Dear Bitter Butch,
In good news, I don’t have cancer.
In less good news, surgery needs to be involved to maintain the status quo. I had a salpingo-oopherectomy this summer (and let me tell you hot flashes are ridiculous and I would like to trade them in on a puppy), and will be having a prophylactic double mastectomy with no reconstruction early next year.
So, my short-haired stompy-shoed flannel-wearing tie-owning easing-into-butch self is now worried, possibly unnecessarily, that well meaning acquaintances and coworkers are going to ask me about my transition, since I look masculine to start with and will then be all flat chested. Except I’m not transitioning.
The problem is that I’m having the surgery because I have bad genes and bad family history, which I am all emotional about. If I weren’t all emotional I would probably just say oh thank you for asking but I’m not transitioning but I’m so pleased you were comfortable enough to talk to me about it, but at the moment that seems likely to lead to ugly crying.
Is there a script for this? Can you help me figure one out? If I start practicing now maybe I’ll have it down by surgery time and I’ll be able to deliver it with a minimum of snot.
Dear Not Transitioning,
Oh my goodness. What a hard, hard thing. I am so sorry to hear about the bad family history with this, and about what I’m assuming are your losses. I am glad you do not have cancer, but what a way to avoid it. What a complicated and difficult thing — especially in full sight of everybody. It has many resonances with me in becoming disabled while coworkers were watching, and this kind of scrutiny (or fear of scrutiny) adds enormous stress to the original injury.
I’m not sure there’s a script for this, but I don’t think you’ll need one. Even the most progressive of people are still trained very hard not to walk up to a woman and begin chatting about how different her bustal area seems to be looking since last time you talked. Especially in settings where people don’t know you very well, if you are still wearing big loose shirts and stompy boots, people might not even notice — or not enough to say anything.
But I am not sure that’s what you need, anyway. You already know there is no pithy phrase that conveys: I am deeply, horribly emotional about this profound and unwanted change to my body, and I don’t want you to see how incredibly anguished I am, because it is not socially acceptable to burst into tears at work and also I don’t really know you that well.
There are pithy phrases that are perfectly polite that say: mind your own business and back the fuck off, however. And I suggest that you use one. I even think your idea of practicing ahead of time is a good one: when we are dealing with anguish, keeping it short and sweet (and well practiced) will keep our voices steady when we say the line we say, which I’m suggesting as a simple: “No! Non-elective surgery,” and then an abrupt change of the topic. It is four words and you can say them really really fast and move on or away. If people press (and some people are oblivious fucks), you can say: “Don’t want to discuss it,” and again change the subject.
I will also say this: pouring out your emotions and your energy about this into the ears of sympathetic people who love you (and possibly a therapist) will help you to not have as much pent-up emotion behind these four short words. I hope you have lots of support and listening ears, and some shoulders to cry on. I hope you have those. I wish you luck. And I sorta wish I could give you a hug. Or, in an office setting, an appropriately brusque and businesslike handshake while I talked about anything and everything except what was under your shirt.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Post image via Shutterstock]