So which is worse: expecting to be seen as a freak and then being surprised that no one does look at you strangely, or expecting to be seen as just another woman in the world and then being surprised that people treat you like a freak?
For me, walking through the mall, it’s the first scenario that I carry. I’m waiting for the third gotcha, and when the guy selling skincare from the cart flirts a bit, I get a bit disquieted.
For TBB, driving her motorcycle back from the ship through coastal North Carolina, it is the second, and when the women at the UPS store start talking behind her back and the clerk feels the need to slap her with a very puncuated “Thank you, SIR!” at the end of their transaction, she feels dismayed and upset.
TBB knew she had passed by Tea Party billboards, saying that America should be for true Americans, knew that the woman in front of her was jabbering on about how Chris Christie was sabotaged with the bridge scandal by those who need to destroy him to make room for that Hillary, but her expectation was for simple southern hospitality.
When she became a Fox News story plopped into the regular lives of these biddys, that felt really unfair and distressing to her. She was an object of curiosity and derision to these women, one of “them” dropped into their off the beaten track homeland.
“What can I do?” she asked me on the phone from the parking lot. “How can I tell them how rude they are, how unfair and un-American their behaviour is? How can I stand up for myself without just making things worse?”
We work so hard to be appropriate and gracious, knowing that we are pushing the boundaries even as we see other women wearing curlers or ratty clothes, showing their own messy edges because they know that no one can take their identity away from them.
Once you get treated like a freak, though, all those choices you make to assimilate suddenly seem like just a burden that you carry with no benefit. If people are going to marginalize and mock you, well, then, why not just be fucking nuts all the time, be in their faces with no work to attempt to fit in?
We do work to fit in, though, because we do want to fit in. We want to be seen, understood and valued for what we share in the world, want to give our gifts and have them accepted in the world. When we are reminded that much of the world feels it is perfectly acceptable to reject our presence, to dismiss and mock us as a freak just because we want to mail a package, that just hits us like an out-of-control Mack Truck.
There were a number of young women scientists on the last cruise and one of them caught TBB’s eye. “She was really beautiful, not drop-dead-gorgeous, but pretty, and when she smiled and you saw her warm eyes dance, then you saw how gorgeous she really was.”
TBB wanted to connect with this gal, to bring her close. “I really wanted to introduce her to my son. She just struck me as the kind of woman you would want as a daughter-in-law. I could imagine her coming to visit and handing their baby to me, smiling all the time.”
I understand that my body was assigned as male at birth, understand that we do not yet have the tools to resex a human body.
My gender, though, my knowledge of my own heart, my understanding of the world, my long journey to get clear of the behaviours imposed on me to find some real clarity and truth, well, that is honest and very hard one. When you choose to be rude enough to reduce me to my biology so I won’t challenge your divisive and self-righteous worldview, that feels bad.
For those women in the UPS store, common sense meant knee-jerk belief, staying at the first level of reaction and not questioning the world, at the second level of performer or the third level of observer. Their faith absolves them from any obligation of doubt or acceptance, never having to do the work to understand the world through the experience of someone they denigrate as an outsider.
No, it’s the freak who has to do all the work, who has to negotiate the unprocessed assumption and fears of those so grounded in their own brand of normalcy that all they have to do is satisfy each other and never care about the wider world. Their own human freakishness is gone in the shared judgment of their peers, all agreeing that people who make the choice to be different, to stand out, to stand up, well, they deserve whatever they get from nice, good, holy people.
TBB wasn’t expecting this kind of experience when she stopped into the UPS store. She was expecting to just be treated with professional courtesy as long as she stayed appropriate, not pushing the edges with her choices, staying normative and unthreatening, not demanding to be indulged but rather being grown-up.
Instead, she was cast as the freak of the day and then slapped for her choices by someone who was getting paid to offer customer service to the public.
It felt bad for her, reminded her of how unsafe it can feel to be a transperson in a world where discrimination based on biology is not only authorized by some, but is also venerated by many.
As she hung up from talking things through with me on the phone, one of the women from the store spoke to her in the parking lot.
“Your hair is so beautiful,” she said. “Is that a wig? I mean, because it doesn’t look like a w wig, but, well, it is just so beautiful. . .”
Who needs to respect a freak, a clown, when they walk into your safe zone? Who?