By Alok Vaid-Menon
September 16, 2015
Today was a hard day. I was street harassed and ridiculed by men, women, and children just for simply existing in public. And I’m sitting at home feeling awful and doing what I always do when I feel disposable: writing.
I think we’re in this really terrible moment right now where the alleged “trans tipping point” only allows us to share our narratives of triumph, of victory, of strength, of resilience as if we are supposed to endure all of the hardship we go through and emerge with a smile on our face. Never forget: the only space that trans femmes have in our culture is to entertain the very people who will turn away the minute we step off their stage.
This is what transmisogyny looks like: to not only have to go to hell and back for doing something so simple as living as who we are, but to also have to shut up about the rage and hurt and be grateful that anyone would have the audacity to believe us (let alone desire us). We’re in a moment where your gender is understood only by what you look like and not who you are. Where people fixate on our clothing, our genitalia, our makeup but never our politics, our stories, our art, our ideas. We’re in a moment where we are required to be models or fabulous, sexy, and “strong” in order to have people take us seriously (aka until we can become inspirational models of “authenticity” and “perseverance” for others even though they never actually lent a helping hand while we were struggling in the first place).
We’re in a moment where we are must describe explicit accounts of the ways we have been harmed in order to garner enough sympathy to be recognized for who we are. Our self-identification requires the empathy of others because we are not allowed to own our experiences. They belong to the anxieties, the fears, the projections, the fantasies of the very people who taunt us. And you learn early on that not only do they control your body, they control the language. So when we try to defend ourselves our screams are read as silence. How are you supposed to experience pain when you do not have a body? How are you supposed to be hurt when you do not exist? How are you supposed to heal when they don’t even acknowledge your pain?
And when we do talk about how hard it is they tell us that we are “strong,” and “powerful,” and they throw us adjective after adjective but we learn from a young age that there is a difference between a “word” and “shield.” We learn from a young age that loving ourselves does not keep us safe – that in fact it ends up hurting us more. I am most terrified on the days I feel most beautiful. I am terrified most on the days I feel most beautiful. So sometimes you wear men’s clothes just so you don’t have to look behind your back but then they call you a man again and you think to yourself that it’s almost as if they want you to be harassed so that they can just erase you again – that there is some sort of perverse pleasure in simultaneously witnessing and erasing your pain.
Misgendering is not a moment, it’s a structure. It’s a condition. It’s a worldview. It’s having to wake up and not only be erased out of language, out of history, out of family, out of queer life, out of trans representation, of media, of movements, of public space. It’s to experience constant and relentless denial of our humanity. It’s about men, women, and children saying “What the fuck is that?” It’s about that man at the restaurant who came up to you and asked if you were wearing a Halloween costume that day you decided to wear a beard and a skirt. It’s about all of the cis women who gawk at you and touch you without your consent and refuse to acknowledge that you designed their dresses, you made their makeup, you built femme with your back (and are still bruised from it). It’s about all of the trans women who tell you to shave and take hormones to look more real. But what is reality in a world that tells you that you do not exist?
Why is the onus always on the individual and never the system? We cannot love ourselves out of structural oppression. Why are we expected to be brave for being ourselves? We cannot live our truth in a world that regards us as science fiction.
We should not have to approximate cis and white and binary standards of gender and beauty to be safe. We should not have to “pass” in order to get home without being followed, or spat on, or worse. What if we are never going to look like women or men? That means that the harassment doesn’t stop. There is no before or after there is just the terror. There is no before or after there is just the terror.
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