying that.

I have to admit, the unwanted attention this body beings frustrates the hell out of me, because I can't seem to turn it off. It's one thing to doll up and draw attention to yourself, but when you don't feel comfortsble standing around looking plain and average because guys think you should be happy and perky and perfectly groomed at all times, it wears on you, makes you resent life. Ironically, it doesn't make me want to go back to being a man - it makes me want to be a better woman.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

Jenn/Zack: Mope

When I left off, I had broken up with David and, immediately afterward, been told that I was not getting my body back. Not this year at least, but I might as well consider it a life sentence since nobody ever seems to get back to normal if they miss their first chance. The asshole in my body couldn't even go a year without turning my home into a meth lab, so I know I can't rely on them. I might as well consider that a lost cause.

I've been in mourning. It feels like every day I think of some new thing I'll never see again. My parents, my brother and sisters, my grandmother, my cousins, my family dog... my old job, my co-workers, the clothes I liked wearing, my hometown. Now I'm screwed, doomed to wander around through life, always pretending to be someone else. I feel like I have no purpose, except to keep Zack's life ready for him. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing feels like "me."

I'm mad at David for not telling me, as well as basically breaking off all communications. It's just as well since in this state I've been missing him and dying for something comfortable and safe, even though it would be a mistake to go back with him. The further I get from him the more the details of our relationship seem like a nightmare. As Lana, he had so much power over me but it wasn't enough.

Pete has been so helpful. She's been there and she seems to have a lot of patience for my mopiness. Pete has a gentle soul. Pete has "been there" in a lot of ways and can guide me through what I'm dealing with.

Which makes what happened next feel that much worse. That asshole David had the balls to fire Pete/April two weeks ago.

You can't tell me it wasn't personal. Pete has been above and beyond the call of duty for April's position, basically doing the job of an executive while officially only being an EA. There are other VP's but they are subject to Lena's directives, and those directives have been coming from Pete.

When Pete told me, she put a brave face on it. So much the better - April was officially overqualified, and with Pete's brain and her CV, there was a good chance this was a great opportunity. They've been collaborating, long-distance, over what kind of jobs April is interested in applying for, since she's the one who will end up doing it. We can't afford to make it through the spring unemployed until we go back to the Inn.

It just provides more reason to be livid at David, that he would pull a stunt like this. Somehow there are no laws to prevent this, since at-will employment is a thing and even though it's so nakedly personal there's no recourse Pete can take. It's just David screwing himself because he doesn't like Pete and doesn't like that he is helping me out.

I'm angry, and sad, and lonely all the time and I want this experience to end.