Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
–Â Lola, The Kinks
Hello beautiful people! I am sorry about my absence for a while there. I was on a short vacation, and then there was death in my family, and then school started, and my brain was being a bit crummy for a little while there–but I’m back! Hope you didn’t miss me too much.
While I was catching up on this post it started getting REALLY long, so although this was originally going to be part 3 of 4, I’m going to split it up a little further. This blog post will address my anecdotal experiences on being identified as “queer” by people who do not fall under the queer umbrella themselves. It’s going to be a bit of a list with some pictures and GIFs to keep you going through my rambles. Next week, I’ll be talking about being perceived as queer inside the MOGII community.
So here’s some vignettes from My Life as a Queer Person. This entry, unfortunately, comes with aÂ content warning for transphobic slurs, threats of violence including sexual assault, and just general unpleasantness.
It’s Canada Day and the fireworks have just ended. My day was quiet–I avoided Parliament Hill and downtown generally, sticking to my apartment, but in the evening I felt a little lonely and ended up meeting a friend in a nearby park, where we could just see the fireworks exploding over in Gatineau. We chatted and picked at grass together and when the fireworks were done we headed home. I dropped my friend at her place and was heading back to mine. It was maybe 11 pm.
My boyfriend at the time was out with his own friends, my roommate visiting family and out of town. As I turned onto my block I immediately saw a group of threeÂ men maybe halfway between me and my apartment. They were obviously drunk, laughing and pushing at one another and talking in that too-loud, slightly confused voice of the inebriated. I felt my stomach flip a little, but took a deep breathe and shoved my hands into my pockets. It was cool for a July 1st evening and I had on a light coat, men’s jeans, standard sneakers. I tugged at the collar of my coat a little and returned my hands to my pockets, walking determinedly, but not too quick, hoping to escape their notice.
No such luck.
“Hey, man, hey–hey, you gotta light?” One of them says, stepping out from his group and waving at me eagerly.
“Sorry, man, I don’t smoke.” I reply–but I’m nervous, and my voice squeaks.
“OhÂ shit,Â man! Man, that dude’s a chick! That’s a–that’s a fuckin’Â tranny!”Â He turns to his friends, incredulous, and they break into wildÂ laughter, shoving at one another one again.
The word halts me in my tracks and I bite my lip, hard, as he turns around to me again, eyes suddenly hard.
“You know what I do to trannies? You know?” he steps towards me, stumbles. I’m cold sober, but there are three of them, and I can feel the blood draining from my face as I take a step back.
I’m maybeÂ thirty, fortyÂ feet from my apartment, but they’re directly in front of me, and the one who’s been talking to me suddenly looks angry.
“Do youÂ knowÂ what IÂ doÂ toÂ fuckin’ trannies?”Â He shouts, and waves one arm towards me as he reaches down towards his waist with the other. He’s fumbling with his belt and I take off, taking another three steps back and then running as hard as I can, feet pounding on the pavement and blood pounding in my ears. Their laughter follows me all the way to my door as I fight the lock with shaking hands, pulling the door open and then yanking it shut behind me instead of leaving it to close on its own. I take a moment to ascertain they haven’t followed–they linger on the pavement between my apartment and the next one, still laughing uproariously and shoving at one another. I can’t stand the wait for the elevator and run up three flights of stairs to my floor.
When I open the door I slam and lock it behind me, then irrationally grab a chair from the kitchen and put up against the door. The back isn’t even tall enough to hinge under the handle, but I push it as close as it can get. I realize I’ve been holding my breath and let it out in a sob, then burst suddenly into tears, collapsing at the door of my apartment with my arms on the seat of this wooden IKEA chair.
It’s another two days before I have the courage to leave my apartment again. I spend the remainder of that night huddled under my duvet, crying into my cat’s fur and wishing I weren’t trans.
It’s a Wednesday, my third course of this seminar, and I am standing in front of my bedroom mirror with my lips pursed. Scattered across my dresser and my bed are an assortment of shirts and jeans in increasing levels of rumpled-ness as I move from this t-shirt to that button-up to this baseball tee. I feel feminine today, but can’t roll with it–I’ve been trying so hard to come across as “male” in that class, I can’t show up today in a fitted shirt or someone might speculate about my body in ways I don’t want.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I am running home between commitments to change, because earlier I needed to look “professional”–i. e. feminine–and now I’m going to meet some queer friends so I have to mix it up, at least get some crazy socks on or something, because this outfit isn’t obviously “queer” enough. All my aggressive queer-slogan shirts are in the laundry, so I settle for an obviously woman’s shirt with baggy men’s jeans. Androgyny is all about balancing the number of articles you wear from each gender.
