Balancing act.

As I have previously mentioned, earlier this year I started the process of becoming a truck driver. Big rigs, eighteen wheels, the whole nine yards.

It’s taken me somewhat longer than I expected it to take. But I’m doing it.

There are several stages of training for getting a commercial driver’s license; there’s also many in-depth posts about it on trucking oriented sites if you’re so curious. This is not one of those in-depth posts. There’s studying the handbook to take the tests to get the permit in the first place, followed by three or so weeks of training at school to learn the driving portion, the test to get the license, and several weeks out on the road with a trainer to learn all the things that you don’t learn at school so that you’re ready to go solo. I’m in the last stage of that training right now.

What this is about is different worlds, and somewhat less directly, about culture shock and culture clash. Over the summer I worked in a liberal and progressive campaign office in pretty much the heart of Los Angeles doing fundraising. It was great. I was surrounded by people that I got along with (at least ninety percent of the time, which is about as much as you can ask for in a work environment, to be fair), people whom I shared views and background with, people whom I felt comfortable around. Similarly those are the people I have surrounded myself with for most of my life. I’ll even go so far as to put it out there that I come from the liberal bubble that so many accuse the coasts of being.

And trucking is a whole different world. Trucking, by and large, is middle America; and for the most part it’s not as different as I thought it would be, but at the same time if I had to pinpoint what’s different out here, I’d be hard-pressed not to answer, everything.

I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with how to write about this all. On the one hand it’s a tremendous experience and I am enjoying myself. And this is my intended career at least for the foreseeable future. Along the way to this we (the definition of which is a subject for an entirely different post) bought a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and life is moving right along.

On the other hand there have been many times where I have felt like I should put part of myself in a closet; where I have outright been told that something about who I am that I have held important for all of my adult life is something that nobody is going to understand anyway; where instead of being able to critique behaviours that in most places would be socially unacceptable I have been told that this is a chance to practise “growing a thicker skin”. It’s a balancing act, and one that I’m still figuring out as I go. One that the next several posts will most likely be about as I get there.

How do I be a trucker and still be non-binary and genderqueer? Every time that I have mentioned it to anyone within trucking, even in passing, I’ve been told that my gender identity isn’t a big deal because “there are both men and women out there”. And when I overhear conversations between other truckers, it turns out that offensive slurs to refer to people outside the heteronormative ideal are far from uncommon. I’ve heard drivers from the company that I’m working for remark upon it being “ridiculous” that people who are born one gender could ever think to change it. Or, or… I could by now think of a thousand examples.

Moreover, how do I be a trucker and still hold my disability as a part of my identity when this is an industry with so many preconceived notions of who should and shouldn’t drive a truck? I couldn’t tell you whether I do or don’t get looks from other drivers when I pull through the fuel island and get out of the driver’s side of the rig. I’d like to be able to tell you that those looks, if they exist, didn’t matter. And they don’t, but at the same time even with an automatic transmission now available I’ve had to work twice as much and twice as hard to get where I am, to be able to convince person after person of my ability to do this job and the physical aspects thereof.

What I do know is that for now if it’s a choice between climbing a flight of stairs and taking a shower, taking a shower can wait. It often seems like the accessibility of facilities on the road is an afterthought. But not always. For every truck stop where the shower is on the upper floor and they don’t have an elevator, or every truck stop where there’s two flights of stairs just to get down the hill from where they have the trucks park in the first place there are ones like the one we stopped at tonight, where they saw that I use a crutch to walk and they made sure I had the accessible shower without my even having to ask for it. And at the same time there was no big deal or big fuss.

And those are the truck stops I’ll be making a point of returning to.

Balancing act.

The not so simple answer.

As stereotypical as it sounds, I have pretty much always known that I am not a girl. Or at least, as long as I can easily remember, and I really don’t have very many concrete memories before when I was around eight years old. From what I can remember, I was never as comfortable being a girl, or with most typically feminine things.

From middle through high school stumbling around the internet, I came across trans narratives in a lot of places, and reading these narratives made a lot of the jumble of feelings going around in my head start to make sense. According to my logic at the time, because I wasn’t a girl, I clearly had to be a boy. I identified very strongly as transgender and moreover as male. There were and still are a plethora of resources around for transgender men, and for a long time this seemed an answer to my question of gender, and a very simple answer at that.

I was in search of the magic ‘passing’ for a man, and that goal gave me a guideline on what clothing I should buy and wear, on how I should wear my hair, on how to walk and talk.

