You've only been dating -- loosely dating -- Jason* for two months when you find yourself sharing a cab back to Brooklyn at two in the morning after a mutual friend's Manhattan dinner party.
You have a bad cold this weekend, but washed down double-the-recommended dosage of Dayquil with two glasses of wine in order to make it out tonight. Because it's time, you've decided, to give dating a try, time to stop thinking about the guy who broke up with you over a year ago. For now, your head is foggy, the sickness is numb, it's all a bit hazy. The drugs are really just a form of procrastination. I can deal properly with my health tomorrow, you think, as you lean in to kiss Jason -- chastely, lest the cab driver judge you even more than you assume he already is (for your voice, your paisley print skirt, your hiccups).
Trying to inject some conversation into the dead, stale-beer-smelling air, you tell Jason about a recent "scandal" surrounding your Alma Mater, one that made national headlines recently (or, Jezebel picked up the story and a pret-ty big Facebook group was started). A woman had written in to the Smith College newspaper bemoaning the diversity of the school and lamenting the fact that the "days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over." You express your mild disgust at this woman's letter, in an assuming tone, subtext: I think we can all agree this is thoughtless and ignorant at best, prejudice at worst, no?
He does not entirely agree; he plays devil's advocate. Which is fine. This woman perhaps made an honest mistake and needs someone to stand up for her. Plus, you can appreciate it when people challenge you to see the other side. Sometimes.
"I mean, like, I can understand that some things are just out of people's comfort zones, and they may have a hard time accepting those things. Like, certain things that are out of my comfort zone that I struggle with, in certain circumstances, could probably be judged as being rude, prejudice, or like, unaccepting."
Internally, you roll your eyes. Mostly, you're turned off that for whatever alcohol-infused reason, this very intelligent man just used the word "like" three times in two sentences. But also, you don't wholly believe him. This guy went to an Ivy League school, lives in Brooklyn, grew up in a poor, rural town, holds a foreign passport and has gay friends. More important, he has already declared himself a "big liberal" to you. His life experiences have been -- are -- pretty diverse. What could he possibly be closed-minded about? You push him to elaborate. A mistake.
"Like what?" you ask, all Psh, I call bullshit.
"Well, one thing that I just can't understand, one thing that really doesn't sit well with me... are transsexuals."
You hold your breath as your stomach seizes and your fever ignites. Your pulse beats in your sinus cavities. Your father is a transsexual. He became a she when you were 4 years old.
Jason goes on.
"Maybe it's just because I feel so confident as a man, in my own sexuality and like, manliness, that I just can't understand people who say they were born into the wrong gender. I really don't get it when men say this."
Stoptalkingstoptalkingstoptalking. Anger would be the appropriate 27-year-old response, but it's not yours. While you have gained the ability to interpret, reevaluate and eventually see the world through a more reasonable, self-possessed lens, your automatic reaction is no different from how your 7-year-old self would have felt. With this guy, you're still in the stage where you just want him to think you're cool, that everything about you is fun and attractive and just... COOL, is it so much to ask? And now, just as it was when your second grade crush found out about your father, all you want to do is to hide in the corner of the playground (cab), pull your hair over your face and plug your ears until recess (the conversation) is over and everyone has finally shut their stupid mouths. You slump down in your seat and lean your head against the window as the car speeds down Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. Just don't throw up, you tell yourself. You've never been that girl, tonight is not the night.
Then, out of the smeared cab window you see him. Across the street on your left. The guy who dumped you a year ago. The strict Catholic guy who, when he broke up with you, included a lot in the conversation about how your relationship didn't align with his firm religious convictions. You thought he was closed-minded, and that he judged you too harshly about taking birth control pills and your moderate political beliefs. But the truth, you realize now, is that when it came to this -- when you told him about your father -- he was good. Kind and understanding and comforting, though he did say he felt sorry for you for not having a dad. You watch him walking out of your favorite bar, laughing with three of his friends, and you -- bed bugs and head lice and what-have-you-diseases be damned -- sink down as far as possible into the grimy backseat. How is this happening right now? You dig your fingernails into your thigh, hold your breath.
You know, that's funny. Because I have ONE THING too. One thing that I consider a deal breaker. My ONLY deal breaker, really. ONE EFFING THING that any guy I date HAS to be okay with...
But instead, you just stare ahead at the spray-tanned newscasters on the small screen in front of you, bite your lip, shrug your shoulders, remind yourself that he doesn't know, that good people sometimes get too drunk and say thoughtless things -- that you yourself have probably said worse -- and say, "I mean, I totally get not being able to relate, but I think you just have to take their word for it, you know?"
You remember your uncle once telling you that having a father who had a sex-change would act as a good filter for permanent relationships: if the man can't handle it, then good riddance. And although you are sad, and sick, and disappointed that in the moment you didn't stand up for yourself or your family, there is one thing you have going for you...
You will not share a cab with this guy again.
*Name has been changed.