So this story is not an exact verbatim, court transcript style account of what happened to me. I did my best to tell this story with the highest degree of accuracy I could. In all fairness, it is told explicitly from my perspective, and I want to make that clear when the other person in the story is not able to respond themselves to anything I wrote. Having a platform where I share things online means that I have to be responsible about the things I write. Take what I have wrote with a grain of salt.
Alright. I have a story...
So I was coming back home from a electrolysis appointment this morning, and I was waiting for the bus. As I was waiting for the bus there was someone who, to me, appeared as a cisgender heteronormative woman from what was presented to me. She commented on one of the workers cleaning up a mess at the bus stop. We talked to the worker and she gave us insight to how hard she had to work for $12 an hour with no benefits all while taking care of her mother. I took pity on her, respecting the work that she was doing.
The worker continues on her way, and the woman and I sat next to each other in tense silence as I tried to make small talk about the weather. She seemed to me awkward and I was questioning if I should make conversation with her or just throw my earphones back on. You can probably gather, especially after my stated resolve from my extrovert post, that I continued to be open to a conversation. It did bother me that she kept looking away and had a little bit of trouble making eye contact. I just took this as her being shy and tried to think nothing of it. So I continued to put out innocuous small talk topics that must have felt as awkward to her as it did to me. Finally, after having stilted silence go on and off between us, she asked were I was coming from. I told her I was coming from a electrolysis appointment and I'm going back home. It surprised me how ready I was to be open about that, but it was the truth and I had the hive like appearance to my face. I didn't feel any shame in telling her that. When I told her that, she nodded in almost a knowing way. She then asked me, “I see. Are you a transgender?” My initial internal thought was, 'Oh wow, it's going to be one of those days...'
Now, I am a person who prides herself about being open about my gender. Yes, I understand that the question was incredibly rude. Yes, I understand that I could have declined her question or even moved away from her. I would have been well within my rights, considering if someone asked me “What race are you?” or “So, are you gay or something?” in such a direct manner after just meeting them. W heather it was me being fearless or me being stupid, I'm not exactly sure. I didn't shy away from the question. I answered in the affirmative, “Yes, I am transgender.” My assumption is that she understood what electrolysis is, and she also must have clocked me. I wasn't exactly trying very hard today. To be quite frank, I've been trying less and less lately to blend into heteronormative perceptions of “excessive femininity” because I just don't feel like it. I was just in a hoodie and a pair of jeans with no make up on today. I was like, whatever.
I can hear some of you behind your computer monitors shake your heads at how I see that standard of womanhood in my mind as the “standard”. I know, trust me when I say I hear you loud and clear. I also have to accept the fact that there's a whole world out there who is going to make trouble for me for not fitting into that standard. It's not just, I don't like it, I would never treat someone else like that, but that's how the world of cis people treat me. I have more or less prepared myself for interactions like this one. I have come to peace that I will have to do the work of explaining my gender expression to those unfamiliar with who I am. This is the work that falls on the shoulders of gender variant individuals. This is what I got to go through.
I understand I can't be in a safe queer, trans bubble for the rest of my life. There will be times where my identity will be interrogated. I either shrink away from confrontation, or I rise to the occasion. Luckily, this interaction was relatively banal from potential transphobic confrontations. I'm not trying to compare myself to trans women who deal with the spectre of violence on a daily basis. So I look at this as a conversation I had with someone who didn't fully understand me.
Anyway, after I answered in the affirmative, she asked me, “So you're a man who wants to be a woman, right?” She seemed to ask with a tone of excitement as if to say, 'Ah-ha! I've figured you out!' I didn't get angry, although that was very tempting.
I took a tiny pause and told her. “Well no, that's not who I am.”
Then she says to me, “I know someone who was a man and they wanted to be a woman. And they told me that they wanted to be a woman their whole life.”
I then clarified, “ And if that's how she identifies, that's great. For me, it's not about that. It's not about 'wanting' to be a woman. It's about going from one gender expression to another. I was expressing a gender expression before that made me feel so uncomfortable and now I'm expressing one that is much more comfortable to me. It's not about going from a man to a woman, it's about what's finding what is comfortable in your own body.”
