Many months ago, Candace and I planned to take a cruise up into New England to celebrate our 19 years together. It was our anniversary gift to each other. We mostly forgot about it until, one night while having dinner with my old high school friends (all female) that I still keep up with, one of them started talking about this trip that she and her husband were going to be taking soon with her sister and her family. I knew her sister from high school and playing in the band together as well as the many family outings that I was invited to join them on during my youth. As she talked about her trip it started to sound really familiar to both Candace and myself and eventually it turned out that we were all going on the same trip on the same ship at the same time. My heart sank. It isn’t that I don’t like this woman. I do. But I had been looking forward to this trip as a time when I could go and be myself, the new me, without anyone around that knew me before who could make me feel self conscious. Now that was all blown. Candace reassured me that it is a really big ship and we wouldn’t see them much or maybe at all unless we wanted to. I told myself that it didn’t matter what they thought of me and that I owed it to myself to live my life on my terms. I wrestled with whether to contact my friend ahead of time to see where her head was regarding spending time with us. She was definitely interested in hanging out with us some. Again, my heart sank. I had given her every opportunity I could to bow out without sounding rude and like I didn’t want to hang with her. It didn’t work.
So the time came to board the ship and from the moment I got out of my car I was referred to as sir by everyone who I dealt with. The guy that took our bags, the terminal check-in person, the security people, the people trying to sell us drink packages and trip excursions and all of the ship staff called me sir. When I stepped off of the ship to take a tour or into a store to look at trinkets, I was called sir. The restaurant staff, the cleaning people, bus drivers, other cruise attendants all called me sir. We hadn’t been aboard the ship 30 minutes before my friend found me and chatted with us while we ate a quick lunch and waited for our room to be ready.
In preparation for the trip I went to Men’s Warehouse and was fitted for and bought my first men’s suit, tie and dress shirts. Candace wanted to go to the “formal” dinners (suit and tie, tux if you are so inclined, but many show up in neither) so I needed something to wear. I wasn’t wearing a dress as I’ve done in the past. As an aside, the experience at the Men’s Warehouse was awesome. A very nice lady helped me pick out a suit and fit it for alterations as well as helped me pick out some accessories to go with it. It was an expensive venture, but also one that felt like a rite of passage into manhood. She taught me a lot about men’s clothes/fashion and treated me from start to finish like any other man that came in there. If she knew I was trans or suspected that I was not born male she never let on to me in any way. I explained not knowing my sizes by telling her that I had lost a lot of weight (which is true) and needed some new things but didn’t know what size I’d wear exactly. I also told her that I never wore long sleeves because my arms are so short that they’re usually too long (also true). I’m not sure she bought it, but she was a good sport and was able to find me a couple shirts that fit remarkably well and were of excellent quality. I was ready to cruise.
Our first formal night was the second night of the ten day cruise and I was nervous. I confided in Candace that I was worried about running into my old friend and her family as well as other people thinking I was merely a woman wearing a suit. If you’ve ever taken a cruise you’ll know that they take pictures of you constantly on the ship and then offer them back to you for a nice fee. We posed for a picture on formal night and I was absolutely blown away when I saw it the next day. Not only did I not look like a woman in a suit, I looked convincingly like a nice middle aged man and the picture was one of my best I’ve ever taken. We bought it. And I did not run into my friend that night before we went back to our room and changed our clothes.
At some point on the trip we did run into my friend again and her sister’s family was all introduced to us. Here is where things got really weird for me. I used to know her sister well and even attended her wedding back in the day. She acted throughout the whole cruise like she didn’t know me. No, she acted like I freaked her out and was pretending like she didn’t remember me. Every time we bumped into them…and it was actually quite often (every day, several times a day) she got this weird deer in the headlights look on her face and ignored me as much as she could. I thought that maybe she didn’t know who I was because my friend hadn’t explained to her that I had transitioned but then I realized that she would treat me very different if I was just one of her little sister’s friends that she’d never met. No, she acted like she just wanted to get away from me as fast as possible and wished she’d never seen my face. It was bizarre. In fact, they had a couple of their friends join them on the trip and those people, who actually were strangers, were nothing but pleasant and friendly to us. They even told us that we were welcome to hang with them any time. That’s how strangers treat new people. They don’t treat them like they have the plague. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that she knew exactly who I am and just was completely wigged out about my transition. It hurts my feelings, but really she is nobody to me so I have to let it go. My friend treated me fine throughout the trip. Her husband was a bit cold and distant but was not rude. Again, their problem. Not mine. All in all, having them on the ship with us did cramp my style and in some ways spoiled the experience for me, but I made the most of it the best I could.
