If you follow me on Twitter, you briefly saw some of this last night, but I didn’t include any details. So let me tell you about my day yesterday…
I’ll start at the beginning of my day. As many of you are aware, my wife and I are moving soon and trying to get all ready for that. Part of this has involved many phone calls. Almost without exception, using the phone is a high anxiety thing for me. I’ve never much liked the phone, it just makes me really uncomfortable, but since transitioning it’s a whole new level of torture…panic-attack inducing, even. Because of my voice, I get misgendered almost 100% of the time. Even after correcting the person on the other end of the line, they often still can’t grasp calling me “ma’am” instead of “sir.” You’d think knowing my name is Amelia would be enough, but it never seems to be.
Like I said, I’ve had to make a ton of phone calls for things like closing our utility accounts here, opening accounts there, parking permits, the moving truck, and all that other fun stuff that comes with moving. All of the accounts here are in my name and I generally manage our finances so it makes sense to keep them that way. Unfortunately, that means I have to be the one to call and, even more unfortunately, the accounts I’m closing are all under my birth name since they were opened prior to transitioning. So this requires having to pretend to be old me and put up with the misgendering.
Yesterday morning, I had to make about six different phone calls in the morning and it took a lot out of me emotionally to have to deal with it it all. By the end of the day, I was just barely starting to shake it off, but I was having a serious “I look like a dude” kind of day so I still wasn’t in the best of shape. I left work a few minutes early so I could catch an earlier train and I made it just in time to grab a seat on what became a standing-room only train.
Sitting on the train, already hating myself and feeling like I really stood out as a freak (which is not how I typically feel), I took out my phone to entertain myself, as I normally do. I caught up on Twitter and then moved over to Tumblr before finally getting to Facebook. As I was scrolling through Facebook, I got to some photos from my friend’s wedding shower last month. There were a good 200 of them, but I was running low on stuff to look at so I decided to flick through them all. Of the 200, only a handful had me in them, which is a good thing, but as I got to each photo I was in, I felt more and more horrible about myself. I know I’m not very photogenic–before you decide to tell me otherwise, realize that the selfies I post are usually the result of more than a dozen takes, editing in two different apps, and then double-filtered–but these were exceptionally bad. As I looked at them, I couldn’t see a woman in there at all. The only thing I could see was “the man I used to be.” This piled onto how I already felt about myself for the day and really kicked me in the ladyballs. I felt hideous and freakish and horribly dysphoric. I wanted to curl up in a ball and die. The whole thing put me into a nice suicidally depressed state.
The next part requires a little backstory…most days, my wife drops me off at the train station closest to our house. There isn’t really a good parking option for that station so it just makes sense to do it this way. Less headaches. However, my wife had a work trip followed by a personal trip that resulted in her not being able to drive me for the last four days, leaving me to have to drive myself to the station. Since the parking isn’t great there, I drove up to the next station where there is parking…sort of. For about a half mile radius around the train station, the streets are all resident-only parking and permits are required. However, if you’re willing to walk, there are no permits required beyond that. These are all residential streets so you’re awkwardly parking in front of random houses, but people do it. I don’t make a habit of it because I know I would be highly annoyed about people doing it if I lived there, but my options were limited and it was just for four days. The first three days were completely fine and there were no issues other than getting a serious death stare from the guy who lives in the first house outside of the permit zone.
Yesterday was different though. I got off the train, feeling nearly suicidally depressed, dysphoric, and self-hating, but I was still in enough control of my emotions to know it’d pass and I’d be fine. Barely. As I got close to my car, I saw an old Chinese man yelling at a young man. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could figure it out. The younger man was parked in front of the same house as I was, two cars up. I figured “great, now this guy is going to fuck with me.” I was right.
As I got up to my car, the old man came over to me and started screaming at me about parking there. He was obviously very upset, but he was also clearly a first-generation American and spoke very little English. If I could guess, his vocabulary must have been only a couple hundred words. I felt a bit bad for him, at first, with how much he was struggling to communicate and that he couldn’t understand what I was saying.
I didn’t want to get into it with him. I’m a transgender woman and it was dark out now and I was alone. While I consider the area to be reasonably safe, I was already in a very compromised emotional state and red flags for my safety started going up as I quickly thought of all the bad places this could end up going.
I ignored him and got in my car. I already had my keys in my hand so I started up and tried to make a quick getaway. Unfortunately, he crossed right in front of my car and wouldn’t move. He leaned up against my car while screaming at me and blocked any attempt for me to leave. I tried to back up, but there wasn’t enough room to back out of the spot.
I rolled down the window and screamed at him to get off of my car and let me leave, but he refused and continued to lean up against it and pound his hand on it.
I was being kept there against my will and being verbally assaulted. I felt terrified and alone.
He screamed that he was going to call the police and report me for parking there. I tried to explain to him that this street was not a permit parking street and anyone could park there. I also tried to explain that I understood where he was coming from, but I had done nothing wrong. He couldn’t understand me, but got in my face screaming at me and continued to physically block my ability to leave. I then tried to explain to him that what he was doing was assault and the police, which he had called, were going to arrest him and I would press charges. He didn’t seem to fully understand and was undeterred.
At this point, the younger man he was originally yelling at came back. He had moved his car down the street so the older man couldn’t block him and then walked back up to try to help me.
At first, I was glad that he was back to help. But then, he started with the misgendering. He kept calling me “man” and “he” even after I asked him not to. Eventually, after the fourth or fifth time, I took a stand against him and said “stop calling me he and man. I am a woman.”