And she said, “Right, but you were a man, right?”
I think I winced, “Well, no. How can you be anything that you don't feel fully comfortable in? How could I have been a man if expressing masculinity made me so miserable? I've always had this expression, these feelings deep down inside my entire life. It's only when I let go of expressing myself masculinely that I could embrace what feels right and true in my life.”
I believe (and my memory is admittedly fuzzy here) that she said, “Right, but that's what you chose to do.”
This is getting frustrating. “No, I didn't chose to do this. Trust me, If I could have chosen, I would have chosen not to go through transition. It was hard. It was a lot of sacrifice and it still continues to be a challenge for all the thing that transgender people have to face in society. All the dangers. No, I didn't chose to be transgender or feel this way. If there was a choice, there was a choice to stay absolutely miserable and sad, or to embrace a new expression and show that to the world. After I came out, it was liberating. It felt like a relief. I could chose to stay there or not. And no, I didn't chose to be trans.”
Her expression on her face has stayed at what seemed to me like a Mona Lisa smile. A slight, placid grin was on her face constantly as she spoke. It almost appeared as if that itself was some kind of mask she was putting on to appear friend an congenial. There was a preconception and tone that she was hiding. I could feel it. Even though she may not have felt that her questions were invasive and downright rude, I believe to her she felt that she was well within her rights to ask me these questions. I think that I may have enabled her in this sense because I kept responding. The thing is, I didn't feel the need to shy away. She was asking questions, I was doing my best to answer.
I have a spirit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to these conversations. In no way am I obliged to have them, and yet I feel obliged to be a good ambassador for trans people. A trans friend of mine told me very early on in my transition, “If you're not making us look good, you're making us look bad.” I would never put that pressure on another gender variant person, but I understand the wisdom in that. I want to represent my community in a positive way. I can't do that if I shut down in front of people out of anger. I have to have some kind of dialogue for the potential of progress to blossom. Also, by no means should this be how any other trans person should interact with cisgender people. These are my actions and my actions alone, and this is what I did.
She responds, “So who are you attracted to? What's your sexuality like?”
Um...that caught me off guard. “Well...I date feminine people. I like to date people who express femininity. In the past, I've dated...mostly women-”
At that point she interpreted me, “Because you're a man!”
Wow, I cannot believe you said that. “But, I'm not a man.”
She replies, and I swear this is word for word, “Right, but you have to admit that you look like a man.”
(Okay, side note on my appearance at the time of this story. I was wearing a pink and purple hoodie sweater that was a tiny bit baggy, my favorite purple jeans, and chunky black and white sneakers. No make up. Pink hair tied back in a pony tail. While my appearance is not the end all be all of my gender identity, nor is it an absolute aspect that is required to feed my well being, I felt I looked pretty femme.)
That was the question that made me subtly bite my lip. I broke my eye contact with her and stared off into the ground for a second. For many reasons, that question got to me at the core of my being. The funny thing is though, that I felt like I would be enraged, outwardly emotional or downright vindictive in response. Probably a younger version of myself would have been deeply wounded. Yet there was something at the core of my being she struck that I was not expecting. It felt calm, purposeful, and at the same time disappointed. It felt...deeply mature.
I turned to her and this is what I said, “That really hurts to hear. While you may see a man, I can't control that. I feel that I put so much effort into bringing what's inside to other people that it's so hard and takes so much effort. I work so hard on that. When others cant' see that, when I can't connect with people like that, I feel very, very hurt.”
