Today I got called “Something.” I’m quite certain the person didn’t mean anything by it. She seemed polite and friendly and was just flustered when she first started to call me “sir” and then second-guessed herself and that’s just the word that came out. I don’t feel angry at her at all or blame her for the slip. But I have to say, it still doesn’t feel good.
In many ways, I’m very fortunate as a transgender person to be in the situation I am, surrounded by a generally supportive and understanding culture and group of peers. While academia certainly still has its flaws, it’s a relative oasis of safety for someone like me. I honestly have little right to complain.
But even so, just existing brings with it a certain level of isolation and othering that I never seem to be able to escape. It is present with me in times and places when I don’t expect it or welcome it and I’m constantly mentally bracing myself or adjusting my behavior to compensate.
I try to pitch my voice down whenever I meet someone new in hopes that they will pick up the correct pronouns without my having to correct them. If they use the wrong ones, I have to decide where to insert “by the way, I’m a guy” into the conversation. I have those awkward moments when I introduce myself as Evan and I get “Eva?” with a confused look. At every doctor’s office visit I practice the “hi, I’m transgender” talk. Every time I reconnect with an old friend or colleague and I have to come out again. Sometimes when that friend or colleague responds offensively or just doesn’t reply and I’m left wondering. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I walk into a public restroom and someone gives me a double-take glance. I consider lying about my age to people who don’t know my trans status because a 27-year-old who looks like a 16-year-old is a dead giveaway and I don’t know how they’ll respond. I want to be open and unashamed of being who I am, but I don’t want to just be The Transgender Person. I feel pressure to be a stellar role-model because, for many people, I’m the only transgender person they have ever met and I feel like I am their representative of all trans people. This leaves me terrified when my productivity suffers due to trans-related family or health situations that I’m reflecting badly on the whole community and I’m harming the chances of future trans people getting into academia. And sometimes I remember that my very existence is cause for discomfort and confusion even in innocuous situations, like when I walk into an office and get called “something” and I suddenly feel more like a novelty or an aberration than a human being.
I’m not trying to throw a pity-party and I’m not angry at the world. I adapt quite well to most of these challenges and I generally consider others blameless in the awkward or exhausting situations that I sometimes deal with. But it does wear me out. Sometimes one little word reminds me of how overwhelming this can all be. I’m not unhappy, really, and I’m definitely not angry. I’m just a little tired of it right now and I want someone to understand why.