Duty’s End: Expectation, Hope, and Fear.

So, as of today, I am officially 100% done with jury duty. Tuesday wound up being the last day I was actually in the courthouse, but there was a slim chance I could be called up any day through today, the official end of my term of service. I’ve had a hard time relaxing fully or focusing on anything else even on days when I wasn’t scheduled. That’s over, though.

The whole process went about as I expected, in that 90% of it was being available and 90% of what was left was just showing up. It didn’t go as well as I had hoped, in that I never actually made it to the jury box, and in fact, never made it closer than two numbers away from being called to stand up front for lawyer approval. It went much better than I feared, in that I was never challenged, expelled, asked to explain myself, or worse.

The thing that people who don’t have a serious risk factor when dealing with officialdom don’t get is that there is a difference between fear and expectation. I knew it was more likely I would have a neutral or at least not overtly harmful experience than a seriously negative one.  I didn’t expect to run into problems for being trans, but I had to prepare for it. Making it through the process okay doesn’t mean I was “worried over nothing”; it means the worst didn’t happen.

When one bigot with a power trip can ruin your day, it only takes that one bigot. The odds might be 1 in 100 or 1 in 1,000 or even lower, but if you get that 1, you’re stuck with it.

When I talked about my anxieties over the process, I got comments from people on Twitter and Facebook who don’t understand that I was speaking specifically about a trans experience here, and who tried to minimize it by telling me I was worried over nothing. They told me not to sweat it, and gave me their best tips for getting out of jury duty. None of them understood that I didn’t want to “get out of it”, I wanted to get through it.

One congenitally clueless commenter told me “Just dress like you dress for cons and they’ll send you home for sure!”, which made me feel super awesome since I usually dress a little extra nicely for cons, the same as I would for court. I felt better when I realized that the clerk of the court and the court reporter basically have the same sense of style I do; my “comfortable but conservative” dress mode is apparently exactly the level of decorum expected for court.

The thing is that to me, bragging about getting out of jury duty is a bit like bragging about getting out of an election. If I’m ever sitting in a courtroom participating in a trial by jury on either side, I would want someone like me to be sitting there in the jury box. I therefore owe it to everyone else like me to give my best shot at getting into the jury box, which is what I did.

The whole process was very painless. Everybody involved with whom I interacted or observed—with the exception of one public defender who seemed to have a very low opinion of the public—was friendly, helpful, and very cognizant of the fact that most of the people in the court on whatever business were doing so for the first times in their lives. There were signs posted everywhere, no one minded questions, the jury pool mailers included very helpful FAQs assembled by the clerk, and a full hour of the two hour orientation day was more Q&A and very helpful hand-holding by the clerk.

Despite all the stereotypes about the experience and the many knowing tips about how to “beat the system”, it turns out it’s not that hard to get excused legitimately. Half of that hour was over what to do if you can’t make it, if you have family obligations, children without a sitter, or even a vacation. Coming up with a slick system to get out of it on some pretense is basically the equivalent of doing commando belly crawls and acrobatic flips down an office hallway to the water cooler so “The Man” won’t know you’re taking a hydration break; i.e., you aren’t actually that slick. Everybody knows what you’re doing and no one cares.

The most interesting part of the experience for me was that first day, when we went through orientation. We’d all receive multiple mailings including helpful informative pamphlets and the aforementioned FAQ, and basically every document we had referenced the expected dress code and mentioned the jury schedule hotline that we were instructed to call the Thursday before each week of service to find out when we were scheduled, including our first week (the one that started with orientation).

And when we reached the Q&A part of the presentation, fully half of the questions were in the form of guys—all white guys, all guys who were at or just below the minimum standards of the dress code—raising their hands and saying, “You’re telling me I’m scheduled this week?” and “I didn’t see anything about calling  any hotline.” and “This is the first I’ve heard of any phone number I was supposed to call.” and “The only thing I got said to come in today and I’d be done.”

As I observed on Twitter after that first day, you can learn a lot about socioeconomic privilege in the United States by telling a diverse sample of people that a person who has the power to throw them in jail if he thinks they’re contemptuous would really appreciate it if they would all dress up nice as a sign of respect for his office, like they would for a job interview.

The result was a lot of white guys in jeans and short-sleeved shirts, a few in jean shorts or cut-offs and t-shirts, a lot of women who were dressed business casual. Some of them had very clearly pulled out their nicer jeans and nicer short-sleeved shirts, but there weren’t a lot of collars. The only visibly Latino guy was in a three piece suit. Black women were uniformly dressed for the boardroom.

I, the white trans woman who doesn’t often clock as trans to people who don’t know, was somewhere in the middle, hitting about the same level as the women who work there. My main goal was to give no one any reason to notice me and look closer.

Anyway, that was my experience with the… experience. It went like I expected it would, not as well as I’d hoped and not as bad as I’d feared, and now it’s over. I’m writing about it in part because one of the things I did when I got the first letter was go searching online for other trans people’s experiences with it, which did help put my mind at ease.