As time has gone on and for reasons that I am still working out, the simple answer has proven to be less and less absolute. Part of it probably stems from the multitude of ways that toxic masculinity pressures masculine-identifying people, and a desire that if that is what it means to be male, I don’t want that either. A gender role that is centred around violence and a lack of emotion isn’t what I was going for. Another part of that stems from the fact that while I have gotten to watch many of my friends go through the joy (and often pains) of self-discovery, and getting on hormone replacement therapy and figuring it out, hormones have always been just out of reach for me. I am admittedly a little bitter about the fact that it is quite likely that for health reasons (better discussed in some other post), hormone replacement therapy will never be a viable option for me.

However, the other thing that has happened is that nonbinary gender has become more prominent, and more discussed. This is the direction where my identity has been shifting, and this is the direction where my experience of gender has always been, perhaps.

I get asked a lot of the time, especially by strangers and children, “Are you a boy or a girl?” When I do respond, because sometimes I’m just too busy or not in a mood to engage, the answer flips between yes, and no, and both of those answers feel valid and relevant at the moment. I’m not a girl, but I’m not a boy either, and more importantly, I don’t have to be either one.

It is still difficult most days to figure out what being nonbinary means for me. Trying to figure out whether something makes me look too feminine for me to be comfortable, too masculine, or some Goldilocks balance of ‘just right’. Similarly, I haven’t figured out the sort of effortless confidence that I see from many nonbinary people on the internet, mixing items from clothing typically considered feminine and clothing typically considered masculine without so much as batting an eyelash. But I am slowly managing to be at a point where I feel comfortable wearing lipstick or eyeshadow, or wearing a dress and combat boots.

And being able to say that for at least that moment, I don’t care.

The not so simple answer.

Becoming myself.

The significance of names has been on my mind a lot recently, as I’m waiting for the last steps of my legal name change and for everything to be official. A week from this coming Monday I have the court hearing that will hopefully be confirming my name change. It’s coming up so much faster than I expected it to. And then I will have the last few pieces of paper with which I will finally become myself.

I never liked my given name (from hereon out referred to as my deadname*), growing up.

Besides the name being very heavily female gendered, it is in Hebrew, and difficult for most anglophones to pronounce properly. I spent my early years at school as a litany of mispronunciations and people wondering why I couldn’t just be okay with them mangling my name into whatever they thought was best. Yet as much as I disliked it, I disliked it even more when they mangled it. I think that is because by mangling my name they gave a sure sign that they didn’t actually care about my opinions, my wants, and my needs.

Online and in person, one of the clearest earlier memories I have is of the series of other names I tried on, in an attempt to find myself. I don’t remember what they were specifically, but I remember the process. This was both in physical space and as soon as I got online in late elementary school. The latter enabled more freedom. It enabled me to have a space where no one knew I was just trying on the name and no one knew anything about me. Or as the saying goes, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

I first started going by Rowan online when I was fourteen— or possibly fifteen. It was a while ago and my mental timeline isn’t the clearest. At that point, it wasn’t much different than any other nickname I used online; unlike the others however, it stuck. I didn’t just keep cycling through other names after that, because the name Rowan became a part of my identity.

When I was eighteen, on a whim, I introduced myself as Rowan at a gathering where most of the people present had never met me before in person. It’s the first time that I remember introducing myself and not having to explain myself ten times over and wait while people tried to grasp the concept of my name. When I got home from the gathering, I continued going by Rowan. Unlike that first weekend, though, most of the time people in my daily life deadnamed me, whether on purpose or by accident. It was a slow process to get to the time where most people knew me by my chosen name rather than my deadname, to get to a point where my deadname only haunted me through the hassle of paperwork and my mother’s occasional mistake when she was angry at me.

Jobs, school, doctor’s offices, these were the places where my deadname haunted me and followed me. I’ve spent most of my adult life arguing that the words on the piece of paper do not make something my name. Most workplaces have told me that until it’s on my license and other forms of identification, they just can’t call me by my chosen name.

Even at my current job, I have ended up going by an initialised version of my deadname instead of trying to remind people day in and day out that my name is Rowan. Rowan isn’t the name that is in the computer, so the world tells me that I can’t expect other people to call me by it.

Without the piece of paper that I will be getting from the legal name change, work— and the world as it is right now— does not afford me the dignity of choosing the name I go by, the dignity of self-definition. The dignity to move past the person I was to the person that I am now. I am lucky in that for the most part, this deadnaming is in spaces where it does not put me at risk of harm or violence, but that does not make it hurt any less to be so obviously disrespected. So perhaps it is for that reason amongst the many others that the upcoming name change feels so momentous.

This is me asserting myself, that I am exactly who I say I am.

*deadnaming is the process of referring to a trans person by their birth name as opposed to their chosen name. It comes with the implication that the name given at birth is somehow the person’s “real name” and that the name gone by now is fake, or otherwise less valid.

Becoming myself.