O, Brave New World

...and suddenly I'm passing

July 31st, 2008

Foreword: It occurs to me that this entry may seem to contain an inordinate number of references to my own hotness. What a vain bastard, you may think, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, but it's not quite that simple. Through the turbulence of transitioning, I've come out clinging to my good looks as the one thing that I'll still have going for me, when all the other odds are stacked so long. (And in some hindbrain conviction that's difficult to shake, I have trouble believing that it's not the only thing I have going for me.) So when I get periodic reassurances that other people do still find me attractive, I tend to cling to them, possibly more than I should.

But let's face it, I wouldn't be half so interesting if I didn't have issues.

So slightly over two months ago I started on T. My excuses for not updating include being busy and being lazy, but mostly it's because the changes are wreaked by testosterone don't make for particularly riveting blogging. Sure, I could give a stubble update (straggly and blond, unsatisfactory) or talk about the pimples on my chin (concentrated packets of divine retribution, must be payback for all that gay sex I'm having, OH WAIT...), but on the whole, it's the social change that makes transsexuality interesting and that doesn't happen overnight.

Except that my voice did drop practically overnight, and I went from being able to convince absolutely no one, to passing as male without even making an effort. Suddenly I didn't have to worry about giving myself away whenever I opened my mouth. In fact, I could act as femme as I pleased and still nobody had any idea. I'm still an 'it' in my head, but it's jarring to hear strangers refer to me as 'him' without even thinking about it. A guy I'd been chatting with at Advocates expressed frank astonishment when I mentioned having dated a Japanese girl before, because I came off as the queerest thing in a three mile radius but definitely not female.

Of course, the voice dropping coincided with running out of money, which meant I had to dive headlong into being an undercover trannie professionally, whether or not I was ready. My first stop was the federal employment office, cheerily called (no joke!) "Hello Work." I filled out some forms, but balked when it came to putting down a gender because technically, it's illegal to misrepresent that. Realistically, filling in 'female' would create more problems than it solved. I left it blank and -- as many other trannies have discovered -- the secretaries simply assumed that I'd missed it and filled it in with my "obvious" gender.

Employment offices are universally miserable places, and I couldn't think of a time when I had been feeling less masculine. I sat crouched in my chair, feeling helpless and unhappy and inadequate, so it was a pleasant surprise when I heard the lady calling the company for me say, "Yes... American, 23 years old, male..." and I realized that I was passing.

It helps that my parents gave me a weird name. I haven't gotten around to a legal name change, because that would require an extended trip back to America, so if I were named something like Susan or Diana I'd be fucked -- even Japanese people would recognize the name as female, and the game would be up. Fortunately I was saddled with "Calynda" -- which, in conjunction with my aggressively Finnish last name, is just unusual enough that I can pass it off as male. With Japanese people especially, who don't realize that an -a ending is feminine, but even with other English-speaking gaijin, because when I put a Finnish accent on both, they roll together until it's neither masculine or feminine but foreign. Which then leads people to ask if I was born in Finland, but whatever.

Hello Work was kind of useless, and it was through GaijinPot that I found the job lead that eventually panned out. I went to the job interview with a hiring agency on edge, because they'd asked me to bring my passport -- my passport, which was made four years ago and has a picture of me looking like a sorority girl. When the woman asked to see it, I passed it to her and steeled myself for the worst (though I wasn't sure whether the worst was being outed, or being accused of stealing someone else's passport), but it turned out that they didn't need it for the ID page at all -- they just wanted to check my visa stamp, and due to the lucky happenstance that Japanese books read backwards, she flipped through it from back to front and never saw the ID page or the picture. I sat blinking in disbelief at my luck, while she, oblivious, asked me if they could take it away for photocopying. And apparently whoever worked the copy machine also flipped from back to front, because it was returned to me without comment. My good goddamn.

So I had the job. With -- drum roll, please! -- NOVA!

Now wait, you may say, didn't Nova go totally bankrupt? Something about their CEO embezzling a bazillion yen and building a replica of the Playboy mansion and then disappearing on the run when police tried to arrest him for fraud? More to the point, Gabriel, didn't you apply for Nova before and get rejected? Danger, Will Robinson! True and true, but I was hard up for a job and that wasn't about to slow me down. Nor were their standards quite up to the same level they had been pre-bankruptcy.

