It was six summers ago and I was in my in-laws’ kitchen baking cookies. I had a small cookie business in Phoenix for awhile. We made certified-organic gourmet snickerdoodles and variants on that theme. Ours were quite different because they had little domes and were cakey instead of flat like your typical, non-gourmet variety, which allowed us to fill them with crèmes and ganaches. They were also super labor intensive, requiring patience by all involved. I have always found baking to be a very Zen activity and as that summer was ending, I needed to lose myself in the moments of mixing and forming and filling.
At the beginning of that summer, six summers ago, I’d stopped playing at being male. Just for the summer. I knew that when the summer ended and the school year began and I would have to return to my teaching job, I would have to put back on the male costume I had been wearing for 40-odd years. But for that summer, I would just be me. It was an experiment in living something like an authentic life. During the previous year, I had come out as trans to just about everyone who wasn’t tied to my job and a couple of folks who were, mostly to see if they had noticed my male performance slipping (they hadn’t - except the one student I came out to said that everything from the previous year finally made sense).
As the end of that summer approached, I was distraught. The weight of passing as male had been lifted for a time and I knew that a return to that life would be nearly unbearable. But the dream of going back to my job in the fall as a woman was unrealistic. This was Phoenix, a hotbed of…heat, not progressive politics. I had nightmares of news vans and angry, pitchfork-wielding parents. These fears were realistic. Other trans teachers had not fared well and I had no reason to believe myself to be in a more fortunate position. I had resigned myself to resuming my pseudo-male persona or resigning from my job.
That said, I wasn’t going to give up without doing due diligence. I started researching my legal options which led me to a trans lawyer in New Jersey who introduced me to a lesbian lawyer in D.C. who referred me to a firm in Phoenix that specialized in LGBT labor law. After phone calls led to an appointment, I sat down with a pair of excellent attorneys who were strangely confident about the odds of me being able to transition on the job. They said they would call me soon.
Leaving things in their hands, I went over to my in-laws’ house to bake those cookies. It wasn’t more than a few hours and a few hundred cookies later that day, when my phone rang.
And everything changed in a heartbeat because one of my lawyers had made a phone call to a friend of his on the school district board and she relayed through him to me that the district fully supported my need to transition.
There’s an old Mel Brooks film called The Twelve Chairs set in the early days of the Soviet Union. The opening credit song is called “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.” The song is quite funny, but also melancholy in that Russian way of things. I always believed that all the truth about dealing with life was summed up in that song. I kept my expectations very low so that if things turned out well, I would be pleasant surprised as opposed to being terribly disappointed when things turned out poorly.
I never expected to remain a high school teacher once I came out fully and there were times I believed I would never come out fully because I needed to remain a high school teacher. I hoped things would turn out well, but never expected anything other than that worst-case scenario. That phone call didn’t just change my options; it changed my worldview.
My expectations shifted because if this most seemingly improbable of things could happen, then my perceived odds of other seeming improbabilities needed to be called into question. I began to expect better outcomes, outcomes more in line with my hopes. While not everything has turned out for the best…while there have been disappointments (such as the failure of that cookie business), I am okay with them because I can deal with them as a woman, as myself.
Natasha Troop is the author of "The Lakebridge Cycle" series.