I am a model of restraint, I think. You couldn't tell it by looking at me, unless you measure the tensile strength of my corset strings, but you couldn't see that either. In the latest of my temporary jobs I have ended up in yet another machine shop, building yet another machine. With each of these jobs you meet a new group of men - not people, they're exclusively men.
So I was a bit surprised to notice a woman machinist, I think. It took me a while to notice her, after all baggy work clothes and protective coats have a certain sameness about them. I will admit I was curious about the gender of this person, so I covertly took inventory. The result was pronounced androgyny, something even more rare than outright misogyny on the shop floor. An earring in both ears, short hair, slim build, no discernible hips, slightly feminine mannerisms (I know a machine shop is not exactly the best place to observe this), no beard shadow and no makeup to hide one. The matter was settled at lunchtime in the lineup to punch out. Without the coat well defined breasts were visible, but casual conversation revealed a rather low and pleasant voice and the time card revealed a distinctly feminine name.
I know that I shouldn't have been so damned interested in assigning a sex to her, that as one of amorphous gender myself it shouldn't matter to me. Yeah, about the same way the color of a person's skin shouldn't matter. Face it, I grew up in a culture that makes a big deal of sex and skin color, and which lays great store in those differences. One of my greatest complaints against the persuasiveness of racism is that I will always be aware of a person's skin color before I am aware of them as a person. Over the years I have had acquaintances with skin tones other than my own, even a friend or two, but no matter how close or casual the relationship that cultural barrier was still buried in my mind. As much as I dislike it, it will be there as long as I am alive, an unwanted but real vestige of a sick culture.
So why should I be so surprised at myself for wanting to assign a gender to a casual acquaintance in the workplace? Part of it was that cultural need to define, part was my insatiable curiosity and part was a hope that here in this bastion of male chauvinism a possible TS could work without harassment. The worst part about the string of temporary jobs I have been working is the pervasive macho attitude, homophobia and crude sexual humor that seems to be a part of the very atmosphere. As individuals they are nice people, but as a group their consciousness needs raising, and it would take more than the 5 ton crane overhead to do it. In this atmosphere I would have expected a TS to have suffered verbally if not physically, but nary a word was spoken, no hints were dropped. No comments, to her or me or anyone else.
So anyway, my curiosity about visible gender has been satisfied, and I was tactful enough not to inquire about the subject of former gender or sexual anatomy. But I'm still curious. So Jennifer, if you work in a machine shop near an airport in New York, and really are a TS who reads this magazine, drop me a line and let me know, OK. Otherwise I'll put on my foundation garments and restrain myself.
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