There is a small town stuck between Houston and Galveston. It is one of the many settlements south of Houston that seems to cling to the freeway for life. This particular berg is famous for three things:
1.) A large topless joint that beckons men to exit the freeway so they can have their heart broken by at least 162 women;
2.) An old Spanish-style church whose 15 foot adobe Christ is designed to inspire the unsuspecting sinner to make a mad dash for the confessional least they be judged on the spot by its two rather large menacing eyes (that, BTW, seem to somehow track you much like the Mona Lisa’s do); and,
3.) The local water tower which is prized for its pealing façade immortalizing the high school team of 1977.
I had the honor of calling this town my home for a few years. In fact, it’s where I did a lot of my transitioning and first experienced some of the hidden perks that seemed to come along with my new gender role.
I’d been experiencing trouble with my car’s transmission, so I pulled into a local garage to have them take a look at it. As I navigated my car around used tires and oil slicks, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a rather large yeti attempting to till the grime under his fingernails with the edge of a screwdriver. While I had not yet transitioned, I was very close to moving forward with it. This meant that I was living in a strange twilight state whereby I was hyper-conscious of every nuance manhood demanded of me. I had to consciously carry out each action as if I had the lead part in some weird and sweaty play. Each gradation of expression that drew me away from my innate personhood exacted a psychic toll that was becoming too high.
Since I had obviously parked my car in the middle of alpha-male central, I felt it best to present this greased Neanderthal with my very best impersonation of a male. I parked my car and tried to calm my heart palpitations by reciting my man-mantra: “manly-man, manly-man, manly-man…” As I closed my car door, the mechanic squinted his eyes and stepped over to my car.
He told me that he was on his break and explained to me that every goddamned time he went on break, some asshole would pull up whining about his car. With that greeting, it was established that he, not I, was the alpha-male.
I apologized for interrupting him and asked if he would like me to come back later. He told me that he’d take his break later and went on to explain that the “asshole” in his introduction wasn’t me and that he was just talking about assholes in general. I gave him a nervous tic and he asked me, “Just what the hell’s your problem anyway?” I explained that my car’s automatic transmission wasn’t shifting properly. After checking the transmission fluid, he shook his head and laughed at me. It was clear then that I was trapped in some type of ritualistic rite males are apparently expected to engage in to determine dominance and that I had been demoted to the level of prepubescent simpleton.
The mechanic told me to walk to the front of my car. An icy panic settled into the pit of my stomach as I got out of my car. I told myself to make sure that I walked with the same swagger the mechanic displayed when he approached my car. “That’s it. Take big steps. Big steps… No! OMG! What are you doing?!? Are you trying to show off your swishy hips?!? Big steps… That’s right. Walk like you’ve just crapped your pants. Yep, that looks real good. Step. Squish. Step. Squish. Step. Squish.” While I was feeling fairly confident about my approach at the time, I’m sure I did a fine impression of an epileptic ballet dancer as he almost dropped the dipstick he was holding as he watched my machismo in action.
He told me that the transmission fluid was low and that I needed to put some in. I desperately scanned the engine looking for a cap or sticker that read, “PUT TRANSMISSION FLUID HERE” but there was nothing like that to be found. Since he obviously knew, I asked him where I needed to put the fluid. He looked at me as if I had politely asked him to wear my underwear on his head.
“How much are you gonna pay me to show you?” he asked. As he looked me up and down, he added, “I’ve got a wife and kids to feed.” Why was he telling me about his family? Did he expect me to express some sympathy for his plight? Was he attempting to show me how virile he was? I told him that I had about a dollar-fifty in cash when he slapped my back – hard – and began to laugh. Did I miss something? Apparently, we had somehow become friends since he was laughing instead of scowling and showing me where and how to put the transmission fluid into my car.
About six months later, I returned to the same garage to put some air into my tires. By then, I had transitioned. The same mechanic was on duty as I pulled up and instead of grimacing at me, he stopped what he was doing and bounded across the parking lot in the direction of my car. As I got out to walk towards the air-hose, he instructed me to get back into the car while he volunteered to check each tire and top them off. He also asked me if I wanted him to check the fluids under the hood. After he was done, I asked him how much I owed him. “Nuttin…” he said, “But a smile.” He flashed a head full of mangled teeth at me. I couldn’t help but notice that a bottom tooth looked like the dirty end of the spark plug he was fidgeting with. I automatically frowned and he stopped showing me his teeth. It occurred to me that I’d perhaps broken some sort of rule; his disappointment was written all over his face. Worse, the disappointment was quickly becoming a display of offended neutrality. I realized that I’d just been classified and filed away under the bitch category of his brain. I tipped him 5 bucks, thanked him for his help and drove off watching him look from the back of my head to the tip in his hand in my rearview mirror. It was only then that I realized that I was smiling like an idiot.