Friday, August 1, 2014

Bea*lin I(vii): Privilege Hurts

Yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too well, so I spent most of the day at home. I didn’t bother changing out of the clothes I had worn the previous day, nor showering, nor putting on makeup, nor even shaving.

When in the evening I finally required a brief walk to relieve the stir-craziness I had by that time developed, I left wearing a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. To anyone I passed, I did not pass. For all intents and purposes—in the eyes of others—I was a man. The stubble made sure of that.

* * *

A few days ago I wrote the Personal Statement for my Fulbright application. I wrote of being an activist in every facet of my life: my art, my academia, myself. In 691 words, I described my existence as a perpetual cry to arms, a rousing rally to defeat both bureaucratic and interpersonal injustice.

I felt good after I wrote it, bolstered by the remainders of what I have accomplished over the past ten months since coming out and inspired by the prospect of accomplishments to come.

But I have grown exhausted. Even in the infinitely safer and more accepting city of Berlin, the accumulated weight of tensing up on trains, on the street, in clubs, in cafes—in anywhere that is not a queer space or home (which is a queer space, since it is my home)—hangs heavy around my neck, and part of me wants to go back to when all of this was easier.

The prevalence with which privilege expresses itself is remarkable. For those of you who have remained in the same identity categories throughout your lives, allow me to illuminate, beginning with a little history of identity:
  1. I was socialized as a white, Christian, Democratic, heterosexual man.
  2. I am still white and Christian and Democratic but I am neither heterosexual nor a man.
  3. I thought I was a bisexual man for a few months, followed by
  4. a gay man for nearly five years, before finally settling last October on
  5. a queer translady.
Since sexuality is not physically visible in the way that gender and race are, it was not until my most recent coming out that I finally noted a significant drop in privilege: where once I could walk and only hope to arrive on time, I now walk and hope to arrive on time and to not be accosted along the way, nor beaten, nor raped, nor murdered.

It isn’t that the danger is always so real and present, necessarily, but when the media saturates me with images of my dead and broken sisters—only two days ago, a 24-year-old man stabbed a 15-year-old transgender girl in the back on a public train in Washington, D.C. at 4:30 in the afternoon; in June, another transgender woman in Washington, D.C. was stabbed as many as 40 times in an abandoned house by a man whose sexual advances she had earlier refused; even in Seattle, the supposedly most-LGBT friendly city in the US and where I for one would like to live, two women attacked a transgender women on June 11 at 2 in the morning—it is hard to not live in a constant state of expectation.

* * *

Once last year, while still living as a gay man, a white, Jewish, Democratic, heterosexual, cisgender woman friend of mine messaged me on Gchat: did I want to go see a show with her in the city that night? I did, but could not.

“That’s okay, I guess I won’t go either,” she said.

“No, you should go!” I insisted. “Go on adventures and have fun!”

But she didn’t feel safe riding the CTA home alone that late.

“It’ll be fine,” I maintained. “I’ve been riding the CTA my whole life, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

What I had failed to realize during this incident was the vastly different experience of riding a train as a feminine-presenting person and a masculine-presenting person. On the days that I have showered and shaved and am wearing a dress and makeup and maybe even passing, to some people, instead of those delightful “What ARE you?” remarks I now encounter leers and winks and suggestive mumblings.

So last night, when I left the apartment feeling stir-crazy and still slightly sick, I left presenting a masculine appearance, not because it is who I am, but because for once, I wanted to remember what it felt like to be at relative ease while walking down the street. I wanted to remember how much nicer it sounded to refer to Andrew and me as “brothers” and not as “siblings,” or not feeling incomplete for leaving the house in the morning without makeup, or only hating loud and obnoxious heteronormative cismen because that was who they were but not because they posed a physical threat, or how it felt to not be looked at a second, third time by what feels like everyone, or how it felt to feel at least kind of attractive to myself and possibly to others and not only kind of attractive to myself and definitely not to anyone else.

I wanted my privilege back.

* * *

This afternoon I was hanging out with my best friend here in Berlin, a really cool trans guy I’ve known for all of 10 days. We were commiserating about all of the things that are now impossible or at the very least very difficult since coming out as trans people (how can we feel sexy? how can we travel?). After a lot of discussion we didn’t really reach any conclusions. Maybe there are none to be had yet.

For a non-medically transitioned trans person like me, I have the unique ability to de-transition at point I want; I just have to change clothes, wash off the makeup, and butch it up a bit. At times I use that ability for safety’s sake, as I will when I go travelling in a few weeks. At first I felt guilty about making use of that, like I was betraying my sisters, but as a good queer friend once said to me,
Sometimes we have to prioritize self-care over the queer cause. (I believe that whatever choice most helps a queer live their life is generally most beneficial to the queer cause in the long run anyhow.)
So for now, I will try to take it one day at a time. I will remember to take care of myself and not only of my activism. 

And for the days that get hard, of which there are many, I will seek out my sisters, and my brothers as well, for they are my queer spaces, and they are my home, and because Lord knows it's too much to get through alone.

* * *

After talking, my friend and I played speedminton.  
I wasn't very good, but it was fun.  

They haven't robbed us of everything.

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