Let’s talk about bathrooms. Not an issue for most people. It’s a passing thought. Usually the biggest concern for public bathrooms is cleanliness. But when you’re trans, that moves to the bottom of the list of things to worry about. Bathrooms are terrible. Some trans people plan trips around bathrooms, and limit fluid intake to avoid them. Asking either of my bosses for permission to use the woman’s room is too embarrassing to think about. I don’t even want to bring it up.The idea of having to defend complaints of me being in the “wrong” restroom is unbearable. Think about that. I have to ask permission to use the bathroom I feel comfortable in. That’s basically asking permission to be a woman. And what if the answer I get is no? How can I handle that?
Trans people are finally starting to break through to the mainstream public in a fairly big way. Media is taking notice, and more trans people, both real and fictional, are seeing the spotlight.
Every once in awhile a really good, positive role model steps out and breaks through. Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox comes to mind. She fights the oppression keeping trans people down, turns interviewers’ rude questions back on them, and still remains feminine and popular. Laura Jane Grace, singer for the folk punk band Against Me! is transitioning in the public eye, and rocking it. A personal role model of mine, she came out with an album about the trans experience that won’t be soon matched. A full CD of trans anthem after trans anthem.
But for every Laverne and every Laura, are a hundred jokes with trans people at the butt. A hundred trans people being misrepresented, stereotyped, and disrespected by cis TV writers and magazine reporters, from Bruce Jenner being outed and mocked before Jenner decided to say anything about their gender (including a belittling picture of Jenner posted by the cisgender writer of the show Transparent on her facebook page), to the cliche stereotypes and glossing over important moments that could have been so much more effective on Transparent in favor of dysfunctional family drama. Under the guise of acceptance we’re still being stereotyped and pigeonholed, and trans actors still don’t get to play transgender roles like they should.
And then the are still the “she used to be a man” punchlines in almost every popular sitcom. And those normalize that kind of joke for others. Not three weeks ago we had a temp at work, and a coworker (who knows I’m trans, and even uses the right pronouns) told him a joke. I didn’t catch it, but I caught the punchline (she whipped out her… ) and the other guy’s reaction (hahahaha cause she’s a tranny!). And I was too upset to do anything but walk away to be alone for a minute. I don’t know if he thought the subject of his joke wasn’t the same as me out of ignorance, or that those kinds of jokes are just so part of comedy that it’s acceptable to tell, even with a transgender person across the room.
Until trans people stop being treated as a joke, being trans will be perceived negatively. Until cis people stop trying to tell trans people what we should find offensive instead of asking, we will always be a lower class. Reading the comments at the bottom of an article having to do with anything trans related from mainstream sources is like a highway pileup. You know you shouldn’t look, but you can’t help yourself. And then you see exactly what you knew you would – and it’s never pretty. Here’s a drinking game for you – click on some comments, and every time you read the word “it” in relation to a person, drink. Every time you read the word “freak,” or “pervert,” drink. Every time someone comments on biology or chromosomes, drink. Every time a supporter gets accused of being trans or trans people get called ugly or compared to an animal, drink. Someone threatening violence if a trans person ever “tricks” them, drink. If you’re not in the hospital with alcohol poisoning by page 2…
So if we want anything to change, we have to call out trans jokes. Call out sexism. Call out biology-centered gender ideologies. Stop being ashamed about our trans brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and friends and family and co-workers and say something when you hear someone misgendering them or making jokes.
When a piece of who you are is attacked, you have to fight like a grrrl. Progress won’t be stopped by people who still think gender is binary.
Update: I ordered some she/her/hers pronoun buttons the other day, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. I’m thinking of asking my night boss if i can wear it to avoid being aggressively misgendered like I was the other week. A woman with a special needs teenager came in, and the woman instructed her to “give your money to the guy.” I was obviously presenting female, and she even looked at my Natalie name tag.
“that’s a girl,”the daughter said. I smiled, but it didn’t last.
“No it isn’t, that’s a guy.”
“But her hair is in braids…”
“It’s a guy. That’s just his style.”
