Here’s what I wish people with the privilege of heteronormativity knew about being subjected to cissexism:
The short version? It’s messy and no, you don’t need to understand it. Just stop doing and saying hateful things, try treating queer and trans folks with compassion and dignity, and limit your stupid questions to the appropriate time and place.
It is seriously not that hard.
As for the long version… Buckle up, this is going to be a bit of a ride.
Human gender and sexuality is messy. Even I, a queer trans woman with trans, queer, and gender nonconforming friends, can’t fully wrap my mind around some of the complexities of the gender identities and expressions of the people I care about. Considering this is my lived experience and these are people I know fairly well, and yet there is still a point where I don’t get it, what exactly makes it so that you, cisgender people, think you have a chance at figuring it out? Just accept that the person best equipped to figure it out is a person living their individual truth.
We are all in process and sometimes the answer that was true last week is false this week which in no way invalidates that answer. It’s messy and you do not need to understand it.
Let’s assume you’ve got that. How does a person help and be supportive from a place of not getting it?
How about not remaining silent about all the trans people murdered every year whose deaths are written off as suicides. Or not accepting discriminatory policies because changing them is “above your pay grade.” Even simpler, ask about pronouns, then use the person’s preferred pronoun. And don’t make a thing out of it if it changes. Offer to “stand guard” in or just outside of public restrooms. Clean up your language. In fact, a great place to start is completely erasing the following from your vocabulary:
tranny, faggot, chick with a dick, dude in a dress, bearded lady, freak, sissy, poor confused kid, disgusting sinner, whore, girly man (other queer and trans people may add other stuff to this list; the above reflects my experience)
Please note that everything I’ve mentioned does not require any understanding; it’s all stuff you can just do. If you happen to still be confused on this point, I’ll make it even simpler. If you think it might be hurtful, shut up! Then ask for clarity in private later.
When you screw up, just take the correction and move on. It’s not the end of the world if you get a pronoun wrong. I sympathize with it being messy and you not getting it. Keep in mind that unless it is 12:01 AM and I just woke up, odds are you are not the first, second, third, or even dozenth person I’ve corrected today. I have more important things to do than ruffling the feathers of your delicate heteronormative cisgender ego. If I stopped to make every person feel okay after they’ve gotten my pronoun wrong, then I would get literally nothing done.
Again, I realize you don’t get it, this is why I am only asking you to try and when you skew up, don’t waste my time. Just do better next time. Eventually it will become a habit and won’t be a problem anymore.
Speaking of wasting my time, if I’m working, or in class, or otherwise obviously busy, that is not the time or place for asking your stupid questions. And yes, they are stupid questions. The one thing all ignorant people have in common is a refusal to admit that they have stupid questions. Only smart people admit to having stupid questions and go looking for answers. Furthermore, considerate smart people look for the proper time and place to ask their stupid questions.
Which looks something like this:
– Cis person: Hey Amber, I’d like to ask you something.
– Me: K, ’bout what?
– Cis person: I have some stupid questions about the whole transgender thing.
– Me: Oh, sure. Tomorrow afternoon work for you?
– Cis person: Yeah, tomorrow afternoon works.
Simple, straightforward, didn’t waste anyone’s time? Almost as if we were treating each other with dignity and compassion. (*gasp!*)
Yes it’s messy and honestly at times even flabbergasts queer trans folk like myself, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Think about it. What if when you closed your eyes and imagined yourself, the self you pictured was fundamentally different than the self you see in the mirror? That would be a little confusing at first. So then after a bunch of soul searching you come to an answer. It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s close.
Then you share that answer with family and friends and people really important to you, and they tell you, “you’re confused.”
You reply, “but I’m not confused. I was confused but now I’m not.”
And get banished.
So you start living that answer, exploring that answer, really understanding that answer, to become the punch line for half the jokes at the nearest frat party.
So don’t tell me you get it. I’m living this life and I barely get it, sometimes, on occasion, if I’m lucky. It’s messy. Accept it and let’s move on.