Again, her expression did not change. I could see a distance in her eyes I hadn't noticed before. I had looked her directly in the eye and told her all that with all the vulnerability that comes with it. I didn't really know what to do, I just felt that those words needed to hang there and have space. So I stayed silent and looked at her as she broke her gaze with me and stared at the ground. I couldn't tell if she was taking in what I had said. I don't know if she understood. I don't know if we connected just then. I don't know what was going on in her mind. I had not attacked her, nor did I say that with the intention of attacking her. I think I discovered when I reflected on it, that no good would have come to the conversation if I had attacked her, if I had gone on the defensive or verbally assaulted her has a bigot. Believe it or not, the temptation never crossed my mind. Looking back on it now, I'm surprised I wasn't in an enraged fury of malcontent. I felt that I was being interrogated for the foundation of my gender identity. So I look back on that interaction with almost a sense of pride. Not because I was more calm or cool headed. It was because I focused on what truly mattered. I could have had a fight with her and gone back and forth about what a “real” woman is, and I could have continued to face her with negativity to tear her down. It wasn't important to me to be proven right, the only thing that was on my mind that became clear was, 'How do I reach you?' I felt that having facts, a lived experience and challenging her perceptions of gender wouldn't achieve that. So I decided to open up. I calmly expressed myself and in a very raw manner. I was vulnerable. I think in a discussion like that, people don't expect vulnerability. Perhaps it took her off guard, who's to say. In that moment, I didn't have to say anymore and she didn't have anything to say. I would say in that sense I was very effective.
After a few seconds that seemed like eternity, I feel that some part of her internalized my vulnerability in a way that maybe she didn't fully appreciate at the time. Maybe I'm reading too much into it too. However, I could feel something, very minute, shift in her. It didn't look like shame. It didn't look like embarrassment. It looked like something more...profound. She raised her Mona Lisa face back to me and said, “You have really nice teeth!” I smiled (appropriately) and thanked her. At the very least, I believe that she had enough good social graces to know when to change the subject. After that, we had a very friendly and congenial discussion together. We talked about coffee vs. tea, what our favorite flavors are, and it turned into two stranger getting to know each other. I admit, to me there was a little bit of tension. I just thought that I could just let that go and get to know this woman. Eventually, the bust arrived and we continued our conversation seated near the condensed window.
So I found out that her name is Patricia, and I introduced myself likewise. She is a nurse, but not an RN from what she told me. I'm not exactly sure, but there's a lot of different kinds of nurses with varying degrees of certification. I listened to her talk about her work, and she takes care of patients who have severely limited mobility. Patirica told me that she had to have a lot of patience with people. Although, she did mention that she learned new recipes from a patient who was very good at cooking and apparently very skilled at instructions. I remarked how that must take a lot of dedication and care. I also said how wonderful it must be to have a job where you can learn just as much from others as you can put value into their lives. Patricia held her mask and nodded. She told me she wanted to take distance learning to continue her education. But because she's not working at the moment, and she still has outstanding student loans she said that she wasn't going to do it yet. I said that there's nothing wrong with that, and she needs to feel like it's the right time, whenever that is. I'm forget how it came up, but she disclosed that she has ADD. It didn't change how I treated her, but in full disclosure I did see her in a different light. So there I go in my own mind with my own judgments about her mental health, probably in the same way she had preconceptions about my gender. How human. I told her that while she deals with ADD, she also is a person who has a lot of patience, dedication and focus when she wants to. That much was clear to me if you're going to be working with people with declined mobility for eight years. I said to her that it's just another component of who you are, just like all the other components I just described. I remember her smiling. I changed the subject to asking her if she watches any tv shows. She said no, and she doesn't watch a lot of movies. Patricia asked me about movies I've watched recently. I told her about Kubo and the Two String and Swiss Army Man, both of which I enjoyed. As we closed in on the bus loop where we were to leave, she told me that the rest of her day would be spent at Metrotown, shopping for a good non-fiction book and going to Starbucks. I excitedly told Patricia to have a good time. We left the bus, shook hands and went our separate ways.
I think what I took away from that experience was that it could have been much worse. What more, I'm just happy it turned into a conversation where I could enjoy someone else's company. Yes, we got off to a rocky start, and no we're not friends for life. I just see how both of us opened up in our own ways. Yes, I felt she was rude and ignorant. Very rude. Was I sincerely hurt by what she said? Yes, but it's nothing I can't learn to deal with. I don't think I could have every made her take me legitimately as a woman. I don't think I'll be able to increase her sensitivity with gender-variant people. I don't think I necessarily won anything. In the pursuit to include ourselves as equals in the presence of society, I could have gone insane and let myself be bogged down in the negativity of ignorance. In other words, I could have hit my head against that brick wall. I did finally see that I could rise above that by focusing on what was important: connecting.
But I am curious: what would you do?