|7. Snooker McGee (Part 1 of 3)|
A story about a (reluctant) transexual lawyer, way before Bruce Jenner dove into LGBT history.
Synopsis: Doctor David Matthews is a university writing instructor and published writer who loses one of his students to suicide. The student desperately wants gender reassignment surgery, but can not afford it. Dr. Matthews has difficulty dealing intellectually and emotionally with the suicide and the reasons behind it, and seeks the assistance of a therapist who recommends he work though his unresolved gender/sexuality issues by writing a book. The therapist introduces him to Chris McGee. Chris has had gender reassignment surgery, but for medical reasons, not gender-related issues. The story evolves as Chris, a once happily married and successful male lawyer, tells David how he transitioned, very begrudgingly, into a happily married and successful female lawyer. Chris draws David into her life, encouraging him to experience for himself the results of her transition. Getting to know and spend time with Chris and her partner Sam helps David overcome his gender-related biases and open to experiences he would otherwise have avoided. The story is set in South Florida (Miami/Dade and the Keys).
Format: The day I started writing this, the ["] key flipped off my keyboard. I took it for a sign. Hence the non-traditional format.
It was stormy, not a great summer day to be out on the water in the Keys, so Chris and Sam McGee went shopping on The Mainland, South Florida instead. They chose The Falls, an upscale mall in South Miami, a cluster of some of their favorite shops surrounding a series of decorative cataracts, minor falls, and ponds. They liked the sound of the falling water, for itself, and because it diffused the babble of the shoppers around them.
Chris and Sam were great shoppers. They shared the love of browsing. Crate and Barrel and Sharper Image were both at The Falls. Nearby were The Container Store and Borders and Wild Oats, an organic grocery store where they would later select food for the week. On such trips, they thought of themselves as hunter-gatherers. During the winter months, when the family-run farms of the Redland were producing, they would swing down Krome for fresh tomatoes and the sweet local onions that looked like giant scallions. Although they loved sales and the nicer consignment shops, when they needed clothing, Chris and Sam turned to catalogs and the Internet, especially Boston Proper and La Redoute.
Sam had decided they needed to hydrate, and had gone into a little coffee and tea shop for bottled water, leaving Chris to rest for a minute on a bench where she could entertain herself by watching people stroll by. Chris was an avid people-watcher, but had in recent years become self-conscious. She did not like that her watching others meant they could watch her. It was not that she was an unattractive woman. She was tall for a woman, unlike Sam, who was even taller and slender, and had an athletic frame and excellent posture.
Chris straightened her blouse and short, khaki skirt, and looked down at her sandals and her feet. She thought her feet were too wide.
Chris was watching two latinas stroll past her, arm-in-arm, when her phone chirped. She liked that the large latin population of Miami made it possible for women to touch each other while they walked without attracting excessive attention. Unless, of course, they were obviously lesbian. Even then, it didn’t attract eyes in many areas.
The calling number was not familiar to her, and it was Saturday, a day off with Sam, so Chris hesitated answering. In the end, she opened the phone and spoke her greeting.
[Chris] Hi. This is Chris McGee
[Man] Hello, ah, Ms. McGee. This is Dave Matthews, Doctor David Matthews.
[Chris] Doctor Matthews? Hello. Have we met?
[David] Doctor Schroedinger said I should call you. David Mathews? Dr. David Matthews?
[Chris] Oh, Doctor Matthews! I’m so sorry. I didn’t recognize your name at first there. Of course. Evelyn spoke to me about you. She said you would be calling.
[Chris] You’re a writer. And you’re writing a book. Well that was a dumb thing to say. Of course you’re writing a book. About gender reassignment surgery.
[David] Please call me David, Ms. McGee. And yes, I am writing a book. Or at least I am planning to write a book. Doctor Schroedinger - Evelyn - said you might be willing to help. At least help me get started.
[Chris] I am really sorry, Doctor Matthews – David. Evelyn did tell me a little about what you were planning to do. I’m just not really sure I can be of much assistance to you. But tell me a little of what you want to do.
[David] Look, Chris, can I call you Chris?
[Chris] Just kidding. Of course you can call me Chris.
[David] Good. Chris. Where to begin? I lost a student last year. In addition to writing, I teach writing. At FIU. She was in some of my classes. She was an OK student, but very motivated, very involved. She would find me after class. We would go for coffee and talk about her favorite writers. She shared a lot about herself with me. Nothing romantic. Some students do that.
[David] Anyway, what I learned was that she had some very serious gender-related issues, the whole boy in a girl’s body thing.
[Chris] Go on.
[David] She was all over the internet reading about gender-reassignment surgery, planning to see doctors and start the process herself.
[David] And then she was gone. She never came back to classes after Spring Break. Someone told me she had killed herself. I think because of her gender issues.
[Chris] Perhaps not the first person to have considered or done that, I’m sure.
[David] I know. But for some reason, I have not been able to get passed it. So I went to Dr. Schroedinger. Long story short, Chris, I have not been making any progress with Evelyn, either. So we decided, since I write, maybe I could write my way through it.
[Chris] Well, being neither a writer nor a counselor…
[David] What I need to know, Chris, is what makes people so uncomfortable with themselves that they would even consider undergoing such a radical transformation? Or, not attaining it, taking their own life. What does it involve? What is it like? I understand it is a very painful process. What becomes of those who can not make it happen? Are those who make it happen, happy with the result? Do they end up who they think they want to be?
[David] I write speculative fiction. Science fiction. I can project myself into all kinds of imagined worlds. I can not for the life of me project myself into this whole gender thing.
[David] I really don’t know why I can’t get passed this thing. I don’t know if writing about it will help. But Evelyn and I both think I have to try.
[Chris] Look, David. Seriously. I can not help you answer those questions.
[David] Evelyn said you had been through it, and could help.
[David] I’m sorry, Chris. It’s not my intention to upset you.
[Chris] I’m not upset. I’m just frustrated.
[Chris] Yes, David, I share some experiences with people about whom you think you want to write. But my circumstances were unique. Perhaps I can introduce you to some people …
[David] Look. Chris. How about just meeting with me to talk more about this? I’ve obviously caught you out somewhere on your cell phone. Please just give me a chance to meet you and explain more what I want to do.
[Chris] I just am not sure…
[David] Just once, Chris. We can meet at Evelyn’s office. If I can’t convince you to help, I won’t pester you any more. Please.
Sam emerged from the coffee and tea shop, pushing through the shop’s doors backwards, a bottle of water in one hand, a bottle of water and a large cookie in the other.
[Chris] OK. Friday. Evelyn’s office. Four o’clock.
[David] Thank you. Friday. Evelyn’s office. Four o’clock. I’ll see you then.
[Chris] Bye, David.
[David] Bye, Chris.
Chris snapped her phone shut, and tucked it back into an outside pocket of her purse. Sam arrived, holding out a bottle of water toward Chris. Inches taller than Chris, Sam had long straight black hair, and was fashionable dressed in a sand-colored tunic, light white leggings, and sandals. Her earrings and necklace were of turquoise beads and crystals and sparkled in the dappled sunlight of the mall. To Chris, Sam as beautiful that day as the day they had met and fallen in love, thirty years before.
[Sam] Who was that, Snooker?
[Chris] Client of Evelyn. What kept you, Hon?
[Sam] Clerk was new. Couldn’t operate the cash register. Have a bite of cookie.
[Chris] No thanks, dear. The water is good, though.
[Sam] You’re welcome. And Evelyn’s friend?
[Chris] His name is Doctor David Matthews. He and Evelyn think he should write a book about gender-reassignment. They think I should help him.
[Sam] You’re kidding.
[Chris] No, Sam, I am not.
[Sam] You told him to fuck off, didn’t you?
[Chris] No, I did not.
[Sam] Chris! You don’t need to go over all of it again. It won’t be good for you.
[Chris] I don’t know if I’m going to help, Sam. I just told him I would meet with him in person to discuss it.
[Sam] I wish you would just blow the whole thing off, Chris. But you are going to do what you want to do, so why am I even saying anything?
They walked together, Chris reaching over and breaking off a small piece of Sam’s cookie. She looped her other arm under Sam’s and took her hand in hers. Chris looked up into Sam’s bright blue eyes.
[Chris] I love you.
[Sam] Suck up.
[Sam] I love you, too.
[Chris] Want to see if we can get in to P. F. Chang’s? Or are they even open this time of the day?
[Sam] Sure. Sounds good. If it’s not open, let’s just go home.
[Sam] Are you sure you know what you’re doing?
Dr. Evelyn Schroedinger, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in gender disorders, likes warm, buttery yellows, tans, khakis and jades, and so that is how her office is decorated. She also likes dark, oversized wood furnishings, large silk plants, and contemporary art and accessories, and so that is how her office is furnished. Though her office reflects her taste and, to a degree, her personality, it contains nothing of a personal nature. Those things she reserves for her residence, a condo overlooking Biscayne Bay, which Chris has visited, and which has a distinctly different character than her office: more cluttered, warmer, more welcoming. Evelyn drew a thick black line between her professional life and her personal life, Chris being one of the few individuals who had moved from one side of the line to the other.
Dr. Schroedinger loves cats, and has three of them. Two of them live with her and her husband Hans at her home. One, which she calls OC for Office Cat, resides at her office and is cared for by a professional pet sitter when she and her assistant Millie can not. Chris and Millie know the cat’s name, and use it. The majority of Dr. Schroedinger’s clients, however, perceive Office Cat to be a descriptive term, rather than a name, and subsequently refer to OC simply as Dr. Schroedinger’s cat. Not that it matters to the cat. Other than Dr. Schroedinger, Millie, and the (paid) cat whisperer, all who love and feed him, OC has little time for anyone except for Chris, who simply loves and respects all cats.
Chris waited quietly in Dr. Schroedinger’s buttery warm outer office in one of her overstuffed chairs. Having just come from her law office, she wore a professional outfit of fitted black skirt, several inches shorter than one might expect of a lawyer, and a matching jacket over a jade green camisole. Her jacket was unbuttoned. Her shoes were black sling-back heels. Her hair that day was dusty blond, straight, and shoulder length. Her jewelry was gold, and included a plain gold band on her ring finger.
A paperback book, science fiction, was open in her lap, and she was reading. She held a pair of narrow wire framed glasses in her left hand. With her right hand, she fiddled with the earring in her right earlobe.
In addition to Chris, the waiting room was occupied by two more women. One is stocky. The other, a small busted woman of slender build, wears her hair in a distinctly boyish cut. Both wore slacks and mannish shirts. They had completed their business at the office, but not between themselves, and were conversing in urgent but whispered tones, glancing periodically at Chris, to determine if she was listening. Chris was pretending to read, pretending not to listen. But she was interested in their conversation, and so had not turned a page in some time.
Ambient, new age music, emanating from hidden sources, furnished a soft soundtrack for the women.
Millie busied herself with Dr. Schroedinger’s appointments and accounting in an adjacent space, separated from the waiting room by a glass partition. The door leading to that space from the waiting room was closed.
Chris looked at her watch, a plain gold Movado on a thin black leather strap, closed the book she had not been reading on a metal bookmark, and stuffed the book into the large black leather purse at her feet.
The outer door to the waiting room opened, and a man entered. Dr. David Matthews. The two women who were talking, stopped at the interruption and, looked up. Chris looked up also.
Chris saw a stocky but athletic man in his mid-forties, casually dressed in khaki slacks, polo shirt and deck shoes, carrying a leather-covered notebook. His light brown hair, thinning in back, was mussed. The man closed the door softly behind him, and glanced quickly around the waiting room at the three women. Chris had the impression of a studious, serious man, a man of ideas and of worry.
David Matthews saw the three women in the room. Two of them looked like tool carrying lesbians. Since the third woman was a very attractive blond, a professional woman whom he estimated to be in her late forties, a woman whom he would not dislike interviewing, David assumed Chris was one of the two rugged lesbians.
Their conversation aborted by a now all too crowded waiting room, the two women looked at each other, collected their things and got up from their seats. Chris rose as well, putting on her glasses, and straightening her skirt. In turn, the two women hugged Chris, kissing her on both cheeks, and wishing her well. Together, they walked by David and out through the waiting room into the hallway.
David walked over to the remaining woman, the attractive blond, the tall attractive blond he now saw. What a pleasant surprise. She was not at all like the image he had in his mind of Chris McGee.
[David] Hi. You must be Chris. I’m David.
[Chris] Nice to meet you, David.
[David] Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today. I really appreciate it. I know you have reservations about this.
[David] I’m not late, am I?
[Chris] No. Right on time.
[Chris] Sam thought I was an idiot for coming. But I thought I owed it to Evelyn to at least consider your proposal.
[David] And Sam is?
[Chris] My spouse, David.
[David] Ah. Well. I’m glad you are giving me this chance. I, ah …
The office behind the glass wall went dark, the door opened, and Millie emerged, purse slung over her shoulder. David took a step backward to face Millie.
Millie is a pixie of a woman, size zero, and cute as could be. Her short whispy blond hair makes you wonder where she is hiding her wings. In counter point to her physical appearance, her attire is pure Goth: tall black platform boots, black mini-skirt, and oversized (for her) black T-shirt celebrating in dark colors some local grunge band. Millie is one of Chris’s favorite people. Dr. Schroedinger is Chris’s friend. So is her assistant, Millie.
[Millie] You have both now arrived and introduced yourselves. Which is very cool indeed. So now I can go home and prepare food for my lover.
[Millie] Assuming you will turn off the lights and lock up the office when you leave?
Millie waited for either Chris or David to answer, but neither of them did right away, both still processing Millie’s ‘prepare food for my lover.’ David was first to the button.
