The other day, I attended my friend’s sixth hook suspension. She was hoisted up into euphoric bliss in a lotus position. Pictured below is moments before her euphoria reached full tilt, as she was given what is essentially an under-duck.
And that’s how I felt yesterday, reflecting on the hit of euphoria I felt (through compersion), both while I was watching her swing and spin, and again while I was going through her photos. I lost my composure just a few frames later, when I fully realized how this event hit me. I spent the entire day yesterday feeling on top of the world, excited for when I finally go up for the first time — which I am anticipating may happen some time in mid-August. She and I plan to ascend together, and from the sounds of it, this is very much almost literally possible (confirmation pending). It’s very exciting, and I was emotionally high as a kite for a full day just at the prospect of this.
And then this morning, things were different. I woke up emotionally flat, and my thoughts drifted to things that were happening prior to that suspension. Suddenly I realized that something very important happened. A woman I hadn’t seen or spoken to (not pictured above) in probably about a year showed up there. I didn’t recognize her until she secured eye contact with me and announced a very assertive “HI.” Almost immediately after I said “How’s it going?” (which, for the record, I have taken to saying to virtually everyone who only inspires small talk on my part) she remarked that my voice is so much deeper, and then openly enquired into my hormonal transition status. I’m a queer, and my politics are made more powerful in major ways because I am so consciously transparent about my personal life. As such, I instinctively answered with complete honesty, and the subject was dropped immediately. However, after stopping to think about that today while I’ve been unable to feel anything of emotional content, I suddenly feel wronged — if not for myself, for the other trans* people I know, many of whom are not so open about their genders.
Life Can Be Dangerous For Trans* People
A lot of cis people assume that everyone is cisgendered, unless a) they can “spot” the trans* in people, or b) a trans* person openly identifies themselves as such. And because being identifiable as a trans* person exposes one to a lot of risks that are not faced in nearly the same magnitude by cis people (if at all), a lot of trans* people live in stealth mode: they present themselves and live (and often experience themselves post-transition, to a greater or lesser degree) as heteronormative and basically-like-cisgendered people, except when the subject of their trans* status and experience comes up in a variety of ways (some of which are non-consensual and not okay at all, and some of which are consensual and just dandy). And there’s nothing wrong at all with stealth mode — unless the implicit privacy of stealth living is violated by, say, being outed as trans*. If the world was significantly safer for trans* people of all varieties, perhaps it wouldn’t be so important for many binary-gendered trans* people to be stealth. Unfortunately, it’s really not that safe. That’s really why there are trans* only spaces. These are some of the only safe spaces where a trans* person can be and just not worry about things like being outed, especially during their transition.
Outing can happen in an enormous number of ways, from the explicit and Beating You Over The Head With Obvious to the implicit and fucking sneaky. The conversation I had, in which the offending woman remarked about how much lower my voice is and asked me if I’m on hormones, was somewhere in between these two poles. If I were a binary-identifying individual, if I were in a totally unsafe space where it would be difficult to just get up and leave, or if I were in the company of cis men who had just been going on for an extended period of time making blatantly sexist “jokes”, it would be significantly more on the side of Beating You Over The Head With Obvious, and that’s why I’ve taken some time to stop and write about it. Whether she was aware of it at the time or not, and whether or not the impact of what she did has occurred to her since that day, she full-on outed me as a trans* person in front of an audience of complete strangers.
I feel confident that if she had not said anything, no one would have stopped to think about how my voice sounds like it belongs to a body with a completely different set of secondary sex characteristics. In fact, even though I still “pass” as a “woman” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) most of the time, I am starting to pass as a man, too (with greater frequency as I experience very subtle changes that allow me to go stealth). I know. Confusing, right? If I were in significantly riskier circumstances, her slip very likely would have directed the kind of attention towards me that is delivered with either a clenched fist, sexualized violence, or both. This gave me a moment to pause and reflect on what might very likely happen to me if I were a binary-identifying transwoman, hanging out in a bar among cis men. I’ve heard countless stories of how this plays out, and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t by now, because of the widespread public attention being directed to the Cece McDonald case. The short version is someone called her out outside a bar, a fight broke out that threatened her very life, and she has now been sentenced to prison for murder charges. This kind of shit happens to trans* people on a frequent basis, when they are outed in unsafe spaces.
One Does Not Simply “Out” A Cis Person
There’s really nothing about calling out a person for being cisgendered that can expose them to the same degree of risk. Telling a male chauvinist that he has a dick hanging between his legs just doesn’t have the same social impact as even suggesting the mere possibility that one was ever there at some point in the distant past, up the skirt of a woman who is perceived as being trans*. So I started to think more on this issue of how I was outed. What could I possibly ask a cis woman, that is analogous to what she asked me? And then it hit me.
She said “Your voice is different — are you on hormones?” I could have said “Your voice is exactly the same as last we talked — are you taking oral contraceptives, or are you using birth control patches, depo provera, Nuva ring, or a Mirena IUD? I’m assuming you are still menstruating regularly? How’s that working out for you?”
I mean really, what I’m getting at is, if you don’t know the person well enough to know whether or not they’ve been using hormones, don’t fucking ask. You have no idea what kind of social power you are wielding over them by doing so. It’s because of shit like this that cis people do, that trans* people buy clothing and flags and bags that read “DIE CIS SCUM!”