Eunice Tiptree

A Dash of Humor Eases the Way

by Eunice Tiptree

When transitioning from male to female years ago, before I could be approved for gender surgery I was required to obtain a second opinion by a psychologist.  With the help of my gender therapist, I found one who agreed to evaluate me.  Nearing retirement age, portly and professorial, elbow patches on his sweater, he reminded me of a character on a children’s TV show, a kindly uncle.  He introduced himself by saying he taught and also performed many outside evaluations, but I was his first transsexual.

Instead of sitting at his desk, he drew up an office chair and we sat facing each other comfortably.  A teacher, he liked to demonstrate concepts by drawing diagrams on paper of relationships and emotions, such as a diagram of defense mechanisms people use.  “So how did you, the way you lived before, with the strain and fear, react when someone did something you perceived as a threat?”

I didn’t have to think.  “Humor.”

He liked that.  “Some people lock away their emotions — as you had to — and let anger, a basic, valid emotion, turn into hostility, which is something different.  Or they sink into self-pity, which can lead them to think of themselves as a victim.”  Or turn to drugs.  Or end themselves in suicide.

And he liked that I coped through positive means, creativity, through my writing.   Finishing, he shook my hand and said it’d been a privilege to meet me.  I felt I’d aced an exam.  I immediately called a trans friend and joked, “I’m officially normal!”

Where there is humor there is life.  Humor is an excellent means to maintain a sense of yourself.  And break down barriers.  When I went through the task of changing my name on all my accounts, I found humor eased the way.  Often in those days before the word transgender was well known, I’d start with, “Here’s one I bet you haven’t gotten.”   Calling the electric company, I used the line.  The woman on the other end didn’t miss a beat, saying, “I think you may be right,” and proceeded without pause to access my account, asking me to verify my birthday.  “Hey, I’m a woman now, and it’s painful to reveal my age!”  She laughed, and the change (on my utility account) went smoothly.  She even asked me about the steps required to change my name.

Humor eases the way, but in not all cases.  A representative for the cable company stopped me cold in the middle of my routine.  “Why are you telling me you are a transsexual?”  She obviously didn’t have an interest in the steps needed to change myself or my name.  If I couldn’t make her laugh, at least I found her amusing.  We need to laugh at ourselves and the impossible situations we encounter, look out there at the craziness and laugh, “I’m normal!”

Eunice Tiptree transitioned from fiction to creative nonfiction at about the same time she began transitioning from male to female at age 55 in 2009.   She has had poetry published in Straylight and Inscape Magazine and essays published in Crack the Spine, Weave, Writers for Dinner and elsewhere.  She was a Best of the Net nominee for her essay in the May 2015 issue of Brevity. Before transitioning, she was a journalist specializing on the space program.