This was written by a partner who calls herself Elf, who wrote it for a trans person who calls herself Elle, “when she got so disoriented & disgusted by the face she sees in the mirror every day that she was going to kill herself. She told me, bitterly, that not having the courage to do so was a sign that she really was a girl.”
We both thought it might be useful and healing to many others of you out there.
My beloved types, How can you look in my face and see L?
She types, I looked in the mirror. I was filled with disgust. I almost threw up.
My beloved was assigned at birth, and lives her life now, as a male.
He has a wife and grown children. His hair’s receding. He looks like, and is, a slim nervous man who’s done physical work much of his life.
L came into my life as a woman in a story. My beloved emailed her to me. After a week he typed, I could be L. Then, later, Could anyone love me if I was L? Could I be your wife if I turned into L?
I am trying to understand what it means to be a woman.
If you look at me, you will probably see a skinny woman of 40 with a fuzzy gray topknot. If you look at my beloved, you will most likely see a wiry man of 55 with a round small belly and neatly-trimmed dusky black hair.
Then again, I don’t know you. You may see something completely different.
Perspective is everything.
I look at a sheaf of XML printout. I see 300 pages of wasted paper.
I look again. I see a data stream.
I focus. I dig in deep.
I see an audit trail that could rock your world.
I spin around in my swivel chair.
My beloved takes the audit log and turns pale.
L could get my beloved fired.
L could get him divorced. He might never see his granddaughter again.
If he was a poor guy, in a rough hood – and he has lived as a poor guy, in a rough hood – L could get him killed.
Being a woman is something that can get you slapped, punched, spit on, killed.
Not me, though, I think. I’m not like L. I’m an ordinary-looking middle-aged lady. I’m safe.
I finish the last sentence and typing it in, late at night, I remember that I’ve been thrown, slapped, and raped. Why do I forget these things?
And who would choose to be a woman?
L takes the risk.
She’s pulling up the black silk stockings I gave her.
I turn away: she’s modest about her boy-parts.
But of course, I peek.
Heel to knee, thigh, ass, back down the lateral muscles of her side – I mark the gesture, I note the bend and sway. I dwell on the lines and masses, like apricots tumbling out of a basket, like the clear edges of dogwood flowers – I need more verbs, she’s so beautiful I take time with this, sentimental as I know it will sound – she stoops, she pulls her stocking over her slim ankle, she’s lost in sweet inwardness.
Degas would have painted her. Renoir would have had a field day.
Cliches – yes. Ideas of women. Of course I have them. I see L because I’m looking at a woman. She moves like L because she’s moving like a woman; she feels like a woman.
I crane my head and glance around the cubicle forest. I get up, stretch, take a walk, poke into the server room. I see what I’ve always seen: women and men.
The new biometric scanners will tell me, perhaps. They match data points to a database. I’d love to access the database and change a few things, but doing that would create a log entry. There’s always a trail.
L types, I can’t do it.
I can’t be a woman.
I’ll lose everything.
If I transition I’ll become a botched ugly female.
Better to live out my life as a passable wretched man.
I panic. You can’t destroy my beautiful wife. Please, she’s so young and vulnerable. Please, I love her, please don’t hurt her, please please please.
When she looks in the bedroom mirror she sees a man. She walks into the bathroom and retches into the toilet. She looks in the smaller mirror over the sink. She arranges her features into a bureaucrat’s expressionless stare. With chill rapidity he brushes his teeth before his wife wakes up and smells bile.
She types, How can you look in my face and see L?
I thought I could write this and find out. I try out a few answers.
You told me you were L.
Looking for L, I saw her.
Expecting her to show up, I opened the door.
Is a woman what I see when I look for a woman?
L types wryly, That sounds pretty thin.
I have been making love to L. With my mouth I touch her stomach and sides and breasts. I make her rise over and over again in what she describes as multiple orgasms, centered in her womb and spreading like “shiny static” to her fingertips and toes.
Now she’s falling asleep.
I lean up on my elbow beside her. She smells like a nectarine. “Beautiful one.”
She half opens her eyes.
Her face is flushed in the lamplight.
On her lips hovers a private, triangular, Archaic smile. It’s like the old statues smiled, the lovely boys and strong-limbed girls who stood stiffly before the gods in their marble gear.
It’s like they’ve told her a secret no one else knows.