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LJ Idol 03: It's a trap.

I nearly chose to abstain entirely from this round. But two people, independently, suggested I write this entry, and a third jumped in with a generous, open hand. I got the hint. It still wasn't easy to write, and it doesn't say everything I wanted to say. My viewpoint is limited, and much of this is opinion, both mine and my friend's, but I make the effort to support it with reason. And it is all true. Thank you, Tod, for being such a good interviewee.

Trigger warning: Below is, among other things, mention of rape and violence.

Imagine introducing yourself to a cashier, an employer, a customer, and having them not believe you. You're not introducing yourself as a celebrity or anyone particularly important, just yourself. And you get, "No, really," "Your parents named you that?" or even a blank stare followed by "That makes me uncomfortable. I want to call you something else."

It's not because you're introducing yourself as Kotar the Klingon Pole Dancer. It's because you appear to be physically female, but you're introducing yourself as a man. It's the daily conflict of being transgendered.

My friend Tod is transgendered. He is ftm, which stands for female-to-male, and has been formally transitioned for more than ten years now. He has been on hormone shots, and is about to go on them again. He lives as a man, conducts a private business as a man, and forms relationships as a man.

As a transman, he considers himself lucky. He is naturally rather androgynous, which makes it easier for him to pass than many others in his position. But with depressing regularity, he runs into people who guess but never ask, and decide to interpret his lack of stubble and smooth throat as female.

"Can I take your order, ma'am?" from the waitress at a Denny's three weeks ago.
"All right, ma'am, thank you for your time," from the telemarketer who called yesterday.
"Tod? You look more like a Vixen." From a particularly smarmy customer at a convention, several years ago.

Mistakes get made. They are to be expected. But like bee-stings, each one hurts a little, stings for a while. Every mistake made means that Tod has to identify himself as transgendered to a stranger, not knowing what his or her reaction will be. He has to come out almost every day. "It's at the least frustrating, and at the worst, deadly," he says. FBI data suggests that at least one in every thousand murders, nationwide, is a hate-crime against a transgendered person. On Christmas Day, 1993, a 21-year-old man named Brandon Teena was raped and later killed by two of his friends, his friends after they discovered that he was biologically female. What's more, the police ignored his report of the rape entirely, refusing to arrest the two men he identified by name. The county sheriff referred to Brandon as an 'it.'

In 1999, Robert Eads died of cervical cancer because he could not find a doctor willing to treat him, though he tried dozens. By the time he found one, a state away from his home, it was too late.

New TSA regulations make navigating an airport a humiliating process for everyone, but imagine having to explain to the man running the imaging scanner why you're wearing a prosthetic penis in your underwear. Why your apparent sex doesn't match the M or F on your passport. TSA policy is that those new body scans will only be viewed by 'same sex' personnel. Where does that leave those who identify as one but appear as the other? There is no way to not be outed to an organization that has outed one of its own transsexual employees on national news.

Tod has been lucky. He has never come out to a friend or a stranger and been met with overt hostility or violence. He has never been turned down for housing, or declined health-care, or fired for his sexuality. What he gets instead, when he informs that mistaken stranger that he is a man instead of a woman, are arguments.

"I'm sorry," said a customer. "I'm going to keep calling you 'she' because you look like a girl."
"But you're a girl! You're wearing earrings? Why are you a girl Riddler?" asked a stranger, when he was in costume (Suit, tie and one earring) at an event.
"That is not a guy," argued a friend's friend, meeting Tod for the first time after being told about him.
"Sorry, I screwed up the pronoun because you were acting feminine," once came out of the mouth of a friend. She apologized, at least.
"Why do you have to make things complicated?"

It can be jarring, when your eyes disagree with your mind. But supposedly, your mind, the mind that hears the words people say and understands how to interact with them, is smarter than your eyes. It isn't disbelief that brings up these debates. No one believes that he's lying to them. But something in them makes them decide that he's being somehow dishonest.