It’s Saturday and I’m at the mall. Usually, I like shopping on busier days, despite my anxiety about crowds, because it’s less likely that a store employee will seek me out. My favourite women’s clothing store is having a big sale, but looking down at my band t-shirt and baggy jeans I decide,Â I can’t shop in this, they’ll know.Â I tell myself I’ll come back another day, but I know I won’t.
It’s Monday and I’ve just finished putting on sleek new jeans with a creamsicle-coloured button-up over a white t-shirt. I have a binder on and my chest is reasonably flat, but my stomach and hips press against the shirt in a way I’m not comfortable with. I turn to the side and smooth the shirt down, looking at myself in the mirror. I’ve been careful to wear only masculine jewelry–a heavy silver chain around my neck and an earth-toned wrap bracelet around one wrist with a bulky bronze ring to match it. I reach down and adjust my packer slightly, but it’s still not right.
It’s Wednesday, it’s Tuesday, it’s Saturday, it’s Monday. IÂ catch a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface and mutter, “Just who do you think you’re kidding?”
It was really hard to narrow down the anecdotes for this post. There are so many things I want to talk about re: being seen as “queer” in public. There are so many experiences related to it! I’ve had everything from people trying to convert me to Christianity on the bus (’cause, y’know, obviously queer, so, obviously going to hell) to strangers high-fiving me about the genderqueer pride colours prominently visible in my half-sleeve. I’ve been harassed, spat at, talked down to, and yelled at for being seen as queer. I’ve also been hit on, hugged by strangers, been yelled at in a friendly way, made eye contact and smiled a secret smile, and everything in between. If there’s any experience where you are less certain how people will respond to you on any given day, it’s probably being taken for queer. About the only thing you can be sure of, is that you’re never going to be beneath the notice of anyone.
As has sort of been my custom with this series, I’m going to group these interactions a little with some anecdotal comments on my experiences. So, firstly:
Now, not every queer person is going to agree with me on this. And there are days, I admit, where I am just grateful for these people. But a lot of the time, most of the time, for me, I dislike encountering smotherers almost as much as the people who are aggressively hateful. I am sure you know what I’m talking about; in fact, you may even be one. You see someone on the street who’s got that “queer” look to them–or maybe you see two women holding hands, or two men, or someone who looks “trans” to you–and you want to be supportive. And that’s great! Yes. Please be supportive. But also, please don’t make your allyship about you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come up to me and stammer through some kind of forced compliment or have been out with a partner and had a stranger yell, “You look so cute together!” Which isn’t, actually, all that nice. It’s mostly just uncomfortable.
If you’re one of these people, it’s probably never occurred to you how irritating this actually is. You think that you’re just being supportive, and that I’ll appreciate it. And on some level, yeah, I do–everyone likes being complimented, of course they do. But sometimes, what you’re actually doing is showing off how accepting you are and making me a token for how good of an ally you are.
And I know quite intimately that that’s what you’re doing here, because I used to be that person. I cringe to remember it, but years ago, before I realized I was non-binary, a friend of mine came out to be as trans. Let’s say her birth name was Michael. She was still in the early stages of navigating that identity and hadn’t found (some people prefer the term “chosen) her name yet. Eager to show her support, I gushed about how awesome it was that she was confiding in me and assured her, “Just let me know if you ever want me to call you Michelle or something!” And I glowed for the rest of the day, that I had beenÂ trustedÂ and that I had doneÂ such a good job being her friend.
Now, my heart was in the right place. I wanted my friend to know that I was there for her and that I supported her. But what I was actually doing with this kind of statement, in addition to showing a significant amount of ignorance re: how trans people choose their names, was showing off my own pride about being accepting. And that’s not cool.