[David] Oh, yes, Millie. We’ll make sure the lights are off and the doors are locked
[Millie] Thought I’d put you both to sleep, there for a moment. Thank you, Doctor Matthews. I feel safe in leaving, then. Thank you. Oh, and do lock the door behind me so you will not be disturbed. You never know who is out in the halls, trying doors, just to see who’s home. She turned to Chris. Good night, Snooker. Kiss kiss.
[Chris] Good night, Millie.
[Millie] Good night, Doctor Matthews.
[David] Good night, Millie.
The door closed behind her, and she was gone, leaving Chris and David alone in the waiting room. Chris noticed the music was gone. David noticed that he was alone in a quiet room with an attractive but mysterious woman, and that it made him nervous.
[Chris] Nickname. For special friends. You may call me Chris.
[David] Chris it is. Do you want to talk out here? Or use Evelyn’s office?
[Chris] Oh, let’s go inside. It is more comfortable in there.
[David] Good choice.
David walked toward the third door in the waiting room, the door to Evelyn’s office, opened it, and waited for Chris to collect her things and join him. He held the door for her and followed her in.
Dr. Schroedinger’s office is a large space, divided into three distinct work areas. In one work area, a desk with high-backed leather chair faces into the space and away from a credenza supporting bookshelves populated with medical journals and reference books. Another features a round table lit with small art deco pendant lights and three side chairs. The last area consists of three overstuffed chairs arranged around a square coffee table. Table lamps provide adequate lighting. The office has windows overlooking the avenue below, but daylight and street noise are subdued behind dark wooden plantation shutters. It was in this last area that Chris and David, without discussion, settled themselves.
Dr. Schroedinger’s space is, by intention, a quiet, peaceful space. On one wall, prominently displayed, is a contemporary graphic in shades of sand, of the word ‘namaste.’
Chris and David made themselves comfortable. Chris crossed her legs at the knee, David at the ankle. She dropped her purse to the floor at her feet. He rested his notebook in his lap and pulled a mechanical pencil from his shirt pocket. She removed her glasses, folded them, and placed them on the arm of her chair.
Chris waited, smiling. She would have liked to fill the silence by lighting a cigarette, inhaling slowly and mysteriously from it, and tapping her ashes into a crystal ashtray, but she didn’t smoke, having given up the habit for the final time years before. She had come to hate the smell of cigarette smoke, which caused her moderately painful headaches. So she only imagined doing that. Instead, she looked at the fingernails of her right hand (long, squared at the end, and painted a deep blue), and clicked two of them together.
Dr. Schroedinger’s cat, which had been sleeping in a basket of psychological reports on the credenza, got up, stretched, jumped down, sashayed as cats do under Dr. Schroedinger’s desk to Chris’s chair, leapt onto its arm, not disturbing her glasses, and proceeded to make herself comfortable in Chris’s lap. OC is a big cat. Black with white paws and a white blaze on her nose that gives her an off balanced, quizzical appearance. In a moment, OC has closed his eyes and is purring.
[David] Dr. Schoedinger’s cat likes you.
[Chris] Yes. I have cats. Two of them.
[David] It hates me.
[Chris] Oh, how do you know that?
[David] The hissing. The spitting. The snarling. The arched back if I approach it.
[Chris] You must be a dog person.
[David] Gerbil and fish. I have small children.
[David] So where should be start?
[Chris] How about with you? Tell me about yourself. Tell me what you want to accomplish. Tell me why you think you need my help. Tell me what you think I can do to help. Perhaps if I can not help you, which is what I expect, I can help you find someone who can.
[David] Well, sure. I think I mentioned I teach at FIU. Writing. And I write books also. Science fiction. You’re reading one of my books, actually.
[Chris] You’re B.J. Maryland?
[David] Yes. One of my pseudonyms.
[Chris] An alias?
[Chris] I have read a lot of your books, then. I’m a groupie.
[David] And Thomas F. Sanders, and Roger Stage, and Elizabeth Overlander.
[Chris] All you?
[David] Elizabeth writes adolescent literature, still science fiction.
[David] Roger does space opera. Thomas is more fantasy oriented.
[David] I save my real character development and spiritual side for B.J..
[Chris] My goodness. You’re famous.
[David] Well thanks, I think.
[David] Anyway, I had this student there who had gender-related issues and killed herself, we assume because of them.
[Chris] First more about you, David.
[David] OK. Fair enough.
[David] Well, I’m married. My wife’s name is Sarah. We have been together for a little over seven years. She teaches at a local private Catholic school.
[David] Erica is nine. Jennifer is seven.
[Chris] How nice for you.
[David] We are blessed with two little dolls. I’m sure things will change when they reach puberty and the hormones kick in.
[Chris] Maybe you’ll be lucky.
[David] But until then we will just enjoy doting on them.
[David] Let’s see.
[David] I have an older brother who works for a telecom company in California. We keep in touch but do not see each other very often. Sarah’s parents live in Colorado. My parents live here in Miami, a few miles from us. They’re retired teachers and still together. Mom takes care of the kids whenever we need her to. We have dinner together every month and on all major holidays. I have degrees in English and Education from FSU. Sarah and I met there.
[Chris] Hobbies? Interests?
[David] Not really. Too much work to do. By the time we have the kids in bed and the house picked up, all we can do is zone out in front of the TV for an hour two.
[Chris] Evening news?
[David] No. Too depressing. Food channel.
[Chris] Good choice. Do you cook?
[David] Canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches are my specialty. I can heat things up with the best of them. But Sarah does the cooking. I just enjoy watching how inventive others are at it. How about you?
[Chris] We haven’t gotten to me yet, David. Tell me more about you.
[David] I’m not sure there is much more about me. Years of graduate school. Writing. Marriage. Writing. Settling down. Writing. Kids. Teaching. Writing. That’s pretty much me. I guess it is somewhat ironic.
[David] I am trying with Sarah to raise our children. I try at school to guide my students along. I know I look like an adult. But I don’t feel I have enough experience or wisdom to teach or guide anyone. I know I have been alive a long time. I think sometimes I must not have been very alive for most of it. Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. Perhaps it’s why Lydia’s death threw me around so much, why I ended up in Doctor Schroedinger’s lap, looking for answers.
[Chris] And is Evelyn helping you?
[David] I don’t think so. But I am hoping it doesn’t matter what I think. I am hoping I will just wake up one morning, rested, like I had a good night’s sleep, and be able to move on.
[Chris] That’s a good plan, David. But you may find it needs to include more work on your part at the front end. No pain, no gain. Did I really just say that? Therapy is like any other kind of exercise: you have to labor at it, risking further unnecessary pain and damage, to achieve what you have set for goals.
[David] You went through therapy with Doctor Schroedinger. Did you achieve your goals?
[Chris] Of course I did. She helped me at the beginning, and at the end. And it was painful and embarrassing. And that was on top of physical pain I thought at times I simply could not bear. But I got through it. As you will. I just re-adjusted my goals downward along the way. Your goals, David, should never exceed the amount of pain you can tolerate.
[David] So the answer is to just set achievable goals.
[Chris] Throw it out there as far ahead of yourself as you can. Just learn to earn satisfaction from small gains. It may keep you going when you would otherwise want to stop.
[David] I see.
[Chris] Buy you know that, of course. The only other piece of advice I have is to forget the saying, ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ I have learned that you can revise how you think of yourself in the past, and that it can help you get a head start on who you want to be in the future. How is that for psycho-babble?
[David] So you and Evelyn think you can work through your issues by writing about, Lydia is it?
[David] Yes. Lydia. But not so much her. All of the people like her that feel tormented being stuck in physical manifestations not of their making or choosing. Society – and I mean all of them – are so dualistic. You are either him or her. Perhaps if you could act and dress however you really wanted – as long as it was not a danger to yourself or others, of course – and could take whatever daily hormone cocktail best synchronized your internal and external selves, we would not force ourselves to make such huge on or off decisions.
[David] Is this making sense, Chris?
[Chris] I think it is. I, certainly, would at one time have appreciated having more choices.
[David] So in order to get my head around what is eating at me I need to write about the issue perhaps metaphorically. I don’t know what that means yet. But I want to tell a story that will foster more acceptance in our society, more understanding anyway of what happens when we force people into a simple choice of two when we have the capability of offering many more options. Perhaps by helping others understand, I can help myself understand.
[Chris] You live in your writing, then.
[David] A lot of the time, yes. I can get lost in any form of work. I’m a guy. But I am most self-aware when I am writing.
[Chris] So how do you think I can help, David.
[David] You have been through it all. And it has all worked out for you.
[Chris] Did Evelyn tell you that? I can not believe Evelyn would have told you that. It has not all worked out for me. Remember what I said about my goals? And I am not even remotely a member of the peer group you want to explore.
[Chris] But I will help you if I can. If we can find a way for me to do that. I like helping. It is where I am most self-aware.
[David] You’re a nurse? Evelyn didn’t mention your occupation.
[Chris] No. I’m a lawyer. I picked the law. Counseling picked me. So I council people about the law.
[Chris] So I will try to help you. But you have to lower your expectations to the point no matter what I do, it will be enough for you.
[David] Of course.
[Chris] I was kidding, David.
[Chris] So. Let’s talk about me, then. Where do we start? What do you want to know?
[Chris] If you do not already have contacts there, I can give you some referrals into the appropriate communities in South Beach and the Keys.
[Chris] I can also give you a list of support groups here and everywhere. They didn’t do me much good, being more interested in helping people with issues such as the impact of disclosure, or HIV AIDS, but they might help you. Some good ones are in Los Angeles - apparently there are a lot of Lydias out there - but everyone has cell phones and email, so distance won’t hurt your research.
[David] I would appreciate that, Chris. But let’s do start with you.
[Chris] Ok, then. Let us start with me. What do you think, so far? Did Evelyn tell you what to expect? What did you expect? A guy in drag?
[David] No. Evelyn did not tell me much of what to expect.
[David] To be honest, when I came in, I thought you had to be one of the two other women in the office.
[David] Evelyn said that you were "changing." I assumed she meant you were going through some changes, evolving. Have you noticed that Dr. Schroedinger is sometimes vague? Or maybe I just don’t stop enough to ask what things mean. And she said that you were "formidable."
[Chris] Once, a long time ago, I was called intimidating by someone whom I found substantially more intimidating than me. I didn’t understand that either. So am I what you expected?
[David] I am not sure what I expected, actually. You seem to me to be a very nice, attractive, sophisticated woman. I think direct, but at the same time vulnerable? Perhaps it was from some of the things Dr. Schroedinger told me. Her rough outline of things. Some of the things she said you had been through. I think I might have expected more of a basket case. I’m not sure I could have led your life for the past three years and ended up as pulled together as you appear today.
[Chris] Illusion. I am not pulled together at all.
[Chris] Would you like some water, David?
[Chris] had slipped out of her shoes. She picked up OC and got up, lowering the cat softly to the seat of her chair. Unhappy with the disturbance, the cat left Chris’s chair, and disappeared back under Dr. Schroedinger’s desk.
[Chris] went to the credenza behind the desk, where the cat had reappeared.
[Chris] Be that way.
[David] I’m sorry?
[Chris] I was talking to the cat.
[Chris] I’m sure Evelyn won’t mind if we raid her fridge.
[Chris] Gas or no gas?
[Chris] No gas for me. Gas gives me gas.
David used the opportunity of Chris’s errand to look at her. She was feminine and natural in her movements. Her hair and skirt swayed gracefully when she walked. She turned her side to David when she stooped to open the cabinet door that hid the small fridge tucked into the credenza.
Chris looked back at David, and saw that he had been watching her.
She was slender and fit, David saw, without a pronounced waist and hips, but with an ample bust.
[Chris] Gas for you.
Chris peered into the fridge, selected two bottles, and walked back to her chair, a clear plastic bottle in one hand for herself, and a small green bottle of Perrier in the other for David.
[David] So, Chris. How long have you been seeing Dr. Schroedinger?
Chris handed him the Perrier, and sat, crossing her legs and smoothing her skirt. She twisted open her own bottle.
[Chris] As I said. From the beginning. I have spent so much time here, I feel right at home. How about you?
[David] Not long. A few months. I am not sure we are getting anywhere very fast, though. Maybe that’s why she suggested I meet you. She considers you a success story.
[Chris] Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not. Do you have a goal? Are you focused? My relationship with Evelyn has been very task oriented. Not a lot of room to fart around. I am happy to be able to tell you I have achieved my goals, and have been pronounced cured.
[Chris] Actually, ‘done’ is a better word. I have been pronounced ‘done.’ We still get together to chat from time to time. Sam and I have her over for dinner, actually. We all talk.
David took a drink from his bottle, set it carefully on the table between them, and leaned forward in his chair.
[David] I realize you’re not typical of your, ah, your peer group, Chris. But it would be helpful I think for me to know who you are now, who you have become, how you see the world.
[David] Start with now. Who are you when you get up in the morning? What is your day like? How are you different than before? How are you the same? Let’s start there. We can work our way back to the beginning.
[Chris] All right. We can do that. Where do you want me to start?
[Chris] OK. Hmmm. Where to start? OK. Here we go. I’m married. Sam and I have been together for thirty-something years. I work. I stay busy. My job is great. I have the world’s best boss. I have graduate degrees in Education and in Law.
[Chris] Sam has master’s degree in psychology, worked as a psychologist after completing school, but didn’t like the crazy people with whom one has to work as a psychologist.
[David] Sorry to interrupt, Chris, but didn’t Sam realize working with crazy people was a job requirement?
