I want to share with you a little personal tidbit I left out during my recap of the OutReach Awards Banquet I attended last week Friday. And I want to preface this by saying that I have never told anyone I’ve worked with or encountered in my professional career that I dress up as Allison, nor do I have any plans to do so. And there have been only two people who have seen me present as both female and male, and both of them have seen me in male mode only once.
All that being said, there was someone I’ve encountered in my professional male-mode past who was literally inches from me at the OutReach banquet.
Here’s what I mean: At my previous place of employment, I did some volunteer work alongside someone who, for the sake of reference and anonymity, I’ll call Courtney (no, that’s not her real name). I want to recall that Courtney worked with our company’s PR or HR teams. The two of us didn’t work together on a daily basis; heck, we didn’t even sit across from each other’s cubicle or converse as if we were old chums. But we did volunteer a couple of times at company-related events, and every time we did we recognized each other in a “hey, hello again” kind of way.
About halfway through the ceremony portion of the OutReach banquet, there was a brief break between awards segments. As I was readjusting myself in my chair during my break, I noticed someone in a black outfit walking right past me to go back to their table. I looked up for just a bit and caught a glimpse of their name tag… and I recognized their name. And not only did I try to do a bit of a double take, I readjusted myself a little bit just so I could get a confirming glance at them as they sat down. Yep, it was the same Courtney I knew from my previous company.
Oh, the table where Courtney sat with her organization was not quite ten feet away from ours.
As the next presentation took place on the dais, I nudged the attention of my tablemate, Jen, to the table in front of us. “See that lady in the black dress?” I whispered to Jen. “I know her. I did volunteer work with her. Where we used to work at. While I was in male mode.”
“Really?” Jen asked.
“Yep,” I nodded.
But that wasn’t the end of my encounter with Courtney. After the banquet finished up, tables were being cleared off, and everyone were either leaving or mingling, some of the folks from our group’s tables were chatting with a couple of people from Courtney’s group. And, yes, Courtney was included. As Courtney was comparing outfits with our group, I brought up the LinkedIn app on my phone, clicked on Courtney’s profile icon, and surreptitiously showed it to Jen, giving a very covert pointing motion toward a busy-in-conversation Courtney.
“That is her,” I whispered to Jen. “I do know her, and we follow each other on LinkedIn.”
At this point, I began to wonder and worry just a little bit. Here I was, in full-on Allison mode, with only my everyday, male-mode eyeglasses giving away any sort of inkling of my male identity. And I began to think to myself: What if Courtney recognizes me? What would I say to her? Would I have to fess up to her about my dual identity?
I almost had to fess up, emphasis on almost: Jen and I drifted into the conversation Courtney and our table mates were having about outfits and boots. Courtney had on an awesome black dress and coordinating sparkling boots. And being the amateur fashionista that I am, I just had to complement her on her outfit.
So, I did:
“Yes,” I agreed with the rest of our tablemates, in my best attempt at a feminine voice. “You do have an awesome outfit.”
And Courtney smiled… and nodded with gratitude… and said, “Thank you” to me.
And Courtney didn’t say anything further to me… but she looked as if she was either seeing right through me… or she recognized me.
As Jen and I left Monona Terrace and headed back to our cars, I admitted to her that part of me felt relieved that Courtney didn’t recognize me, at least in a clearly evident way. But I admitted I also felt a little bit disappointed that she didn’t right-out say, hey, I know you… didn’t we… A part of me would have loved to, if not say, yeah, it’s me, tell her that it was good to see her again, even in this unique circumstance.
Jen’s reply: She thought Courtney did recognize me… but was being courteous and professional enough to not say so. Perhaps, too, now that I think of it, Courtney was smart enough to not out me if she did recognize me. Chalk one up for tactfulness, and for consideration that someone isn’t entirely out of the closet.
But if someone I knew professionally were to recognize me and, heaven forbid, out me to to the world… well, actually, I’d rather not have someone I know only professionally in male mode see me as Allison. I know I take a big risk at times when I venture out en femme, and that includes being read as Male Mode Me by someone I know from the working world.
But someone from my professional world did see me as Allison. It’s just that I’ll never know if Courtney remembered and recognized Male Mode Me that night, or if they had let Male Mode Me slip from their mind when they saw me en femme.
Something tells me, though, that she didn’t mind that I was wearing a mocha gown and sandy gold hair. I think this because looking at Courtney’s aforementioned LinkedIn profile, she has quite a record of working with organizations involved in making positive, progressive impacts on the community, including the LGBT+ community.
If Courtney and I were to cross paths again, and if I were in male mode, I won’t bring up Allison immediately, but I will compliment her on the good work she’s done. And if she brings up Allison? Well, I’ll tell her in confidence that, yeah, that was me. And I’ll thank her for that evening at Monona Terrace when she appeared to recognize me and accept me.