Being on board a ship of over 3000 strangers (mostly) who all 100% of the time* saw me as male was quite an interesting experience. Candace and I felt free to refer to each other as husband and wife, to hold hands and even kiss in public. Everyone assumed we were a married couple and we blended in with the crowd unseen and hidden. We did nothing but be ourselves to provoke this assumption. It still feels very strange to refer to Candace as my wife, but I do it when I feel like it’s appropriate (we did have a little ceremony for our 10th anniversary, but it’s not legal). We chatted a little about how invisible we were on the cruise and how that has both positive and negative aspects for both of us. We both liked the fact that we could be affectionate without concern for our safety or other people’s feelings. That was nice. Being seen as a man, especially at the formal dining hall, was a little intimidating to me at first. Generally, the male waiters treated me like just another guy and everything went fine as they joked around with me about behaving myself and Candace keeping me in line.
I can’t talk about this trip without mentioning bathrooms. The ship had at least one handicap single use bathroom on every floor but I didn’t realize that until nearly the end. The men’s rooms on the ship were fine, but out in the world, when we got off of the ship there were a few times that the men’s facilities were just not the best. Thankfully, all of the buses that we rode had a bathroom on them. I no longer feel that I even have an option to use a women’s restroom at this point, so I’m stuck with whatever the men’s option happens to be. There was one bathroom I attempted to use that was so full of guys that I basically didn’t even get through the door before I walked out and decided to use the bus toilet. One stall and two urinals seems to be the norm in most men’s rooms and an amazing number of men use the stall, even if it’s to pee standing up with the door open. Often they don’t even bother to lift the seat, so it usually has pee on it. Thanks, guys. I really, really, really hate this part of transitioning. I hate using public bathrooms in general and men’s in particular.
I’m still kind of in disbelief that I was gendered male so consistently on the trip. At home, I’m probably at about 90-95% depending on what I wear and how short my hair is. Button up shirts and super short hair with a ball cap almost guarantee a sir from strangers. Take the ball cap off and put on a polo shirt instead and it drops to about 95%. Grow out the hair some and it drops to 90%. Why I care really has to do with the blasted bathrooms. We all have to relieve ourselves throughout the day. I just want to be able to do it safely and freely. I want to walk in and not get hassled or messed with in any way. If it weren’t for the bathroom I wouldn’t care as much, though I have to admit that being able to confidently don a men’s suit and tie was a thrill for me.** And not being referred to as a lady or ma’am is a breath of fresh air. The cruise was a huge confidence booster for me as far as my passing. We had a funny interchange in Portland, Maine when a young guy with his girlfriend commented that Candace’s shirt matched his girlfriends shorts (they both had little anchors on them) and wanted Candace to give his girlfriend her shirt. When Candace said she thought his girlfriend should give her the shorts instead he said, “well, she looks pretty cute without her shorts” and winked at me. Then he told me we should exchange shirts and started to lift his off as I started to freak out that he might be serious. Thankfully, he was just joking.
*I did get called ma’am once by a female waiter on the ship but she only did it once and switched to sir. Once in a store in Canada a fellow shopper called Candace and I ladies. Why, I don’t know.
**Suits are hot! We have a friend who’s husband refuses to dress up for anything because he claims that it’s not fair that a woman can just throw on a skirt and a top and be dressed and he has to wear a tie and long pants (he’s a shorts 24/7/365 kind of guy). I would love to put him in a skirt and blouse, make up, stockings, maybe even a girdle and those stupid little shoes women force themselves to wear and see if he still thinks he’s got the raw end of that deal. Other than being hot, suits and ties, if fit properly are very comfortable to wear.