[Chris] Oh, it was not the patients that were crazy. It was the other professionals. People gravitate toward psychology either because they have the skills to help people, or they themselves need to be around helping people, the latter outnumbering the former. Sam’s patients were OK. Her colleagues were the dysfunctional ones. She ran screaming from the building and the profession and started a travel business that she operates from our home in the Keys.
[Chris] I’m a lawyer. I mentioned that. My office is not far from here. In the Gables.
[Chris] My boss is the best you can have. Very understanding and supportive. For a while, while I was in and out of hospitals, I was only able to contribute by doing research studies. Sam didn’t want me to do even that. I have returned to court on a limited basis, but mostly I do now what I have always done. Support the other lawyers at the firm.
[Chris] And I talk to people. Try to talk them into or out of legal action. I try get people from point A to point B as efficiently and effectively as possible. Cush job, really.
[David] Sounds like an a non-traditional law practice.
[Chris] Actually, it is very traditional. Unless you believe slime is a tradition in the legal business. And it’s quite successful. Other firms frequently come calling to recruit our lawyers.
[David] How do you get along with your colleagues, Chris? Seems to me there could be some resentments.
[Chris] No. No resentments. No apparent resentments, anyway. Not that I have noticed - and I am a bit hypersensitive about others’ behavior toward me these days. I am so afraid of making some fatal social gaff. No. I don’t think anyone in the office would trade places with me. Or perhaps they just pity me. I’m not convinced I would be able to tell the difference right now. Anyway, they seem to appreciate what I do. I work hard. I work hard for them. So I am OK there.
[Chris] And I am not there all of the time anyway.
[Chris] I have some other activities that occupy my time.
[David] And they are …
[Chris] Fishing. I go fishing a lot. And I volunteer. Lady Bird Johnson once said that eventually, everyone has to pay their dues. So that is what I’m doing. Paying my dues. And I spend a lot of time thinking about men and women. And what it takes to be one. A man. Or a woman.
[David] That makes a lot of sense.
[Chris] Most of what I do during the day. The little actions or gestures of my life require a lot of my band-with, so to speak. I have to pay attention. That slows my days down just a bit.
[David] I think I can understand that.
[Chris] Like which restroom to use. I mean, I used to read the sign on a public bathroom door three times before entering to make sure I was not going to embarrass myself by entering the ladies’ by mistake. Now I obsess about not entering the ladies’ by mistake. What is the word? Learning an appropriate response to one stimulus and finding it completely inappropriate to another very similar stimulus? Proactive interference. My life is all about proactive interference now. Just about all of my social instincts are completely wrong, most of the time.
[Chris] My current peer group grew up thinking their responses were wrong, their instincts were out of sync with the world around them, hoping for a time they could connect with the world on their own terms. I didn’t. I was just fine with my world and who I was in it. Now, not so much.
[David] So are you OK with it? I mean, isn’t that what a lot of the therapy is about?
[Chris] Yes. I am comfortable with it. When I look in the mirror, I do see me. I am generally comfortable in my skin. In some ways, I am far better than I was before. Existentially speaking, I did choose to become who I am, after all. Choices. Mine were limited, but the choice was ultimately mine. But just because I am comfortable with me, does not mean that being me is all that comfortable. Then again, some things are a lot more convenient.
[David] Like what?
[Chris] Like the toilet seat, for one. I no longer have to remind myself to be considerate and leave the seat down. And the toilet paper thing.
[David] Toilet paper thing?
[Chris] Men tend to replace rolls of anything, toilet paper and paper towels for example, with the next sheet pulled from the top of the roll. You can tell a woman has replaced the roll if the next sheet comes from the bottom of the roll.
[David] You are kidding, of course.
[Chris] No, I am not. Have you not noticed this, David?
[David] No. Quite honestly, I haven’t.
[Chris] Well, it is true. Check it out. And I thought that, after decades of reloading rolls with the next sheet coming from the top, I would really have to work at changing my habits, assuming I was going along with the whole female gestalt. But I just started doing it automatically. Go figure.
[Chris] What? No appreciation for my bathroom humor?
[David] No, Chris. It’s OK. I just thought we would talk more about some of bigger issues in your life.
[Chris] I think these are the bigger issues in my life. I understand what you’re thinking, David. But so much of what we mean when we use the term ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’ has to do with a million little male/female behavior gates we go through every day. Clothing. Toiletries. Cosmetics. Gestures. Colors. Tastes. Gestures. Manners. Language. Choices. Habits. Instincts. Socialization. Eye contact. What did you see when you met me? Did you see a woman? Or did you see a guy in a dress?
[David] A woman.
[Chris] Honestly? Even though you knew about me before we met? Were you looking for a guy in drag?
[David] Honestly, Chris, I was trying to be open minded. I was trying to see you, as I thought you might want to be seen. I don’t think I was looking to find the guy hiding behind the makeup.
[Chris] Thanks for the head start, David. But it would be natural for you to look for faults, for errors, slips or omissions. It is OK if you do. Seeing men in drag make us laugh when, regardless of the quality and detail of their hair, clothes and makeup, they still act like guys. The best drag queens don’t make us laugh at all. They rattle out sensibilities and challenge our imaginations because, even though we know there is male equipment behind the disguise, they look so very female. Maybe even better than real.
[Chris] I don’t have their equipment problems. I have the parts I need, and I do not have any parts that I do not need. But I could easily come across as a joke. So I have become a student of applied female behavioral psychology. For the past two years, I have tried to internalize and physically express everything I have ever noticed and enjoyed about women, including toilet seat positions and paper towel installations. The hardest part was understanding the finality of my choices. Evelyn helped with that.
[Chris] Yes. She did. I had to let the old Chris go. He was dead, anyway, so the process was not as difficult as it might have been. As soon as I got that there was no going back, that I was not going to wake up one morning having been in my sleep magically reconstructed, I was better able to embrace the changes, design a new me – from the bottom up.
[Chris] Perhaps this also separates me different from my ‘peers.’ They have a long time to make the necessary changes before their transition is finalized. Until the end, their choices are not irrevocable. They can screw up along the way because in a sense they are practicing in preparation for the big event. They can change their minds. I can’t screw up. I can’t go back. I can’t change my mind. And I don’t want to be a joke.
[Chris] I don’t want to have to hide out in my house, a recluse. I don’t want to lead the rest of my life as an ambiguous or androgynous person, at whom people stare, to whom people can not easily relate.
[David] Chris, how do you think you are doing? Do you think you have made a successful transition? Do you think people who don’t know you see you for who you now are? Or see you pretending to be someone you are not? Because I see you as who you now are.
[Chris] Oh, most of the time I think I pass. But one has one’s doubts, sometimes. A stare from a stranger that lingers enough to appear too analytical.
[David] OK. So let’s say someone makes you. Figures you’re a cross dresser. What could he or she do? Not likely they are going to rally the villagers.
[Chris] Oh, it’s far worse than that, David.
[Chris] They can, with a mere glance, make you feel like a failure. They can make you feel small, subhuman, a mutant. I know, David. No one can make you feel something you will not own. But I find myself being overly sensitive these days. Maybe it is the hormones. But I need to stop here for a moment. Got to use the ladies room. Excuse me. Be right back.
Chris left to use the bathroom in Dr. Schroedinger’s office. Taking advantage of the break, David used the one off the waiting room. He left the seat down when he was finished. Chris was seated and waiting for him when he returned to his own seat.
[Chris] So the clothes thing, Chris resumed, I am still not completely comfortable dressing in women’s clothes.
[Chris] Or I should say I am not completely comfortable wearing my clothes. And Sam sometimes harasses me into wearing her things, when she thinks I need to look a certain way. That still feels very odd.
[Chris] Have you ever felt the urge to wear women’s clothes, David?
[David] No. Can’t say that I have. I think once when I was a kid, a couple of girls talked a couple of us guys into dressing up in their skirts. That was the end of that for me, I think. Although wearing a kilt I always thought might be a hoot.
[Chris] We are so hung up on clothing, in our culture. In many cultures, men wear what we would consider skirts, and we don’t think anything of it. Remember Rudy Gernrich the designer? He come out with a line of skirts for men. Didn’t go over very well. You don’t see many business men in skirts.
[David] Given how each generation invents clothing styles designed to freak out or piss off the preceding ones, you’d think young boys would have started wearing some sort of skirt by now.
[Chris] How about those baggy shorts with the crotch dragging the ground.
[David] Sure. Snip off the bottom and you have a skirt. Maybe the kids are heading in that direction.
[Chris] Anyway … Women wear men’s clothing – or at least man-styled clothing – all the time. But men do not wear anything at all feminine. The shirt you are wearing today is a man’s shirt, but a woman could certainly wear that as well and no one would notice. Put a cute little sleeve on it, and you would not be caught dead in it.
[Chris] So again, decades of conditioning had me comfortable in my masculine wardrobe which, I assure you, did not contain one skirt. Sam’s clothes were hers. My clothes were mine. My body knew only the weight and feel of a man’s clothes. Heavy. Secure. Men don’t have to go around looking at themselves to make sure they still have their frock on straight, their boobs have not popped out anywhere, or their hem has not snagged in the waistband of their panties. Men don’t have to pay attention to what their legs are doing under a table, how to bend or stoop or take a flight of stairs in a long skirt or a short one.
[Chris] Women grow up from girls working out such details. Men have other details they have to work out, of course.
[David] Of course.
[Chris] Am I ranting?
[David] You are becoming more passionate, but my family engaged in passionate dinner table discussions when I was growing up, so I am OK with passion.
[Chris] Thank you. But it does take a lot of mental bandwidth to deal with it. I deal with it by adding a lot of layers when I am feeling insecure. Then there are days when I venture out in some little frock and find myself in the supermarket feeling suddenly totally naked. Ever had one of those dreams where you are walking around buck naked or in your jammies and everyone else has their clothes on?
[David] Hasn’t everyone?
[Chris] Well that is me. Real life. More often than I like. On the other hand, being able to wear so little cloth on a tropically hot South Florida summer day has its advantages.
[David] To be honest, Chris, I have often envied Sarah’s ability to dress somewhat scantily on a hot day, while I am clomping around in jean shorts and a relatively heavy polo shirt.
[Chris] Exactly. She paused. So that is it for me for right now. Wearing women’s clothes. Trying to pass.
[David] But you are a woman, aren’t you?
[Chris] Yes. Absolutely as far as my sex is concerned. But as far as my gender is concerned, I’m a work in progress.
[David] Are you still, ah, committed to the change?
[Chris] Yes. Of course.
[David] You know, Chris, you really look OK.
[Chris] Thank you, David. You are too kind. You know, we could dress you up and take you out with us some time. Give you an opportunity to experience some of this for yourself.
[David] Thank you for the invitation, Chris. I will take it under advisement.
[David] So was there anything in your, ah, previous life that helped you?
[Chris] Sure. I know what men like. At least I know what I like. So I have tried to focus peoples’ attention on some attributes so they will have less time to dwell on others.
[David] And they are?
[Chris] Boobs, of course. Hair. And I tend to wear short skirts.
[David] Makes sense.
[Chris] Women wear tops designed to showcase their breasts, and then fuss at men for staring at them, knowing that the fuss just focuses more attention on them.
[Chris] Women don’t explore men’s bodies visually they way men explore women’s. A women will focus her attention on a man’s face, and look away from time to time to give the man time to check her out. When men break eye contact momentarily, it is usually to look down.
[Chris] I worked with a young woman years ago who had been facially disfigured. To the point people actually gasped when they looked at her. At the time, she was the most courageous person I had met. Her hair and the rest of her body were as remarkably beautiful as her face was not. And once you got to know her, she was really a very nice person. She wore classy, but tight fitting and very revealing clothing to work, clothing that was not really appropriate to the workplace. No one every said a word to her about her clothes. She had every right to do everything she could to focus peoples’ attention on her positive attributes. No one complained. So I thought I would try the same thing.
[David] Tell me about Sam. Your relationship with Sam. You are still together after everything that has happened?
[Chris] Oh, Sam and I are fine. We have had our issues, but we deal with them. We make a great lesbian couple. Lipstick lesbians. I’ve given up my tool belt.
[Chris] Our daughter is not all that happy with us, but we are good together. That part worked out OK for us.
[David] You’re still married.
[Chris] Of course. Same sex marriage. Isn’t that interesting? And it is a marriage, not some variant partnership.
[David] You are legally female now?
[Chris] Of course. Driver’s license and library card to prove it. Not having to change my name was convenient.
[David] And it hasn’t been an issue about your being married?
[Chris] It has simply not come up. The question has not been raised. And we are not going to raise it.
[David] No plans to become a poster girl for same sex unions?
[Chris] None. The law wants to address large segments of the population, big issues, cases that touch the many. Sam and I are a class of one. No one cares about us. Or would ever want to. From the beginning, we have been an exception. A legal aberration. And we have no plans to try to convince anyone otherwise. We are just OK with the way things work now.
[David] Interesting. Interesting.
[David] So, Chris. Kids. I haven’t asked you yet if you have any kids. You mentioned a daughter.
[Chris] Did I? Yes, Sam and I have a daughter. Grown up, but not I think a grownup. She lives here in Miami. But let’s not talk about her right now.
[David] OK. Maybe we can talk about her later?
[Chris] Perhaps later.
[Chris] I need to tell you about our holiday party.
Chris had, figuratively speaking, left David alone in the room when he had asked about her daughter. She had averted her eyes from his, looked off into a vacant corner of the office, and, in doing so, turned the temperature down fifteen degrees. David had almost shivered at her response. As quickly as she had left, when the subject was successfully changed, she had returned. David did not think another man would have reacted the way Chris had.
[Chris] But before we go on, there is something I want to ask you. You have to answer truthfully.
[David] What do you want to know?
