Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family, pumpkin pie and the angst that comes with attending the inevitable 10-year high school reunion. Insecurities around such an event usually involve weight gain, hair loss, or lackluster career stats — not a gender change. Back in 1997, when I attended mine, there was no Transgender Awareness Month. People weren’t even aware “transgender” was even a word, much less a social issue.
Yet there I was, less than two years into my transition from female to male, trying to figure out what I was going to wear to this shindig. It was the Saturday after Turkey Day, and I was feeling like a chicken, cursing myself for letting my four best friends talk me into going. They were all girls and the only Waylandites I still hung out with. Marianne (Most Class Spirit) and Schu (Kindest Heart) were class president and vice president, so it was their responsibility to plan the reunion, and as two-fifths of the “Fab Five” it was their mission to get the other three of us to go. Meek (Cutest) and Mel (Best Looking) were in. I (Most Likely to Get an Ulcer) was the only holdout — right up until the week before the event.
What made me change my mind? Something Schu told me during her final plea. “Everybody knows,” she said. “They’re going to ask me how you are, and probably where you are. What do you want me to tell them?”
That’s when it hit me. No matter how Schu answered that question, everyone was going to assume I didn’t show up because I didn’t have the, well, balls. And while technically that might have been true (that surgery was years away), after publicly transitioning in front of 500 coworkers I’d developed quite a set of cojones. I was not about to let my former classmates think I was ashamed. I was going.
But I was going to get really drunk first.
After settling on gray flannel pants and a black cashmere sweater, I walked over to Schu’s apartment where the Fab Five, plus one husband and one boyfriend, were gathering for pre-party beverages. I entered to cheers, hugs and a shot glass filled with tequila, the latter of which only made my stomach feel worse.
I suggested to the group we blow off the reunion and just hang out at Schu’s but was simply handed another shot. There was no getting out of it now.
On the way to the event I reminded everyone of the rules:
1. No one was to leave me alone with anyone for the first hour
2. If I was spotted talking to a class member by myself for more than 10 minutes, someone had to come in for the save
3. A Fab Five husband or boyfriend was to accompany me to the men’s room whenever I needed to go
4. I was to have a full vodka soda in my hand at all times
The reunion took place in the lounge area of an upscale restaurant walking distance from Schu’s apartment. On our way in, someone called my name and I turned to find one of my coworkers heading toward me. I turned back to find all my friends had entered the party without me. It had only been 30 seconds, and all of them had already broken rule number one.
I took a deep breath and forged on. The first person I ran into was a tall, good-looking guy with a receding hairline and warm smile. He looked at me and after a second said, “Chris?”
“Yesssssss,” I replied slowly.
“Mike,” he helped.
“Mike Ball!” I shouted, proud of myself for remembering his last name.
“Yes!” he said, and in lieu of the hug he would’ve given me as “Kris,” appropriately stuck his hand out. I shook it, and used my sense of humor to break the ice.
“I thought people would have trouble recognizing me.”
Mike laughed and said he’d heard the news a while ago, adding that he was proud of me for doing what I needed to do to be happy and having the guts to come to the reunion. Two minutes later, Meek showed up with my vodka soda. Rules number one and number four: check.
I didn’t leave that spot for an hour. Once people got wind I was there they sought me out, girls giving me hugs and saying how great I looked, guys shaking hands and treating me no differently than before. My prom date was a no-show, but I did run into the guy I had my first kiss with at the eighth-grade dance. He came right up and said how great it was to see me. I couldn’t believe how mature everyone was.
I’d mistakenly assumed my classmates would react like high school kids, not 28-year-old adults with jobs, spouses, and families. But they’d grown into their true selves, just like I had. Who knew that a Thanksgiving-weekend high school reunion could be the place to let go of old anxieties — instead of just reliving them?
I ended up having a blast. In the end, my fellow Fab Fivers had to drag me out of there.
The next day, I gave my family the anxiously awaited recap. “It was really fun,” I said, popping two Advil. “Everybody was really cool about it.”
Mom cut to the chase, “Well, what did you say when you walked in?”
“I said ‘You should’ve voted me Most Likely to Get a Sex Change.’”
Chris Edwards is the author of the memoir “Balls: It Takes Some to Get Some.” This column is adapted from his book.