C.M. Green

Two weeks before I got top surgery, Violet from work asked me when I was going to get married. I don’t know her that well, and I’m only twenty-seven, so I wasn’t sure what to say. I laughed. “They’ll have to catch me first.”

“No, really.” We were sitting in a conference room, waiting for the rest of our team to join us. Her smile indicated nothing but friendly interest, though her words had me cornered. “Haven’t you and your girlfriend been together for a few years? Have you talked about it, at least?”

I was saved having to answer because Todd and Hannah walked in and commenced the meeting with a new process for filing expense reports. When it was done, I walked back to my desk as Violet trailed behind me. “Did I make you uncomfortable earlier? Are we okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. You’re totally fine.”

“Oh, good. I mean, you were the first lesbian to work here and I thought you and your girlfriend were so cute together. I’d just love for you to tie the knot.” She’s met Dora once, at a holiday party three years ago. I seldom talk about my personal life at work. Also, I haven’t identified as a lesbian for almost four years. I’m not sure I ever used the word at work.

“Hey, I have a call with Accounts Payable,” I told her. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?” For the first time I was happy to be put on hold for an hour with the central finance office.

Violet’s email signature includes her pronouns. The university where we work encouraged everyone to do that about a year ago, and Violet was enthusiastic about it. “It’s good to be more inclusive,” she said to me at the time. “Does it make you more comfortable? Maybe you can put your pronouns on your name plate, too. Would you want that? So people know?”

Violet knows I’m a man, but she still slips, three years after I transitioned at work. It doesn’t help that T has done very little to change my appearance or voice, but given her initial enthusiasm it was disappointing that she never learned how to speak about me.

When I told my coworkers that I would be out for two weeks, and that Hannah would be helping with my workload, Violet sent me an enthusiastic email. Are you going on vacation? Is your girlfriend going with you? You’ll have to share pictures! I didn’t reply.

One week before I got top surgery, Violet hovered by my desk on a Tuesday morning. “Hannah told me you’re getting surgery. Are you going to be okay? Is it serious?”

I silently cursed Hannah, but still smiled. “Oh, it’s nothing serious. I’ll be fine. Thanks for asking, though.”

She gave me a conspiratorial look. “Are you getting–gosh, what do they call it? I know you can’t say ‘sex change’ anymore.”

I willed my phone to ring, or, barring that, I willed the floor to collapse from beneath me. I knew the person whose office was below mine; they wouldn’t ask me questions about my medical choices.

“Yeah,” I said shortly. “It’s gender related.”

“I’m so glad the insurance will cover that. How can I help? Can I bring you a pot of soup or something?”

“That’s okay, you really don’t have to.” I turned back to my computer and clicked open an email ad from Mailchimp. I gave it far more attention than it deserved and learned all sorts of things about growing my audience.

But Violet didn’t leave. “You’ve thought about it a lot, though, right? I read this article in the New York Times about a woman–or, I don’t know. A person who had that kind of surgery and then really regretted it. And there’s no undo button, you know?”

I had a fleeting thought about HR violations and whether this constituted one. “Yep. I’ve thought about it a lot.” I cut the conversation short with “Hey, I have to go ask Todd something about this payment. I’ll talk to you later.”

One day before I got top surgery it was a Sunday, and I was checking my work email for the last time before I deleted it from my phone for two weeks. I answered a question from Hannah, sent off a payment request form, and then saw Violet’s email. It began with general well-wishes, and then said, I’m very proud of you for being your authentic self. You’re such an inspiration to all of us. 

I started to type out a response and tell her that I didn’t want to inspire anyone, that getting my tits chopped off wasn’t a heroic act. I wrote the whole thing and screenshotted it before deleting the draft. 

Two weeks after I got top surgery, I came back to the office to find flowers on my desk. The card next to them was signed by everyone in the office. Violet, when she saw me, buzzed over. “Welcome back! We missed you. How are you feeling?” She looked me up and down and her eyes paused over my chest. I wanted to disappear. Her smile was fluorescent. “You look great. How do you feel?”

“Ready to get back to work,” I told her with a smile. “I have so much email to catch up on. I’ll probably just plug in my headphones and trudge through my inbox all morning.” I pulled out my headphones, not quite rude enough to put them in while she was talking to me but hoping to indicate that I really wanted to.

“Well, take it easy. I don’t know what recovery looks like for that kind of surgery but make sure you rest plenty. Anything I can do to help?”

“I’m really fine, but thank you for asking.”

“I bet your girlfriend is taking good care of you. Maybe you owe her a ring after all this, hm?” She winked at me and finally returned to her desk. 

Three weeks after I got top surgery, I quit my job.