Vice Versa

By Julia Serano

I almost forgot about her, buried alive in the back of my mind. At the time, I was a 26-year-old closet case, a self-described occasional crossdresser. And she was just like me only vice versa.

I met her in Kansas City at my first transgender support group meeting. The chairs were set up in a circle and most of the seats were filled with middle-aged transvestites in their 40s and 50s. They were painstakingly dressed, wearing Sunday’s best, floral prints and muted pinks with just a hint of five o’clock shadow. Looking strangely sweet, almost equal parts aunt and uncle. And she seemed so out of place there, the only one in t-shirt and jeans. And genetically speaking, she was the only girl in the room. And chronologically we were the only two in our twenties.

After the meeting’s minutes and a guest speaker from Mary Kay offering make-up tips, she introduced herself to me. She told me her name was Joan; I told her mine was Tom. And after a bit of random chitchat, she asked if I wanted to hang out some time. I said “sure,” and a week later we did.

I drove to Topeka where she lived. I remember the two of us were sitting on her bed listening to Tom Lehrer on her portable cassette player when I asked her what her deal was. She said she wasn’t sure what to call herself exactly. She was attracted to men, but when she masturbated she imagined herself with a penis topping them. And I could tell that she was embarrassed until I told her that I knew what she meant, because I was just like her, only lesbian.

And so I told her, the first time told anyone, about when I was in the 7th grade and had the biggest crush on Kathy Patterson. And every pre-teen fantasy I had about her began with me being turned into a girl somehow. And only afterwards would we run away together.

Then Joan told me about her high school boyfriend who told her he was gay. And she replied that she wasn’t surprised and that she liked him that way.

And we told our gender histories like we were swapping war stories. Experiences we couldn’t share with our families or friends, because they were never there and they would never understand. But that night, sitting on Joan’s bed, for the first time in my life I didn’t feel quite so much like an alien.

And the last time I saw her was a Saturday evening we spent watching a Star Trek Next Generation re-run—the episode where Beverly Crusher falls in love with a trill. And we both sat still on her couch next to one another. And when our bodies touched, it was the first human contact that either of us had in a while. And at one point, I put my arm around her and she leaned into me. It felt like we were pretending that I was the he and she was the she.

And for a moment, I thought one thing might lead to another. Maybe we would make out on her sofa and wake up naked next to one another. And somehow it almost made sense, like we were each other’s long lost complement, the way that two odd numbers add up to make an even. But the problem was, we weren’t really a perfect match, we were more like exact replicas—the same only vice versa. And while there was definitely some mutual attraction, nothing ever happened, because I wasn’t a gay man and she wasn’t a lesbian.

Now it’s eight years later and I’m not in Kansas anymore. I’m a woman living in Oakland. And that bedroom in Topeka literally feels like a lifetime ago. And every now and again, when I find myself feeling alone, I think about Joan and wonder how he’s doing.