A Vignette: Misgendering in Exchange for Queer Visibility

Scene: Me, buying lunch. As I struggle to pull my card out of my wallet (it’s kind of jammed in there), I am aware of the cashier watching my face in a subtle, yet noticeable way. I glance up and notice she’s got a little bit of a smile. I feel weird – why is she looking at me? What does she see? At least she’s smiling?

Then she asks: Would you like a bag, miss?

Really? I frown and look down to pick up my food, and say in my deepest voice: “No thank you” and walk away.

While this was confusing and upsetting for me, it doesn’t have the same impact that it used to back when *everyone* misgendered me all the time. Today, I am in a new workplace around a lot of new people who – as far as I am aware – consistently read me as male, who don’t even know that I am trans. There’s something extra validating about this that feels different from interacting with people who knew me before. That raw, vulnerable place of constantly bracing to be misgendered, of trying desperately to hold space for my whole self when no one else was helping me, when every missed pronoun pressed against me like a straightjacket, is now insulated, safer, even if I still feel on edge a lot, even as I still need time to heal and adjust to this new reality.

I wondered what it was that caused her to miscalculate my gender. Then I remembered that the people most likely to read me (incorrectly) as female are those who are most familiar with usually queer, masculine women. To read me (incorrectly) as female is to see me as really gender non-conforming and probably queer. Then I remembered how she was watching my face and smiling a little bit. Perhaps she was queer, too, and happy to see another queer person in an otherwise heteronormative space. I am choosing to believe that this is what happened, and I think I can be ok with that. As more people see me as male (and presume I’m cisgender), my queer visibility is lost. Exchanging misgendering for a snatch of queer visibility seems like a livable trade every now and again.

Before I finish, I’d like to note that it is a privilege that I am being read correctly most of the time now. Not all trans* folks get that privilege – many will never have it. This is never far from my mind.

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One Response to A Vignette: Misgendering in Exchange for Queer Visibility

  1. jzaleski84 says:

    I had issues with this from the other end. I worked as a server and hostess at a restaurant near a university where they pressured you to seem more personal with customers (Ma’am, Sir, Miss was only the beginning). No only was I uncomfortable but there was so much potential to make others uncomfortable.

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