by Giselle Renarde
I'm somewhat at a loss. This fortnight's topic (near-death experiences) isn't one I can related to. The only time I've ever lost consciousness was last year, when I sliced my finger open with a kitchen knife and fainted. Woo! That was something else! But not a near-death experience.
I asked my girlfriend, just now, if she's ever had one. Nope. No luck there.
But it got me thinking about something that happened to her a couple years back, when she was having lunch with a friend. In case I haven't mentioned it lately, my girlfriend (I call her "Sweet" online) is transgender. She identifies as female, but she's not out of the closet with her family. A few of them know, but most see her as a man, and she continues to present as male when she's around them.
Among friends, she's stealth--that is to say, she presents and identifies as a woman. Not trans. Not genderqueer. Not "other." Just a woman.
Many of the trans women I know are older people--say, sixty-plus. One big difference I've noticed between trans friends in the "older adults" versus "younger adults" age category is that the older ones tend to be stealth. Only their inner circles know they're trans. Many also lead lives in which their time is split between two distinct identities, two distinct genders. In some situations they present male, even though they identify as women.
By contrast, the younger trans women I know tend to be out. They don't mind people knowing they were raised as boys. They deal with any repercussions that might arise because they don't feel ashamed of their identities. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, of course--just something I've noticed among friends.
Anyway, back to this non-near-death-experience.
My girlfriend was eating lunch at a restaurant with a friend with whom she was stealth. They were enjoying a perfectly pleasant conversation when everything went black. The next thing Sweet remembers is regaining consciousness in an ambulance, with a paramedic holding her wig in one hand and her driver's license (with her male name) in the other.
She was mortified. She had no idea what had happened. There was only one thing she was sure of: her friend would abandon her, hate her, tell all their mutual acquaintances what a freak "she" was...
That's not what happened. Her friend filled in the blanks as much as possible. Apparently Sweet started nodding off as they were eating, then just collapsed. She kept breathing, but nobody could bring her back. Restaurant employees called 9-1-1.
When the paramedics arrived, they couldn't get her to regain consciousness. They loaded her onto a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance. Her friend came along and witnessed Sweet unmasked and revealed in a way that made my girlfriend very uncomfortable.
Sweet was absolutely sure the incident would dissolve a friendship she'd spent years cultivating. She was far more concerned about the social fallout than her health. Her health was an afterthought. (She's been scheduled for an MRI twice, but each time she's had an anxiety attack at the prospect of entering that machine.) When I talked to her that day, she was freaking out.
And then... nothing happened. Her friend drove her home and called the next day to make sure she was okay. Her friend emailed, as usual, to schedule their next get-together. Nothing changed. Their friendship went on, as usual. Maybe this woman read Sweet as trans all along. Who knows? It's hard for me to assess my girlfriend's "passability." We're just too close. To me, she's the most beautiful woman in the world. Could be that others view her differently.
Doesn't really matter, though, because the point of the story is that the scariest thing in my girlfriend's world happened to her. She was "unmasked" in front of a friend and in front of strangers. (Those paramedics put the "professional" in healthcare professional, by the way.) And she lived to tell the tale.
Come to think of it, it's not even a very exciting story.