But I’m afraid if I have to declare my pronouns, it will feel less legitimate, and possibly draw more negative feedback by less than accepting people. But I guess that’s the cost of living your own way, sometimes. At least that way I get to declare who I am in no uncertain terms, and not have an identity forced on me.
I also saw my ex for the first time since we broke up. And it was good. Really good. There were awkward spots, but not too awkward. Mostly, it felt like trying to get to know her again. A cross between when we first met and what we already know about each other now. And I wasn’t sad that she left right then, i was happy she is still in my life and that whatever we lost has a chance to turn into something different now.
The things people say to trans people range from thoughtless, to intruding, to downright inappropriate. So here is a partial list of the things I never expected to hear in the 6+ months of being pretty much totally out, and why you should keep them to yourself. Sometimes it’s bad phrasing, sometimes transphobic undertones, and sometimes just ignorance. Either way, think before you ask.
I don’t usually swear on my blog, which is weird because when changing my name my second choice for a middle was Fucking…, but I swear a little in this one to make my emotions clear, and to keep the integrity of these questions as they were asked. So…
-So does that make your dick grow? (estrogen)
Why would estrogen make my dick grow, first of all? Second, I’m obviously not too fond of it, do you really think I want to talk about it? Genital questions in general are a bad idea, because genitals do not make a man or woman, anyway.
-When are you gonna *schwingg* (with knife motion to crotch)
Again, I really don’t want to talk about my genitals with you. Or at all. Also, cutting it off would be counter productive, as they kinda need that to make other parts. Plus, didn’t need that image.
-You’re still technically a man…
And you’re technically a giant asshole. I technically have typical characteristics of a male, and a penis (because we all know that’s what you meant), but I’m not anything but a woman.
-You’re still [old name] to me, so I’m calling you that.
You just became douchebag to me, so I’m calling you that. By not using my name you’re disregarding my identity, disrespecting me, and telling me you’re more important than me. Fuck off, please.
-Are you going all the way?
Again, a question about my personal downstairs business. This one is especially offensive because “all the way” implies I’ll never be a real woman without a vagina. Are you going all the way? Over there and out of my life? As a solid rule, unless you really know me, like I’ve cried in front of you without shame know me, don’t ask about my bits.
-I’ve never known someone like you in person before.
I’ve never known someone like you before, eith…oh… You mean a transsexual. I’m not a unicorn (or am I?), I’m a person. That said, you probably have. Most of us don’t announce ourselves…
-Do you call wearing women’s clothes drag or are they just clothes?
The larger issue here is that we need to stop gendering clothing. They’re my clothes. What do you call it when you dress? I’m a woman, so dressing like a woman is not drag. No matter what I wear I’m dressing like a woman.
-Being a woman isn’t that great, you know.
That’s good, because I’m not transitioning for a better social standing. If you think being a woman is bad, try being a trans woman. I chose to be a woman as much as you did. It just took me a little longer to realize it.
-That name doesn’t suit you.
I got to pick my name, and I thought about it for a long time. You were given your name before you were even a person. By that logic, I think my name suits me fine, thanks. Maybe you should change yours.
-Why does that girl sound like a boy?
This is one I’ve heard from a few different kids. And it’s not their fault. Again, I may not sound like a cis female yet, but it’s my voice, and I’m a woman. It’s the parental reactions that bother me. How nobody ever explains, but instead shushes them and shuffles them away from me. Stop teaching your kids that what I’m doing can’t be talked about. Explain it to them, and tell them it’s okay. Nothing will change if kids are educated to be bigots.
You too? Really though, for what? Are we celebrating the pain in the ass I’m going through just to be myself? The money I’m spending (that I don’t really have to spend) that will stimulate the economy? I don’t get it.
-It takes balls to do what you’re doing.
Uhh…what? That’s precisely what I didn’t want to hear. You’re trying to be a woman, so I’m going to metophorocally remind you that gender norms still exist, woman are still the lower class, and that you still have balls. Great, thanks. I’m doing what I have to do. It has nothing to do with “balls.” Be miserable and uncomfortable my whole life, or live as a girl. Those are the choices.
