Out Like a Lion Day 4: Walking in Public
Many debates around trans people are not just absurd or poorly argued, but widely misunderstood. The “debate” around our ability to use the damn bathroom that we want to (and have to for personal safety reasons) is not a debate about whether women who are women should use the women’s restroom. It is not a toilet question as much as it is a question of certain people’s abject revulsion at the sight of us.
Because trans and nonbinary people are often visibly noncomformist, visibly unable to be fitted into the straitjackets that most people accept for gender presentation, our existence in public is undeniable and disgusting to many people. The reality is that there are people who don’t ever want to see transgender people out in public enjoying life. They support measures that deny us the right to use the bathroom we want to not just because of what their paranoid minds think we might do (though we’re much more likely to be victims, especially of cops who get called on us), but because they don’t want us to exist. Either we die or we have to become like everyone else, invisible and unable to disturb their comfy little worlds.
So when I am walking out in public, I am constantly––at the back of my head––thinking that someone might recognize that I’m trans and will not like that. What will they do? Scream insults at me? Push me or hit me? Throw me on the ground? Worse? When in my life will I catch the wrong person on the wrong day at the wrong place and be “corrected” out of existence? Even in a more (and I hate this word) “tolerant” city like Toronto, where people are most likely going to leave you alone and let you be anonymous, I have heard vicious arguments and insults thrown at vulnerable people just sitting there, being visible on the subway. While walking, therefore, I have learned to be cautious and conscious of how I’m walking, what I’m wearing, and how other people perceive me at all times. This enforced self-consciousness contributes to a general haze of anxiety around me that never entirely departs.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s journal entry, gender presentation is a major way around which people in my corner of the world organize the human beings they meet every day. The most dangerous points in walking outside are when my perception of my gender and perception are misunderstood or deliberately ignored by another person. A tension begins where, though I am sure of myself and who I am, the terms I have presented are simply rejected. I walk into a subway car, and an older woman gives me a sharp look. Is it just because she’s ill-tempered? Did I step on here leashed cat? Or was it just because I’m presenting as a woman but standing about 191 centimetres tall? All of these rhetorical questions are tiring to think about, to be sure, and I’ve noticed that just being outside has been a much greater drain on my energy than before. I’ve even changed the way I walk––slightly and conditionally––in order to fit a more feminine profile. I usually walk in a more comfortable way when I’m not walking alone, however, which underlines the way in which gender presentation is often more premised on coerced social norms than free choice.
And even here, trans people are attacked by certain reactionary “feminists” who claim that we are reinforcing the very gender norms that oppress us simply because we don’t want to fight for every step we take. Clearly, we have a long way to struggle before we are able to claim our right to exist in public space without harassment. Our visibility is still controversial largely because so many people are trained from birth to react harshly to anyone who does not fit a certain mould, and I fear this will continue to be true through my lifetime.
Though at least I now look sexy going down the street.
The next three entries coming up will be:
March 15: Talking about how I perceive the media and how trans women are treated by film, games, and more.
March 16: A more abstract and thoughtful discussion about what gender really is––if it’s real at all–-and how I became more and more alienated from it.
March 17: A brief journal post on how I relate to academia, my classmates, and my professors.