I did not actually use that reply. I have wished many times subsequently that I had; but you know how it is when you have a shock- the witty or caustic riposte always arrives in your head just a little too late.
Let me explain; I have been trying to get some writing work. I enjoy writing and believe I am good at it. I was delighted, a couple of months ago, to get an introduction to someone who ran a busy website. He needed a copywriter and I was given an assignment. It was not a huge amount of work, but it was a start. I wanted to do a good job, so I took a day off from the temporary work I have been doing so I could concentrate.
I received very complimentary responses by email, praising the quality and detail of my work. I arranged to have a call with the CEO to discuss ways forward. I was thrilled. This work was hardly going to pay my mortgage, but it would do wonders for my confidence and ability to build up my portfolio.
The call duly arrived, somewhat out of the appointed time, but we chatted, quite normally, about the sort of work he needed, timescales, budget etc. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, he asked "are you a transvestite?"
I nearly crumbled to the floor. I know my voice needs work. It is the gender equivalent of the mid- Atlantic accent- neither one thing or another. I hate the fact that, to my ears, it currently resembles more of a higher-pitched Vincent Price, when I would actually prefer more of a Kate Winslet. I have been used to being called "sir" on the phone, and have developed a strategy for pre- empting that question. It has not though, been a big issue for some time now- and is never a problem when there is a visual marker.
This has been difficult for me as, historically, my voice, while not exactly being my fortune, was a big part of my work and social life. I was a regular presenter to groups, sometimes numbering hundreds, as well as an enthusiastic singer in an acoustic duo. I am naturally a gregarious type, so rebuilding my confidence in this area has been a work in stuttering progress; and here was someone directly challenging that very shaky development. This is precisely when I should have used the riposte in the title. Instead, I took a deep breath and calmly explained that I was not a transvestite ( although I have no issue with anyone who is), but a fully transitioned transsexual woman. You may ask why I should have been explaining at all- I certainly was, inwardly, at least.
He then attempted to qualify his question, " we have had them working here, I couldn't tell if it was a masculine sounding female voice, or a feminine sounding male voice", "Them"? And I am hardly likely to have a feminine- sounding male voice with a name like Emma- am I? Anyway, I thought, you are not hiring me to read the Six O'clock news, but to do some writing, for which I tend to use my brain and fingers, rather than my vocal chords. (I do actually have one of those pieces of voice recognition software that I use occasionally. At no time has it ever questioned my gender- let alone if I had a dressing predilection).
I tried to continue the conversation in a civil way, all the time just wanting to burst into tears. I even sent him a customary " it was a pleasure..." e- mail. I should have ended the call there and then- but, you know how it is- I needed the work.
Imagine if he had said, " are you black?". Those who are, or Gay or live with a disability will recognise both the line of questioning and the crass attempt to justify it by pretending to be broad- minded and inclusive. Yes, the old " some of my best friends are coloured..." crassness springs to mind.
All those minorities have faced discrimination, fought it and are winning, slowly. I have to do the same.
In the meantime, I have to somehow rebuild my shattered confidence, which has caused me to become quite depressed in recent weeks.
To paraphrase the credit card advertisers, the cost of the work done- about £300. The price of the damage to my fragile confidence? Immeasurable.
....And no, I never got paid.