I didn’t mention names because I know not everyone meant something by these questions. The point is, think before you ask. I’ll answer questions, no problem. But only if you’re asking for the right reasons, and not just because you’re curious about the state of my genitals. Unless you’re sleeping with me, giving me surgery money, or I bring it up, it is just best to stay away from the surgery question. I repeat – don’t talk to me about my fucking dick, please! I’m not a sideshow, I’m a human, and I’d rather not be boiled down to a body part I wish I didn’t have.
Help me fight like a grrrl by thinking about what your question really means before you ask it.
Bonus: People say some really cool things too, though. It wouldn’t be fair to not mention a few of those.
-I was trying to think of your birth name the other day and I couldn’t.
For someone who knew me as a boy to forget my old name is amazing. To them, I’m just Natalie. That’s all I can ask of another person.
-I was worried I’d call you the wrong thing and disrespect you.
This is important. Someone cared enough about my new name and pronouns (and me) to actually worry about calling me the wrong thing. I’m sorry I made them worry, but if that doesn’t make you feel good…
-Do you want me to change your name in my phone?
-So that means we should call you she now?
Again, these two reflect a similar thing – respect. People caring enough to try to make me comfortable and do the right thing by me.
Maybe we are making progress as a society after all.
In my post about Stonewall I mentioned a banner that says, “Where pride began.” There’s a lot of controversy about LGBT pride. The argument I hear most is, “Well, we don’t have a straight pride parade. I don’t go around coming out as straight. Keep it to yourself.”
The rebuttal is simple. Straight, cis people don’t need pride the way we do. Pride is a way to raise awareness, and a show of strength and community. We’re not rubbing it in anyone’s face, we’re just finding our place in the world and asserting our identity. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, pride isn’t really pride in the dictionary sense.
I need trans pride because it helps me accept who I am. I’m not proud to be trans. It’s just who I am. But I’m proud of living an honest life. I would never wish transgenderism on anybody, but I’m proud of the people who are out and fighting to be who they are. Because let’s face it – if you’re trans, getting up everyday and being yourself can be enough of a fight. Looking in the mirror and trying not to cry on the bad days is a fight. Walking past people and pretending you don’t hear their laughs with your head held high is a fight. And to do that day in and day out, you have to have a little bit if community pride. And you have to be proud of yourself for making it through another day.
Pride is also is a way to identify with other trans people, when it might be dangerous otherwise. A trans person sporting a trans flag might connect with someone who knows what that flag stands for, when they don’t want to have to come out to the world, but want to connect with others sympathetic to their situation.
Every step closer to being where I want to be makes me a little more proud. Another mark on my trans belt. I’m not proud in the way I was proud when I earned my black belt. I’m not proud like I was when I graduated college. I’m proud because pride helps me validate my identity.
Straight people, cis people, don’t need to come out. It’s assumed. But if I want my pronouns respected, I have to come out. I’ve come out more times than I can count in the past year – to family, to friends,to employers and coworkers, to everyone I had to talk to when I was changing my name. Sometimes it’s on purpose. But sometimes all it takes is saying my name, and everything clicks. Every time I do a background check and my previous name comes up, I’ll be outed. Every job application I ever fill out where I have to check the box “were you ever known by a different name?” I need pride because I couldn’t keep coming out time after time without it.
The LGBT community needs pride because if we stop being proud, we stop fighting. We let society push us down, and we stay there. Pride lets us get back up, brush of, and keep fighting like the grrrls (and guys) we know we are.
Update: Working with people who “get it” makes life more tolerable. At my day job pronouns are iffy. A few people get them most of the time, but after months, some don’t. They literally say the wrong one, then correct with the right one, every single time. One person doesn’t even try. My night job is much the same. Some people get the name, some don’t. A few people do all the time. One manager in particular really gets it, and it really helps. But lately it’s just really exhausting knowing people don’t see you as what you are. Hopefully down the line it won’t be as big of an issue, but as I mentioned before, my name and pronouns are a big deal to me, even if nobody understands why, and an issue that bothers me a lot when people get it wrong.