I was checking out at the market. The checker was extremely efficient — bagging my items with care while ringing them up at lightning speed. We exchanged pleasantries about the sprinkling of snow covering our ground — unusual for North Carolina and sending the good citizens into apoplexy.
In line behind me were two men, mid-twenties, bragging about their “hot” girlfriends. Then they noticed the checker (around 6’2”, broad shouldered, styled hair, heavy make-up, nail polish, deep voice, short skirt, medium heels). The two men openly smirked and launched into a mocking floor show, imitating the checker’s gestures, an exaggerated burlesque. They said the word “tranny,” and my eyes locked with the checker’s. I glanced back and the two men grinned, a clear invitation for me to join their posse.
I looked at the checker and asked quietly, “Want me to handle this?” The checker nodded, so I turned to the two men. Nobody was behind them in line, so I had all the time I needed.
They exchanged smug smiles.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Are you concerned this person is transgender?” (For a visual — I’m 5’4”, gray hair, small-boned, around 60, yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt. When I’m not cursing, my style of speaking is often courteous bordering on the absurd.)
The two men froze, no longer smiling.
“You’re much younger than I am, and I’m sure I can learn a lot from you about today’s world. But right here, in this moment, I know how to do this. May I show you?”
They remained frozen.
“Thanks. I’ll be very brief.” I put out my hand to each of them. “I’m Amy.” Reluctantly they shook my hand and muttered their names.
“Now watch. It’s easy.” I turned to the checker. “Hi. I’m Amy. My pronouns are she and her.” I nodded and the checker picked up the slack. “I’m Cory. My pronouns are she and her.” We shook hands.
Again, I turned to the two men and shrugged. “That’s how it’s done. Have a good day.”
I waited to make sure Cory was safe, but the two men paid for their items without looking at her, and practically ran out of the store.
My 2019 Resolutions for the New Year:
When I have the opportunity to stand with someone being targeted — in this case a simple act, ninety seconds from start to finish — I’ll take it.
When I’m dealt any form of privilege, I’ll use it with extreme care.
Step by step, one by one, I’ll try to help my country regain common sense.
I’ll own my mistakes and work to do better.
Happy New Year.
(All identifying information in this essay has been changed to respect “Cory’s” privacy.)
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.
Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.