Now, I felt even more scared. I had this younger man who was trying to help me, but was actually attacking me verbally without even realizing it. All I wanted was to go home and escape this, but I was being physically blocked from moving my car and stuck standing between the two of them. I had one man screaming at me about my car and the other one stripping me of my identity with no real way to escape. I knew if I just walked or ran away, the younger man wouldn’t stop me, but I couldn’t even do that. At this point, my car was half in the middle the street and couldn’t be left where it was. If it was, it would have been towed for blocking the street. And I couldn’t risk possibly running over this older man. Any action on my part could have only made my situation even worse.
At one point, some neighbors came out and tried to reason with the man, he wouldn’t listen. They quickly gave up after telling him he was going to get arrested, but I feared other neighbors who might turn on me coming out as well.
There was nothing I could do except wait for the cops to get there, which was yet another terrifying element of this. The police are rarely kind to trans folk. In most cases, they cannot be trusted to treat us with respect and humanity. In the worst cases, they assault us even further. There is good reason why trans people don’t trust the police and often don’t report things to them. It’s actually safer not to.
I had no idea what was going to happen with the police. I knew I was not, in any way, in the wrong, but there was no way for me to know if the police were going to essentially punish me for being trans.
The younger man asked me if I wanted him to stay and, despite being repeatedly misgendered by him, that seemed like the better option. He didn’t quite seem to understand my level of being upset and tried to calm me down a little. Eventually, knowing he was not a threat to my physical safety, I said “look, you don’t understand how terrifying it is to be kept somewhere against your will, especially as a transgender women.” I immediately regretted saying that last part. I wanted to somehow convey why this was such a big deal to me and why I was not able to keep my cool, but I wish I hadn’t.
This is where things became invasive. He asked me if this is my real voice. I said it was and he followed up asking me if I had some sort of a procedure done on it. I was mortified. What? Why was he asking about my voice?! Then it hit me, he thought I was a transgender man and was questioning how my voice was so deep. He thought I was “born a woman and wanted to be a man,” to use the words he ended up saying a few seconds later. I corrected him with my standard “when I was born, the doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ I disagree.”
He sort of half apologized, but then started asking me more questions about my being trans and said things like “you think and feel like you’re a woman, okay. I get it.” This felt like the only part of my day I could push back against so I stood firm here. I said “I don’t think I am a woman. I AM a woman.” I asked him to tell me what makes him a man without mentioning anything physical. When he replied with basically “I don’t know, I just am,” I quickly said “that’s how I feel about being a woman. I just am.” He finally seemed to get it and the tensions dropped a bit on that front. He asked my name and, after I told him, he said it was his sister’s name. I felt like I had at least won one of my battles for the day, but I wasn’t unscathed by it. It’s kind of like a “you should see the other guy” situation.
Meanwhile, the older man is still blocking my car and yelling at me about the cops coming. I was still being held there against my will. I was still terrified of other neighbors who may end up being violent against me for being transgender. And I was still scared of what was going to happen when the police got there.
Eventually, the cops showed up. I was relieved to see it was two female cops. This doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be okay, but it’s a big step in the safer direction. The younger man walked over and quickly explained what happened and the cops told us both to leave and called the older man over to explain that he was wrong and couldn’t do what he was doing.
I could have stayed and decided to press charges against the older man and, despite the fact that he was an upset old man who didn’t speak English, I probably should have. But I needed to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to deal with the cops. I didn’t want to risk it getting worse for me.
I cried most of the way home. When I walked into the house, I went straight upstairs and curled up in a ball on the bed…which had no sheets on it and had just been sprayed with flea killer stuff.
This could have been a lot worse. I wasn’t physically hit, no hands were placed upon me. The assault part had nothing to do with me being trans. I was able to eventually leave physically unharmed.
But my day yesterday is a perfect example of how our society is not trans-friendly. Being trans means being constantly under attack from every angle. Right from the beginning yesterday, my very identity was under attack. I had my gender and who I am stripped from me. I was forced to explain my very existence to a stranger. I tore myself down to a near suicidal level simply because I’ve been conditioned by our society to pick apart my appearance. And it’s not just the way all women pick themselves apart because of the unfair standards placed on us. That’s a good day for me. This was picking apart a large and important part of who I am. It wasn’t “am I pretty enough,” it was “do I even look like a woman?”
Misgendering someone is an assault on them. It’s emotionally and mentally destroying. On its own, being held against my will wasn’t the worst part of my day. Without all the other stuff, if I wasn’t trans, I could have handled this situation much better. I wouldn’t have feared for my safety. I wouldn’t have feared the cops. I wouldn’t have gone home in tears and felt violated. But, as a trans person, this was my nightmare. I had no real escape plan. The control over my safety and my situation was taken from me, along with my identity, at a time when my emotional and mental state was already compromised.
Under normal circumstances, I don’t allow myself into situations where my safety is at risk with no clear exit plan. I am constantly aware of my surroundings and how to escape if needed. When I walk down the street alone, I am unapproachable. I make myself cold and uninviting. I keep a straight face with no emotion. I keep my stare focused and aimed down the street. Sometimes, I keep headphones on with either no music or the volume low so as to discourage interaction with me. But I am always listening to everything going on around me. I am watching everything.
The simple state of being transgender and being oneself means a being constantly under attack and constantly torn down. It is terrifying.