I violated a cardinal rule of living in stealth today. I talked about my past.
The majority of the time, this isn't a problem. My family is small and tends to keep to itself. Furthermore, most of the clients I work with are quite far away from Minneapolis. The last two weeks, however, have been different.
I've been working in southeastern Minnesota at a health insurance company. More or less I've been filling in as an WebSphere MQ administrator, checking queues, monitoring middleware systems, deploying fixpaks and other updates. Today we were cloning the middleware monitoring system.
I've run updates on similar software before -- after all, my company writes it. This instance was unique because we are cloning the current environment and performing a test update on the clone. Once we iron out the potential problems, we'll perform the update on the production system and delete the clone.
I had thought they were going to perform the clone during the regular outage Tuesday night. When I checked the system this morning, however, I discovered nothing had been done. After tracking down the problem (wrong date on the work order), myself, a new trainer that was shadowing me, and my project manager at the health insurance company were lounging near a cube wall. We were waiting for the wall's owner to finish his conversation so we could ask him about performing the clone. While waiting we started chatting.
The owner's first names were Joseph Michael. So I quipped about my brother's kids, Joseph and Jonah. I remarked how utterly flustered my brother became when people called them "Joe and Joe". After all, would a teen really go by such biblical first names? I doubt it. Most Josephs and Jonahs I encountered shortened it to Joe.
"I'm just waiting for them to rebel against him," I said mischevously.
"What a sister!" remarked my co-worker.
It was a harmless thing to say, or so I thought.
My project manager recognized the names. Oh shit, could he? I quickly dismissed the story realizing I was in danger of letting my secret get out. Unfortunately, he persisted, guessing my brother's name of the first try. I was so shocked that my expression was all the confirmation he needed. He explained that my brother and his wife used to attend his church. They left, I can only assume, when they moved further north.
SHIT!!! What am I supposed to do now? My mind raced: If acted non-chalant, he might press or attempt to contact my brother. I doubt he'd react very well to someone saying "your sister" is working at the same company as they. Given my brother's tendency to use my old name and all it's horrible pronouns -- no matter who's around -- I'm perilously close to outing myself. It didn't take much to imagine what would happen next; allegations of a "cross-dresser" being sent to a client, my company disavowing me and quickly terminating me, unemployment, and the drain of my nearly complete SRS fund.
If you think this impossible, you're wrong. It's happened to others, and I'm no different. Unless your subject to it yourself, it'll be difficult for you to look past the privileges you have being cisgendered. You can never understand just how real this can be.
Instead of letting it go, I explained that my brother and I were estranged. I didn't explain why, and thankfully no one pressed. With the subject turned a bit more serious, my companions by the cube wall understood they hit a nerve, and it's best not to pursue it further. I can only hope he has no way to contact him, I thought, shuddering internally.
After returning to my desk, I couldn't help hanging my head in my hands. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," I kept repeating to myself. I should have kept my big mouth shut. I tried to grind my mind to a halt before the dreadful possibilities unlocked by such a meaningless exchange contorted into a depressive mantra, rising steadily toward crescendo. And just went I was so close! I can't afford to screw this up now!
I berated myself for my mistake. Nine times out of ten, there was no harm in such details. Instead, I've stumbled into a coincidence that could spiral out of my control. In my current state, I'd have little defense if my secret were to get out. My company doesn't even know I'm trans to my knowledge. I never informed them of the fact. I still keep much of my past secret out of fear this will occur. Now it has. I can only hope that nothing more will come of it before my time in the southeastern metro is well behind me.