[Chris] There were four women in this office when you arrived this afternoon. Three, not counting Millie, who you knew. Which of the three did you think I was?
[David] I would not be truthful, Chris, if I said it had been you.
David thought he noticed a sparkle in Chris’s eyes when she started to tell him about the holiday party. Perhaps her recollection of her firm’s holiday party brought her some joy. Or perhaps she was just becoming more comfortable disclosing herself to him.
[Chris] So, the party. Some of us call it a holiday party, some the annual party. We used to call it the Christmas party until that becameincorrect. It’s our only big party, so some of us just call it the party. It is a formal affair. And fancy. Henry likes pomp, so the party has a lot of that.
[Chris] Henry is Henry Appelruth, managing partner at the firm. Do please let me know if I talk about someone without introducing them to you first.
[Chris] Anyway, I was not planning to attend. I had been away, recovering, during the previous year’s event. And I had already had two ‘coming out’ parties, each the cause of an anxiety reaction. I was just not prepared for a third. Here I was, working an odd schedule, keeping a low profile, avoiding large group meetings. I was still just too new and inexperienced with myself.
[Chris] I was going to come up with a medical excuse, of course. Relapse of some kind. I was doing fine at the office, but everyone remotely associated with the firm is invited to the annual party: important clients, spouses, business associates, friends.
[Chris] I didn’t feel well enough to spend a long evening wondering if I had become the topic of everyone’s conversation. Or worse, having to explain myself all night. There would be a lot of serious people in attendance, discussing serious things. And odd people discussing odd things.
[Chris] And a dress! Dress for the affair is formal, for God’s sake. I was OK with business clothes and everyday clothes by then. But getting into an evening gown was a whole different kettle of fish.
[Chris] Sam, of course, was all for going. She was looking forward to dressing up – and dressing me up – and walking in hand-in-hand. Sam is still something of a revolutionary, and loves making statements. So she was not happy when I told her I was going to make my excuses.
[Chris] She told me I was being silly. I think that discretion is one of the lost arts of our time. Today we are all ‘in-your-face’ in everything we do. We just put ourselves out there and ‘to hell’ with anyone who has a problem with it. I guess I am just an old fashioned girl. Sometimes you just have to say ‘no thank you’ to your opportunities, step into the future more gradually than some people might like.
[Chris] So Sam must have ratted me out to Henry, because two days later, Henry cornered me in my office. Karen and George, colleagues, were there, so he had reinforcements.
[Chris] They both agreed with him and said it would be great fun. I was dismayed. I was trapped. I had no had time to pull my ‘I would love to come but’ story together. I appealed to them on a number of fronts, but they were having none of it. They were all ‘you’re being too sensitive,’ ‘no one will notice or care,’ ‘the party won’t be the same without you,’ ‘it will be fun to dress up for the first time.’ The situation was hopeless.
[Chris] Henry then played his hole card. He told me he was going to arrange for Sam and I to visit one of the best designer shops in Miami for gowns. On him. Plus hair. Plus nails. Plus shoes. The whole nine yards.
[Chris] I was screwed.
[David] You were screwed.
[Chris] I just didn’t have the balls to go home and tell Sam I had said ‘no’ to all that. She would have killed me, dead on the spot. Or worse.
[David] So what did you do?
[Chris] What any person in my position would do. I caved. You have to know when to fold ‘em, David. There are times you have to just keep your head down and float with the current, hope you can find your way to an eddy in which to seek refuge.
[Chris] The following weekend, we were off to Victoria Secret for under things. That segment of the plan was not too bad since I have not given up finding women in lingerie exciting, but I was still getting used to selecting that sort of thing for myself. Sam frequently reminds me that our sensations of fear and excitement are one, that it is our perception of antecedent events that makes the difference. I had some very strong feelings, and not a clue as to whether it was excitement or fear I was experiencing. Fortunately, I was surrounded by Sam as well as several young, attractive saleswomen, none of them afraid to express an opinion, so all I had to do was nod and smile and do what I was told.
[Chris] Ultimately, we were successful finding appropriate underpinnings, and then it was off to the dress shops. And we did go to several to find what Sam thought would work for us.
[Chris] Are you OK with this, David? I haven’t noticed you squirming in your seat, as I once would have been, but tell me if I am getting too deep into girl territory for you.
[David] No, it’s fine, Chris. Actually, I am trying to imagine myself in your position. And besides, I think I am starting to understand things a little from your perspective. I believe is will help me down the road. Besides, I’m a guy among three girls in my household.
[Chris] All right, then. Are you sure?
[David] Yes. I’m sure, Chris. If I get uncomfortable, I’ll let you know. Truth be told, I am still back in Victoria’s Secret, but go on. I’ll catch up.
[Chris] The whole thing for me has been like fearing snakes and having to go hiking in the jungle. So long as nothing slithers out and bites you, you can get used to being there after a while.
[Chris] So. Anyway. We cruised The Gables and the Grove, and ended up at The Falls. I selected dresses for Sam. She selected them for me. My job was easy; everything looks good on Sam. Her job was harder. We wanted to find a gown for me that would ensure I was perceived immediately to be female, but without out being too obvious about it. And our dresses had to compliment one another. I ended up with a long white silk thing that probably exposed more skin than would have been ideal, but added a lacy retro-styled cloak for a little more coverage. Sam selected a very simple long layered gown in deep lavender, one of the colors in my cloak. All in all, dress selection took more time that I wanted, less than I anticipated.
[Chris] In fact, we had some time to fool around with it. Sam insisted we try on some dresses that would have been suitable for a wedding. There we were, the two of us, dressed like brides less the tiaras and veils, chuckling like two old biddies high on weed. Sam said we should buy the gowns and dress up and renew our vows. I reminded her we had to focus on the task of the day.
[Chris] Once we found our dresses, shoes were not a huge problem. Being tall, we tend toward flats and sandals. And we were able to find some nice dressy sandals that matched our dresses, with just a little heel. It took the whole weekend, but we were able to pull our outfits together. Sam was ecstatic. I was convinced Henry was going into V-fib when he saw the bill. Actually, I am not sure Henry himself ever saw the bill.
[Chris] Need a break? Want some water?
[David] No. I’m fine. Please. Go on.
[Chris] So comes the day of the party. We are off to the salon for hair and nails. Aided by hormones and an array of associated re-constructive procedures, my hair has grown back a lot thicker than it was before, but there are times I still feel more secure hiding under a wig. I find I am the better actor. But Sam insisted on my natural hair done up with a few extensions. Sam has beautiful long black hair, and she was just going to pull hers back. I thought we turned out just fine, for a couple of old ladies, and I tried to stay focused on that, but you know how you get cold when you are nervous? Do you get cold when you are really nervous?
[David] No. Not actually.
[Chris] Well I do. And that day I was shivering. And the fact they keep businesses so air conditioned did not help. I was freezing. Nerves. Does things to my blood pressure. Then the world becomes an iceland.
[Chris] When we got home, there were two corsages waiting for us. From Karen and George. Their note said they were really glad we were going to be attending the party. God, I thought I was going to break down and cry, totally trash my mascara. All Sam could say was ‘see? They love you. You have nothing to worry about.’
[Chris] So we pulled it all together, had a drink, got dressed, said good evening to the cats, and left the house. I drove. I was still quite stressed looking forward to the evening, so I didn’t say much on the way there. And what I did say to Sam was not very polite. She finally told me I could handle it. I had handled far worse, she said. So I needed to just get a grip. I wasn’t going for a root canal, after all. I made an effort, but I still hoped the evening would go by quickly.
[Chris] When we arrived at the resort and pulled up to the entrance to give the car to the valet, a lot of people were arriving, the women in gowns, the men in their dark suits or dinner jackets. So many bow ties and black jackets – I felt like I was out of uniform. I should have been wearing a tux, not an evening gown.
[Chris] You know how I felt? I felt like I got the wrong invitation to the party. I got the one that said ‘costume party, come as Little Bo Peep.’ And everyone else got ‘black tie and evening gown.’
[Chris] I did not recognize most of the people, clients of the firm with whom I had not worked. I thought then we might be able to just blend in, go with the flow, nod and smile, and all would be OK.
[Chris] We got to the room, anonymously enough, and collected our table assignment. Senior partners share a table, front and center. The rest of the staff are sprinkled around the room so that there are representatives of the firm at every table. Happily, I had been sprinkled. Sam and I were sitting at a table at the side of the room, not on a direct path to either a bathroom or an exit. Karen and George and their significant others were sitting with us along with three other couples I had not met.
[Chris] Sam and I were first to the table. Karen and her husband Bob arrived next and selected the chairs seats to our left. At this point, everyone is standing, milling around, saying hello to friends, meeting for the first time. I was bobbing and weaving, trying to keep Sam between me and anyone I thought might be getting ready to say something to me.
[Chris] A couple I had not met arrived next, selecting seats directly across the table from us. She sat down. He did the introductions. Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Stennis. New client of the firm. Karen introduced herself and Bob, saying that she worked for the firm. I introduced myself and Sam, telling them I worked for the firm also. So then he looked at me and said "You’re Chris McGee? Forgive me, but I didn’t know Chris McGee was a woman." Shit, I thought. Here it goes. I smiled, batted my eyelashes at him, and said nothing.
[Chris] At that point, his wife spoke up, saying I had to forgive her husband, that he was a bit of a chauvinist. "He heard you were an outstanding attorney, one of the best" she said, "and naturally had to assume you were a man."
[Chris] ’I was,’ I was saying to myself, when George and Juanita arrived at the table. The perfect interruption. They plopped themselves down to our right, and the introductions continued. The saving grace of large tables in a noisy room is that you generally can not easily carry on a conversation with anyone across the table. As long as I did not allow myself to be cornered, I figured I was not going to have to continue with Mr. Stennis, who was still looking at me with a puzzled look on his face.
[David] So why didn’t you just tell him who you were? asked David.
[Chris] I could have. Or I could have just lied, and told him I was a different Chris McGee. But I did not want to become the table’s focal point. I have never enjoyed being the most interesting person in a group. Of course, that is not as easy to do now as it once was for me. So I said as little as I could, hoping the subject would be dropped and not raised again.
[David] I understand.
[Chris] As it turned out, the last two couples assigned to our table were the Kennedy’s and the Kaczmarick’s. The men were both involved in the firm’s accounting. They both knew, and so had no reason to bring the subject up. Their wives had most likely heard the story from their husbands. Now they might have raised the subject again, but instead just said very seriously that they were happy to hear I was back full time with the firm, and left it at that. I thought I saw some meaningful glances exchanged between the two ladies and Karen. I do not like sympathy, when it is directed at me. There was a lot of it conveyed in our table conversation, but I think things could have been worse. At least the ladies threw Mr. Stennis off the trail. Mrs. Stennis was paying attention and reading between the lines and might have been putting the puzzle pieces together at that point, but George and Karen did their best to divert any threatening topic of conversation toward more harmless subjects.
[Chris] So I thought things went relatively well through the appetizers. There were the twelve of us chatting along as best we could. Occasionally, someone from the firm or a former corporate client who knew me well would stop by to pay their respects, but for the most part, I think, people with whom I might otherwise have visited, seemed to be avoiding me. People are fascinated by train wrecks, but generally seem to appreciate them from a distance. Don’t want to get too close to the blood and gore. So that was it: a few hundred guests and the proverbial thousand pound elephant - which would be growing larger before the evening was over.
[David] And what was Sam doing through this?
[Chris] Sam? Sam would have been happy to get into it in great detail with everyone at the table or just strolling by. Sam is not impaired by many social inhibitions. If you ask it, she will discuss it. Probably in far greater detail than you would ever wish. That’s just Sam. The term ‘up front’ was coined to describe her. So we had our little chat on the way over that evening. I explained to her that I was attending under duress, and that I would be extremely hurt and leave at once if I was not allowed enough privacy to enjoy as much of the event as possible. Our talk and a few periodic steely glances throughout the evening helped her behave.
[Chris] You know I learning something that night that seemed very significant to me at the time.
[David] What was that?
[Chris] You know that the ‘fight or flight’ response applies just to males.
[David] No, actually, I didn’t. Really?
[Chris] Yup. Turns out the research that resulted in the concept was done on males, but generalized to females. Years later, the study was repeated with a different population.
[Chris] Females do not ‘fight or fly.’ They ‘tend and befriend.’
[David] That makes sense.
[Chris] Of course. Under stress, females tend to their children and seek closeness to other nearby females.
[Chris] I don’t have those instincts. And they are instincts, not skills that can be learned. I suppose you could fake it, but I am not sure about that. Anyway, when women look at me, they may know that I was not always female, but they see a female, and instinctively expect me to act like one.
[David] And you don’t.
[Chris] No. I do not.
[David] And that is a problem.
[Chris] Yes, it is a problem. It is one of a long list of problems I have yet to solve. I need to find a way to turn these, ah, ‘issues,’ if you will, into assets instead of liabilities. I do not want to just neutralize them. I want them to work to my advantage. I need to do that if I ever hope to level the playing field. I am at a real disadvantage now.
[David] You know, Chris, I would never make a good counselor. Whenever I hear a problem, I immediately try to solve it.
[Chris] Same here, David.
[David] But in your case, I simply have no answers. You are so far removed from any experience I could ever imagine, I find I am not even trying to consider options for you.
[Chris] Thanks for the offer of help, David. But I think I just need to find solutions for myself. Evelyn was able to help me through some tough times early on. But even she said I was going to have to come with most of the answers on my own. With support from her and Sam and others, of course. But the work was mine to do.
[Chris] Just a poor little girl. Out here on her own. Dealing with life as she can.
[Chris] But back to the party.
