Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

The Transitive Property: An Unpleasant Outing

Last Friday I had to take my senior portraits. I was excited since these would be my first school photos as Cristopher. In elementary school I would feel jealous of the boys in my class because they got to wear ties. At 21, in my last year of school, I finally had my chance. I spent a good time looking through my closet, and after much deliberation I settled on a pinkish red shirt with a maroon tie. Sexy.

However, I realized the portrait people had sent me the e-mail and used my legal name. I found that there was no way to change my name at all. When I showed up, they would look me up under my legal name. I would be outed. This realization paralyzed me.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt scared, anxious. I wasn’t in the mood to educate people. I was just a regular guy who wanted his picture taken. When I come out, I want it to be on my terms. When I write this column, I speak about my experience to the extent that I’m comfortable. If someone outs me, or if I find myself trapped in a position in which I have to explain my situation, I feel humiliated. Coming out once is stressful enough. I swear, if I had a dollar every time I had to come out, I’d probably collect enough money for surgery.

That morning I headed over to Old Union. A man sat at a table outside the room where the portraits were being taken.

“What’s your last name?” he asked.

“Bautista,” I said.

He looked through the files for a long while. He paused, scratched his head in confusion and looked through the files again.

“You don’t seem to be on here, sir. The only Bautista I have on here is Cristina—“

“Yeah, that’s me,” I muttered. I could barely form the words.

“Oh!” he laughed, awkwardly. “All right, Cristina,” he said, handing me some paperwork that was already filled out with my legal name and gender. “You just need to sign a couple things and we’ll let you know when we’ll take your picture.” He then said a couple other things I don’t remember—I just remember how he kept calling me by my legal name, as if to try to compensate for his earlier blunder. Every time he said that name it chipped away at my sanity, bit by bit. When someone outs me, I get into a mode of rather learned helplessness where I just kind of zone out and I don’t listen to what anyone says. I emotionally shut down. I get quiet. I don’t pay attention to things. And that was me at that moment. I just wanted to run away. But I didn’t.

“Can I correct my name if it’s spelled wrong?” I asked.

“Of course.” He probably figured I just wanted to correct a letter or two.

I ended up crossing out my legal name in a thick, dark line and writing “Cristopher Marc” in huge letters. I scratched out the letter “F” under my gender marker and replaced it with an “M.” I wrote with such a vengeance that an observer would wonder how a simple piece of paper could offend someone so much.

There were other guys waiting their turn. When the picture guy called out my name—my legal name, first and last—those waiting looked around, a bit confused. I answered, feeling humiliated, and handed him the corrected paperwork. He looked surprised, scoured over it several times, alternating between looking at me and then back at the papers.

“I’ll change your name in the database,” he said, embarrassed.

At that point I was tired and a bit fed up. “Thanks,” I muttered.

“No problem,” he said. He was apologetic the rest of the session, but I just wanted to leave. When it was over, I grabbed my jacket and walked out as fast as I could.

He learned from his mistake, I’m sure, and will keep this sort of thing in mind in the future. In retrospect, I’m glad about that. But I was forced to out myself, forced to correct my name and gender to a man I didn’t know, just so I could get my stupid picture taken. The experience was so emotionally exhausting I got depressed and ended up locking myself in my room that night hoping that if I quarantined myself the sadness would go away. I don’t want to be Cristopher the trans guy all the time. Sometimes I just want to be Cristopher. But it’s probably too much to ask in a world like this.

Funny how a day can be ruined because of a name. Maybe this week will be better. Maybe.

Cross your fingers something good will happen to Cristopher this week so he will stop writing depressing columns. E-mail him at cmsb@stanford.edu.

  • Lori West

    Interesting article and although I feel for you and your plight, I guess I would need to better understand what you expect? Since you have not at this time changed your legal name or gender? How do you expect strangers to understand? Especially in this day and age, when often just looking at someone it is difficult to determine what sex they are. If a database is in front of you telling you this persons name and sex, why would you expect anything different? I would think that understanding that you have not completed your transition, you would be more understanding with those that do not know you personally. You reference that he learned from his mistake. I doubt that he did. He was probably just as confused as I was when reading your article. If you had legally changed your name or sex, and he judged you based on physical appearances, then I would say that he made a mistake. But it seems that you are the one at fault here for setting unrealistic expectations. Strangers cannot read your mind and please do not expect them to know your sex or name based on your appearance. If you want less time in your room exhausted and depressed. Try this next time. “Oh I go by Cristopher, they have it wrong. Do you mind if I correct the paperwork for you? ” I’m sure both of you would have been more comfortable.

  • comment

    I have to agree with the comment above. I certainly do feel very sorry about any embarrassment that occurred, and I can’t imagine how awkward or uncomfortable you might have felt, but how would you have liked him to act? He was reading a database that had your gender listed incorrectly since it hadn’t been updated yet and so was justifiably confused.

  • Jenna

    I think what Cris is getting at is a larger system in which we make it very hard for anyone to transition. Parts of the bureaucracy at Stanford do, as far as I know (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong) make it somewhat easy to change your name/gender. Other parts don’t. So while Cris has changed his name in certain records in the university already, others are slow to follow or close to impossible to change. His experience above is just one example. The larger question is why do we make is so hard/complicated for the transfolk who are brave enough to come out to change their name and to actually be identified as they wish to be? Just imagine how stressful it would be if, after having decided to change your name, you have to correct every professor when you start a new class, every photographer when you sign up for a picture like this, every doctor when you go to Vaden, etc. That sucks. We’re not socialized to deal with people who don’t fit into the gender binary (explicitly male or explictly female) our society has created and upholds… that’s a problem we need to confront (along with many others). But it is NOT Cristopher’s responsibility to confront that gender binary and people’s stereotypes and assumptions every time he walks out the door. Instead, it’s our responsibility collectively to create an atmosphere in which people can easily transition and we don’t automatically assume that everyone fits into a category that’s explicitly male or female.

  • Imani

    I totally agree with Jenna. Cris’ experience speaks to a larger societal issue, which I hope everyone reading this article can recognize. I don’t think Cris is blaming the photographer, rather the social and legal structures (that most of us don’t even know exist) which made for that humiliating experience. Try putting yourself in Cris’ shoes, Lori.

  • Ginger Parfait

    Hey there,
    You may think the world cares about your coming out. But your in school. Once out in the real world, it’ll quickly hit you that no one cares. People are busy with their own lives to hear about yours….

  • comment

    Don’t be an a******.

    Also, I might add, I trust you’re in the real world, and you found time to read this.

  • a student

    I’m sure you know, Cristopher, that lots of people care about you and everyone else who’s doing something brave and hard. I also hope you know that someone can make a mistake about your identity and still care. I rather embarrassingly recently made a mistake about a transgender person’s gender and felt bad about it, but I hope that the person understood that it was an innocent mistake and that I fully support what the person is doing (not that my support is needed, of course: just that it’s there if it were).

  • lori west

    I understand the plight with the social structure, but like everything else it takes time and committment. I dont even know how long it must take to file legal papers to have your name changed. But in the interim, I am just saying that patience is really needed. Which means taking ownership for the fact that not everyone is going to know because someone is in a suit and tie that they are in transition. It means finding a way to ease the transition in ackward situations. I was hoping to encourage Cristopher to realize as long as his name is legally Cristina that this will happen and locking himself in his room getting depressed is not going to make it any easier. But a quick “let me correct that” removes the tension from everyone and can convert an uncomfortable situation to a standard one. Also,when taken with ease it is more likely to be perceived as a ‘mistake’ vs an outing.