I woke up this morning thinking of an old friend. I think of him from time to time, wondering how he’s doing.
I met Smith on my fortieth Birthday (not his real name, but he preferred to be called by his last name, and to be identified as male even though biologically he was female). He (she at the time) was working as a piercer on South Street in Philadelphia, I was having my tragus pierced to celebrate my birthday and some recent life changes. I noticed his belt buckle, a Texas star, and asked if he was from Texas. He said he was from Euless, a little town between Dallas and Ft. Worth. I had a cousin living in Euless, and friends in the area, and I told him we used to call it “Useless Texas,” to which he said “Why do you think I’m here?”
I saw Smith a couple of times on South Street, when Emma had her first piercing I made sure Smith was her piercer. The shop where Emma and I purchased our wedding rings (and other items through the years) published a monthly newsletter, and it was in the newsletter I first saw Smith dressed as a man, as a participant in a “Drag King” event. When we were ready for some more piercings we found that Smith had stopped working as a piercer and was cooking at a local restaurant.
A few years later I ran into Smith in my neighborhood, he had moved to an apartment a block away from me and was cooking in Fishtown, riding his bike the six miles to work every day. I saw him often, walking his dog “Sookie,” sometimes dressed a little flamboyantly, one particular outfit stands out in my mind, yellow corduroy pants, a green shirt with a purple corduroy suit coat, big black framed round glasses, and a green Hamburg hat. He had shaved his head (which he did from time to time) and you could see the tattoos which adorned his scalp peeking out from under the Hamburg. He didn’t quite fit into the neighborhood, but Emma always made him welcome at the restaurant where she was working at 9th and Jackson, and I know the baker she lived next door to, Joe, was always friendly when we walked by his window.
I saw him last when Emma was ill, he was very kind and displayed the one feminine quality I always loved about him, a concerned look with pursed lips, a soft voice as he said “I’m so sorry” and gave me a hug. With Emma’s treatments I lost track of life in the neighborhood and missed Smith’s departure when he moved closer to work. I found him about a year after Emma died through a mutual acquaintance, we emailed a few times but our lives had gone in different directions.
Yesterday a friend at work commented on my tragus piercing, I wear a diamond there now and it gets noticed once in a while, that’s probably what has me thinking about Smith. He lives not far from a venue Lieve and I have been to a few times, maybe I’ll see him at a concert sometime; we like the same kind of music. I think he enjoyed as much as I the fact we were such friends but led such different lifestyles. Two transplanted Texans trying to make sense of these silly Northerners.
Smith made the choice to present his gender in the same sense that you might choose to wear a tie one day and a sweatshirt the next. His gender perception never came across as an issue of sexuality, in fact I know nothing about his love life, it was simply the way he saw himself. He was the best of what you would want in a human being, a strong woman and a gentle man, more simply a good person.