I’ve always been polyamorous when it comes to my weed consumption because, as in any relationship, it’s hard for one person to provide all of the things we need. But I recently had to clean up my roster because things had gotten somewhat out of control.
Bud man #1 was, and still is, my main man. He has great product, great prices, is excellent at communicating with me, and I just dig his vibe. Bud man #3 would come to me wherever, whenever, but I was paying him Platinum Kush prices for aluminum foil kush. Bud man #5 was only there as an emergency backup since he made me wait two hours and then got an attitude with me and blamed it on his issues with the mother of his baby.
Bud man #1, who I am almost monogamous with these days, has been my guy for going on five years. Let’s call him “Red.” I like Red. He is confident, chill and kind. We often chat at the end of our quick transactions about work (we both tutor kids), about gentrification (we both know his home, Brooklyn, is being stolen before his very eyes), about travel (we both appreciate the balance between the push and the plush ― work hard, then live it up). I see him at least once a week, and sometimes more when I am not doing my best at taking care of my lungs and brain.
But here’s the rub: I’m a trans guy who began transitioning a year and a half ago, and Red knew me when I still presented as female. He doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo about my gender identity.
When I first made the decision to begin hormones and have top surgery, I wrote a long coming-out email to my family and friends and sent it to almost everyone I know. Obviously, Red was not on that list. I thought maybe I should mention it to him, but there never seemed to be quite the right moment to impart that kind of information during our quick sidewalk swaps.
“No one gives you a manual on how to handle this stuff. Coming out to your long-term weed guy is entirely uncharted territory.”
No one gives you a manual on how to handle this stuff. Concrete things, like changing your gender marker on government-issued IDs, are tough to figure out, but there’s still a protocol to follow. Coming out to your long-term weed guy is entirely uncharted territory.
Transitioning is usually a slow and subtle process, and the small changes could easily go unchecked from week to week. I didn’t think a lot about it the first few months since the visual differences were so slight. When I renovated my chest, suddenly breastless and pec-tastic, I felt it might be noticeable. But if Red did notice, he didn’t say anything to me.
Over time, the humble hairs across my chin and other parts of my body continued their valiant march upward and outward and soon became visible. I now have a respectable little beard, and I figured growing said beard also served as a yearlong way of coming out to Red as trans.
Again, I wouldn’t know if he noticed because we never spoke about it. He never asked, I never offered.
A few months ago I was going to meet Red, who didn’t see me at first because I had forgotten the address we were meeting at and was on the wrong stoop (can you tell I smoke too much weed?). When I walked up, he laughed and said, “I was like, ‘She told me she was here, but where is she?’”
I looked around like, “Where is she?” Or more importantly, who is she?
At that moment, I could have been relaxed and just said, “Oh you confused me by saying she. [Nonchalant laugh] I’m trans and I use ‘he’ now.”
No big deal, right?
As it turns out, coming out as trans to your weed man in the middle of the day on a stoop in Bed-Stuy is not the most relaxing activity. So I laughed, made jokes about my Swiss cheese brain forgetting the address, got my bud, swallowed the lump in my throat, then smoked a few joints to help me digest that sad-lump when it reached my stomach.
“I wonder if there are butterflies out there still being called caterpillars by the bugs who don’t get how sometimes we wear our wings on the inside until we are ready to reveal them to the world.”
On my bike ride home, I contemplated if it is in some way radical that Red’s concept of womanhood is wide enough to fit a burly, bearded fellow such as myself?
Or is the concept of me being a trans man so unfathomable to him that the more realistic option is me being a woman who now looks like Jon Snow?
I wonder if there are butterflies out there still being called caterpillars by the bugs who don’t get how sometimes we wear our wings on the inside until we are ready to reveal them to the world.
Maybe I should have just put him on my coming out letter listserv after all, since I actually see him much more than most of the cousins and childhood friends who received that email. But that just felt too intimate for the kind of relationship we have.
Still, when you think about it, what are the elements of intimacy? Trust, understanding, love, safety, exchange, support. Red and I actually share a fair amount of these: trust, understanding, exchange, support. He trusts I am not the police. I trust he is providing me with quality product. I support his pockets. He supports my habit. We like each other, but we definitely don’t love each other. Maybe love combined with trust trumps the others and is the make or break for a truly intimate relationship?
