When I was in college, I did the sort of stupid things you do in college. Lucky for me, those were the days before cell phone cameras and the internet, so there’s very little record of my stupid stunts. Like that time I got a crew cut. Why? I barely remember. I think I bombed a test and got in a fight with my boyfriend. I wanted a change. I wanted to be swallowed up by something else. I hacked off all my hair and after I saw what a mess I’d made of it, I went to the barber shop and got the only fix that was possible: a flat top with white walls.
For the most part, this radical hair alteration didn’t produce much change in my life. Lots of people didn’t recognize me, and so I was rendered pleasantly invisible for a while. It caused a lot of laughs when people got confused by the juxtaposition of my short-short hair and my boyfriend’s hair down to his waist.
One day, it produced something a bit more menacing. A friend and I went into the Arby’s off campus to get lunch. While we waited for our food, I decided to go to the restroom. The ladies room was at the end of a long hallway, and standing outside was a man. I assumed he was waiting for his girlfriend, so I simply stepped around him and reached for the door handle.
Before I could open the door, the guy grabbed my arm and turned me around.
“Where are you going, asshole?” he said. Or maybe it was “What are you doing, asshole?” I remember the asshole part vividly, and the way he sneered at me, almost like a dog baring its teeth.
I yanked my arm away from him and answered flippantly. I was going to the restroom, if that was okay with the Arby’s bathroom police.
“That’s the girls bathroom,” he said. I remember that, too, that he said girls, like we were still in grade school.
“And I’m a girl,” I said.
For an instant, his face registered confusion, and I remembered: the stupid crew cut. He’d mistaken me for a man, or more likely, since I was scrawny and flat-chested, for a boy. After the instant of confusion passed, though, his look changed to one of disgust.
“Fucking dyke,” he said. I don’t know what else he might have said, because at that instant, the women’s restroom door opened, and his girlfriend came out.
Back at the table with my friend, I told her what had happened, and in the safety of a public space, we laughed and snuck glances at the restroom couple, who sat across the dining room from us.
I don’t think I gave it another thought, until this December, when I read this series of tweets.
It absolutely gave me the chills, imagining that moment of fear, of wondering, Am I about to be murdered because this man mistook me for the “wrong” sex? For the first time in twenty years, I thought of that afternoon outside the ladies room in Arby’s. Now that I know more about the world, I understand how dangerous that moment could have been, and how lucky I was. After all, I was safe. In my wallet, I carried a valid driver’s license that clearly stated I was female. If push came to shove, I could have proved that I possess biologically female genitals and secondary sex traits. That brief moment of confusion was just that: brief confusion. Even a “fucking dyke,” has the legal right to use the women’s restroom.
For people who exist outside the very narrow confines of what society identifies as male or female, they are risking so much more than an awkward encounter outside a fast food restroom. By chance or by choice, they may not be readily identifiable as one gender or another. In fact, they may not identify themselves as one gender or another. As a consequence, they sometimes find themselves searching back hallways of public buildings, trying to find a unisex bathroom they can use that won’t require them to prove they belong in a men’s room or a women’s room.
In public even, they are in danger from the kind of situation Yves describes. We live in a society that continues to think it’s our business how people dress or what kind of genitals they have under their clothes. We not only think we’re allowed to know these things, some people believe anyone who transgresses those sharply painted boundaries deserves to be punished.
It’s a horrific, fucked up situation, and I wish I knew what we could do to make this a better world. I have my own little list of shit I’m trying to do, and I hope more people will join in.
Respect everybody’s truth. If someone says she’s a woman and wants to use she/her pronouns, respect that. If someone says they’re gender fluid and prefer they/them pronouns, respect that. It’s no different than calling someone by their preferred name. (And if you tell me you still call Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay, I am giving you the stink eye.)
Kill your curiosity. But like, she has a penis? But what do they do in bed? Those questions are none of your business, so why even ask them? If people you know ask that kind of thing about your LGBTQIA friends, that’s the answer: None ya business. Things like that are on a need to know basis. If you ever need to know, you’ll find out. Occasions when it might become your business: if the person in question says, “Hey, I’d be interested in having sex with you.” Then that line of inquiry is open to you.
Accept that it’s not about you. Does it make you uncomfortable to go into the women’s restroom and see someone who doesn’t quite fit your idea of female? Tough shit. It’s not about you. That person is going into the bathroom that makes them feel most comfortable, because they need to pee. They’re not there for you. Does it make you uneasy that you felt an attraction toward what you thought was a woman but turned out to be a man? Get over yourself. The way he looks isn’t about you.
Demand justice for LGBTQIA victims of violence. They are over-represented in statistics on violence, especially people of color who are LGBTQIA. Their murders are often swept under the rug or ridiculed. Let’s refuse to let that happen. Let’s refuse to accept “gay panic” as a defense against murder. Let’s not allow fragile masculinity to dehumanize people.
Be open. Talk to people. Smile at people. That’s coming from an introvert, and I’m saying, when you meet somebody new, be open to them as a wholly individual person. Don’t waste time trying to put them into a category.
Post script: I don’t know @Adamant_Yves personally, but I ended up reading his timeline in the middle of New York Fashion Week. I’m an ignorant hillbilly who always thought fashion was something rich people wasted their time and money on. Reading Yves’ TL, my eyes were opened. Until that moment, I didn’t understand that fashion was art, culture, personal and social identity all bound up together. That’s what I love about Twitter. There’s so much knowledge out there being shared. There are so many people worth meeting and learning from.