There's a meme on the internet that goes like this: There's a picture of a sexy, beautiful, scantily clad woman. Several pictures, usually in a slide-show or arranged so you scroll down them one by one. They're arousing but carefully posed, never showing her genitals. Until the last one, which reveals that she is a pre-operation or non-operation male-to-female transsexual. In other words, she's in possession of a penis. "It's a trap!" blinks the bold white text. "Now everyone knows you're gay." The implication of that final 'It's a trap' is one of fear. It's that overlap between transphobia and homophobia that poses such a threat to transgendered people.

I'm not setting aside the pictures themselves, which are more than likely of an actual transsexual woman doing porn, possibly because she may be unable to find other steady employment due to her gender, in order to earn money to pay for the many steps of transitioning. There is therapy, a change of name, hormones and blood work, and a mountain of other legal and medical costs that she may have. If she decides to have or already has had surgery, then breast implants, gender reassignment surgery, and facial feminization surgery are all incredibly expensive and almost never covered even by the best insurance companies. She is, just like any other wage-earner, trying to achieve the life she wants. She is not trying to 'trap' anyone into lusting after the 'wrong' gender. She's not a gay man masquerading as a woman to trick some straight man into having sex with 'him.' This is true even if she chooses not to have the surgeries, as many do for many reasons.

To most of us who might call a transperson by the wrong pronoun and be corrected, the course of action should seem obvious: A mistake was made, no one was threatened, it is time to adjust our behavior and move on. But those who argue feel a threat, a fear response. One way it might go is this:

I thought this person was a member of the gender I'm attracted to. I might have been attracted to them! But they're not! What does that mean about me and my sexuality?

So they try to rationalize. They claim they should have the right to call Tod a woman because of
a) Freedom of speech
b) That thing he was doing, that made them see him as feminine.
c) The jewelry he was wearing.
d) That other thing he was doing. Men don't do that.
They bluster, they get annoyed, they get angry. They blame him.

The most frightening reaction Tod received was one night in a goth club. He was sitting at a table by himself, drawing. A man his age approached him, and they struck up a conversation that might have been flirtatious. Just might. But suddenly, the man called Tod a woman, and Tod had to, as he has to do too often, correct him. The man stopped talking, staring at him like a deer caught in headlights, then stood and left at high speed without a word.

The encounter wouldn't have happened like that if the man had initially seen Tod as another man, the way he sees himself. The obvious solution to this repeated mistake is for Tod to do his best to pass, to be seen as a cisgendered male. It isn't easy. As I touched on with the woman above, the process is expensive. Hormones will deepen a voice, change the way fat lies on a body, and help grow facial hair. Special garments will help alter a body shape. Forums online for transgendered people are full of tips and advice on how to walk, how to sit, how to raise or lower your voice and sound like a cisgendered person. What not to say. How to exercise to keep weight distributed more like a man or a woman. How to blend in.

Because they're not trying to hide anything. They are simply trying to live without making waves, for the most part, the way the rest of us live. Tod does not want to be a transman, he wants to be a man. Full stop.

He's been given a lot of advice, over the years. A common theme is "Oh, date people who are trying to find out if they're gay. Either way, they'll still be attracted to you," or "You should date bisexuals. They'd be safe." It's well-meaning, but entirely unhelpful. He's been in a relationship with a woman trying to learn whether or not she was a lesbian, though he only learned it at the end. It was not a happy ending. He isn't a tool on which to test oneself, nor a middle-road option for those who like it all. No transgendered person is. Neither are they trying to fool anyone. They know who they are. Tod knows who he is with a certainty I have never even imagined, because he has had to examine every inch of himself. He is a man. He is my best friend. He is not, and has never been, a trap.


The 20th of November is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Worldwide, candle vigils and moments of silence will be held to remember transgendered men and women who have died in the preceding year due to ignorance, violence, and self-violence. Please remember this day.


( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 18th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC)
I realize it's nothing special to say this, but Tod sounds like a pretty tough guy to go through that day after day. I can't even imagine having to put up with that kind of BS day in, day out.

