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Further Out at School – Awkward Conversation with a Cis Person

June 25, 2009

Today, out of the blue, a schoolmate –let’s call her Q– began asking me about my gender identity. She started out by asking if my legal name bothered me, and was really surprised when I said that it does bug me a LOT. I was relieved that she asked: recently I’ve been dreading school, even if I do love certain classes, because it’s so tiresome to be called, over and over again, by a name that doesn’t fit (except by my friends, who try to respect my name and pronouns).

I think all my classmates know that I’m trans, but they probably don’t understand what that even means; I imagine that they think of me as a weird faggysuperbutch dyke with a “special” name she likes to call herself. True, I’ve never spoken directly to them about my identity; I felt stuck in a limbo where it didn’t make sense to come out –everyone already knew– but I wasn’t out enough to improve my life, either.

There were another two classmates present during my conversation with Q, and one of them promised to call me by my male name; she hadn’t realized that my female name hurt me (the other person pretended he wasn’t there; it was a pretty awkward situation). Maybe I could have gotten out of that limbo earlier had I told people directly that I was changing my name, but I don’t know how I would have done it. It’s hard to deal with people who aren’t exactly friends, but with whom you interact daily.

Then the conversation turned towards inappropiate and intrusive areas.
“You like girls, right?”
“Do you want to get surgery?”
“Are you like those men who are born with boobs and girl parts?” — I answered “yes” to this at first but then I realized she wanted to know if I was intersex; although she didn’t actually know that word. And I know that some cis men develop breasts, but I doubt they are BORN with them.

I was caught off guard so I answered kind of incoherently. I feel a little frustrated because I tried to explain things in a way she could relate to instead of telling her that, in my opinion, body doesn’t determine gender (or vice versa). I know it isn’t my obligation to teach cis people about trans issues, but sometimes I like trying to open someone’s mind to another point of view. I also wish I had retorted something like “do you like girls? do you want surgery? are you hitting on me?”

I am improving in the way I handle this kind of situation. I managed to deflect these questions somewhat, instead of answering personally: I said that who you are is different from who you’re attracted to, and that some trans people want surgery but not all of them, and that it’s a tough decision. Now that I think about it, I’m happy with how I reacted, given the surprise situation; and I think I’ll be more prepared next time. And I hope people at school start respecting my identity.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2009 11:52 am

    It´s very hard to answer to these conversations impromptu, you did quite well.

    I’m always torn between answering well-meaning but intrusive questions from acquaintances, and telling them it’s private. The thing is, I’ve acted as an educator within the activist-feminist community here in Dublin, and as such i am totally out and I do give people details. But I need to stress that I do this voluntarily and it should not be expected.

    Many of these situations are simply hard to navigate, so struggling with them makes sense. And some people will never ‘get it’, sadly.

    ariel

  2. genderkid permalink*
    June 26, 2009 6:40 pm

    Oops, I accidentally deleted Luke’s comment — it went like this:

    “Those situations are always tough ones. I found when I was living in a small community, balancing my private and public lives/selves was always the hardest part. I wanted to be out and for everyone to use the right name and pronouns, but at the same time I didn’t feel obligated or feel it was necessary to tell people I wasn’t connected to.

    I think it’s important to answer peoples’ questions (of course trans people aren’t obligated to educate all of those who have questions), but hopefully we can slowly rid of misunderstandings and biases through these conversations. I think some people don’t understand what’s inappropriate to ask because they are so curious – I normally ask people if they would ask a non-trans/cis person the same question (i.e. would you ask a non-trans person about their genitals?). Of course we don’t have to answer every question people ask us, or we can choose to answer it in a general manner.

    Have you thought about posting something about trans etiquette (have you already?) or spreading this kind of information at your school? I just posted a little something on etiquette, which I actually ended up writing for my school paper and had it published in there. Just a thought! Peace”

  3. karak permalink
    June 29, 2009 12:33 pm

    Don’t forget you always have the right to shut a conversation down, for whatever reason.

    “You know, I feel awkward talking about my private life like this.”

    “I don’t think this is a good/time forum to answer all of your questions. Why don’t you go to XXXXX website?”

    And don’t forget, “You know, if someone asked you some of these personal questions, I think it would hurt your feelings/feel invasive. It hurts my feelings/feels invasive too.”

    And remember: people do not have the RIGHT to be rude to you. They do not have the RIGHT to know everything about you. They do not have the RIGHT to make you uncomfortable.

    YOU have the right to expect courtesy. YOU have the right to privacy. And YOU have the right to feel safe and comfortable.

    But if you do want to be an educator, honestly, the best policy is to rehearse the important four or five top talking points about being trans in general and you in particular. Make each one a sentence or two that is short and sweet to get your point across. Rehearse in it a mirror and to your friends. Keep it updated.

    Good luck!

  4. July 2, 2009 11:29 pm

    Yes, it is complicated to educate others even as self discover is unfolding day by day…..You are rare and special; gifts come not just pain. Wishing you well from Hawaii! Aloha-

  5. July 6, 2009 2:18 pm

    wow, dude. you’re amazing. your awareness of the complexities of gender and body are spot on, and the fact that you resisted the urge to be combative when faced with a kind of ignorance is damned mature. i didn’t manage it in high school, that’s for sure. hell, i can barely manage it now, and i’m 23.
    a part of me feels as you mentioned, that it shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate everyone about the hows and whys of our differences. but another part of me knows that if i don’t speak for myself and my experience, others will and they will not be as understanding. so as much as it shouldn’t be so much work, keep it up! your voice even here on this blog can act as a community builder and an educational tool for those seeking self-representation.
    and TOTALLY read foucault. his sentences are a minefield, but read it slow, chew on the language, and you’ll get it. he’s a good intro to critical thought in general.

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