When I checked into my flight I specifically asked for a window seat. I always love looking out the window at the majesty of the clouds far below, the ocean and many terrains ever farther. It is also nice to only ever have a single seatmate, rather than the poor souls in the center section sandwiched between several strangers.
I was relieved when the man who sat next to me was not, as I had feared might happen, a child, but rather a strapping young man, also of the ginger persuasion. We did not speak.
It was not until I finally got over my foolish pride so as to inquire how, in fact, he had gotten his built-in tablet to work and he answered me that he introduced himself: Terrin. I said my name was Bea. We shook hands and started to talk.
Terrin is a soldier in the United States Army stationed in Germany. On paper, we do not make a good match. He is a few months younger than me. He grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and wants always to live in small towns. He does not possess the impetus to travel. He has previously worked as a firefighter and a paramedic. He only yesterday acquired his fifth tattoo. He enjoys mindless comedies and PlayStation. He “appreciates the female form.”
Last week, my mom took me to Kohl’s to buy me a couple bras. Although perhaps falsely indicating to others that breasts are a sex characteristic that I actually own is not an act that gives me a higher degree of my own sense of body image, it does put me much more at ease: I have already found that I do not have to so often correct others with pronouns—in fact, every airport worker rightly referred to me as ma’am. Despite the increased sense of personal security a bra affords me—again, I don’t politically believe in passing, but sometimes safety does, indeed, come first—I can’t help but feeling somehow dishonest to those around me. I await being found out for the body I possess beneath my brassiere.
I do not know when he figured out that the ma’am next to which he was sitting had not always been referred to as such. I didn’t try to hide it necessarily; I spoke openly about my career in Gender Studies and my preference for all things queer; I mentioned a boy I had once liked who had now been with his boyfriend several years (read: not girlfriend, which is not to say bisexual and pansexual people do not exist, but that they aren’t the first sexualities people presume); I even divulged the tattoo I wished to place on the underside of my left wrist: the transgender/intersex symbol.
“Can I ask you something?” he eventually asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“When did you start dressing like a girl?”
“I don’t mean to be offensive. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“No, it’s okay,” I told him. “I’m pretty open about it. Careful with other people though.”
“Okay,” he said.
And so I told him everything: from my transcendent first time in drag in February of 2013; the gender theory that led me to my logical conclusion of the pronouns that I should use—namely, that not only gender but also sex is a construct; the mountaintop revelation in the Andes that my suppressed transfemininity was the root of a great many issues in my life, but not because of the transfemininity, like I had always assumed, but because of the suppressed nature of it.
“Wow,” he said when I was done. “You totally just blew my mind. That stuff about sex—I’ve never thought of it like that before.”
We talked a little more before going in and out of sleep for the rest of the flight. At some sleepless point I watched Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity—highly recommend it, by the way.
When we landed I asked him for his full name and he told me. I told him I’d find him on Facebook.
At baggage claim I extended my hand.
“It was nice to meet you.”
He took it.
“Yeah, you too. Enjoy your trip!”
And with that I stepped out into Berlin.