K&K capítulo final
Escribe Marta Avellaneda desde Nueva York
Hello Kenneth, I Mean...Kathy.
Part III - Settling back to ¨normal¨
The next day I called all the employees into my office one by one, starting with Mattie, the Dominican secretary. I had prepared a little speech, which consisted of an introduction about trans-sexuality in general, an exposition about Kenneth's problem in particular, and a conclusion with a request for the person's pronouncement on the matter. I had gotten no further than half way through my introduction when I was politely interrupted by Mattie, who said that she and the rest of the staff knew all about it, that they were aware that Kenneth had talked to me, and he had explained that there might be a vote taken on the matter. She voted ‘yes’. She was also very sure that everyone else would vote to support Kenneth. Actually, everybody except Marcus, Ronald (the new Officer), and I had known about Kenneth for months. He had taken them into his confidence one by one, preparing them for the time when he would have to request that they accept him as a ‘she’.
I felt a mixture of surprise at Mattie's vote, hurt and annoyance at having been left out from the collective knowledge, admiration for Kenneth's efficient and discreet lobbying, and an instant need to confirm Mattie's assessment with the rest of the staff.
It didn't take long. She was right. They all knew, and they had all made up their minds way before I called them. I found out that if Marcus and I had tried to dismiss Kenneth without submitting it to a vote, they would have rallied in his favor.
Having accepted the vote as a fact that we would have to learn to live with, I was still curious to know if people had taken everything into consideration. So I called all the women together and asked:
“Why do you want him to do this?”
They said that they liked him, and that he was a very sad person because of what he felt was Nature's mistake, and they thought he might be able to be happy after the sex change. I asked if they realised what the transition meant in practical terms. He would be called by a woman's name, he would come dressed as a woman, but hardly look like one.
“Do you realise that he will be with you in the ladies' room, while you are pulling up your panty-hose?”
That brought a shadow of doubt over their faces, and someone said,
“Well, maybe he could knock first and if one of us is inside, wait until we come out. Or maybe he could keep on using the men's room?”
“Aha! No, ladies, either you treat him as a woman or you treat him as a man. He's not looking for ambiguity. He's looking for confirmation!”
They were all silent for a few moments, and finally, one by one, confirmed their support, and gave up their exclusive claim to the most private space in the office, the ladies' lounge.
I conceded defeat and went to explain to Marcus that even though we thought of ourselves as progressive, I had discovered that we were the bigots in the office. Then I talked to Kenneth, who was endlessly grateful, and I asked about the particulars of the schedule ahead of us. At the end of the conversation I asked him seriously if he was aware that statistics showed a high percentage of suicides by people who had the operation. He said he was, and that was that.
The rest of the story is less fresh in my mind, because it wasn't as dramatic as I had expected it to be. The process, by which Kenneth became a woman in appearance, was calculated to induce slow acceptance. His hair was already long; he only let it grow some more. The first day, he came dressed in a shirt and woman's pants. After a while he wore a woman's suit with a long skirt. In a month or so he applied a little make up. And slowly we all got used to seeing him without noticing. He changed his name to Kathy, and everybody called him that, except me, not that I didn't try. I just couldn't remember to do so. I am an obsessive type of worker, usually doing two or three things at the same time, and always in a hurry and absent minded about what's going on around me. So I would often call him on the speaker through the intercom and say:
“Hello Kenneth, I mean… Kathy.”
I would feel upset and embarrassed at being the only one who couldn't get it right the first time. Kenneth/Kathy understood, and came up with a solution. I could call him ‘K’ which to me was the initial of his name and to him it sounded like a woman's name ‘Kay’. I could deal with that, and it was settled.
Months went by of convivial harmony mixed with outsiders making strange faces, but eventually, ‘K’ resigned. He had done it twice before the business of the sex change, both times for some silly, inconsequential, neurotic reason. Twice before I had smoothed his grievances and convinced him to stay. But I never stop any one from quitting more than twice, I figure one must pay attention to someone’s need to constantly pull away. And there's a saying in Spanish, ‘la tercera es la vencida’ (the third time is the last). So I let him go. He was surprised. He probably expected that I would stop him this time, as I had done before.
‘K’ had grown so much into his new identity with all of us, that it didn’t occur to anybody that my reaction was other than job related. Everybody knew I was tough.
We never heard from him again, and I don't know if he went through with his operation in the end. I didn't stay much longer then Kenneth in the dying company, and the company didn't survive much longer when Marcus left soon after me.
A month or so after Kenneth left, I got a phone call from a potential employer requesting references. The woman sounded suspicious. Had I noticed anything strange about Kathy? I said I hadn't.
“Doesn't her voice sound very peculiar to you?”
I said it didn't, and went on to talk about what good work Kathy had done with us, carefully avoiding pronouns. I didn't really lie. I had got used to the way ‘K’ dressed, and didn't find it strange any longer. As for his voice, there was nothing peculiar about it.
It was a totally normal male voice.