Nova interview before: "I'm going to ask you a series of questions, which you have to answer without thinking and in three words or fewer. First: what do you think was the most influential experience in shaping your goals for the future?"

Nova interview now: "So... you're American? Cool."

Without further ado, I was a provisional employee of the new and improved Nova -- assuming I could make it through a week of training without being caught out.

Nova Training

I had a theory, once upon a time, that I defied sexual preference. Because seriously, the evidence seemed to bear it out -- when I was a chick, straight guys loved me because I didn't play dumbass estrogen games, lesbians liked me because I was butch and stylish, meanwhile straight girls and gay guys seemed to find me disturbingly and inexplicably intriguing. However, after three years of dealing with the raging body image insecurity that comes part and parcel with transsexuality, being at best unattainable and at worst unwanted, that's not exactly a status I can claim anymore.

Or so I thought, until I went to Nova training.

Now I've had a long-standing bone of contention with heterosexuality, beginning with the fact that I'm not cut out for it, and ending with the way transitioning cuts me off from 97% of guys out there. But one thing that's really driven it home for me how arbitrary heterosexuality is (or strict homosexuality, for that matter) is the fact that men have, for the most part, stopped looking at me since I started dressing like one. My face looks the same as it did four years ago, before I started this cross-dressing business, back when straight guys would check me out. Theoretically, there's no reason why they shouldn't still, but apparently the magical thing about heterosexuality is that they're straight for my clothes, not the body in them. I'm invisible to straight guys now. I have, like amateur porn stars and anonymous witnesses, a mosaic over my face.

But back to Nova training: it's Monday, Tokyo in July, and I'm in a business suit and tie, which means I'm miserable. Particularly when you factor in the tight nylon trannie binder strapping down my breasts and providing yet another layer I don't need. I found the office early and then went and read The Stars My Destination in a coffeeshop while I waited for a reasonable time to show up, but I cut it a little too close, trying to finish the book, and now I'm impatiently waiting for the elevator and sweating again from just that short hike.

The elevator arrives. Bell chimes. Jude Law steps off.

Me: "Buwuuuh...?"
Him: "Oh hey, are you here for Nova training?"
Me: "Yiss....."
Him: "Cool, me too."
Me: "You...."
Him: "I'm just going to grab a smoke before it starts."
Elevator: *dings and closes the door on him*

Being male means I'm not allowed to flirt with men anymore. This will be the first time that I've ever had to pass as male in prolonged interaction, and I can already tell that it's going to take some adjusting. (His name was not, as it turned out, Jude Law, but the resemblance was uncanny so that is his nom de guerre for this privacy-protecting blog.)

The training group fluctuated over the five-day-long session, but was roughly comprised of eight guys and two girls (counting myself with the guys). And when we broke for lunch the first day, because we hadn't known each other long enough to form attachments on the basis of anything else, they split automatically into two groups -- guys and girls. This time last year, I would have been shuffled along with the girls unless I wanted to rock the boat, all the while feeling vaguely resentful. This time, I had already put myself on friendly terms with Jude Law (say what you like about smoking, but it's a fantastic social ice-breaker) and I was pulled along with the guys without anyone giving it a second thought. Weird. And wonderful.

I went home feeling cheerfully bemused, like a subversive lolcat. Unsuspecting coworkers suspect nothing. It was the next day when things began to get weird.

Because on Day 1, when I had known nobody and nobody had known me, we were all somewhat stiff and nervous and formal. On Day 2 people started to loosen up, and that's when I'd figured I might be in trouble because twenty years of female socialization is hard to break, and I'm very aware that I tend to slide into feminine mannerisms when I'm not paying attention. Also, my default mode of interaction is flirting, with men and women both, which I've heard that straight boys sometimes respond to very badly.

Now I like to think I'm fairly astute at reading people, though sometimes I act like I'm not, particularly when it's a reading I'd rather not be getting and I don't want to deal with and is easier to ignore. I can tell when people are into me, and I don't get many false positives. And although I can't give any specific examples to illustrate, I definitely got the feeling that the resident Jude Law lookalike, who was also a compulsive flirt, was flirting with me.

