Thinking about trans folk…

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.


2 Responses to Thinking about trans folk…

  1. Arlene says:

    The XX – XY chromosome thing can get a bit tricky. I am XXY and my upstairs neighbor is XY but born female bodied, pregnant with her second child and can grow a full beard in a few days.

    Not that any of it matters much. We’re all in this together and you seem like a great ally to me.

    Don’t beat yourself up over it.

  2. dollyann says:

    I think you’re being a little hard on yourself. We’re all socialized to be surprised when people don’t fit our gender expectations, even those of us who are LGBT allies (or LGBT). And if the woman did notice your surprised look, I’m pretty sure she would have noticed a change in tone that reflected your rushing feeling of solidarity. If you looked surprised then refused to look at her or brushed her off, I think that would have been worth being ashamed of.

    Chances are though she may have been more concerned about when her shift was ending than your reaction to her. 😉

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