[Chris] We were well into the salad course when I decided I had to pee. I whispered to Sam that I was off to the ladies. My plan, which I had not conveyed to Sam, was to find a restroom in another area of the facility, one in which I was not likely to run into anyone I knew. But she didn’t know that. Nor did Karen and Juanita. So when I grabbed my little bag and stood, they all grabbed their purses and stood as well. It was one of those girls going together to the powder room things. I don’t know if the practice is tending and befriending behavior, but must be related somehow. Do you think?
[David] Chris, I have no idea.
[Chris] So my posse and I were off to the can, Sam in the lead, me following, and Karen and Juanita bringing up the rear. Through the crowd we went, Karen and Juanita waving and smiling at anyone who paid us any attention. Sam waved to a few people she knew in attendance. I practiced my nodding/smiling, but basically tried to keep a low profile.
[Chris] The trip went very well, actually. I don’t think I will ever get used to the difference between ladies’ room and men’s room behavior, but I was well-guarded by my troop. Sam stayed close, when neither of us was occupying a stall, and helped me touch up my make-up and hair, and she sprayed me with her perfume.
[Chris] You know, with the exception of Royal Water, by Creed, which is alleged to be unisex, I had to give away all of my colognes. Broke my heart. But I couldn’t very well go around looking like a girl and smelling like a guy. I liked the perfumes Sam wore, of course, so I was using hers.
[Chris] I thought we were going to make it back to our table without so much as a ding, but on the way back, Henry noticed us and called us over. It wasn’t so much his table that worried me. Just partners and their wives were seated there. But the firm’s three most important clients were with them, And the other tables in the neighborhood were occupied by movers and shakers as well.
[Chris] When we got to the table, they all stood up. Karen and Juanita had abandoned us, so it was just Sam and me. Sam hugged Henry. Gretta came over and gave me a big hug, whispering in my ear that I looked beautiful and that there was nothing to worry about. Then Henry came over to me, and gave me a big hug. Henry and I have been close for a long time. Gretta and Sam and I had always greeted each other with hugs. But before then, Henry and I had always shaken hands. Sam said later she thought Henry was just trying to check out my boobs. I would not put that past Henry, actually.
[Chris] At that point, the main course was being served, so we returned to our table. Things were going well, nothing bad happened, so I allowed myself to relax a little. Big mistake on my part.
[Chris] I haven’t told you yet about the music. We always have live music at our affairs. For dancing for those who want to stay on after dinner. There was a nice young guy on an electronic keyboard and a very attractive young woman singer. They were doing popular music, but quiet, and a little jazzy. The woman had an earthy voice. A little like Sade. Do you listen to Sade?
[David] Yes, I know her music.
[Chris] We were enjoying our cheesecake and coffee when Henry got up, quieted the duo and took control of the microphone. He does this every year. He thanks everyone for coming. He talks about the year, how the firm has done, how important cases have resulted. He hands out awards for various accomplishments. Most difficult cases. Most billable hours. Henry’s awards are different every year. He really keeps track of what is happening in the firm. That’s his job, of course. He knows who is doing what. Who has been naughty. Who has been nice. And he acknowledges what he likes. Marty Jacobs had worked on a very difficult divorce case. By the time we got the case, the husband and the wife were at each other’s throats. He was going to blow up his house before he let his wife and her boyfriend get it. We thought he meant it, too. But Marty managed to get everyone to calm down, and he negotiated a fair ending to the couple’s relationship. Of course Marty could talk the scales off a fish, but Henry recognized his work and gave him a trophy.
[David] I’m misleading you. Henry and Gretta collect art glass. What he gives out to recognize people are stunning, one-of-a kind glass objects: sculptures, bowls, lamps. And they have great taste, so the pieces are stunning. Henry and Gretta travel to Venice once a year, to Murano, so a lot it Henry’s trophies come from there.
[Chris] When he started handing out awards, I got busy thinking if there was any reason he would call attention to me. Fortunately, I couldn’t think of anything special. The firm just was not my priority that year. Henry had everything well in hand. There was not much for me to do. So I figured I was safe.
[Chris] Never allow yourself to become complacent.
[Chris] So then Henry says "before I sit down and let you all get up and boogie ‘til dawn, there is one more person I need to acknowledge. Chris McGee."
[Chris] It felt like the air had just been sucked from the room. Outside my head, there is quiet. Inside, there is bedlam. A voice is screaming at me from inside, ‘Flee! Flee!’
[Chris] He is going on about establishing the firm, making it a success. He is talking about how I had to be away for too long a time dealing with some serious medical issues, (‘Flee! Flee!’) but have returned better than ever, and the firm is running smoothly once again, in spite of his efforts to screw things up. Everyone laughs. (‘Flee! Flee!’) Then he tells everyone that I have made a space in my heart for two things other than Sam and the firm: the UM/Sylvester Cancer Clinic, and the rehab unit at Jackson Memorial. I am getting that throbbing sound in my ears. He announces, "Chris, no trophy for you this year. This year I have two checks for you. One is made out in your name to the cancer clinic, to help them with their programs and services. The other is made out to a company that is going to engineer a solution that will enable you to take more severely disabled kids out fishing on your boat. Everyone? Please help me thank Chris for everything she is doing to make some good peoples’ lives a little less of a struggle."
[Chris] I realized that people were clapping, and I had to do something. I looked at Karen and George, who were grinning ear to ear. Sam had tears in her eyes. I am sure I looked as terrified as I felt. But I managed to get to my feet, remember to pick up my gown so I would not trip on the way up, and make it to the front of the room.
[David] Did you have to say anything?
[Chris] I was hoping I could just collect the checks and make a quick exit, but after handing me the checks, Henry handed me the microphone. Besides, the check for the cancer clinic was for a million dollars. One is expected to say something when one receives such a sum.
[Chris] I think I said something like ‘wow! What a wonderful surprise!’ Then I took a moment and said nothing. It is amazing how long people will wait without fidgeting to find out what someone is about to say.
[Chris] Then I thanked Henry. I thanked him for being the firms’ most important asset, and a decent human being. I thanked him for helping to develop a law firm that was a joy, that had put fairness, honor and integrity back into the business of law. I thanked him for being a real partner with the community. I thanked him for all the contributions he had made in the past to local charities, and especially for his generous donations that night. I thanked him on behalf of the children he would be helping at the clinic, and the injured soldiers he would be helping at the rehab clinic. Finally, I thanked him for throwing a really great party.
[Chris] Then I handed him back the mike and clapped, and everyone stood and applauded Henry. My instinct was to shake his hand before I returned to my seat, but instead, I leaned over and kissed him on his cheek. First lipstick tattoo I ever gave anyone. And I left it there.
[Chris] After Henry made a few closing comments, the music resumed, and people began to trickle out, so Sam and I took that as a sign we could leave as well, and we did.
[David] I think I understand the donation to the clinic. What was the other check for?
[Chris] One of the things I do is take soldiers in the rehab program fishing. I have a flats boat. We go into the backcountry, fish for snook, permit, tarpon sometimes. Whatever bends the rod sometimes. Flats boats are small anyway, suitable for two people really. I could only take kids who had regained their mobility. Henry’s check is allowing me to engineer something that will let me take kids in wheel chairs. I could do it myself, but Henry’s check will facilitate things a bit.
[Chris] Do you fish, David?
[David] I have fished.
[Chris] Then I’ll have to take you out sometime.
[David] I think I would like that a lot.
[David] So that didn’t turn out so bad.
[Chris] No. All in all, it didn’t turn out so bad. Little Bo Peep survived after all.
The moment of silence that followed the conclusion of her story about the holiday party was interrupted by the chirping of Chris’s cell phone. She retrieved it from her purse, answered quietly, snapped it closed, and returned it to her bag.
[Chris] I must go. That was Sam. She is done her shopping, and is on her way up.
[David] I guess we are at a good stopping point, said David.
[David] Can we continue this?
[David] I think this has been helpful. I would like to go further with it. Learn much more about your experiences. I think we are just getting started here.
Both David and Chris stood and collected their things.
[Chris] Sure, David. I would be happy to talk more with you.
[Chris] How about next Friday. Same time.
[Chris] I have some things on my schedule for that day, but it would work for me if we could meet at my office.
[Chris] Where do you live?
[Chris] Well, it will be a little out of your way, but not too much. If you come from home, you can just go east instead of north and east. Might even be faster for you.
[Chris] After lunch work for you?
[David] I’ll work with your schedule.
[Chris] Your number is in my phone. I’ll call you with an exact time and directions.
[David] Sounds like a plan.
Chris and David arrived at the outer door of Dr. Schroedinger’s office. David reached for the door and opened it, Sam having just then arrived at the other side.
Chris’s Sam was an elegantly tall and slender woman, with pink cheeks, smelling of perfume and fresh air. Having gotten past the idea of her former life, David was finding Chris an attractive woman. Sam simply took his breath away. He had to look away from her to be polite, to not stare. But he genuinely wanted to stare at her. Sam’s long, silky black hair was gathered at the nape of her neck. She wore a short blue sun dress and stylish but comfortable looking sandals. Under her arm she clutched a large, soft leather bag. In her hand were a set of keys. She looked David in the eyes and smiled warmly. David thought Sam knew she was beautiful. But she was not arrogant about it. It was just how she looked.
[Sam] Hi! I’m Sam McGee. You must be Dr. David Matthews.
Sam reached out her hand to David.
[Chris] Sam has never been one to wait for introductions.
[Chris] David? I would like you to meet Sam. Sam? David.
David finally moved, reaching out to take Sam’s hand.
[Sam] Are you going to invite me in? Or are we just going to stand here in the hallway?
[David] My apologies. Of course, come in.
[Chris] Hi, hon.
David stepped back, and Sam walked forward into the office. She went toward Chris, kissing her lightly on the lips.
[Chris] Shopped out are you?
[Sam] Yes, Snooker, I am. I picked up a couple of things. A couple of really nice things for you. Are you done here also? Or am I interrupting?
[Chris] No, I think we are done. At least at a good stopping point. Right, David?
[David] Yes. Yes, said David.
[Chris] So. Sam. I am just going to use the ladies’ room, and I will be ready to go.
Chris left David and Sam alone. David would have preferred to use the bathroom as well, but his feet would not move from where he stood. He could always stop along the way home if he had to.
[Sam] So how are things going?
[David] Fine, I think. Fine. It is very nice of Chris to help me with my project.
[Sam] Chris is very generous with herself and her time. Has she told you about her work with the cancer kids at the hospital, and with the vets?
[David] No, not yet.
[Sam] Veterans, I mean. Not veterinarians.
[David] No, she hasn’t
[Sam] She will, I’m sure. Do you fish?
[David] Some. Not for a while, though.
[Sam] I’m sure she will want to take you out. It’s her real passion, though she is pretty low key about the whole thing.
[Sam] So your conversation is going OK?
[David] Yes. I think so.
[David] You sound concerned?
[Sam] Chris has been through a lot, the past two years. In spite of what Dr. Schroedinger tells her, I think she is still very fragile. You need to be very careful about where you go with this.
[David] Of course. Of course I will.
[Sam] Let her tell you what she wants to tell you.
[Sam] I think she is doing great, but I wouldn’t want to see the hard work get fucked up.
[David] Of course.
[Sam] You seem like a nice person. Do you like curry?
[David] Excuse me?
[Sam] Curry, Dr. Matthews. Indian food. Chris does a great Indian dinner. You should come sometime when she is fixing it. Are you married?
[David] Yes I am. Ah, my wife’s name is Sarah.
[Sam] So you should both come. If you would not feel uncomfortable about it.
[David] I think I would like that, Ms. McGee.
[Sam] Please call me Sam. So what happened to Snooker anyway? Did she fall in? Chris!
Lights were turned off in the inner office. Chris emerged from the dark into the waiting room.
[Chris] Getting acquainted?
[Sam] Yes, dear. I invited Dr. Matthews to dinner. Hope you don’t mind.
[Chris] Not at all. In fact, I think we should set aside some time to talk there, perhaps in two weeks.
[Chris] We are meeting in my office next week.
[Chris] So maybe in two weeks. We can grill some fish.
[Sam] I promised curry.
[Chris] Curry it is, then, said Chris. We can do times and directions later.
They left Dr. Shroeder’s office then, Sam first, followed by Chris, David clicking off the lights, closing the door, checking to ensure it was locked, and following after. He caught up with Sam and Chris at the elevator.
[Sam] Parked in the garage, Dr. Matthews?
[David] Please call me David, Sam. And, yes.
Sam pushed ‘G’ for garage on the elevator’s control panel.
[Chris] So what did you buy, Sam?
[Sam] It’s a surprise. You have to wait until we get home. I think you will like what I got you, though.
[Chris] Sam loves surprises, David. I hate them.
The elevator reached garage level, the doors opened, and Sam, Chris and David stepped out into warm, humid air.
[Chris] Where are you parked, David?
[David] Down there, to the right.
[Chris] We are just here. The red roadster. What do you think of my car?
[David] Very nice.
[Chris] Sam made me buy it. My last vehicle was a mini-van.
[Sam] I told her, after going through the mid-life crisis she went through, she owed herself a hot, red sports car. So is that the ultimate chic car or what?
[David] I’d say it was.
[Sam] Come on, Snooker. We need to run.
[Sam] Good bye, Dr. Matthews. David. It was very nice to meet you.
[David] And I, you. Both of you.
[David] I look forward to seeing you, Chris, next week. And you, Sam, in two weeks.
David turned and walked briskly toward his car. Chris and Sam turn toward theirs.
[Sam] Can I drive?
[Sam] Why don’t you let me drive when we are together?
[Chris] Because you make me crazy when you drive. And why do you always bring this up? You know I need to drive.
