Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

a lesson learning

       i work as a barista. Being transgendered and in a very public part of the service industry has it's peculiarities. A lot of it is good; a lot of people are surprisingly sweet and support me and are totally wonderful. A lot of it is terrible; some people are just ignorant or rude. But, like life, most of it is gray.

       i had a weird interaction with a regular the other day. He's sweet. He's a self-identified gay man that loves his husband. Until today he's at least tried to be sensitive around gender. The second time we interacted he called me "sir" and then caught himself and asked what i prefer. i told him "ma'am" was closer to accurate, though neglected to bring up the problematic nature of the language of "preference" in this situation. Anyway, since then he's been really good about it. He's gone out of his way to call me "ma'am" when he didn't really have to interact with me at all, which is sweet, if not a touch patronizing. It's especially sweet since a lot of people seem to go out of their way to identify me as a man, which is both patronizing and rude.

       But today, as i passed him a cappuccino, he said, "Thank you sir." i gave him a cock-eyed glare that seemed to last for a whole minute, though i know that it didn't. He apologized and corrected himself. But he undercut this apology by saying, "Didn't we talk about this? Don't you use two sets of pronouns? What do you prefer?"

       i know what i'd said to him before. But my instinct is to be open and honest and forgiving. These are instincts i've consciously cultivated for various reasons; they're all deeply important to me. So, i told him honestly, "i mostly go by 'she,' but i sometimes use 'it' with queer people that get what that means to me." Needless to say, this left me in a very vulnerable and trusting position.

       He responded by saying, "Ew, I don't like that, it's so dehumanizing." He then ignored my attempted explanation and shifted the conversation to be about him and his desire to be more queer. This is not only selfish, it's rife with privilege to want to put on queerness as a fad like this.

       i was left holding this heaviness for the rest of the day. He got to walk away from what he said. He placed his opinion, his dislike, his feeling of disgust on me and went on his way.

       i've had several dialogues run through my head. My favorite so far is the thought "How dare you ask me, and you asked me, what i prefer and not be open to my answer?" This is such inappropriate allyship. Cis privilege needs to be self-checked. i need to be allowed to self-identify in any way i want or that feels right.

       i don't care what you think of my gender or identity, because they are mine, and it is absolutely inappropriate to say "ew" or that you don't like my answer. This is especially unacceptable in the context of asking me about my identity. This type of questioning carries an implication that my answer will be heard and respected. Unfortunately that implicit trust was breached in this situation.

       Here is another site of dilemma. This idea of trust and openness has been problematic for me. i like my openness. It's loving and joyful. i learn from it. It allows me to connect with people in ways that feel meaningful and allows me to grow.

       But, my openness also leaves me vulnerable. Honesty opens a gap that allows people to hurt me. In a society that is violently normative and largely ignorant of gender variance, this is an alarming prospect. i don't like getting hurt.

       Despite my instinct toward openness, i also have an instinct not to touch a hot stove. This second instinct is wrought in pain.

       i don't know how to reconcile this. This painful experience begs me to exercise caution. That flies in the face of my desire to be a completely open human being. i don't want to grow cold, cynical, withdrawn. i don't want my transness, rather people's reactions to my transness, to teach me to be a spiteful person.

       i want to interact compassionately and fruitfully and i can't do this if i'm closed off or shut down or protective. i want to believe there's a balance here, but i'm not sure there is. There's an unfortunate trade off. Thicker skin means less pain, but it also means callousness, feeling less. Sadly, people's transphobic responses aren't going to stop anytime soon, so i'm left with a dilemma. i've fought too hard to live in a comfortable gender to hide or become cold, so i will endure and keep shining, because that's my only choice.