A cisgender female co-worker recently said to me that, “Real women have vaginas.” Putting the insensitivity of saying this to a trans-feminine person aside, this statement is problematic for obvious reasons, and is personally frustrating for other, not so obvious reasons. Very basely, this statement obviously invalidates the identities of pre-op and non-op trans women, who are women, regardless of their genitalia. Further, it implies that folks with vaginas are all women, regardless of how they identify. And fuck all of that.
This was an incredibly hard thing to hear in my workplace, in which i fight every day to be respected and to be seen. The communities and interactions that i choose are (mostly) affirming and positive. And when they’re not, it’s a conscious trade off i make to be involved in said communities. But, like many folks queer or not, i don’t exactly have choice in my workplace.
This statement sank into my heart and left a rock in my stomach. It hurt. Despite the fact that i know, at least academically, that gender and genitalia are not linked, this statement incited a lot of pain that my co-worker was able to walk away from and i am still carrying.
Instantly, my brain began the all too familiar process of responding to trauma. My consciousness fled my body, leaving my brain a mechanical husk, incapable of emotion or real interaction. This was the safest place for me to be. At that moment, my only other option was one of an intense breakdown and self-violence; an option that became a necessity later in the day. But at that moment, i had to work, because i had to eat.
So i spent the entirety of my shift completely vacant, lost in vaguely sad dream-space that i can’t ever quite locate. This is the same place i have gone when i’ve been attacked, mocked, hurt in myriad ways. This is a place that i’m coming to identify with my job more and more, because the frequency of deep pain inflicted is so great there.
i was reminded of my ex, who invalidated my opinions, ignored my identity, and upon breaking up with me talked about getting to be with real women. Each time i left my post to use the washroom i looked in the mirror and hated what i saw. This is not something that normally happens to me. i have waged a war in my head and on my body and am sometimes truly able to shake off social normativity and think that i am beautiful. i consider these sometimes moments to be a miraculous triumph. For me, this negativity came from the outside and pervaded each corner of my heart.
It’s been two days and i still haven’t quite shaken the odd feeling of detachment. i want to truly return to my body, but both cannot do so, and am afraid to do so because of the imposed violence that now lurks there. But what i really want to talk about is the concept of realness.
Our society has set up rigid standards for folks to trace their identities to. These standards are usually the aforementioned biological essentialism. The next tier of openness is allowing for a binary, medicalized transition. Regardless of how “accepting” these standards may be, they are still standards that don’t function for all people.
This concept of being required to meet said standards before being viewed as real is, to me, one of the most hurtful possible ramifications of normativity. i am starkly aware that i am not often seen, at least not wholly seen. My experience with the constancy of at least partial invisibility has left me both resigned to this being a fact of my existence and committed to this being the impetus of my resistance; The relative weight of each of the aforementioned shifting dependent on my general level of wellness at any given moment.
Regardless of the specific invisibility in a given interaction, some element of my identity is ignored. People conceive of me in a whole mess of ways. Some have told me how they see me, some have strongly implied, others treat me as if i were a man. In almost every interaction, some aspect of my reality is excluded.
This common social tendency to construct categories, into which things fit and become real, leaves me in an impossible quandary. Do i accept the aforementioned categories as valid? No. i don’t, truly. However, my understanding of the inapplicability of a given category in validating my sense of self is most often irrelevant to other folks’ readings of me.
i sometimes wonder if, in these types of moments, people see me as fake. And i don’t mean “fake” in the, often sexist, way of pointing to vapidity. i mean truly fake; do people see me as attempting to fit into a category in which i cannot fit? Do they consciously invalidate my identity? If they do, what internal language is used?
i tend to think that folks readings of me are not so conscious; everything i’ve learned about sociological theories of Othering suggests that this process happens on a subconscious level in society. But it is so conscious and present for me that i cannot help but wonder. i cannot help but to feel that folks must, on some level, recognize the incongruences that they seem to glaze over when interacting with me.
i don’t know how much any of this matters. But i do know that i feel real. My blood and my tears are real. The sadness of being rendered invisible feels real. What i do know is that it’d be nice if other folks started treating me as if i were real.