[Sam] Oh for God’s sake. So drive, then.
[Chris] Yes, dear. What are you upset about?
[Sam] Nothing. I didn’t stop for lunch. Maybe I am just a little grumpy
Chris and Sam climbed into their car, backed out of their space, and drove toward the exit. David did the same, dialing his wife on his cell phone as he drove.
[David] Hi, Sarah. How are you doing?
[Sarah] OK. Are you on your way home?
[David] Yes, honey. Just leaving Dr. Schroedinger’s office now.
[Sarah] So how did it go?
[David] I think OK. Chris McGee is nothing like I imagined he/she would be -
[David] No. Turns out she is a very interesting person. I think she will be a great resource, a great help. But I’ll tell you about it when I get home. And I have to pull my thoughts together some. I met her wife.
[David] Wife. Spouse. Partner. Sam was/is married to Chris. She was the wife. Probably should still be the wife. I guess our vocabulary is not doing a good job of keeping up with the wonders of medical science. Anyway, Sam is interesting too. But I will tell you more when I get home. And we are invited to dinner in two weeks. I think Chris and I will talk during the day. Maybe you could just have a day getting some sun, reading.
[Sarah] Sounds OK. I’ll have to check with your mother. I may have made plans with her that weekend. Assuming it will be on the weekend. But I’ll check.
[David] Sure. If not then, then perhaps we can get together with them another time. But I have to go, honey. I am getting into traffic here and want to keep both hands on the wheel.
[Sarah] Drive carefully, David. I love you.
[David] I love you too, Sarah. Bye.
The Friday afternoon following their initial meeting, David found his way to Chris’s office in Coral Gables. Her offices occupied the top floor of a nice mid-rise glass enclosed building. An array of heavy glass doors directly opposite the building’s bank of elevators opens to a reception room with comfortable traditional furnishings and dark cherry paneling. High on the wall opposite the doors, the name of the firm is displayed in large gold letters: McGee/Appelruth. Beneath the name of the firm, facing the doors, sits a desk straight from a Dickens novel: large, tall, ancient. Perched on a high stool behind this desk was a very handsome young man, dressed in a crisp black suit, and wearing gold-framed spectacles.
[Man] Good afternoon! You, we think, are Dr. David Matthews.
[David] I am.
[Man] Ms. McGee is expecting you.
The young man got down from his stool and walked over to a closed door on his left, which he opened. He looked through the open door and then back at David.
[Man] You will find her down at the end of this hallway, the last office on the left, the only one with an open door.
[David] Thank you.
[Man] You are welcome.
David crossed in front of the young man and walked through the doorway, and into a hallway. The door closed behind him with a click.
The hallway is long and wide. Doors are evenly spaced along both walls. The floor is polished stone. Pale yellow walls are trimmed in dark cherry.
At eye level, beside each door, instead of a number, is a small gold plaque identifying the occupant. The first two plagues are C. McGee and H. Appelruth. David paused at the first door to reconsider his instructions. The other names are unknown to him.
All of the doors were closed. The space was quiet. David might very well have been by himself in the offices, accompanied only by the nice young man out front. Lighting is subdued in the hallway. The light at the end of the hallway was brighter, the source of the light an open office door. Not wanting to be found lingering in the hallway without apparent purpose by a lawyer leaving his or her office, David increased his pace, heading toward the light.
As he approached the end of the hallway, David heard what he thought was Chris’s voice, along with that of another woman, who was laughing. At last he reached the end of the hall, turned left to stand in the open doorway, and tapped lightly on the door frame. Chris sat at a desk facing the doorway. Two high-backed chairs faced her and the curtained windows behind her. Another woman stood in front of Chris’s desk, facing her.
Chris noticed David immediately, and smiled. The woman with her turned.
[Chris] David! So nice to see you again. Please, come in.
[Chris] Karen, this is the famous Dr. David Matthews.
[Chris] David, this is my friend and colleague, Karen Rogers.
[Karen] Nice to meet you, Doctor Matthews.
[David] Nice to meet you, Karen. And please call me David.
[Karen] Chris tells me you are working on a new book.
[David] Researching one. Chris is being kind enough to help.
Karen had sort, curly red hair and just a hint of freckles across her cheeks. She wore a deep green business suit with a short pleated skirt. In spite of platform shoes that add inches to her height, she was still a tiny woman, smaller even then Millie. In spite of her diminutive size, and her age – she could not have been over thirty – David was impressed by the confidence in her handshake and her voice. And when she smiled, her face lit up and her hair glowed. She turned to face Chris.
[Karen] Well, that would be our Chris.
[Karen] Got to run, Snooker. And thanks for the jumpstart. You always know how to turn gray days to sunshine.
[Karen] David, nice to meet you. Hopefully we will be able to meet again, and you can tell me all about your project.
[David] Of course.
David and Karen exchanged positions, David moving forward toward Chris’s desk, Karen passing him, closer than necessary, to reach the door. Her fragrance was clear, bright. Karen took a step out into the hallway and turned to face Chris and David. She smiled at them both and then moved out of view.
[David] That is Karen.
[Chris] That is Karen
[Chris] Please. Sit.
David sat, noticing that the temperature in the office was cool, and that Chris had pulled a black shawl over her shoulders. Her blond hair was pulled up and fastened with a silver clip at the back of her head. Unlike Karen’s, Chris’s fragrance was of musk and citrus, clear also, but headier. Her shawl made Chris look composed, elegant, feminine.
David was wearing pretty much the same uniform he had worn at their first meeting: knit shirt, black that day, Dockers in a dark khaki, brown leather woven belt with dark brown socks and comfortable brown and black deck shoes.
Chris assumed David dressed the same most days. A few knit shirts. A few pairs of khaki pants. Nearly endless combinations of the same conservative attire. She imagined him dressed like the male lawyers in the firm dressed, and wondered if doing so would alter David’s perspectives.
[David] Nice shawl.
[Chris] It’s a pashmina. Himalayan name for cashmere. This one is cashmere and silk. The tassels at the ends are beaded. Henry keeps the offices hospital cold. The women don’t seem to mind, but I do. The pashmina keeps me warm enough. It and the space heater under my desk.
[Chris] You’re cold too?
[David] A bit, yes. Should have brought a jacket.
Chris got up and went to an armoire on the wall to David’s left, where she kept sweaters, jackets and wraps, all black, in various sizes, for her guests, to guard them against the cold. The armoire is of Asian design, ornate, made of teak or some similar imported hardwood, and matches the other pieces in Chris’s simply furnished office.
Chris wore a short black straight skirt and, under her shawl, a simple white short-sleeved cotton blouse. Her office is warmly carpeted, and she has left her shoes under her desk.
Chris selected a cardigan from the armoire, and returned to her desk, handing the sweater to David, who put it on immediately. Chris smiled.
[Chris] It wasn’t mine.
[David] Excuse me?
[Chris] It is a man’s sweater. But it was not mine. From before, I mean. I thought you might be wondering. That it might make you uncomfortable.
[David] No. Actually, that had not occurred to me at all. But thank you for the sweater.
David was not proud of the fact that his opening conversations were uninspired. He was not accomplished at elevator conversation, the few moments you have to interact with people on elevators, in stores, at large social activities, and during the first few minutes of meeting someone. He blamed his lack of such social skills for the early termination of many potentially positive relationships. Sarah was a master at it, and so most of their friends were hers. He thought that Chris was skilled at opening conversations, and wished that she would get things going for them. But it was his show, and his responsibility, so he should say something to break the ice.
[David] Actually, I was admiring your desk. It is so clean, so tidy.
And indeed it was. The teak surface supports a small, ornate desk lamp with beaded shade, a small single line phone desk phone, a small pad of paper, a pen, and a closed cell phone. Chris’s office is clutter free. David looked around, but not find any papers or files.
[David] You can’t possibly work here. My office at the college looks like a library archive. I have trouble finding a place to sit, much less to write. And I claim to work in a paperless society. How do you do it?
Chris placed her hand on the front edge of the desk and pushed it toward him. The top of her desk cantilevered toward him, exposing another desk top below it which slid back toward her. Three or four inches below her neat-as-a pin desk top was one cluttered with letters, note pages, and file folders. Chris lifted the lid of a notebook computer. Embedded in the lower desk top was a standard computer keyboard. Near it was a wireless mouse.
[Chris] Neat, huh?
[David] Really neat!
[Chris] I could have had it motorized, but I thought that would be a little over the top.
Chris placed her hand on the front edge of the new work surface and, once again, pushed. The surface closest to David retreated, creating again the illusion of an uncluttered workspace.
[David] So, where did we stop?
[David] I have been thinking about the party you told me about. When I thought about it, I was surprised that you had some difficulty dealing with it. As an attorney – and I am assuming here you have and still do try cases - you are accustomed to being in front of groups in extremely tense situations. So what was different? Why weren’t you able to deal with it like you would a trial?
[Chris] Fair question. When I am in a courtroom, I know all the rules. I know what to expect. But there are never many people at a trial, frequently just court personnel, plaintiff, defendant, and counsel.
[Chris] I have never been a big party person. Sam and I entertain, but it is usually a couple or two for dinner.
[Chris] At the firm’s party, not only was I dealing with a large group of people, I was dealing with a whole new me.
[Chris] Actually, I have been in court on business since I put on panties. A case I had been assisting Karen with for a couple of years ended up in front of a judge, a judge who had presided over some of my past cases, actually. And ironically, the case involved some sexual harassment issues.
[Chris] The judge was Edmund Fuller. Fair man. Good judge. I actually beat the crap out of him at racquetball during a charity event when we were younger, but don’t think he remembered that.
[Chris] Anyway, when he entered the courtroom, there I was, dressed in my usual dark blue pin stripe suit. Except this time I was wearing a camisole under my jacket instead of a shirt and tie, and I wasn’t in pants. Judge Fuller looks around the courtroom, orienting himself a bit, and spots me. He looks around the courtroom some more. He sits. We sit. He rifles through his case files for a few minutes, looking up at me from time to time. He calls his bailiff over and they whisper back and forth, also glancing at me. I’m looking over my papers, glancing up at them from time to time as if there is nothing in the world wrong. Finally, he asks council to approach.
[Chris] Karen and I approached, along with the three attorneys on the other side. Five feet from the bench, he waves us to stop. With a finger, he calls me forward. He’s a bit of a character, but a rock solid judge. I had no idea what to expect.
[Chris] "So Chris McGee finally decided to go fishing and turned over his cases to his twin sister?" he says. "Please tell me I am not seeing things."
[Chris] "It’s me, your honor," I say. "Chris McGee. The original."
[Chris] "I would have preferred your twin sister," he says. "So are you going to tell me your story?"
[Chris] "With all due respect, Your Honor," I say, "it’s a long and tragic tale, too long to treat adequately at this moment. All you need to remember is that you know me and how serious I am about my work. I am as you see me. It’s not entirely my doing. Are you staring at my breasts, Your Honor?"
[Chris] At that point he shuffles his papers some more. "I do beg your pardon," he says. "It’s just… ." More paper shuffling. He finally gives me eye contact. "When we are done here, we’ll have a drink. Maybe a few drinks."
[Chris] He calls the others forward. When he asks the defense if they have any issues or concerns about which he should be aware, they look at each other in confusion and tell him they do not.
[Chris] They had met mostly with Karen. I had spoken with one or two of them by phone, but none had seen me in person, either before or after. So they were not aware of any potential issues.
[Chris] So we were sent back to our places to get the proceedings started.
[David] I’m curious about the nature of the case. Can you tell me that?
[Chris] Of course. I am not sure it is relevant to your book, but I can certainly tell you about it.
[Chris] Karen’s client worked for a social service agency. The State had been trying to solve a variety of longstanding personnel problems by outsourcing jobs. The Fed did the same thing with no greater success in the 70s and 80s. Anyway, he had over a period of ten years been privatized, de-privatized, and re-privatized, and he finally ended up supervising a staff of mostly female contract staff. Each of the women had their own set of issues, but they had a common foe: him. All he wanted was to do the job according to the rules and regulations promulgated from legislation for the purpose. They wanted to make up their own rules. So a conflict developed. His response was fight or flight. He started looking for another job, but also stuck to his guns on the job. They tended and befriended. Which translated into a conspiracy to have him fired. They accused him of setting them up to be fired so he could hire an all male staff. Really absurd stuff.
[Chris] The contractor filed a grievance. The State, as could be expected, took the side of the contractor over its lone, dedicated employee, and unleashed the inspector general’s office on him. It really unhinged him. He was dealing with some serious issues at home at the same time.
[Chris] The IG found no evidence of the contractor’s allegations. But the State had to either bring him back after months of administrative leave and then deal with the contractor, or get rid of him. So they found a reason to fire him.
[David] And that was?
[Chris] They found some personal business on his office computer.
[David] And they fired him for that? Everyone does that!
[Chris] Some months ago, there was a public servant that used the government’s email system to drum up business for his daughter’s company. Way over the top use of public resources. For purely personal advantage. He fined himself two days pay and apologized. End of story. The IG never peeling the onion enough to find - and he never explained to anyone - that the personal business had to do with two acquaintances, both disabled former clients of his agency, whom he was helping to stay competitively employed.
[David] Really. So he is this nice guy who gets screwed by the system for trying to do a good job. What did he want? Millions? Not his job back, I hope.
[Chris] All he wanted was to have the decision reconsidered and his record amended accordingly.
[David] That’s all? No money?
[Chris] He had obtained another job, in spite of the State’s efforts to prevent him from doing so. He ended up much better off than he was with the State. But he wanted to have his file scrubbed, the black spot removed.
[David] Did they do it?
