Wrong Number

Once upon a time, ’round about 1983, my mother was living in Houston, where I occasionally visited her while I was attending the University of Texas at Austin.

One evening during one of these visits, the phone rang in her apartment. She answered, the man’s voice on the other end asked for some name who didn’t live there, then apologized for dialing the wrong number. Mom told him to think nothing of it. Then, somehow, they ended up in a conversation, most of which I could hear (the voice and/or the phone was unusually loud). This complete stranger ended up pouring out his heart to my mother.

The crux of the matter was: he liked wearing women’s clothing, and he wanted to tell someone about it. He seemed lonely, looking for acceptance, which my mother provided. She was completely unfazed by his deep, dark secret, refusing to find it upsetting or disgusting, or to think that he was a bad person for wanting to wear lingerie and stockings. At some point she must have mentioned that her daughter was visiting, because he then wanted to talk to me, and ask all the same things over again: did I think he was weird or disgusting? No, not at all. He seemed relieved that we didn’t slam the phone down on him. He talked eagerly, asking what kinds of clothes we liked (neither of us had much interest in fashion; perhaps that part of the conversation was disappointing).

He wondered if he should be a woman instead of a man, and we didn’t find that strange, either. I had never, to my knowledge, met anyone who was contemplating a sex change. I felt shy to voice an opinion on so big a topic, but I tried to be supportive.

Eventually, he thanked us for listening to him, said goodbye, and hung up.

I’ve always remembered that call, because it struck me how isolated he seemed – so afraid that he was a horrible person, and that everyone around him would shun him if they knew who he really was, or wanted to be. He might well have been right about that, at that time and place. It seemed likely that the call had not been a wrong number at all, but a random dial in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. Whoever he was, I hope he worked it out and finally got to be who he wanted, and that he didn’t have to do it alone.

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