I’m going to talk about people’s junk. Just below the fold if you don’t wanna see it. There are also swears.
In the past nine months, I have had a remarkable change in my life, brought on in part by accessing twitter. This change is the amount of exposure and interaction I have with people who I’m aware of as having a different relationship with their gender than I do with mine. The term ‘GRSM,’ for gender, romantic, sexual minority is one I like but it doesn’t sound very nice spoken aloud, and in this context, I really am much more about the G than the R and S. I’ve always known people who are gay/bisexual/othersexual, that’s part of my life I’m ridiculously comfortable with. The romantic minorities, well, same deal.
The issue is that I was unaware of any gender minorities in my life prior. Now, I grew up in a church environment that suppressed and oppressed everything it could, which means I bet I probably did know some people who ‘were’ of a gender minority, but weren’t expressing or admitting it. In a group of 100 people you can rely on about ten of them being some form of GSRM, and my church was a bit bigger than that. I probably went to school with a few people like that – and hell, as a (non-presenting) bisexual person, I was that person for several of my classmates.
Kinda embarassing that I only just realised that.
Anyway, the rest of this is mostly going to be about trans people specifically and agender/other nonbinary people peripherally, and interacting with them. When I say ‘I didn’t know any trans/queer’ people that’s a shorthand. I didn’t know anyone who was making it known to me, and I am incredibly thick when it comes to these things. I’m serious, I really am that unaware that I’m capable of not noticing things that people have repeatedly told me are ‘obvious.’ There’s a non-zero chance that I’m not actually as nice as you think I am, I’m just utterly oblivious.
For a while I strived for what I considered a platonic ideal: I wouldn’t care or be aware of people’s trans or genderqueer status because it was none of my business. When someone told me how to address them, I’d just use that, in the same way I’d use their name, and that would be entirely that. There’s no reason a GRSM friend would need me to be consciously aware of their GRSM status any more than a vegeterian friend needed me to be consciously aware of their vegeterianism, right?
Turns out it’s not that simple.
From where I stand in the arrangement, GRSM people are people, but for some idiot reason, strangers feel like they have some investment/opinion in that person’s genitals. I’ve never heard anyone pass opinion on my dick, sight unseen, and certainly never a stranger, but I’ve seen – mostly on twitter – trans people responding, usually with frustration and anger – at strangers talking about their downstairs apartments.
What the fuck, people?
Think about it like this. If you wouldn’t cruise up to me and start asking me things like, “So, how’s that penis or lack thereof working out for you?” you shouldn’t do it to a trans person. If your questions can boil back down to that point, then chances are they’ve heard it and answered it and probably put it up on the internet as part of a big-ass FAQ of ‘Please Stop Asking Me This.’
This is why I can’t just treat my GRSM friends, in particular the trans friends that I know of as trans like they’re ‘just people’ and their trans status doesn’t matter. Their trans status asks for an extra level of awareness.
See, if I slip up and call my mother my sister’s name, which isn’t exactly an easy mistake to make, but one I’ve made repeatedly – that’s nothing. Neither my sister nor my mother live their lives expecting to not be called the wrong name, but expecting to be told they are the wrong name. It’s not another thing in a pile of things, it’s just an innocent slip. That’s one of the luxuries afforded to me by my position in life – I’m not under attack, or under pressure to deal with things in a certain way. I don’t have to live in fear, and so a little minor thing is just a little minor thing. It doesn’t mean anything, it isn’t part of a greater wave of them.
One complaint I’ve seen a fair bit on the internet is ‘trans people are sensitive,’ and yeah, I guess in some ways they are. But so fucking what? I lived my life under attack in a different way, and it made me mouthy, short-tempered and belligerent – and that was only a tiny part of my life.
I won’t always get it right, and I already live with the expectation that I hurt people by exhaling. Sometimes this means I can’t have conversations with people the way I normally would, because I know these people are under a lot of stress already. That kinda sucks? But what sucks is I have a friend whose life is so rough that they can’t ever unwind, not Poor Me, I can’t talk about videogames with this person in the way I otherwise might.
In a perfect world, trans status would be basically nobody’s business. Thing is, we’re not in a perfect world, as I often point out to my friends who try to hold the world to that standard. For me, then, the plan is to be careful, aware, willing to ask for forgiveness and be willing to forgive.