We got a couple days on the beach this weekend with J’s family (J, his partner C, their two kids). All eight of us headed to a loaned cabin about an hour south of here and did more or less nothing except hang out on the beach. It was a lovely trip with good friends, the sort of thing we wish we got our act together to do more often.

This trip necessitated my finding something to wear on the beach, so last week I rustled up about a half hour to solve my swimming dilemma at a big department store downtown. After locating the swim trunks in the vast sea of merchandise, and then feeling briefly grateful that I’d put off buying a suit long enough that everything went on sale in the meantime, I was approached by a sales guy who said “Excuse me sir, can I help you find anything?”

With strangers, as long as I haven’t opened my mouth, if I’m explicitly gendered at all, I’m somewhat more often assumed to be male. If I’d just shaken my head no, I could have had one of those nice moments where I was read how I wanted to be, but I actually did need help, so I took a deep breath, decided to muster as much confidence as possible, and, knowing my voice was going to give me away instantaneously, asked if they had any rash guards.

Sales guy: “What’s a rash guard?”

Me: “Like a swimming shirt.”

Sales guy: “Oh. No.” (slight confused look) “We only have. um. swim trunks and….um…like….um…women’s suits….”

Me: “OK. Thanks.”

But then a few minutes later he came back. He’d gone to the boys section for me, and came back to ask me if I thought this shirt might work, and then took me to another section with some other stuff that might work. Despite that brief moment of awkwardness he’d completely recovered and was being really respectful and genuinely helpful (and to my credit, I wasn’t being awkward either). I still needed to try stuff on, and the dressing rooms at this place were a little tricky. They weren’t explicitly labeled, but there were very clearly rooms specifically for the “men’s” section and the “women’s” section, based on location. Since I sort of had a rapport with this guy I said, “Hey, it’s cool if I try stuff on in here right?” and he said, “no problem” and I traipsed into the men’s section room, which, conveniently, was deserted other than me anyway. It turned out the shirt he found worked great, and I probably wouldn’t have found it without his help.

Living in the world as myself right now is somehow simultaneously so much more comfortable and so much more awkward than it was, say, 6 months ago. I get these glimpses though, where when I power through the awkwardness and actually let myself be comfortable, let myself do what I need to do and ask for the help I need (when I know what that is), things really do go OK (and I got to look pretty cute at the beach).