I don’t know if she’s* still alive but, considering she was probably in her late 70s when I knew her in the early 1990s, I can’t be sure. From the ages of 17 to 19, I was working at a convenience store/gas station (a Shell, I believe) in Sherbrooke, QC. I knew nothing about trans issues at the time but when this male-bodied person who dressed and presented as female came to put gas in her big, white van on a regular basis, shortly before the end of my evening shift, I made it a point to be nice to her and to treat her like a lady because I knew that she probably didn’t get much of that. I looked at her wonderingly through the window as she gassed up, with her flowery dress and hat and her big rough hands. Sherbrooke is not a tiny place but it is not a big city either and, at the time, it wasn’t the greatest place to be queer. Not that I was anywhere near admitting queerness or transness to myself . . .probably at least in part because it wasn’t the greatest place to be queer.
During my last few weeks, as I did with all my regular customers (the ones who were nice to me, anyway), I told her that I was leaving so that I could attend university in Montreal. This was out first actual conversation and she told me she would miss me. She came all the way to our gas station because she was respected here, she said. The one closer to her home out in Lennoxville, about a 20-30 minute drive away, was scary. There were always nasty teens hanging around who would pick on her and even threaten her. I don’t remember anything about how the service there was but, having gone to that store regularly as I was a student in Lennoxville, I knew that they didn’t get the same kind of customer service training that we did.
I’ve wondered what ever happened to her from time to time. And now that I know more about some of the difficulties involved in being trans, and even more specifically, the difficulties involved in being a trans woman who does not “pass”, I can imagine how brutal it must have been for her in Lennoxville and wherever else she went during her life, roughly from the 1920s onward.
I wish I knew. And I wish I could tell her how much I admire her.
*I’m using female pronouns here based merely on the assumption that she did, or would have if she could have, identified as female. I base this assumption on the fact that she was dressed as female every time I saw her and during mundane activities such as putting gas in one’s vehicle. I realise that I could be grossly mistaken and that maybe this person cross-dressed, did not identify as female, and happened to need gas every time they came out of a weekly discussion group for cross-dressers. Nevertheless, the aspect of the person that I knew radiated femaleness so the “she” is hopefully not insulting to them in any case.