Monday, April 8, 2013

Innappropriate Questions

This past weekend I attended a party. This on it's own isn't newsworthy. Considering the rural nature of my living situation I get to my fair share of shakedowns. This one was in a barn in the country, but it was also a surgery fundraiser for a new friends' SRS. I feel real lucky to have found the scenic rural valley that is chock full of witches and trans folks and other radicals of all sorts. It seems to fit so well. I know that there is place where the country boned queers and friends can still find community amongst the coyotes and ravens.

One of the features of this party was it's theme. It was advertised as a gender blender and folks were encouraged to bust out the glam and drag for a proper hoe down. This was appealing and terrifying to me as someone who blends gender and lives most everyday in a state of drag. Would I feel at the butt of someones joke? Would I be misunderstood? Would I be one of few trans people amongst a hoard of cisgendered folks thinking that they understand transness because they put on a dress for the night? I was unsure if I would attend until I confirmed that I could arrive in style with another local trans person. She is friends with the benefactee of the party and tried to assure me it would be a good time. I was pretty sure it would be, knowing a couple of the DJs and having attended parties at this place in the past.

We arrived early and found our selves through the space. The barn loft dance floor had been beautifully decorated in a manner that was very reflective of the cause, flowing red and pink fabrics, fastened along the peak of the roof and draping down labially. Eventually the party started to fill up and each of the 5 or so out trans folks at the party along with a couple friends and partners took turns collecting cash at the door. The party turned a decent profit, but that is not really what this whole post is getting to.

Alfred Kinsey said that what he found from his research was that approximately 10 percent of people are 100% straight, fully woman identified women who are attracted solely to 100% man identified men and vice versa. 10% of people fell at the other end of his 6 point scale, being 100% gay. I would like to propose that this scale and perception of the human population could also be applied to displays of rude ignorance. There were a couple people doing a really good job of saying inappropriate things, a couple people calling them out, holding ground or otherwise dealing, and then the other 80% of people were somewhere in the middle. Not offensive, but maybe also not even noticing. For those 80% I write this. For those of you who aren't doing the work of noticing and addressing this sort of thing, or maybe you notice, but you use your passing privilege to let it be someone else's struggle. Because those who are doing the standing up, well we know. And that other 10%, I don't have the time or energy to devote any of my free time to attempting to educate you anymore than I already do. And did last weekend.

longest intro... but here we go....
I was standing out by the fire when a woman complimented my facial hair. I have 2 little tufts that grow long from my chin. I responded, thanking her.
Upon hearing my voice she retracted her complement by saying, "oh, I thought you were a girl dressed up as a boy."
I responded, "no, I'm neither, dressed up as neither"
She continues, "oh!? are you a hermaphrodite?"
I glare at her and tell her that she is being rude and that word is probably not one she should use. I give her the term intersex and briefly explain the relationship between intersex people, identities and medicalization that has led the H word to fall from favour. *already more than she deserved, but I allowed myself to turn on my educator brain, thinking that it would be a part of my contribution to the cause we were raising funds and awareness around. If people were going to attend a SRS surgery fundraiser a little bit of trans education may be in their best interest to prevent hurting or offending someone else. I stepped up to the plate and turned on my teacher hat.
She listens. Scoffs and mutters something along the lines of, "oh well, how ever is anyone supposed to keep up with all of this people changing words and stuff anyway." then turns to me and asks, "so are you intersex then?"
I retort by asking the measurements and dimensions of her clit and labia.
She finds this offensive. HA! And tries to argue that that is totally different.
I inform her that it isn't. I give her a brief run down of the wide spectrum of intersex conditions, some that display visible at birth, some that show up at puberty, and some that never do. I explain the criteria that would lead to an intersex diagnosis at birth, namely the size/shape/appearance of ones genitals. So, not in fact that different than asking a woman the size of her clit, would be asking someone if they are intersex.
She pushed on, demanding that there must be some polite way to ask. I ensured her that there wasn't. That asking about the size, shape, surgical status or reproductive viability of someone's genitals is and always will be inappropriate.
I proceeded to give her definitions to the terms trans*, transsexual (the identity, not the orientation, she wasn't ready for that), and transgender. I gave her a piece of advice around asking about someones' pronoun preference and told her that if she stuck to that as her invasive question that she may find her self being trusted and respected more than with her original attempt.
She said that being at a gender bender party was confusing for her because she didn't know where the men were or who she should be attracted to. I didn't even go there. I hope that maybe later, if she remembers any part of that conversation she might realize that was a moment of acknowledging her privilege. A moment where she was given a lot of patient attention from someone who could've just told her to fuck off and suck my clit, for whom the world contains that type of confusion EVERY DAY. Who may be attracted to a neither, dressing as a neither? Will it be gay men? Dykes? straight people (not to mention the self identity crisis processing that can come with that)? pre-post-non op trans people? Who am I "supposed" to be attracted to? And what does that even mean in a world that may not have words, let alone understanding or compassion for me?
So for the 80% of you in the middle. Maybe you are unaware. Or unsure of what you could do. Maybe you hear these conversations happening and they make you feel uncomfortable too. I ask you this. Next time you see or hear this type of thing going on, try to make eye contact with me, or the person playing the role of me in this scenario. If it seems at all reasonable, chime in, suggest some alternate routes that people can take to learning this stuff that doesn't involve pulling the people who live in the position of the oppressed to educate their oppressors. Maybe after this has happened you wanna try and track me down and check in, give appreciations, or offer a hug or a smoke. Or maybe you want to throw together a little circle of people working in solidarity, people striving to being allies. You could process this shit with each other and it would take a big weight off of folks who would really just need to dance without having to worry about this.