Listen: I’m not your “trans friend”. Â I’m Eliot. I like Stephen King novels and trashy eighties flicks and am halfway to being a crazy cat person. I’m good at writing and allergic to clyndamicin and really like eating frozen mango. What I’m getting at here is that there’s a lot more to me than my trans status, and as important as it is to have your support in that–and it is important, I promise!–it’s exhausting to have that be the sum of your identity, and even moreso when other people use that identity as some kind of social leverage to show how progressive they are. When you make a huge deal out of my gender identity, or how cool you are with my sexuality, etc.–you are taking me out of my identity and making me into a symbol of how great you are. You have literally stripped me of being a person and made an accessory to your own journey. And you should stop. (Please).
Marianne at her finest.
Alright, so maybe Marianne is a bit of an exaggeration. But how much, really? I’ve got a post on the back-burner aboutÂ love the sinner, hate the sin,Â so I don’t want to steal my own thunder too much–but this is a common enough trope in my interactions, especially as someone who grew up in a pretty conservative Christian community, that it bears a bit of analysis here.
It’s galling how direct Marianne’s hatred for Olive is in that video (if you haven’t seen the film…. you know what, I’m not even going to explain it, I think everyone should seeÂ Easy A).Â But the only difference to me, really, is that Marianne is at least open with herself and her community about her hatred–and yes, it’s hatred–for Olive. There have been people in my life, who, as part of my “queer” walk (ooh, look at me mixing my Christian and queer terminology) — there are people who have sat me down, with love in their hearts, and told me I was going to Hell. More than one Christian has looked me in the eye and told me that I was “living in sin” or “out of favour with God” or however you want to dress up that particular beast but a rat is a rat is a rat and it will still bite no matter how pretty it smells.
And it’s equally galling to me that people genuinely believe what they are doing when they do that is not hurtful. They genuinely think they are helping. I must just be misguided! You can show me the way back to God! Maybe if you just pray for me a little longer I’ll come to my senses and go back to wearing nice knee-length dresses and never swearing and get all my tattoos removed and maybe even stop speaking in church because hey, that’s biblical too.
Here’s the thing. My gender identity, my sexual identity, my orientation–all of those things you get to take for granted about your own life–they are mine. They are between me, my partner(s), and my God. It’s not really any of your business! But more than that, it’s certainly not your place to judge whether any of those things are appropriate. You are lying to yourself if you think you love “me”, but don’t love my “lifestyle”, and you’re thinking awfully highly of yourself if you see fit to judge what you perceive as a sin and treat me as a pariah because of it. Actually, I seem to remember Jesus saying something specifically on that topic…. what was that about logs and eyes?
This one is more tragically adorable than anything else. The Beaker is what I call people who, upon realizing you are [insert queer identity here], turn into a facsimile of the nervous lab assistant to Dr. Bunsen HoneydewThey realize you’re queer and suddenly they’re tripping over themselves like you’ve got some communicable disease–either because they’re paralyzed with worry that they’re going to say something that offends you, or sometimes because they actually have this sort of deep-seated fear that if they spend a lot of time with queer people they might become queer themselves. Given the vast spectrum of responses I get to my queerness, this one doesn’t even really offend me. It’s mostly just cute (and a little bit sad).
“The Johnny”, referring to the villain in the Karate Kid, is my way of making light of the queerphobia sometimes encountered from people outside the queer community (there’s queer phobia inside our communities too–but more on that later). Like those three guys who might’ve beaten me up on Canada Day a couple years ago, there’s inevitably the people who really hate you. A lot of this hatred is rooted in lack of understanding–I’m pretty sure most queerphobic people have never actually met or spoken at length to someone whoÂ isÂ queer, instead operating on this mental image of us all as depraved sexual perverts who are out to get their children (or something, I haven’t been readingÂ Sun NewsÂ lately to be sure). But here’s the thing:Â it’s still hate. It’s still hate, and it still gets people killed. One trans person every three days, actually.Â
Â I’m not going to spend too much time waxing on about this–I’m very aware that there’s probably not any transphobes reading my blog and having aÂ eurekaÂ moment. If you’re reading this, either you’ve experienced it yourself, or you’re at least trying your very bestÂ notÂ to be like this. All I can say is, please don’t let your friends be like it either.
Alright, that sure seems like enough for this week! If you’re not sick of me yet, come back next week for (hopefully) nuanced discussion of inter-queer politics, and then maybe a wrap-up the week after that. I hope you’re enjoying this series, beautiful people! I am certainly enjoying writing it. Thanks for reading!