The Paper Chase

All week-long I’ve been singing snippets from Alice’s Restaurant; Arlo Guthrie’s long shaggy dog song about being inducted into the Army. I got processed to go back to work part-time as a consultant at Transit.

Elvis at his Army physical, 1958. Photo by Don Cravens / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Elvis at his Army physical, 1958. Photo by Don Cravens / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

It took four months for my paperwork to crawl through the bureaucracy and get approval from the ethics board. It took another month for Human Resources to give me an appointment to get processed. As Yogi Berra said – It’s deja vu all over again.

My first day at Transit was my worst day on the job. I was a self-conscious chubby 22-year-old out of the closet baby butch lesbian. It was my first day out of jeans. I did my best to dress for success. I wore clean underwear and a normal bra, a pair of grey wool slacks, a pink Oxford cloth button-down shirt, and a tweed blazer. I wore a strand of pearls to make sure everyone knew I was a girl, even if I wasn’t so sure about it myself.

A clerk gave me a sheaf of paper to fill out. One form required me to list every job I ever held, including the address of the business and the name and phone number of my supervisor. I didn’t know some of the zip codes or phone numbers, so I made them up. I had to sign a statement at the end that if they found any discrepancies I could be fired. I turned in the paper and suppressed my snivelling. The clerk stamped the form and sent me across the hall to the “bullpen” for my medical.

The room was full of guys waiting for their bus driver physical. Another clerk told to me sit on the blue bench, next to the only other woman in the room. We would be processed when there was a quorum.

I had to pee, but I knew there was a drug test during the physical. I asked the clerk how much longer I had to wait. As long as it takes. By early afternoon there were six women on the bench. A nurse ushered us into the examining room. I held it in.

She asked us to strip to our bras and panties and measured our height and weight out loud. She asked us to take off our glasses and read the eye chart, and tested us for color blindness. She had us to do a deep knee bend with our arms held up over our head. We got dressed and she took us into a bathroom with stalls but no doors, and gave us each a narrow necked bottle.

The nurse watched to make sure no one cheated. I’m pee shy. The nurse told me that I couldn’t leave until I filled the bottle, and that if I left the room I was giving up the job. I started to cry, which made me relax and let loose. I peed all over my hands and all over the bottle. Enough got in. I washed my hands and splashed water on my face. I wanted the job. This was what the real world looked like. It didn’t look like grad school.

They fingerprinted us and gave us towelettes to clean the ink off our fingers. We raised our right hands and swore to uphold the Constitution of New York. We received our benefits books, and a copy of rules and regulations. The clerk told us that getting a job with Transit was like hitting the jackpot. You’ll never be this lucky again. I reminded myself that I could leave after a year. I could go back to school. I stayed.

Long enough to retire and return on my own terms. This time they sent me on a paperwork chase: Driver’s License, original Social Security card, original birth certificate, original high school and college diploma(s), a blank postal order for $82, and the completed seven page background verification questionnaire (which they neglected to send to me).

The name on my birth certificate and diploma is different from the name on my Driver’s License and Social Security card. I added a certified copy of my name change order (with the City Clerk’s raised seal) to the pile. There is a line on the seven page form to list all other names you have been known by and why. I wrote: legal name change to a gender neutral name. I wore jeans to the appointment. I did not wear pearls.

Note: Elvis Presley sure looked good at his induction into the Army. For more pictures of Elvis in the Army, see this article.

13 thoughts on “The Paper Chase

  1. The Final Rinse

    “You can get just about anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant …” That whole song goes through my mind sometimes too. If I try real hard, I can probably remember most of the words, although I haven’t listened to the song in years.
    Can you imagine enduring that inspection now? The good thing is to know that you would never ever back down and “femme-up” for such a thing.
    One taste of freedom is all that it takes.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is strange because I was very far out of the closet, but couldn’t figure out how to “present” myself other than in jeans, and that was not an option at work – at least in the beginning. Non-uniformed employees were expected to wear shirts and ties, or whatever the female equivalent was, which is where I had the problem. I only wore the pearls twice, and the two other out gay employees at headquarters found me and said hi within my first week.

      I did feel a little strange at processing because everyone was either in uniform or business casual, but I really didn’t care. I’ve never found a truly comfortable professional outfit, but fortunately I don’t have to. I do need to shop for something that fits that I can wear to a funeral/wake, just in case one of the other retirees kicks the bucket.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I can’t imagine wearing pearls again, but I the first time around I was completely unprepared for the shock of going to work in an office. Now I just check to make sure you can’t see my binder or the elastic from my boxer trunks through my shirt – a bit of a difference (and I won’t be worrying about the binder in January).

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      1. krisalex333

        Your Freedom Day is getting closer… Our Nelson Mandela’s book, “Long walk to freedom” to me is symbolic of my own long journey to my freedom in being trans.

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  2. Georgeann

    I always find your remarks about clothing especially fascinating. Where my family is stationed, particularly in our Army unit, pearls are considered a status symbol among some of the spouses, and they are often used to transmit a very significant and often polarizing message. For some spouses, the refusal to wear pearls to formal social events is a powerful statement of identity. I loved your last sentence about wearing jeans but no pearls. Happy that you now have the freedom to be comfortable to wear the clothes that fit you!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The pearls were a gift from my great aunt (I still have them in a box in a drawer) and are the only necklace I owned. I had no experience getting dressed for anything other than school, and I was a bit panicked about looking “too masculine” in my one outfit, so I threw them on. I hadn’t thought about the social significance, I’d guess they have a conservative Junior League-ish look to them.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad to go back one day a week or so – I get to troubleshoot problems and gossip with the guys without having to go to meetings with senior management. And I get to double-dip (I get paid and collect my pension at the same time which is sweet).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I like the randomness of blogging. Plus I like that some fool is going to google “transgender strand of pearls” and get directed to my post and i guarantee that I am not what they will be looking for.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Working for Transit is a little like the military, they try to make sure you know you are not special, that you are there to follow orders and do a job. I’m just glad my job wasn’t to be the nurse – I only had to do it once, but she had to stand there and watch every day.
      It was a humiliating day, but when it was over, I knew I had a job I wanted, and that I could probably survive working there. Oddly, the thing I liked the best about Transit was being allowed into/included in an overwhelmingly masculine environment.

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