[Chris] We certainly tried to convince them that they should. I convinced him we needed to exhaust all administrative alternatives, so I wrote letters and made calls to the State on his behalf. Nothing. I spoke with the contractor. Nothing. There were some good people I found in the personnel department of the State who wanted to help, but their hands had been tied by the department to which he had reported. Nothing. The contractor’s counsel finally told me to go pound sand, said the client did not have to money to fund a law suit. I told him he was correct about the client, but that I had plenty of money, and was prepared to use it to take his sorry ass to court.
[David] So what happened?
[Chris] They argued that he had been fired for cause, that being use of State resources for personal business. We argued that his termination was unnecessary and excessive because, one, there was an earlier policy that stated incidental use not interfering with job performance was allowed, two, his business use was to the benefit of disabled former clients of the State, and, three, worse misuse of government resources had resulted in only loss of pay. Because his position was never back-filled, we argued that they had found him expendable and latched on to the grievance as a way to fire him for cause without having to pay his unemployment benefits. We also suggested some degree of agency gender bias was involved because, not only his erstwhile staff, his supervisors to the very top of the department were all women.
[David] Did you win? Did he get his record expunged?
[Chris] Judge Fuller determined that the contractor had conspired to have him wrongfully fired in order to gain control over cases that, by law, were to be managed by the State, and awarded him a half million dollars plus his expenses. The other side was not happy with the outcome.
[David] And the State agency?
[Chris] I advised him not risk his current winnings against door number two, but he is thinking about his options, on a vacation with his wife in Jamaica, I believe.
[David] Good for him.
[Chris] So we were talking about the difference between how comfortable I am in a courtroom versus at the firm’s party.
[Chris] At an event like that party, there is nothing substantial occurring, I have time to dwell on myself, find and worry about things that others might not even notice. Is there something in my teeth? Am I going to spill the soup down the front of my dress? In court, I have no time to think about myself. I’m too busy planning my message, looking for chinks in my opponent’s arguments. You lose yourself in the moment. Time vanishes.
[Chris] I did try to surface now and then, to see if I was attracting attention, and found I was not. Everyone else was involved in the case as well. Even Judge Fuller was without hesitation referring to me as Ms. McGee.
[David] So not bad, then.
[Chris] Not bad at all.
[Chris] I had two other coming out parties.
[Chris] Perhaps I should tell you about them.
[Chris] My first coming out party happened rather early during my reconstruction. It took me a long time to be comfortable going out, being with people at all other than Sam. And even then, I was still physically weak and emotionally fragile. Some things, I learned, you just can not walk off. I didn’t even talk with friends or family on the phone. Sam made my excuses and served as my liaison with the world.
[Chris] Anyway, Sam had been talking with her cousin Cora, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale and is her closest relative. We shared all of the holidays with Cora and her husband Stan and their kids and friends and neighbors. Stan is a cop and Cora a nurse. So all of their friends serve the public in some way: firemen, nurses, EMTs. I think Bill’s a high school coach, and his wife Debbie a teacher in the same school.
[Chris] Even when there was not a holiday in the month, we would get together with the group at least once a month. They took turns. We only visited when the gathering was at Cora’s. I think we once had the entire group to our house, for a July Fourth party.
[Chris] Cora complained to Sam that we had not gotten together in months, and needed to do something about it. So they invited us up on a Sunday afternoon for a backyard cookout and to watch football. I really didn’t want to go. But Sam convinced me that I had to go outside sometime, and this could be my coming out party. I asked her what I would be coming out as? Woman? Lesbian? Oddity? She said "all of the above."
[Chris] I remember reading about a city manager – from Plantation, I think – who was fired because he was preparing to become a woman. As part of his preparation, he would go to another city somewhere, where no one knew him, and go around as a woman. I had not had that opportunity.
[Chris] Anyway, we brought potato salad, which Sam made, and an Asian slaw, which I made. We also brought some shrimps for the grill. We don’t eat meat, so we always brought some sea food to contribute to the party.
[Chris] We took Sam’s Lexus. It was a temperate day for South Florida, so we drove up with the roof open and the air off, listening to Michael Franks and Shawn Colvin.
[Chris] Sam had me wearing a short white denim skirt, buttoned down the front, and a soft pink knit top. I was a blond that day. Sam had a matching blue denim skirt and dark blue knit top. Her hair was loose, but she pulled it back in the car because of the wind in the car. And sandals. We were wearing Naot sandals, our favorites.
[Chris] I had known the Morgans and their friends for a long time, so how bad could it be? I mean, they all knew what had happened. It was not like I was going to have to tell them my story. Turns out the guys had apparently not been listening when their wives explained to them what had happened to Chris.
[Chris] Cora and Stan have a nice house with an open floor plan. Big house, little lot. Screened-in pool in the back for the kids. Stan and Cora met us at the door. We had gotten accustomed to greeting each other with hugs, even Stan and I. I imagined I noticed Cora’s eyes welling up a bit when she saw me and put her arms around me. While we were hugging, she asked me how I was doing. I told her I was doing OK. As she released me, she said something about our hug feeling a lot different. She smiled, so I thought everything was going to be OK with her.
[Chris] Stan gave me one of those hugs where you lean in and hug someone but your bodies never touch. He told me it was good to have me back, that they were watching the game, and that I should grab a beer and join them. Then he took off, leaving us at the front door with Cora. I thought it must be a good game, because Stan was usually more gracious than to just say hello and run.
[Chris] We carried our things into the kitchen. Connie and Debbie were at the counter, looking very serious, maybe a bit nervous. The ladies didn’t get up right away, so Sam went to each of them, saying hello, giving each of them a hug. I didn’t think they were quite ready for that from me, so I asked Cora where she wanted me to put our plates.
[Chris] Cora asked me if I wanted a drink. She said there was wine in the fridge and beer and soft drinks in a cooler on the deck. I told her I would rather hit Stan’s supply of scotch, but that the water would do just fine.
[Chris] Sam took a seat at the counter. I poured her a glass of wine, and then went out onto the deck for a bottle of water. I felt awkward. I felt like a pail of ice water had been poured on me. I wanted to be somewhere else. I thought I was probably in the early stages of an anxiety reaction and should take some of the medication I had brought with me to try to calm down.
[Chris] Cora followed me out onto the deck. I took a deep breath and asked her how she was doing. She said she was fine. She asked how I was doing.
[Chris] I had to squat to open the cooler. Doing that in a short skirt, keeping your knees together, when you are stressed out and being watched, is not easy.
[Chris] Cora wanted a Coors, so I found her one. I found a bottle of water for myself. I stood up and opened her beer for her. Old habits.
[Chris] She asked me again how I was doing. She said they had been really worried about me. She asked if the cancer was really gone.
[Chris] I explained to her that it seemed to be. I said it left and had taken several important organs with it. She frowned at that, so I apologized for appearing bitter. I told her the cancer was gone, and that I was OK, not quite the same, but OK. Maybe a little weak still, but basically OK.
[Chris] She said that I was actually looking very good, and did I know that? She said Sam had told her I was looking good, and she agreed with Sam. She asked me if I knew that I was looking good.
[Chris] I thanked her for that. To lighten the moment, I asked her if she didn’t think my ass looked too big in the skirt I was wearing. I meant it as a joke, but she took it seriously. She said she didn’t think it looked too big at all. She said she thought "a lot of us would kill for your ass." We laughed, then, and I realized I hadn’t laughed much at all for months, since before the surgery.
[Chris] Cora was a nice person. Like family. She was family. We always laughed a lot when we were together. They had a couple of great kids, and I think it was because Cora provided them with discipline, but accompanied by a lot of humor and laughter. Cora is a lovely person.
[Chris] She said Sam had told her I didn’t want to talk about my surgery.
[Chris] I told her I didn’t. I explained that I knew I needed to have something prepared to say about it, a way to talk to people about it. But I didn’t yet.
[Chris] She asked me if I felt the same way about what it was like to become a woman.
[Chris] I had to think about that for a bit. No one had asked about it yet. Even Sam. I told her I would have to consider a good answer for that question as well.
[Chris] I asked her how she thought it was going to go for me with Stan and their friends when I went inside.
[Chris] "They’re your friends too," she said. She admitted she could not guess at what was going to happen. She said they all knew me as I was before. Just as I had to get used to my new self, they would have to get to know the new me. What she didn’t know was how my changes would affect the group. She said "one more girl, one less guy, we can’t do boy-girl-boy-girl at the table any more."
[Chris] told her I understood what she was saying, that I thought I should go sit down and watch some of the game. Say hello to the guys. What fun, I thought to myself. She told me I hadn’t forgotten how to laugh. She warned me not to take anything they might say too personally, or too seriously. They’re all nice guys. None of them have your education, though, or your intelligence. Give them time to absorb and accommodate.’
[Chris] I thanked her for her advice. I told her she was a very wise and caring person, that Sam and I really appreciated it. I thought it would be the appropriate girl thing to give her a hug just then, so I did. Then I went back to the cooler for three more bottles of beer, followed Cora back into the house, and headed toward the family room.
[Chris] Show time.
Chris leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes as she remembered, her face expressing a combination of emotions, some from that afternoon, some from having to remember and talk about it. When David saw the pain it was causing Chris to relive the afternoon with her friends, he looked away, then closed his own eyes and listened. It went something like this:
[Me] Hello guys.
[Guys] Hello Chris.
[Me] Everyone ready for a fresh beer?
[Guys] Sure. Thanks, Chris.
[Stan] Hey Pete. Why don’t you move over a bit and make room for Chris on the couch.
[Pete] Sure Chris. Sit here.
[Chris] There was this awkward moment then. This guy thing when no one knows what to say, so you all just stare at the TV. I just went with the moment, imagining nothing was different, that I had just arrived a bit late to one of their monthly get-togethers. The score of the game was displayed in the upper left corner of the TV screen, but I decided to ask what it was anyway.
[Chris] It broke the ice. They were all so anxious to have something to say, they all responded at once. In the babble I learned that it was a close game, Miami was three points behind the Bills, Miami was playing better, Miami was turning the ball over just before every scoring opportunity, Miami sucked, the Bills sucked, Miami needed a new offensive line, Miami’s defense was keeping it in the game, and Miami needed to make a change at quarterback.
[Me] I haven’t been able to follow the team recently. How are they doing?
[Pete] Well, the season is still new.
[Bill] Miami is doing OK, but the team is going to have to dial it up a notch if they plan to make the playoffs.
[Chris] For a moment, I was back being just one of the guys, hanging around on a Sunday afternoon, watching the game.
[Chris] I almost crossed her legs at the ankle, but caught myself, remembering it would not be ladylike, and difficult to pull off in a short skirt.
[Bill] So Chris, how are you doing? You look a lot different than the last time we saw you.
[Me] OK, really. Obviously a lot has changed. There is a lot I have to get used to.
[Pete] Seems like.
[Stan] Did you see it coming? Was it something you wanted all your life?
[Me] What? Of course not. Until a couple of months ago, I was no different than any of you. I suddenly found myself with not enough good choices.
[Chris] David, I should have prepared better. I should have thought of it like a trial. Gotten my arguments and explanations together. I should have had a better plan than to just show up and see what happens. I wanted it to be getting together with friends, not going into a trial. I had hoped they would all be on my side, that I wouldn’t get any hard questions.
[Bill] Was your lack of choices because of the cancer?
[Stan] So what was it like? If you don’t mind my asking.
[Me] What do you mean, exactly. Handling a possibly terminal cancer? The chemo-therapy? The surgery? Or wearing skirts and make-up?
[Pete] All of that.
[Chris] I found out I had cancer, went in for surgery, and came out looking like I do now.
[Stan] You’re kidding.
[Me] Yes, I am kidding. I did not come out looking like I do now. There were actually several surgeries. And a lot of pain. I was a wreck for a very long time. A basket case.
[Me] On my way from A to B, there was a long time where I was neither.
[Me] But that I had managed to get through the worst of it, I think. The rest of it, like right now, is just very strange.
[Pete] So you are now a female? Everything is real?
[Me] Yes. You want to see?
[Me] Sorry. I’m as real as hormones and scalpels could make me.
[Stan] Holy shit.
[Bill] You look pretty good, you know. If I can say that. I mean as a girl. You don’t look like yourself in women’s clothing. I mean you don’t look like a guy in a dress.
[Me] Thank you.
[Pete] Are you ready to get back into it at the club? We’ve been thinking about getting back to the club and playing more racquetball. The wives are ragging on us about getting more exercise, playing more tennis on the weekends. We need to get out more, get more exercise.
[Pete] I could probably kick your ass, now that you’re a girl.
[Bill] Get a grip, Pete. Chris can probably still wipe the court with you, even as a girl.
[Stan] I don’t know, Bill. Maybe Pete has a testosterone edge now.
[Stan] You’re sure going to be a novelty in the locker room though, Chris.
[Stan] Hold up. So what locker room are you going to be using?
[Bill] If Chris has female equipment, she can’t be using the men’s locker room. But if you’re going to use the women’s locker room, you will be walking around in the same room as our wives. How is that going to work? I mean, yeh, right now you look like a woman, but not long ago you were a guy! Holly shit! Have you changed your allegiance? You are still with Sam. Are you going to stop being married to her and start going out with guys? Or are you technically gay? A lesbian. A lesbian, for God’s sake. In the women’s locker room, staring at all of the women in there, including our wives! How is that going to work?’
[Stan] So you think Chris would be the first lesbian in the women’s locker room in that club.’
[Bill] You’re kidding! Since when has this been going on? Holy shit! Lesbians?
[Me] Are you guys serious? Or just having some fun at my expense?
[Cora] What is all the yelling about? Why aren’t you just all watching the game?
