A long time ago, I was talking with a local lesbian therapist who identified as an ally of transpeople who would use the pronoun he when reffering to me.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t really care what you think of me. I mean, you know that I have obligations where I choose to not push woman presentation, and your experience of me may be whatever it is.
“But if you want to be an ally of transpeople, you have to refer to me as ‘she.’ Otherwise, you aren’t opening the space where there is a possibility of transformation beyond biology & expectation, where people are who they really are in their hearts, not just what they are in their panties. You have to make it clear that you believe who people express themselves to be through their choices has real meaning, even if they have a history of expectation that it is hard to overcome.
“It’s not what you think about me. It’s about your committment to the idea that what one “always is” is not what was written on them by the world, but rather is what their creator placed in their heart, no matter how hard a struggle it may be to manifest that in the world.”
She shot me a look and changed the subject.
A few weeks later, she spoke to me. We had been stuffing envelopes at the local G&L center, and one of the women had referred to me as “he.”
“When Barbara called you ‘he,’ I realized that the reason she did that was because I call you ‘he,'” she said. “I got what you were saying a few weeks ago, that my words count, and to support you, I need to open the space rather than just convey my shorthand.”
When someone reduces me to just a “guy-in-a-dress” rather than a transwoman, it feels like it did all those years when people pinned me into a box. It feels like my world, my bubble of self-expression is caving in.
Transpeople have all sorts of ways to deal with this. Some of us just stay locked to the heterosexist duality, staying firmly a “guy-in-a-dress” or a “butch woman.” Others try to change the apparent sex of our body with hormones and surgery so that our passing distance is much more close up. And many of us just find a way to carve out our own bubble in which we can stay isolated.
And then, of course, there are the Classic Six defense strategies: Concede, Conceal, Confront, Convert, Clown, Calm.
I have lived my life like a miner, always being ready for a cave in. My bubble of Safe Space (God, I wrote that 12 years ago) just still isn’t that strong. It keeps collapsing, keeps prolapsing, slipping down and away.
And until there are many more allies, it doesn’t feel like things will change.