The only word I understand is monsieur. A sling of unintelligible French blindsides me as I walk down the street; and though I have no clue what this old man is trying to tell me, I’m pretty sure I just got misgendered.
If you’ve never been misgendered before, congratulations! You live a privileged life.
If you have been misgendered, it’s probably attributable to one of two scenarios. A) You’re transgender, like moi, or B) You might have just worn a particularly androgynous pair of pants that morning. For those confident in their identities, the rare instance of misgendering is a humorous aside to be shared at work later that day: “Can you believe the barista thought I was a girl!?” If you’re like me, though, misgendering is a brutal reminder:
I’m a walking misunderstanding.
Being misgendered puts me at a mental disadvantage for the rest of the day; even ordering coffee, I’m one step behind everybody else. My brain’s always racing to catch up with that word: monsieur.
Like a proper American I hold my head up high and ignore the Québécois bâtard, refuse him even eye contact. Je ne comprends pas le français. You cannot hurt me. It’s painfully obvious that he’s trying to get my attention, but I just walk away. Sorry sir, I’m not the man you’re looking for.
The Mile End felt welcoming before today. I might be a newcomer here, but I never felt that I wasn’t allowed to exist. If anything, leaving California has provided me with the space to breathe, to finally present myself as a new person—a new woman, a more confident me.
But I don’t feel so confident anymore. My shorts are too short—they must be—and oh, mon dieu, I’ll bet anything I left an entire strip leg hair unshaven. Is my makeup bad? Does this shirt accentuate my shoulders? Does this bra make my boobs look fake?
Hell. Three months on hormones has been glorious, but it hasn’t been enough.
I tell myself that I’ll get some food on the way home, some falafel as a distraction. I deserve it, anyhow, for exploring this new city when I would rather stay at home; for inserting myself into the stream of French-Canadian culture, absorbing a little more of my new world. I’ll even buy myself a Coke. (And how many Cokes have I had this weekend?) Dammit, Stella, do not cry. You’re better than this! No, don’t even think about cigarettes, you quit that shit ages ago. Don’t. (Okay, I really need that Coke now.)
My world is spinning, the sun blinding. Where’s Falafel Yoni? Where’s Rue St. Viateur? Where am I, for God’s sakes? I duck into the nearest doorway just to get out of the street.
Two minutes later I emerge from the shadowy enclave of the dépanneur with that promised Coke. And some Maynards Fuzzy Peaches. (If emphysema can’t have me, diabetes just might win in the end.) I’m feeling a little better already. Get it together, girlie.
I walk on, the late-summer-Montreal-reverie all around me. Heady billows of coffee steam drift by, big and syrupy, luring passerbys into the shaded bowels of cafés; a mother buys her children cones of ice cream, already dripping in the oppressive heat; a couple of old rabbis engage in friendly debate outside the synagogue; college students hoist cases of beer onto their shoulders and laugh as they walk past.
They’re laughing at me—I know they are; how could they not? I don’t look a woman. No amount of makeup can change that. For all intents and purposes, I look like the monster I was branded in middle school. Every offensive name that was ever applied to me was true.
Public joke. Laughing stock.
Monsieur? Your gender is showing. Do something about it, merci.
I push past the intrusive thoughts. Home is around the corner, stairs framed by red brick and vibrant flora. A striking array of greens erupts, leaves straining at the corners of my vision. I know that this is a lovely place to be, however much an outsider I remain. Montreal, you are lovely, lovely, lovely! I’ll say it as many times as I must, before I begin to believe it.
The year’s last heat-wave threatening to crush me in my boots, I walk on towards home.
Perhaps I’m already there.
Stella Meadows writes to explores themes of identity and belonging. A transgender author, she writes to amplify the experiences of the gender non-conforming. She will not rest until she finds the perfect sentence. (It’s out there, I know it!) In her free time she enjoys epic fantasy, old movies, and photos of cute animals.