[Bill] We have a crisis, Cora. A damn crisis.
[Cora] And what crisis would that be? So I’m taking Chris with me, for a while. Come along, Chris. I’m rescuing you.
[Cora] Why don’t you men just think about your problem for a bit? I’m sure the answer will come to you if you just give it some time.
[Chris] She grabbed my hand and led me away from the guys. I felt like I was nine, being called away from playing with the boys because they were being too rough. I wasn’t convinced the women were going to be any better. Maybe we just needed a new group of friends.
[Cora] What did you do to them?
[Me] Just being myself, which isn’t that easy these days, Cora.
[Cora] Time for you to join the girls.
[Connie] You’re one of us, now. Right, Debbie? We need another bottle of wine.
[Connie] So what were you arguing about?
[Me] Well it really was not as much an argument as a melt down. But it was about which restroom I would use at the club.
[Connie] The ladies room with us, of course. Marge Maynard, Doris what’s-her-name, Cindy Greyer, and Kate Ellison are all gay as can be, Betty Chapman is bi as well as her friend Joanne. And we don’t mind sharing the facilities with them. I don’t see what problem would occur with you joining the mix, Chris.
[Me] Thank you.
[Connie] What the boys aren’t acknowledging is that there are a dozen gay men sharing the locker room with them. I mean, who cares? It is not like we’re parading around or anything.
[Debbie] Damn straight. Someone pour me some more Chardonnay, please.
Chris opened her eyes, leaned forward, and rested her arms on her desk.
[Chris] So I spent some time with them, getting closer in touch with my feminine side. I don’t know if Sam had talked with them before my rescue about my earlier experiences, but the ladies were more interested in how I was adapting. They found most of what I was going through funny. So we laughed a lot, and that felt good. The only awkward moment happened when Connie asked if I had looked ahead to having sex ever with a man.
[Chris] Before I was able to address her question, Bill came into the kitchen, grabbed me by the wrist as Cora had, and pulled me back into the family room. The guys were standing there waiting. Stan said they wanted to apologize for being jerks, and make sure I knew I would always be one of the guys. Pete wanted me to know he thought he could take me in racquetball, but Stan and Bill said their money was on me.
[Chris] I thanked them all for their thoughts, and gave them each a hug – which probably changed more minds than anything. Then Cora was yelling for Stan to fire up the grill, it was getting late.
[Chris] The rest of the day went well, I thought. We were last to arrive and the first to leave. I tired easily, then, and the stress of the afternoon reduced my stamina. I was glad to get into the car, breath the fresh air of the early evening, and head home. I told Sam that I had thought the day had been OK. She said she thought so too. I said that I thought we would probably be seeing less of the group. Sam thought so too.
[Chris] You know, their kids were not there.
[Chris] No. And the kids were always there. I asked Cora about it, and she said that their neighbors across the street had children in the same classes as theirs, and had invited them out to movies and treats. I thought when she was telling me that that the reason was that she did not want to have to explain to them why and how Uncle Chris had become Aunt Chris.
[Chris] So I found myself thinking about a job I once had, where I had made a lot of friends among the staff. Partly because of that, I had been promoted to a management position. I found quite suddenly that people with whom I had been friends were treating me like management. I tried hard to re-establish my links with my friends on the staff, but I failed. One woman told me it was because I might have to fire one of them some day. At any rate, from then on, my peer group was other managers at the same level. A handful. The air gets thinner the higher you go. It occurred to me that I had changed too much to fit in comfortably with Cora and Stan’s friends. Sam and I were no longer the couple they accepted as friends. I thought we would have Cora and Stan for dinner often, but that we would probably make our excuses and decline any invitation to get together with the group. We would plan for it to be a short time. But it would end up being from then on.
[Chris] And that is pretty much how it has turned out.
[Chris] But then it I usually easier to tear down and build new, than try to refurbish and restore the old. Don’t you think?
As Chris was finishing the story about her first coming-out party, her phone beeped. She apologized to David for the interruption, and said she had to take the call. David asked Chris for directions to the men’s room, and headed off down the hall to give Chris some privacy for her call. He hated sitting in front of someone involved in a phone conversation. Not knowing how to pretend he was not listening made him uncomfortable.
On his way back from the men’s room, he encountered Karen in the hallway, where she stopped him and asked how his conversation with Chris was going. He told her it was going well. Karen told him he was fortunate to be hearing the whole story. She said the rest of them wanted to respect Chris’s privacy, and so just got bits and pieces, out of sequence. David told Karen that he was also getting bits and pieces, out of sequence, but admitted that more of them were being made accessible to him.
When David returned to her office, Chris was off the phone and waiting.
[Chris] A few days after my coming out party at Cora’s, Sam and I were talking about how it had turned out to be more like a wake than a debut. So Sam decided to have another go at it. She decided to have a party at our house. She said she thought there were a few people from the firm she would invite. But mostly she would invite Keys people – innkeepers and charter operators – people with whom she had business associations, but who had over the years become friends.
[David] So she thought you would get a better welcome from the locals?
[Chris] Yes. Key West, as you know, has a very established gay community. Most of the guest houses are gay owned and operated. They may be all welcome, but either ownership or management or both are gay.
[David] So one would expect a better reception.
[Chris] Exactly. And Sam thought our change of circumstance would probably help her business since we would no longer be counted among their straight associates. It was not about just me, after all. We were transitioning from heterosexual couple to lesbian couple.
[Chris] At the time, I thought it would be best if we just leaked out into the community. Confront people one person or couple at a time, as we encountered them whilst going about our business. Sam disagreed, preferring a frontal attack. But Sam has always enjoyed more drama in her life than me.
[Chris] So we planned for a gathering of 20-30 people. We hired a local steel drum musician for the evening. The party would be outside, at our dock. A few appetizers and drinks to get things going. For dinner, we would do seafood and veggie kabobs over couscous, and a salad. Simple. I could prepare everything beforehand. We could enlist help from our guests come dinner time. Piece of cake. Sam thought I should make an entrance. I, of course, asked her if she was insane.
[Chris] She said no, I had to make an entrance. Otherwise, I would have to explain what has happened over the past months to everyone, individually, as they come to the door. Was that my plan? So I agreed to make an entrance.
[Chris] And she said I had to be wearing something that left absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that I was now female, not the old Chris in drag. We wouldn’t want our guests to feel upstaged.
[Chris] I suggested I do it naked. That would take all the guesswork out of it.
[Chris] "Don’t be silly, she said. "That would upset the neighbors. We’ll find something whispy, feminine, revealing."
[Chris] I told her – I think I was yelling by then – that I was not comfortable talking about filmy things, and showing skin and underwear. Guys can be funny about having their nipples show.
[Chris] She told me to stop yelling and get a grip, that I was no longer Chris McGee, the conservative legal guy, I was Chris McGee, the conservative legal girl. She reminded me I would be among kindred spirits. I could and had to make a statement. I would be among friends. I could and must make a statement. But let’s not worry about this now. Sam will take care of everything when the time comes. ‘
[Chris] And that was that.
[Chris] So she made calls and invited people. She told everyone that I had been ill – they all knew that – but that I was back now, a whole new and completely different person, and we wanted to celebrate the change with them. They, of course, were curious. But Sam only teased them by saying they would have to come and find out what she was talking about.
[Chris] So for a few weeks it was life as more or less normal. I was going to the office more, but keeping a low profile, mostly doing research and supporting George and Karen.
[Chris] The week before the party, we re-stocked our liquor supplies and food-shopped. Sam was responsible for her salad and the appetizers, but I had to get everything in place, hide when people started arriving to make myself pretty, effect the big ‘reveal,’ and then finish dinner. The schedule actually gave me an opportunity to finish dinner preparation, where I would not have been able to do it if I were out mingling with arriving guests.
[Chris] So Sam was in the shower, and I was finishing my make-up, when the doorbell rang. It was Bill, our entertainment. I had forgotten all about him. I threw on a robe and met him at the door. Our house is on stilts, our front door actually being one story up from the ground. I greeted him and started to tell where to set up. Our conversation went something like this:
[Me] Hey, Bill. How are you doing? So the party is going to be back by the dock. You should set up under the chiki hut.
[Bill] Sure thing. Have we had met before? You remind me a lot of Chris. You must be his sister? Cousin?
[Me] I am Chris.
[Bill] Ah, your name is Chris also. There goes the sister theory. So you must be a cousin, what, visiting the Keys for the party? I can see the family resemblance.
[Chris] Holly crap, I thought. If this was the way the evening was going to go, I was not going to have any fun. Sam was right in having me make an entrance, meet everyone at the same time.
[Me] Bill, I am Chris. The Chris you met before. I just didn’t look the same then.
[Bill] But -
[Me] Bill. When you met me before, I was dressed up as a guy, remember?
[Me] Well, this is the real me.
[Me] Bill. Don’t worry. It will all make sense later. We just need you to get set up right away. Sam, who is still Sam, will be down to see you in a few minutes.
[Me] Off you go.
[Chris] So off he went to set up his equipment. And off I went to prepare a sign for the front door, directing our guests toward the dock. Fortunately, no one arrived early and caught me installing my sign.
[Chris] I will fast forward to the party in progress.
[Chris] I was upstairs, primped and ready to go, in a long wig, brunette with some funky reddish highlights, a little white sundress, and sandals. I was sipping a cocktail and putting the finishing touches on dinner, trying to keep my mind off my coming entrance. But it was getting late, and I was getting tired of waiting. So I called Sam on her cell phone and asked her what the hell was holding things up. I was thinking she had gotten wound up in the festivities, brushed off questions about my absence, and was just enjoying the hell out of herself.
[Me] Have you forgotten me?
[Sam] No Dear, I haven’t. It’s just about time now, so just hold on. I’ll leave the phone on so you can hear your cue. Are you ready?
[Me] No, I’m not.
[Sam] Then what are you harassing me about?
[Sam] OK. Here we go, Hon.
[Sam] Everyone! Everyone! People! Can I please have your attention for a moment?
[Chris] I can hear the music stop and the voices of the crowd subside.
[Sam] Everyone! Every- thank you. Now. Six months ago, Chris and I got some really bad news, news that no one ever wants to get.
[Chris] The crowd has grown silent.
[Sam] What was even worse was that we did not have any easy options for dealing with the situation. The situation seemed to be well out of control, and especially well out of our control. I don’t want to depress you, so I will tell you we did find one path through the nightmare. It was certainly not an easy one. And it required us to make some rather serious changes. I think actually mostly Chris had to make the changes. But me too, in several ways.
[Sam] Anyway, you are now about to meet the new, reconstructed Chris McGee. I will tell you that Chris is not the same person he was when you last saw him. But the new Chris is just as real, just as wonderful, just as much the person I love and cherish, as the old Chris. Everyone, I give you the new Chris McGee. Come on out, Honey.
[Chris] Everyone was still silent. They probably had no clue what Sam was going on about. And they had has a while to slurp down a drink or two, which most likely didn’t help their processing skills. I hoped Bill would pick up Sam’s cue and do a tin drum roll, and he actually did.
[Chris] So I threw open the back door to the deck and stepped out, giving myself a ‘ta da’ that no one was close enough to hear.
[Chris] No reaction.
[Chris] I did my best Vanessa White impression descending the stairs.
[Chris] Blank stares.
[Chris] Perhaps some open mouths.
[Chris] No, lots of open mouths.
T [Chris] hen Sam started clapping, and everyone joined in, slowly at first but then gaining in strength.
[Chris] Finally, the gays Sam invited must have processed what they were seeing, because they suddenly just lit up, as only gays can. They swarmed through the other guests and charged toward me.
[Chris] "Oh my God," said one of the Key West innkeepers, "can you give me a case of whatever you had?"
[Chris] And that was that. A man’s best friend is his dog. A woman’s best friend is a gay. They were all very accepting, very supportive, very interested in the new me, very caring.
[Chris] In the past, they had been very cozy with Sam, but aloof with me. I had become one of the girls. I got a lot of "you go girl" and "you’re hot, honey," and it felt nice – even if it was a bit over the edge and uncomfortable.
[Chris] There was a circus feeling to the moment. But it allowed me to release a lot of clogged-up motion. The level of their acceptance brought tears to my eyes, and that resulted in even more warmth and support. I don’t know, David. It was one of the more bizarre moments in my life. But one of the nicer ones.
[Chris] When the gays drifted away – Sam had thrown the kabobs on the grill, and hunger apparently took them over – the rest of our guests mingled by to pay their respects. They all wanted to know exactly what had happened, of course. I tried to keep my explanation brief, and include some humor. Potentially terminal cancer, options including death, dismemberment, or worse. Sam asking me if believed it would be better to be dead than a woman. So what choice did I have?
[Chris] My explanation seemed to work. People think they want to know more, but really they don’t. They stop listening and turn away when you tell them what they think they want to hear.
[David] So the evening went well? Better than the first?
[Chris] Absolutely. A few people remained until quite late. Two or so. We sipped Irish whiskey and watched the torches flicker in the breeze and the reflection of the moon on the water, and I told them about the surgeries and the horrors of hospital life. Check your dignity at the door. Try to keep your sense of humor with you always.
[Chris] But that night, when Sam and I went to bed, the nightmares were there.
[Chris] Nightmares. I have always had recurring dreams. Theme dreams. Sometimes I would wake up from a dream asking myself whatthat was about. But I had not had nightmares since I was a kid. They returned the day I learned I had cancer.
[David] Like you didn’t have enough to deal with as it was?
[Chris] Right. Talking about myself and what had happened to me seems to bring them out. The nightmares, I mean.
[David] I am sorry, Chris. Have the nightmares come back now?
[Chris] Not yet,. I think we will stop this if they do.