Joe Bloom – Silence/Passing

“There’s a lot of unwritten rules about bathrooms.”

Before I had my chest surgery, we’d gone to SpokeFest—big bike ride here. People say you really shouldn’t exercise hard in a binder, because it restricts your breathing. So, I would wear a bra and a baggy shirt when I was riding. This friend of mine, Carol, she did SpokeFest with me too. Well, I like to, after a long ride, change out my shirt, because it’s pretty damp. You know, sweaty. I brought another t-shirt along, but it was a little tighter. Carol had offered for me to go to her church’s barbecue afterwards. Of course, I’m always up for food, especially after I’ve been riding my bike. But I didn’t think about it, so we went there. I’ll be darned if Carol used the wrong pronouns, switched around [“she” for “he”]. Then, a week later she’s telling me, “You know, you don’t really pass. I know I used the wrong pronoun, but after I introduced you somebody came up and asked me if you were a man or a woman.” I’m like [sighs], “Why are you telling me this?” Slowly, she’s using the right pronouns, and I compliment her. She’s kind of embarrassed I think. It’s funny how your relationships with people change yet stay the same. I’ve had some old friends I hadn’t seen for a while, and they’d be like, “Well, I was a little nervous. I thought you’d be a different person.” “No. I’m the same. Just happier.”

Right after my surgery, my car had a flat tire. It was in the garage because I had taken my other car [over to Seattle]. My cousin was out [in the garage]. She had AAA; so, she says, “You’re not supposed to pick-up anything. I’ll call AAA. They’ll come and fix it.” The guy came out, I show him my spare, and it’s flat! I haven’t got a compressor, so I said, “Well, I’ve got this little emergency jobber,” right? He pulled it out of the trunk and I got my little emergency compressor that you stick in the cigarette lighter. He comes up and he hands me the tire gauge. I thought, “You know, if I presented as a woman, that wouldn’t have happened. He would’ve taken charge.” But [he indicated], “Here you go; here’s the tire gauge. You make sure it’s full, and I’ll put it on.” So, immediately it’s like that mantle of male privilege drops on your shoulders, and you’re like, “Cool. This is what I was coming after. This is what I wanted.” Just to have the world see me the way [that] I feel I am.

It’s kind of funny. Mead [High School] had their 100th anniversary reunion thing going last year. The P. E. teacher I had in junior high was there. She was getting really old. She says, “Oh, I remember all the kids,” but I don’t think she recognized me. She dropped her cane and I picked it up for her. And she says, “Thank you, sir.” [I thought,] “I don’t think you know who I am.” That’s alright.

I didn’t change my name until after my chest surgery. I was at Les Schwab’s [Tire Center] the next week. Okay. The guy wants my name. I said, “Bloom.” Then he says, “Your first name?” And I said, “I’m Joleen.” He looks at me and he says, “It’s not to me to judge, buddy.” He says, “You can call yourself whatever you want.” [Whispers:] Yeah, I got to change this name. [Laughs.]

After my voice changed and I had changed my name, there’s so many people you’ve got to get a hold of. You know how many people have your name? Well, I had a medical savings plan from work. I had the account number in front of me and I called them up. Told them the account number and the lady says right off, “Oh. I can’t talk to you, sir, about this. I have to talk to Joleen.” And I’m like, “Um, well this is what I’m trying to get a hold of you about.” She’s thinking that she’s talking to a guy. The account numbers [indicate that] the account is for Joleen, a female, and she’s not going to talk to me. So I’m like, “I’m now Joel. That’s my legal name, ‘Joel.’” She was apologetic. You know, that’s alright. These kind of things are affirming.

I don’t mind the little hassles that come with that, because I know I’m passing. I know that people see me as male. It’s just little details. But each time it happens, it really affirms you. That’s maybe why I look happier now. It’s like you wore the wrong-sized shoes all your life, and suddenly you got something comfortable on—just little stuff, but it just makes all the difference.

The transition years were kick, I’ll tell you. I was driving home from Tacoma. You know, you’re driving down the highway, you’re out by Moses Lake somewhere, and, “Ah geeze. I’m tired of driving and I’ve got to pee.” You see the highway rest stop. Alright! It’s like an oasis. You drive up there thinking, “Okay!” [Then you think:] “Oh man. Men’s. Women’s. I have to declare gender to pee. Well, there’s the pet area. [Laughs.] Maybe.” You know, at least your dog doesn’t have to declare their gender. First time I used the men’s room and there’s this line of urinals, and to me it’s like a bunch of open mouths staring. I started making myself use the men’s room because, as you start to present as a male, you get in trouble if you walk in the women’s room.

The politics are totally different for trans-men than they are trans-women, because the score in the restroom politics is the ladies’ room. It’s where it smells better. Yet, the nice thing about going into the men’s room is nobody looks at each other and nobody talks to each other. You go, do your business, wash your hands, and get out. The trans-women had the problem in that they are walking into the women’s room. A lot of times you can tell that they’re still XY chromosomed. Women protect the women’s room. It’s their sanctuary. In fact, the first trans-person I ever knowingly talked to, I was telling her, “I’m a little scared using the men’s room.” And her partner says, “Oh, it’s no problem. Go in together.” I says, “Yeah. But you guys are going in the women’s room. Guys don’t go in the men’s room together.” You know, you can’t bring your friend for moral support. That’s not done. There’s a lot of unwritten rules about bathrooms that you never think about until you start to transition.


Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 24 July 2013.