A funny thing happened on my way to therapy on Friday…
I had stopped into McDonald’s to grab a coffee and a muffin, and there was a rather long line-up. Two rather obnoxious young men behind me were complaining about the wait and attempted to cut in line. Feeling frustrated with said long line-up myself, I called them out on this.
They returned to their spot in the line, but took this as an excuse to begin having an open, outspoken conversation about me, on such topics of pressing importance as whether “he” was a “real” woman and whether or not “he” had had “the operation”. And of course how anyone could ever be so sick and messed up as to “cut off his dick”.
By this point, I’d already paid two of my last three dollars for my shitty breakfast, and I had no intention of giving it up on account of two bigoted, ignorant, arrogant, line-cutting assholes. Besides, leaving would have meant they’d won. So I had to stand there and listen to it.
And listen, of course. Not retaliate. Not speak up. Not question it. Because that begets violence. The last thing I needed was to have one of the McDonald’s employees film me getting viciously beaten.
All I could do was stand there and listen, and do my best to look unphased. Which I did a bloody terrible job of. My body began to betray me. After all I’ve done for you, body, this was how you repay me? I was furious. Seething. Angry to the point it was actually frightening… frightening in not being sure whether I’d be able to maintain control of my actions and continue protecting my safety. My skin felt flush and hot, and I began shaking. Like a leaf. A very, very pissed off leaf.
I was still shaking half an hour later when I walked into the therapy appointment.
I guess we can consider that session a wash.
This was something very new to me. While I’d of course been subjected to overt transphobia and cissexism many times before, those were all in the form of little one-time cutting remarks, made by passerby (“you look ‘cute’ today!”), or as people parted my company (“bullshit is dressing up as a woman when you’re really a man”), or shouted at me from passing cars (“What ARE you?!”, “Does it have a dick?!”), or muttered as I passed people on the street (“psst, you know that’s really a guy, right?”). Most people are happy to cut down a trans woman but typically too scared of sticking around to observe the consequences (lest they, you know, experience empathy or accountability or something). I had never been in the position of having to simply sit there and take it. I’m of course entirely aware of how such conversations about me, the relative “realness” of my gender, the configuration of my genitalia, and how a person comes to such a “sickness” are occurring behind my back constantly. I’m sure some of that even gets talked about by friends of mine. But cynically aware as I am, I hadn’t yet ever been in the position of having to actually hear it.
New as it was, though, it didn’t in any way come as a surprise. This was inevitable. This kind of thing is a fact of trans women’s lives. Even in “enlightened” cities like Vancouver, and “queer-friendly” neighbourhoods like Commercial Drive. And all things considered, that this was restricted to simple ridicule is lucky. There’s a very real possibility that there’s a far worse day waiting for me somewhere down the road, even despite the insulation afforded by my race.
…if not my economic status, if not the yuppie neighbourhood wherein I typically feel much more unwelcome and unsafe than on the red light stroll where I used to live. The yuppie neighbourhood wherein the roving packs of drunk young men fill up the nightspace in the absence of the sex workers and police I used to know and who for me, truthfully, represented a safety net. Young men exactly like those who ridiculed me in McDonald’s.
A friend of mine shared the story on her Facebook, and a trans friend of her’s made a very insulting, victim-blaming remark along the lines of “well, that’s what you get for going into a place like McDonald’s!”. The classism was appalling, of course. Not all of us are in the position to commute by safe, insulated cars to safe, insulated explicitly queer friendly restaurants and supermarkets for breakfast on our way to our totally trans-friendly workplaces. And we aren’t in the position of being able to hide in our homes, either. Only leaving, via teleporter, to get to our therapy, doctor and endocrinologist appointments, our pharmacy, and the laser clinic (which is funnier when considering the fact that I was on my way to my therapy appointment). And even IF SO, even IF we hide ourselves as much as conceivably possible from the world, never dare exposing ourselves to anyone we’re not 100% certain will be accepting (or end up devoting an immense degree of time, energy and resources into maintaining deep stealth), it’s STILL an inevitability. We STILL will eventually, someday, face this kind of hatred. It doesn’t fucking matter if it’s in McDonald’s or in Whole Foods. A yuppie neighbourhood isn’t going to protect you.
Incidents like this are not, in themselves, some grand injustice against trans women. As said, it’s simply a fact of a trans woman’s life. Something you accept as part of the price you pay for a body that feels your own, like home, and a self-determined, authentic identity. A rather reasonable price, really, relative to the happiness, pride, relief, confidence and empowerment that accompanies transition. It absolutely pales in comparison to the far greater injustices that occur daily, and are ongoing, in terms of what’s faced by those trans women less privileged than myself, and what is encoded into our system itself, the overall cumulative, aggregate message that we are ridiculous, pathologically sick, shameful, sinful, unnatural, disgusting, unfuckable, wrong. Relative to the (AT LEAST) 44% of us who attempt suicide due to those messages of shame? Relative to the one in eight trans women of colour who are murdered? Relative to the rates of homelessness, addiction, poverty, assault? Pssssh. Get over it, Natalie.
But they are a REMINDER. A palpable, important, visceral reminder of what the situation is. It’s often very easy for me, living in my insulated, tolerant circle, writing on my happy little transy blog, chatting with my awesome trans friends over brunch or on twitter, speaking to my wonderfully accepting mom on the phone, reading my trans-themed comic books and YA novels, reading my fan-mail, to forget all about what’s out there. Or rather, to forget what it feels like. I’ve been afforded the luxury of keeping transphobia at arm’s length. While I have the often exhausting job of having to keep abreast of all the fucked-up cis-supremacist shit going on in the world on a regular basis, it becomes far too tempting to distance myself from it and treat it as a theoretical injustice rather than direct, meaningful harm to human beings, with direct, substantial consequences.
In so far as I allow myself to forget what being on the receiving end of transphobia feels like, I’m really no better than those cisgender theorists, sexologists, feminists and armchair psychologists dissecting and theorizing us, considering what we are and what we mean in ways wholly divorced from the actual humanity and actual lived experience. So long as I allow the theory of trans lives and experiences to begin eclipsing the facts of those lives, eclipse what it actually is to be a trans woman living under the oppressive and dehumanizing climate of trans-misogyny, I’m no longer a voice of trans women. I’m simply another theorist speaking for them.
And really not a whole lot better than the two assholes in the line-up debating what, exactly, could motivate a “freak” like me to so mutilate “his” body.
In that sense, it almost comes as a welcome reminder. A violent pull back down the hard, ground realities of trans-misogyny. What trans-misogyny is and means is NOT “reification of femmephobia and by extension misogyny through scapegoating of those who most embody the concept that femaleness and femininity are not inherently inferior to or less preferable than maleness and masculinity”. It does NOT mean “systemic silencing of those who threaten underlying conceptual frameworks required for the maintenance of kyriarchy”. It does NOT mean “attempts to avoid, by any available means, consideration of facts that destabilize the comfortable certainty of core aspects of a privileged identity, up to and including elimination of those facts”.
What trans-misogyny really means is the flush in my skin. The shaking of my legs. The coiled anger, desperately awaiting release.