For those who don’t know me (hello, almost everyone on the whole internet), I am gender-variant. Outwardly, I look like what you probably think a guy looks like, and I wear skirts. (Inwardly, it’s a long story that would derail this one.)
I have been thanked for it, and I have been bullied for it, so generally I find myself a bit on edge being my normal self in unfamiliar environments. And US citizenship application is about as unfamiliar as it gets for me; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with an inscrutable bureaucratic behemoth.
Furthermore, gender identity is not legally protected at the federal level in the US. The US Congress has been doing its typically ineffectual US Congress thing with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which includes bans on workplace discriminations on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity), and so it remains perfectly legal for someone to turn me down for a federal job because of my gender.
I honestly have no idea if I could be legally denied citizenship for the same reason; it just seems likely, on account of a citizenship being a bigger deal. (I say as if the inner workings of the US government should make sense.)
I was, therefore, more than a little nervous when I wore a skirt to my citizenship interview. My therapist — and let me tell you, he’s heard some pretty wacky things from me without batting an eyelash — gave me an “Are you shitting me?” look when I mentioned I was going to do this. It was 45 seconds before the end of the appointment, and two days before the interview, so I basically said “Nope, this is for real.” and took off.
I rehearsed my answers to all sorts of awkward questions about my appearance the day before the interview. “Why are you wearing a skirt?” “It’s a cultural tradition that I practice. I never got a chance to practice it in Croatia, because it’s much less tolerant than the US, but now that I am in the US, it’s a part of my life.” U-S-A! U-S-A!
Come interview day, I waited briefly in the waiting area at the Boston USCIS office. Someone came out to fetch me, and as we were walking to his cubicle, he said “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you wearing a skirt?” Times like that, your training just kicks in, and so I went into my full on U-S-A U-S-A don’t-say-“gender” don’t-say-“gender” mode. “If you don’t mind me asking” just sounded like a trick question.
Then we arrived at his cubicle, and he told me to raise my right hand, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, at which point I realized he probably was just making conversation about the skirt. Like a genuinely curious person might.
Sorry, dear interviewer. You were probably vastly more human than I had given you credit for. As you checked the boxes and signed the lines on my naturalization application, I was emotionally paralyzed by fear that you will be another bully itching to make me hurt because I have disgraced the almighty penis. (Or God almighty. I honestly can’t tell which of those two is the worse cultural offense in the US these days.)
About a month later, I wore the same outfit to my naturalization ceremony. This is one of the proudest moment of my whole life. Showing up — scary.