It's really a bummer how people can't just say "Oh, sorry!" and then start using the right pronouns.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
Tod is an amazing guy. He gets all that flak, but he's still all about acceptance and thinking the best of people and getting along.
Nov. 18th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
I can see why you debated writing this - it's apparent that you have strong feelings about the topic. Putting that to words without descending into vitriol takes it's own kind of courage.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
There are so many deleted paragraphs full of angry, angry rant that didn't make it into this post.
(no subject) - wyliekat - Nov. 22nd, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - i_id - Nov. 23rd, 2010 06:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 18th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
Sometimes having little to no vision helps in many situations. I don't know race. And many times I don't know gender if the voice isn't overtly female or male. I just get to know the person as the person and when a certain characteristic is pointed out to me it sometimes is a surprise. But I usually gloss over it because it doesn't matter. I know the person as just that...a person.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
It really shouldn't matter.
Nov. 18th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
This made me cry. I like how you transition from the way others see your friend, to how they should see him, and how you see him. It reads like a love letter to a treasured friend.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:27 pm (UTC)
I suppose it kind of is. He is my very best friend, and I do love him very much.
Nov. 18th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
The cruelty of people never ceases to amaze me. That your friend has the strength to persevere says a great deal about his character. Having a friend like you makes a statement, too. Wonderful entry.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
I was sitting next to him, last night, reading these comments, and he found the ones commending his strength kind of funny. He has pretty severe anxiety, and someone making the pronoun mistake, especially the someones who argue, can set off an attack that keeps him home the next day, or makes it hard for him to work.

Which, to be honest, I think only proves he's far stronger than he thinks.
Nov. 19th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
I am glad you chose to write this. Human beings all have hearts that pump red blood.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Unless you have Sulfhemoglobinaemia!

But yes. Thank you.
Nov. 19th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading it.
Nov. 19th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Well written. The last paragraph triggered my WTF reflex. I can't believe people actually said that to him.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
That's advice from friends, too. It's well-meaning, out of concern for him, but... not very well thought through.
Nov. 19th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
That was really thought-provoking to read, as well as a bit sad and a bit terrifying :( Who are people to judge someone else like that and make decisions about what they will call them/similar?! How can anyone have the "right" to call Tod a woman? The mind boggles. Ugh.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thought-provoking is good. Terrifying is good too, if it sticks those thoughts in your head.
Nov. 20th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
Excellent post and great tribute to Transgender Day of Remembrance. I appreciated hearing situations where a transgendered person faces ignorance and disbelief. It's a really good point about the new security procedures as well.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
The TSA stuff really, really bothered me, and has continued to bother me as writing this piece led into more and more research into it. I don't think I'll be flying again for quite some time.
Nov. 20th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - supremegoddess1 - Nov. 21st, 2010 12:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 20th, 2010 08:24 am (UTC)
This is very powerful and I'm glad you decided to write it as a celebration of your friend.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
He deserves it.
Nov. 20th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
This was so eye-opening. Thanks for sharing.
Nov. 20th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
Comments like these make me glad I wrote it. Thank you.
Nov. 21st, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Very well written.
Nov. 21st, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
Thank you. :)
Nov. 21st, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
I've always been a bit baffled about how transgendered people are treated-- it's not like they eat babies or shoot various sexual paraphernalia out of cannons at random people, breaking streetlamps and windows with wild abandon. Heterosexuals are more likely to act like arseholes because transpeople are just trying to go on about their lives, and heteros think they've a right to be obnoxious just by right of their sexual orientation and gender -_-

Aaaaand tl;dr of that is this is a very interesting post, very informative, and kudos to your best friend for being so strong when faced with stupidity day in and day out. Yeah, he hasn't faced violence as such, but one nasty comment is hostile enough for just being who he is.

EDIT: And I just realised that I'm making a sweeping generalisation in the first paragraph that I didn't intend to make-- the arsehole heterosexuals are like that. Not all of them. But enough. Et cetera.

Edited at 2010-11-21 02:02 am (UTC)
Nov. 21st, 2010 05:28 am (UTC)
That mental image in the first paragraph made me laugh. Someone should draw that.

And yes, I kept the 'overt' in that line on purpose. I do think it's violence, at an emotional level, to argue with someone about what they can and can't be. It's like stepping on someone's toes to make yourself taller than them.
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( 71 comments — Leave a comment )