This despite himself -- because I would catch myself acting femme, then realize that he was also responding to me like I was female, and then there would come this fantastic expression of burgeoning panic in the back of his eyes when he realized that he was responding to me like he would a girl. I imagine he thinks it was some sort of subconscious discomfort that caused me to distance myself from him over the next few days and gravitate over to a Canadian guy named Melvin. In reality, Jude Law was just kind of a loser despite his good looks, and Melvin was hilarious and awesome.

So Melvin and I are in a small group with a couple other people, as we take turns being the teacher for our captive audience of other adult gaijin pretending to be inept speakers of English. One of the girls is giving a mock lesson on telephone conversations and Melvin and I have been recruited to read a short dialogue: Mark (Melvin) calls Ian's house, but Ian isn't there so his little sister (me) answers the phone instead.

Now I'd been wondering, ever since my voice dropped, whether I could still do a female voice if I wanted to. Goes along with my since-dissipated fear that I might suddenly change my mind about all this, and how I didn't want to make any changes that I couldn't change back from. So for kicks, I knocked my voice up into sub-falsetto and busted out all the feminine inflection that I had been training myself out of for three years, and read the dialogue as somebody's little sister.

Then I finished, looked up, and realized that I had created a fantastically loaded silence. Nobody said a thing, and Melvin stared at me with dropped jaw and eyes like O.O and an expression hovering between surprise and panic. Oh hell, I thought, that wasn't very heterosexual. Then Melvin, still pantomiming talking on the phone, deftly defused the tension:

Him: "You sound preeeeeetty. Are you alooooone?"
Me: "LOL, just so you know, I have my father's shotgun and a raging case of herpies."

Because by virtue of being in extended contact with these guys and -- in Melvin's case -- talking like a lady in addition to looking like one, I'd succeeded in making them see past the clothes. At least two straight guys made nervous in their heterosexuality -- MY WORK HERE IS DONE!

Interlude: Life at the Guesthouse

So a hot German guy moved in downstairs, to replace the hot German guy who had just moved out. I met him briefly as he was first moving in, when I was wearing men's pyjamas and on my way to the shower, then again a couple days later, in a business suit and on my way out the door. I hadn't spent much time worrying or wondering what he thought I was.

Then Meridel came over to hang out and watch Torchwood, and when it came time to walk her back to the station I could not be arsed to put my binder back on. It was too hot and too humid, and I decided fine, whatever, I'll be scandalous and confuse the locals, I don't care. Except just as we were heading out the door, hot German guy was coming in.

Him: Whoa...! You look different with your... [eyes drop]
Me: [thinking] ...tits on display?
Him: ...glasses.

Nice save, sir! And the capstone to this story? I ran into him in ni-choume the next weekend. He's gay, gay, gay, though unfortunately quite taken.

The New-and-Improved Nova

There's minor, unrelated irony in the fact that Meridel came to Japan with Nova then switched to Interac when they went bankrupt, while I came to Japan with Interac and switched to Nova when they sucked. She had a miserable time at Nova; I had a miserable time with Interac. We've done a 180 in trading positions, and she prefers Interac while I prefer Nova. And this isn't just a grass-is-greener thing.

For one thing, Nova has gone completely minimalist with their staffing, particularly middle management. Meridel has horror stories of five different levels of bureaucratic management, each giving you conflicting instructions, breathing down your neck, and generally making life difficult. Now? I'm the only teacher at the branch on any given day. The only other employee? A twenty-something-year-old Japanese girl to answer the phone and -- in true O.L. fashion -- flirt with any unmarried males in the office. Which, in an office of two, happens to be me. One such encounter:

Staff girl: [out of the blue] Do you play baseball?
Me: Uhm... no. I play football.
Her: Oh I see. [starts to leave]
Me: [curious] Wait, why baseball?
Her: Oh, my ex-boyfriend was a baseball player. He had great hips, and he said baseball was the reason why. [a pause] You have really nice hips too. Want to go out for a drink after work?

(I think the only less subtle come-on I've been a recipient of was at Arty, when a burly man grabbed me on the dance floor and stuck his tongue down my throat, then purred into my ear that I was totally his type, that he wanted to [BEEP!] me all night long, and that I was guaranteed to enjoy it too.)

