So yesterday, I was reading Matt’s post over at Tranifesto, and he was talking about a workshop a friend of his went to where there was an activity where the participants were to turn to one another and share something they wish they would never again hear in their lives. Matt thought it was a fun idea and played along, asking his readers to contribute as well.
This topic ended up coming up again later in the day as my friend Dori was telling me about the cissexist privilege she had to deal with in her women’s studies class that morning. Their final project was to interview a woman a certain number of years older than themselves, and a few weeks back, one of the girls in her class was bragging that she was going to interview a trans woman. The sheer level of cissexist privilege in that conversation prompted Dori to come out, which left her open to questioning, but she was completely ignored. This infuriated her so much that she blogged about it, and yesterday was the girl’s actual presentation.
From what I’m told, the girl’s presentation was full of the very same kinds of comments we wish we never had to hear ever again. “She doesn’t look like a man.” “I think she’s straight but I’m not sure.” There were excessive details about her medical history as well, apparently.
These kinds of comments exist for every community. As an asexual, I’ve heard variations of “so do you just have sex with yourself?”, “do you just split into two parts?”, and “humans can’t be asexual.” Being trans, there are all the above mentioned, plus more, as we’re often represented as one of three things in society: 1.) monsters/deceivers, 2.) victims, and/or 3.) pathetic. As a trans lesbian, I get things like “well, why didn’t you just stay a guy if you like girls?” or “how can you be a lesbian if you were born a man?” As any of the three (asexual, lesbian, trans), I get questions about how I have sex (hint, being asexual answers that question).
So this comes back to a discussion of allies, because these people are usually trying to help, or at least to understand, not trying to be offensive. And in the process, they make it worse, because they don’t understand and say things that make our nerves crawl. Which leaves us in that rock and hard place position: if they don’t ask, they don’t learn, but if they do ask, it sets us off.
Now, part of this is also how they ask the questions. There’s a world of difference, for example, between “what was your birth name?” and “what’s your real name?”. Another part is for allies to sit and listen, rather than ask and assume. And in the case of trans folk, allies need to stop breaking us down to our bodies and medical history. The “so are you straight or gay?” thing becomes suddenly easier when they acknowledge us as the women and men we identify as rather than as the men and women we were declared to be at birth. If I’m a woman who loves women but not men, I’m a lesbian, regardless of the state of my genitals.
When we come out to you, don’t say things like “you’re so brave” or “I couldn’t tell.” That’s being patronizing, and we don’t want to hear it. It’s not being brave, it’s being honest. It’s only as brave as running in terror from a pack of wild dogs or a bear would be. And hate to burst your bubble, but we’re people, and we look like people. Not all of us look like tragic disasters, most of us in fact look like any other guy or girl, maybe slightly more androgynous, but still like any other person of our gender. Unless we’re going for a certain look.
So allies, people trying to be allies, please try to check your privilege at the door and accept us for who we are: people. Different from you, but everyone has their differences, so please stop singling out one point of difference.