Some of the people I actually am intimate with, who I love the most, have deeply hurt me with the things they have felt and expressed about my transition. The thing that allows me to continue building a relationship with them is my trust that they care about me in a way that is beyond body and boundary: I trust that they know who I am at the core of my own little earth. Loving someone and trusting someone is not the same. When you do have both, then you can really let it all hang out.
The thing is, being trans sometimes means it is all hanging out, even if you didn’t let it or choose it ― even if there is no intimacy involved. I bet, in many ways, Red gets this. And as a black man, he probably gets it in ways I never will: to have someone see you and assume. To have someone see you and ignore.
I don’t think he is purposely ignoring these things that are true about me. I think he just does not know how to adjust to what he sees happening.
“If I was a new customer and he met me, he wouldn’t think twice about if I was a man ― it wouldn’t even be a conversation. Not all the time, but most of the time, that’s what I want: to not have to have a conversation about my identity. For people to just get it.”
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I “pass” ― meaning people see me as a man and might not even know I am trans. If I was a new customer and Red met me for the first time, he wouldn’t think twice about whether I was a man. It wouldn’t even be a conversation.
Not all the time, but most of the time, that’s what I want: to not have to have a conversation about my identity. For people to just get it. For people to understand someone being trans is a possibility ― an option. Eighty-nine percent of the time, I choose to come out. I am comfy, I am proud, and I think it is important. I’ve also found coming out gets through to people, probably more than reading an article or hearing an intellectual argument.
When I was running low on weed again, I considered texting Red, “Hey can I get an 8th of RAINBOW Sherbert or Juicy FRUIT, and, oh, by the way, I’m a man. See you soon!”
I did not deliver that message.
Then I planned to say to him in person, “Oh, hey. I know we’ve known each other for a while and you might be wondering why I suddenly have a beard and a late-night radio voice ... it’s because I’m trans! I am a dude like you but not like you, you know? If you want to talk about it we can, or we can just continue this excellent relationship as is.”
I did not deliver that message.
It seems so easy on paper.
It is not easy.
I didn’t want to make him feel weird or anxious or on edge. Whenever people get like that, I always end up absorbing it so it has somewhere else to go instead of just sitting there in the air between us, or to relieve the other person of having to deal with it so they don’t feel like I’m putting something on them. (Might be a side effect of being socialized as a woman, huh?)
Even though I was showing Red I was trans by just standing in front of him, I worried that me telling him directly would affect our relationship, that he wouldn’t be “OK with it,” that he would be less friendly with me or stop responding to me completely.
“Even though I was showing him I was trans by just standing in front of him, I worried that me telling him directly would affect our relationship, that he wouldn’t be 'OK with it,' that he would be less friendly with me or stop responding to me completely.”
There are plenty of reasons for me to be nervous about these things ― too many bad things have happened to me personally, and to trans people globally, that verify my anxiety.
I don’t think that he is someone who would do those hurtful things, though. It just doesn’t seem to be his way or his spirit. And maybe part of this is on me ― I need to trust people more and underestimate them less. Maybe I need to let go of my fears, or at least the pieces of them that are in my control.
But I still haven’t come out to him. As open as I am in most of my life about being trans, I kind of want to let this one play out.
Yesterday, I met Red in the park. We were sitting on a bench that was too small for two large men and we were both wearing shorts. Our leg hairs were softly brushing together. I wasn’t even looking in his face, but our body hair was making intimate contact.
My brain is forever finding ways to stay busy, so I found myself wondering when the last time Red cried was. I wondered if he has someone who touches him sweetly, if he ever hit someone and made them bleed, what memories make him cringe, which smells bring his grandmother back to life.
I don’t want or need to know his answers. It is enough to know that he could have the same questions about me. And both of us could have them about the woman walking her dog past us or about that police officer in his squad car driving by or about Lil Wayne ― even about our disgusting president.
This does not make us all the same, and such a claim would be naive and avoid the truth of how this world has been structured. However, there does seem to be some general human package delivered to each person as we are delivered into this world. Its contents include longing and loneliness, some kind of awe and ache, a certain celebration and a specific sadness.
Maybe there is some kind of cosmic intimacy that comes from just being alive at the same time, because being alive is in itself an intensely vulnerable and connective experience that we are all involuntarily involved in.
Red and I are connected. And at the same time, we don’t understand each other all the way. For now, I’ve decided to meet on common ground and let the questions be the answer.