The Sting of Being Clocked

or, Being late to the gender dysphoria party

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Not the type of clock I mean - image by the author via Midjourney

I ate dinner recently with a psychologist friend of mine - whom I will call Fred. Although Fred was my therapist until he retired in 2020, I never told him about my gender dysphoria. I was, after all, executing poorly on being a father to my unfortunate son. I would not admit my gender under any circumstances.

But now Fred and I discuss gender and identity as colleagues. I'm transgender, and in an odd synchronicity, he studied transgender communities both in Thailand and India. We feed each other's hypotheses about identity.

That evening, Fred and I ate dinner at a Nepalese restaurant, then left for a quieter environment. Our conversations tend to be six-hour sessions, and we believed a cup of coffee was in order. This session included my recent theory of gender as a mediator between our origin of identity and the social environment.

But our evening was not to remain quiet. The holiday break for local high schools had just begun, and we were interrupted by one of the most merciless groups in philosophy history. A band so ruthless in their contempt, resident amateurs at pedantry and sophistry gasped and slunk away to avoid their glare.

Fred and I, however, were too immersed in the waters of contemplation to notice the hush that fell over the intellectuals.

A group of drunk teenagers had entered the coffee shop.

Coffee and clocking

This proverbial group of drunk teenagers realized Fred and I would be fun targets to piss off. One kid started dancing in front of our table, and I tried to be nice about restoring the calm in the café. His friend - a mean-looking, squint-eyed, teenage girl - collected the drunken dancer and barked laughter, exclaiming "That's a man!" as they returned to their table.

Although the girl's comment was inaccurate, it still stung my pride. I hoped the altercation had ended...and then one of them threw a piece of bread and hit Fred.

Now...Fred is a tall man. A wrestler in college and a lifelong bodybuilder, you don't hit Fred with bread. He got angry - understandably - and left to find the manager to have our drunken nemeses ejected. When I saw the look in his eyes as he returned, I was convinced there was a rumble in Brighton that night - and I hadn't even worn a poodle skirt.

Fortunately, the teenagers left before the manager arrived. It was a small blessing, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

As they left, however, the mean-looking, squint-eyed girl hurled "Fuck you, tranny!" over her shoulder. A parting shot in our brief battle before presumably stumbling to a bathroom to vomit up Southern Comfort.

When identity does not come from inside

I certainly did not appreciate being called a slur. In fact, I would have preferred not to have been noticed at all. But I was as surprised as Fred was by my equanimity.

I know I am a transgender woman. That is who I am today and who I will be for the rest of my life. The girl was certainly rude. She was probably angry. She might have been drunk.

But the girl wasn't wrong.

When a transgender person is referred to by their sex assigned at birth, not as their presented gender, we call it "being clocked," and it hurts. The discomfort I felt derived from a sense of my identity being mocked. As if I were back on a playground in second grade as a school bully criticized my "Happy Days" lunch box for not being accurate to the show (a true story - apparently the bully was also an expert on 1970s sitcoms even at that early age).

On that playground, I felt what I valued was being devalued. And as that occurred, I internalized the comment to imply I also was not of value.

I identified with my possessions because I had little identity of my own. I was forced to hide myself - my true transgender self - away from the world. Possessions that represent what we feel safe expressing are obvious proxies for identity. If we cannot be who we are, at least we can be what we own.

Am I a woman or a crook?

When my "Happy Days" lunch box was mocked, it cut the only pillars of identity I had from underneath me. Of course I would internalize having my possessions ridiculed. What else was I? Who else was I?

Much of gender expression is in the form of external presentation - our clothes, our makeup, our shoes, our hairstyle. Our gender expression is how we choose to project the person we know we are onto the screen of our social environment. For many people, trivialities such as clothes and shoes mean little.

But when identity is ephemeral from the start, we associate the presentation with the person we are. We in the transgender community may get caught up in what I've called "numerical dysphoria" - a focus on individual measurements as opposed to holistic expression. If we cannot truly be who we are, we hope we can at least look the part - that is, as best as we can manage within time, budget, and raw physical materials.

That hope - our lifeline - is the root of our discomfort: feeling I only look the part as opposed to being the part. Then when I get clocked, I feel as if my whole self is lessened - cheapened - when somebody realizes I was not Assigned Female at Birth.

When that drunk teenage girl clocked me, I felt like a novice Three-Card Monte huckster whose sleight-of-hand had been exposed. I was a cheat, a liar, a crook, and worse. I didn't need her to remind me any longer; I could convince myself from there.

Drunk teenagers do not own my identity

And yet...I also can never be anybody except who I am. Certainly, I was not Assigned Female at Birth. I recognize that. I don't need anybody else to tell me that.

Furthermore, when somebody does tell me I was not Assigned Female at Birth, it isn't necessarily an attack. I cannot fault a person for telling me the truth.

That said, I spent 52 years fighting myself for the right to call myself a woman. Some drunk teenager can't revoke that right. Only I can. Only I can decide I am not who I know I am. And when I do that, yes, it hurts. But it does not mean I am not who I truly am.

We cannot hide from ourselves. We think we can, and many of us try to, believing we do a good job of deceiving both society and ourselves. But we don't. Not permanently. At some point, the pressure must blow off and be released.

Releasing pressure doesn't happen only to transgender people - we are not the only community who must stare down identity. Each human must face identity and the choice to be who we are.

The alternative is to languish in an involuntary pit of social expectations. Sooner or later, the languishing will end. It might end as a midlife crisis, a sudden divorce, a major career change. It might even manifest as gender transition.

But the eruption will come, and after it, the pain we buried will emerge.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.