We were driving back from a workshop and I had a pressing bout of diarrhea, so I had my staffer take the next exit off the Thruway and dashed into a small drive-in.
We then got back on the highway and continued to Zebbs in Mattydale to meet our co-workers for lunch.
“Sorry we were late, ” I told the guys. “I had to make a quick stop at the Didy-Dee drive in,” referring to the name of a well-known diaper service.
As we got back on the road, Janet was interested in what I did. “You actually told them why we were delayed, but they didn’t really care.” As a woman, she noticed, but the guys didn’t, and by making a reference that Janet got and the others could have, she thought I had come up with an interesting solution.
ShamanGal was worried about giving the names of some more references to HR for the new job she has. These would be references she hadn’t coached to refer to her with her current name and gendered pronouns.
“HR doesn’t know about me,” she said, confident in the way she changed her transcripts and such.
“You don’t know what HR knows,” I told her. “You worked hard not to tell them anything, but in this world of information, perfect stealth is impossible.”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I don’t know what HR knows.” She went on to give the references that got her the job, telling HR they may say they knew her under the other name she put on the application, a Chinese name that looks gender neutral in English, and another gender.
One of the most challenging moments is always the “If that’s true about you, then maybe I don’t know who you are!” instant, that flash when people feel like their understanding of you is shattered by a bit of new information about your past.
To many, that moment feels like a breach of intimacy, a breach of trust, and it can set them and your relationship back. Finding out there is an gap their understanding of you can feel like they caught you in a lie, if it’s just an omission of some information we thought was just noise, or even if you have offered the information in a way they chose not to engage, like saying you needed to stop at the “Didy-Dee.”
I had this happen at Startup Weekend. I registered under my initials, the ones my parents gave me at birth, but when one team member had to deal with me as a transwoman, he spat out “I don’t know if XX is even your real name!” I laughed a bit and said “Initials cover a lot of sins,” but he was still a bit angry and perturbed about what he saw as my kind of lying.
One of the first discussions I got into on BoyChicks, the butch/femme list I was on in the late 1980s, was over the idea that “If I found out that the person I had sex with was really a man, I would feel raped.” I wondered about the whole idea of “retroactive rape,” and imagined other things that you found out about a hookup that would make you feel like you were really raped — things like that they were really a Methodist, really a Republican or really a bisexual.
TBB and I did a skit at my second Southern Comfort Conference about two people driving to a conference. The jokes were about the liminality of the drive, that kind of sway between the world we were leaving behind and the world of the conference we were heading to.
We built the bits out of our own experiences DWT, driving while trans. One of the pieces was going into a convenience store.
TBB approached the store in her way, adjusting her scarf and putting on her “peril-sensitive sunglasses,” then grandly entering the store, buying a can of iced tea and some condoms as her voice broke a little. She swept through like a diva, still hot from a local theatre production and enjoying the stage. This was the way she took everything; she loved the plane ride to IFGE Portland 1994 because “she passed all the way” on the plane ride in, talking about birthing her babies with the woman in the next seat.
I, though, had a different approach to our imaginary convenience store. “I’m just going to a party,” I mumbled, “It was really my sister’s idea that I dress like this,” I babbled on, throwing out constructed justification after convoluted excuse to a clerk who just wanted to ring up my Coca-Cola.
Of course, that’s how my mind works. I want to understand everything in context, making connections, so that’s what I offer. TBB, on the other hand, likes a good moment of drama, so that’s what she offered.
We exaggerated these situations for the laughs, of course, knowing our audience would see a bit of their own behaviour in our sketch.
But they do reveal differing approaches. I made a boss of mine crazy because I came with the opposite management strategy to his. I operated from the assumption that staff should know everything except what specifically should be confidential, while he believed that information should only be given out on a need-to-know basis, that staff should only know what management specifically chose to divulge.
Clearly, this blog is a perfect example of “too much information,” or TMI. People have no right to know everything, and more than that, they really don’t care about all the bloody details of a life, don’t have time or energy or care to engage them, just like those guys who couldn’t care less about my stop at the “Didy-Dee Drive In.” Most people just want to ring up the Coke and move on.
Transpeople often code our own history into our expression, just like I coded our quick stop on the Thruway into mine, but in the end, we just don’t know what other people know. And it’s really not important what they know until that moment when they feel betrayed or lied to; that’s when you have a problem. The possibility of that “gotcha” moment often feels like a good reason to hang onto some “tells,” a bit of flagged authenticity left out for others who want or need to understand.
But, how much information is too much information?
I know my bias has always been to let it out and let others figure it out. I may be very limited at getting naked physically, but emotional and intellectual exposure has always been something I valued. I let it hang out, but I also know that letting it hang out often gets in the way.
Transwomen who come to me usually get the same advice; in the end, it’s better to more honest, more exposed and more authentic, because trying to control your story by hiding information just makes you seem phony and sets up potential gotcha moments when facts surprise the tales you want others to believe.
I’m feeling, though, that in this age of tinier bytes of information that model the tinier bits of time most people have to digest what comes their way, to sort out noise from content, sort out titillation from truth, that there is such a thing as too much information. Sometimes, that moment of drama is more important than all the explicitness in the world in conveying potent truth.
And that’s my struggle now. Where is the balance of editing for focus and deleting for manipulation? What is enough information to make a truthful impact, but not so much that it leaves my story swaddled in noise?
I’m never going to be a gal who doesn’t get naked now and then. But I also understand that naked isn’t a great way to walk in the world.
And that’s gotta be an area of focus for me.