Warning: I am still working on being a better ally to trans folk. This is just me trying to work something out by thinking out loud. If I’m being an ass, please tell me so.
So. I had a brief experience about a year ago, which I nevertheless have trouble forgetting. I was getting ice cream. Here’s my internal monologue:
“Hurray for ice cream! Oh, money for ice cream, boo. Giving the mon–ZOMG CASHIER IS A TRANSWOMAN. No, bad Laura. WOMAN. She’s a woman. WOMAN WOMAN WOMAN. Oh man, did I make a terrible confused face? I didn’t mean it! I think it’s awesome that you’re out, living your life! Should I say something? No, that would just make it worse. Besides, the whole thing that’s cool is that it’s not a big deal that she’s just working at an ice cream shop. I hope my smile didn’t look strained or scared or anything. Do people make awful faces at you when they figure it out? I hope people don’t make faces at you. It was sort of a surprise, though, suddenly figuring it out. It shouldn’t be a surprise. I hope people don’t make a big deal about it. Oh no, I’m making a big deal about it! It’s not a big deal! Noooooooo!”
In case you couldn’t tell, I was a bit flustered. There was a distinct moment of shock when I first figured out that I wasn’t looking at an XX-chromosome woman, and then, actually, this really strong feeling of solidarity. I’m almost as confused by that one as by the surprise. I mean, it’s a terrible thing to make a big surprised face at someone just because they are who they are, and I feel bad thinking that I probably did. But then I gave her this big smile, like, “OMG ONE OF MY OWN” which is almost stranger. Because, I mean, trans folk are in the acronym, but my experience as a passing-for-straight lesbian cannot possibly compare to her experience as a transwoman. What right do I have to claim solidarity with her (much larger) struggle? And isn’t it kind of principles-violating to judge someone right away based on their gender identity, even if the judgment is positive? I mean, I get to know cisgendered people before I decide if I think they’re allies or not. I saw this woman for all of three seconds– what do I know about her?
For one thing, I know she probably gets a lot of crap for failing to conform to the gender binary. And I do too (when I’m not taking the easy way out and passing). We’re both fighting the same fight. Isn’t that worth recognizing? I was the only queer person I knew, at the time, so it was a particular thrill to see someone else, anyone, who didn’t like society’s little boxes either. Seeing my fight reflected in something else, knowing that in the global scheme of things I wasn’t alone, isn’t that worth a big smile to a stranger? Or is it still problematic, because it reduces a person to a symbol?
I’m still not really sure what to make of it. I did make an involuntary surprised face at her, of which I am deeply ashamed, and I did feel this rush of solidarity with her, which still warms my heart sometimes. I don’t want to other her, but I think I am anyway, and I don’t know what to do about it. I guess I’ll just keep thinking about it.