(And the punchline, which took me years to connect, is that Japanese people think "hips" refers to the region we would actually call "butt." That was a girl I'd never met before telling me point-blank that I had a nice ass.)

My students, for those of you unfamiliar with the eikaiwa or "English conversation school" set-up, is comprised primarily of businessmen, middle-aged housewives, and retirees. I try to look at it as training for the host job I plan to get someday -- learning how maintain attentiveness and fake interest to people who are both boring and unattractive, mostly boring. Because the purpose of Nova is, essentially, paying someone to talk to you, and hot people would seem to have little use for it. Out of several hundred students, there are maybe four I would do -- of which one is underage and one is a girl, which shows you how hard up I am there. (Though there's a very cute interior designer with a fascinating scar on his chin that runs from lip to jawline, and I've been developing this visceral, fetishistic desire to lick it...)

The job itself is probably easier than anything I've done before. There's no preparation involved, no homework to check, no deadlines, nothing that you HAVE to teach them in the allotted time -- just them learning some English at their own pace, which for some students is very slow indeed. I can teach them whatever strikes my fancy, explaining slang and English-specific in-jokes that they're always tickled to learn, regaling them with anecdotes if I can simplify the language enough. What's emerged, though, is a weird necessity for self-censorship -- because a lot of my stories are either not funny or downright incomprehensible if you don't know that I (a) used to be a chick, or (b) am queer as a three-dollar bill. I have to catch myself to keep from emphatically agreeing when a student remarks on the hotness of some j-rock musician, and not being able to confess that the real reason I liked Casshern is because all the boys in the cast are sex on legs.

Granted, these things will out themselves.

Housewife student: My hobby is going to the theatre, I like musicals.
Me: Oh fab, me too! What's your favorite? I love Jekyll and Hyde, I think Linda Eder is a fantastic stage actress and criminally under-appreciated.

Girl from training: ...and then my friend was supposed to take us to this gay bar, but we ended up not going.
Me: Oh? Which one?
(For the record, the heterosexual response to that is "A *GAY* bar?! GASP!!")

Me: ...So what do you think is the leading cause of Japan's population decline?
Businessman student: Well... some men. They are... not interested in women, you see. So... they don't have babies.
Me: LOL, a whopping 3% of the population! I don't think that's quite the root of the problem.

I'm sure I'll find other things to dislike about Nova later, but at the moment it is a welcome respite from the stress and loathing I felt for my Interac job.

Interlude: Meanwhile, in the gayborhood...

...I'm using my favorite pick-up line.

"Hi, I'm Gabriel. What's your name?"

"D-Daiiki." Gay boys in ni-choume tend to stumble over their names an awful lot. It leads me to believe that the closeted little bastards are all using pseudonyms when they go out in gaytown. I happened to be in Arty, with Shelley and Ariel where I left them lingering by the dance floor, but I had been checking out this waifish Daiiki since we walked in, and they'd egged me on to go talk to him.

"Can I bum a cigarette?" I asked. Not that I cared about getting the cigarette, it was just a convenient excuse to come over and talk to him.

"Certainly!" he replied with gratifying enthusiasm, hastily fumbling around to find a lighter for me too. Non-smokers, take notes. After I was lit he asked, "So, ah -- are you a man or a woman?"

No idea how many times I've been asked that, and I don't always give the same answer. But in this case, even if I hadn't been spending that night with Shelley and Ariel, he wasn't likely to be seeing evidence to the contrary.

"A man!" I said, deciding to go for righteous indignation. "Do I LOOK like a woman?"

LOL, trick question!! Because the answer is, Above the neck? Oh yes.

"Yes," he said, then rapidly amended with, "Just kidding!! Wow, you're very pretty then."

And there my narrative runs out of steam, because I don't know how to take things past that. I don't know how to answer the question "Are you a man or a woman?" in a way that won't make them immediately lose interest or force me to spend half an hour explaining myself, and I don't know how to initiate anything physical when I can't believe that what I have is what they'd like to touch or what they'd like to fuck. All I need is the confidence to go for it, other gay FTMs have done it just fine, but I'm not there yet. I hope/expect that will change as testosterone works its magic and I become more comfortable with and confident in my body. At the moment, I'm still a work in progress.

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