“You can ride on my lap.”

Added a Postscript at 8:00 p.m. PDT on April 25, 2018
Five years ago I spent a week in Fort Lauderdale to attend a trans-related medical symposium. One of the highlights of the event was meeting Jazz Jenning and her mother in person. Jazz is the well-known trans girl who became famous when Barbara Walters interviewed her in  2008 at the age of five.

The other highlight was spending each night with my first cousin, Carlos, and his wife, who live in Ft. Lauderdale. He's the one who took this shot of me on the beach!

Ft. Lauderdale, 2013


Carlos drove me to the airport on Tuesday for my return trip to Vancouver, via Chicago. Seconds after he drove away my phone vibrated. It was a text message from United Airlines telling me my 4:15 flight to Chicago was delayed until after 7:00 p.m.

I entered the airport and went to the United counter. I told them I had a problem. I was scheduled to catch a connecting flight to Chicago for Vancouver about the same time I would be boarding my plane in Ft. Lauderdale.  There were no later flights from Chicago to Vancouver on United or any other airline that night.

I had an appointment to meet three persons at 11:30 a.m. at Vancouver School of Theology the following day and it looked like I wasn’t going to make it. Crap.

The United Airlines representative told me that since the delay was not weather related, but mechanical, they would put me in a hotel in Chicago and then on to a flight to Vancouver that left at 9:00 a.m. and arrive in Vancouver about 10:15 a.m. The two-hour difference was in my favor. I might be able to get to my meeting after all. The annoying thing was that I would have to go to the United Airlines customer service counter upon arrival at O’Hare to get them to put me in a hotel.

O’Hare is not a small airport. By the time I collected my luggage and made my way to the UA counter, there were over 100 people ahead of me. At close to 11:150 p.m. I finally got to speak to an agent. She was visibly over-worked that day—it had been a long shift for her. After confirming that my flight’s delay was mechanical and not weather related, she gave me a voucher for a night at a Quality Inn and told me where I would find the shuttle to the hotel.

If the delay had been weather-related, then UA would have been off the hook. I would have had to find my own accommodations for the night.

I made my way to the spot where the shuttle was to pick me up. Before long, there were five more passengers who had vouchers for the same hotel; all men, ranging in age from thirty-five to fifty. We had all been told the same thing, that a shuttle came by every thirty minutes.

After 45 minutes, we were still waiting for the shuttle. One of the men had a great idea, to call the 1-800 number on the voucher. He spoke to the front desk at our host hotel and learned that their shuttle service had made its last run at 11:00 p.m. and would not return to the airport until 7:00 a.m.  The other bad news was the Quality Inn we had been booked into was a thirty-minute drive from O’Hare. The hotel actually was located next to an executive airport outside of Chicago.

We were screwed. But then I spotted another Quality Inn shuttle stopped about 100 meters away. I told the group I was going to find out if it could take us to our hotel. We knew that each shuttle was from a different hotel, but I reasoned they were the same company, right?

No-go; the driver of the van told me he could not take us to a different hotel and suggested we take a cab.

I turned around and saw the group of men loading their bags into a Yellow Cab Crown Royal and then climbing into the cab. I started running, pulling my suitcase on wheels as I watched all the four doors close and then the cab started to pull away with its rear end low to the ground. I put my right thumb and index finger together and up to my lips and let out the loudest whistle I could produce. The cab stopped!

Those jerks, I thought. They were going to leave me behind.

The driver managed to find room in the trunk for my suitcase, the problem now was there was no seat for me. The man sitting by the back door on the passenger side offered, “You can ride on my lap.”

I figured I would be safe in numbers and accepted his offer. Was it awkward? Hell yes! I put it out of my mind for five years; I’m only telling you about it now.

The ride took over thirty minutes and the six of us split the $120 fare. It was after 1:45 a.m. before I was handed a  room key at the front desk. I needed to be at the airport by 7:00 in the morning, which meant catching the hotel’s shuttle that left at 6:30 a.m. The front desk programmed a wake-up call for 5:30. At least I got three hours of sleep and a hot shower.

The good news is I made it to my appointment at VST. The rest is history; I went on to do a Master's degree. And to think I sat on a stranger’s lap to get there.

I’ve often wondered what that man, or the rest of them in the cab, would say if they knew I was trans? I wonder who they voted for in the last election? Crap. What was I thinking?


Postscript

As I was typing the words last night, there was a nagging sense there was something else—something important to say about this somewhat humorous, if not awkward event. Perhaps there is a hint of this in my questions at the end. 

Today at work, it hit me. I failed to acknowledge my privilege as a trans person who society seems to have granted me “passing” status. This is a difficult topic in the trans community because some would argue that the whole notion of passing is odious; it makes second-class citizens of those who don't get passing status. 

Here is where it gets thorny. Who, after all, is the final judge and arbiter for society on who passes and who doesn’t? Where do we draw the line as to who “looks” like a “real woman” or a “real man?” A more challenging question might be: why do we need to make any distinction at all? 

I hope you can see why this is a troublesome conversation, but I felt I had to acknowledge that if I had not look woman enough for this group of men, the outcome to the story could have been very different. I don’t mean hyperbolically, for example: that I could have been viciously attacked, sexually assaulted, killed and dumped on the outskirts of Chicago. I’m talking more about the idea of not being accepted into the group. That is, in fact, what we became in that moment; our common struggle made us a group.

I could have been shunned and rejected, or simply made to feel unwelcome. But things worked out okay for me that night. The men saw me as a woman who met their unconscious, socially programmed criteria of what a woman looks like. I passed the test. 

But didn't I say they started to drive away without me? Yes. But their excuse made sense at the time. They lost sight of me when I half-entered the sliding door of the van to speak to the driver. They thought I’d solved my ride situation and left without them. 

------

A large number of the calls I answer when I’m on the hotline for trans persons, Trans LifeLine, are from persons who know they don’t get the pass from society. There’s nowhere they can go where someone won’t stare and glare, or say hurtful things to them, or laugh and mock, or in some cases, threatened them with physical harm. 

That is why I know I am lucky— and privileged. I may laugh about my experience in Chicago, but it’s a nervous sort of laugh. I know that if one of my two sisters came home telling a similar story, I might protest, “What were you thinking?!”    

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