The past two weeks have been hectic. I should include the two previous weeks too, when I had to work twice as much as usual while pre-studying for my paramedic course, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money during the course. But it was just busy, not especially emotionally charged. That’s why I wanna focus on the two weeks during which I was doing the actual course.
And it was a hell of a ride!
Both wonderful and horrible things happened. It’s also when I realised how fragile being transgender is in a social context, and how your confidence can be shattered by one unexpected event at the worst possible time.
Actually, the first week was pretty uneventful. It was more like the first climbing slope of a roller coaster. You reach the top very slowly but you can’t see what’s over the edge of the slope.
I had contacted the instructor early on to tell him that I was transgender and that I used a different name than my legal one. When we arrived on the first morning and he distributed the prop bags (tools we were about to use during the course), he handed mine with my chosen name written on it. I thought it was a nice touch and built up my confidence. Then, we had to introduce ourselves, but in a particular format. We were to first introduce to 2 other persons, who subsequently had to introduce us to the rest of the group. So I told my two follow classmates that I was transgender, and the guy who introduced me to the group used “she/her” pronouns right away and that was it. Except for the only person who didn’t get it and misgendered me quite a few time before I took him apart to make things straight, I didn’t have to complain about anything. It’s quite important to note, because that’s what was coming around to bite me at the end of the course.
So, the first week was quite uneventful. The most difficult things for me was to catch up every night with the study we had to do for the next day, because we received our books quite late and I couldn’t get ahead quickly enough while working twice as much as usual. Which was a problem later because I couldn’t stay after the class to practice the skills. And unlike the youngest persons in the group, I really can’t afford to skip sleep time, or I don’t function anymore, and I needed my brain fresh everyday if I wanted to remember the huge amount of stuff we were learning in a very small amount of time.
So here we are at the second week. Things start to be complicated.
Monday: the top of the slope. That the highest point in the track. You can contemplate everything from there. You have a wide view of the bottom and you may see the end of the track, but it’s kind of blurry. You’re just expecting the first descent, but also worried about how steep it is, because you still can’t see it yet.
Tuesday: It’s steep. Very steep. I crashed that day. I had a total mental breakdown. Everyday, after we had the lesson of the day, we were applying the new knowledge in role-playing-type scenarios. Everything we couldn’t do for real, we were stating them out loud, and the instructor, or the patient, was giving out the result. And I messed up big time. Like, I did everything wrong. I couldn’t asked the right question and I only took wrong decisions. I felt like I was so out of it, I went home completely depressed. And I couldn’t just decompress. I had to cram again for the next day. Maybe that’s what saved me somehow, because I didn’t have brain time to spiral into this depression. I had to stay on track. And I came back the next day, deciding to take it slowly but do all the required steps in order. Speed would come later with practice.
Wednesday and Thursday: Going with the flow. Turns after turns, loops, rolls, you just readjust your arse on your seat knowing something else is coming next. In a martial arts flick, it’s when the hero gets back on their feet and start again from the basic, and prepares for the incoming battle. It’s a reborn. And that’s what happened: I went back to the basics, reaffirmed my knowledge of the protocol and carefully asked the right questions to get to the right conclusion and provide the best treatment, while absorbing the constant flow of knowledge dumped on us. So I was prepared for the grand finale, the battle of the chosen.
Friday: And I lost! The villain cheated, as all villains do to undermine the hero. More seriously, the examiner who came that day, rounded up everyone to explain how it was going to happen and… outed me, in front of everyone. For some people, it’s probably not a big deal, or maybe it happens so often that they are used to it. For me, it was the first time. And it came after two weeks of being around people who were too busy with their own learning to actually give a fuck about whether I was transgender. So, for my whole session, she kept misgendering me and every time I needed a result, I had to insist several times because she was too busy looking at her phone. I was completely disoriented and made critical mistakes. So she failed me.
I can back home in shambles. It was a disaster. I had spent so much money and effort into this, and for what result? I couldn’t think straight. I had a choice: either to retake the next day, risking to fail again and definitively, or spend more time in practice and retake at the next course exam. For the past two weeks, even in my sleep, all I could think about was scenarios and protocols, but that day, when I came home, and all night, I was thinking about how I could get my money back. I talked with one of my classmate, who tried to encourage me to go right away, saying I knew the stuff and I could do it. But my confidence was utterly shattered. Still I went early to bed, and though I did not sleep well, I decided to pop up at the exam, and to decide then whether to retake it again.
Saturday: An emotional victory. When I arrived in the morning, there was a new examiner. He was obviously way more professional and I felt more confident in my abilities. I also came mentally prepared to be misgendered, and I actually didn’t tell him I was a woman, I just gave him my legal name right away, which cut the need for explanation and let him use male pronouns. Only my friend let him know at the end of the exam (mainly because I had to play the patient once and my follow classmates kept referring me as a woman, which must have surprised him somehow). I still did a few mistakes, but not critical ones, and I was a bit too slow, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t cutting any corner.
When the examiner called me in to give me the result, and showed me the green paper, all my body suddenly relaxed and I almost cried in front of him. I had been gradually stressed for two weeks, at a point where I completely burst, and then I found myself in a spot where I didn’t have anything more to do.
But I learnt a lot more than a skill. I learnt that the stress of being transgender in a social undertaking exacerbates any other stress that you may currently be subjected to. It is something that I have to be careful of, and I need to be able to identify it before it becomes a problem (I shall write an article about that later). And I also learnt that I can totally pass as a woman (1). Which amazed me, to be honest.
(1) I didn’t expand on that because it’s already a long article, and it was not the main point, so I’m doing this side note to talk about it but it’s totally not necessary to read it to understand the article.
So, as I said, no one but the instructor and two classmates was told that I was transgender. I basically spent two weeks assuming that everybody knew but played along, not giving a fuck (although I had to tell one guy especially, whom I heard talking about me to another person later on). Therefore it came as a surprise, on Friday, after the examiner asked for my *legal name* in front of everyone, that a classmate asked me if I was going by my middle name (my legal name may sound a bit like a female name for English-speaking people, so she wasn’t surprised). When I told her later that I was upset about being outed in front of everyone, she didn’t understand. She genuinely thought I was a cis-woman, and that was a huge comfort at the end of a horrific day.
So I am really wondering if people knew I was transgender, and who actually knew. Also, I had to use the women’s washroom, and it was quite stressful, because I didn’t know, if I ran into someone else (not someone taking the course), would they complain about it and rat me out. I was always timing my exit depending on people coming in or going out. I ran into an employee only once (I didn’t hear her coming), but she didn’t say anything. We just smiled at each other while I was stepping out of my cabin.
I can say that these two weeks have been weird on several accounts. Now it feels like a dream. I just woke up in the real life, but I still want this to have happened, I can’t believe it was all just a dream. And it wasn’t, because I have my certificate that proves it.