Bags of Exclamation Points: Traveling While Trans

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As I’m typing this first draft at 5AM on my cell phone at a friend’s house near Philadelphia, I’m surrounded by bags of my possessions. A black cat, Padfoot, is sitting on my suitcase which contains changes of clothes, hormones, makeup, and so on. Today, we’re to go to a scheduled formal event for firefighters, and we’ll be dressed and made up for the occasion. All of this has got me thinking about how different travel is for me now, both as a woman and a trans person.

I used to hate formals. When I had to pretend to be a man, formals always meant putting on stuffy, stiff outfits and ties that squeezed at my throat and made it uncomfortable to breathe — as though I needed to look any more anxious and unhappy in a getup like that. Tonight, though, I’ll be wearing a beautiful black dress, fancy makeup, and doing my hair. I’ll probably wear heels for the first time in my life. It’s kind of terrifying — I’ve never been to a formal as a woman before. I am scared these people won’t see me the right way.

I’m also terrified because I’m not used to traveling as a trans woman and it feels like so much that I used to take for granted about my experience as a traveler is now in question. When I traveled “as a man” there was a sort of boring security in the playing that role. Packing was simple. Walking down the street was easy because people mostly ignored you. As long as you didn’t draw attention to yourself your wallet was probably safe. It’s funny, now that I’m acting less, I’m finding myself more concerned with performance. How can I best dress my body, paint my skin, and inflect my voice so that a total stranger will see me honestly? How do I perform for an audience I’ve never met?

Which brings me back to the bags. In the bags I brought, and there are several, I tried to answer those questions or give myself a hint of security in a swirling fog of question marks. I brought all the makeup I could possibly bring: concealers and color correctors and sponges and brushes and anything that I might need to cover the slightest imperfections in my presentation. I don’t know if it’s safe to be trans while I’m traveling through here. If my car breaks down on the interstate between Baltimore or Philly and my home, do my safety and survival rely on making sure I’m unclockable? These are things you think about as a trans person, and I packed my bags accordingly.

At the same time, though, I think to be trans is to be a bit of a scientist. You put on voices and faces and outfits and behaviors until you find the ones that feel good to you and then you go out and you test them to see if folks see you.

Last night was the first test. We went to see Deadmau5 and Lights in concert at the Met in Philadelphia. I wore a bright dress that looked like spilled paint and leggings that looked like outer space. I had glitter on my eyes and bright red lipstick. It was probably the loudest I’d ever dressed — I felt so seen and heard. It was intoxicating and validating and my mind is still absolutely buzzing with possibilities. All of those question marks I’ve been afraid of since I started packing for this trip have changed from ominous threats to opportunities. And so now I’m sitting here on my friend’s couch surrounded by my bags that I packed with ways to punctuate my identity, “I am a woman, duh.” And I’m excited because in a few hours I’m going to go through those bags and turn all those defensive full stops into exclamation points that say, “Hi! I’m Evey Winters!”

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