Reflections from behind a ticket counter
The person standing on the other side of the counter looks up at me in what they think is a discreet manner while trying to find the wallet at the bottom of their bag. One quick glance at my face, another at my body…
Was it my voice that gave rise to this visual, yet intimate, body inspection this time, or was it something else? I curse my non-conforming shoulder-to-hip ratio, which is a never ending source of body anxiety…
Sometimes the person on the other side of the counter begins or ends our conversation by kindly (notice the irony here) notifying me about what gender identity they think I ought to identify with: “Hello ma’am”, or “Thank you, sir”. It is never until that moment that I can be absolutely sure about how that person reads me, who they think that they are talking to. On the seldom occasion, the person on the other side looks startled when I open my mouth and my voice does not correspond to what they expected from my appearance. Even more seldom, but to my great amusement when it happens, (presumed to be) heterosexual husbands begin our short conversation at the ticket counter with politely (notice the irony again…) adding a gender-specifying title when he greets me, whereupon the wife at his side whispers a discreet correction in his ear.
Misgendering happens, but I somehow find it touching to see how much effort some people put into not showing their bafflement or uncertainty when they interact with me.
To be honest, I did not transition to become a stereotypical representation of my gender, like those seen on advertisement banners or in fitness magazines. I transitioned to turn into me, not someone else. And that person that I’ve always felt fluttering around in my chest, but not always understood, does not conform to ascribed rules. I transcend those rules.
I will not deny the fact that being misgendered is painful. Every time. But by trial and error, I am learning to choose my battles. It is curious, how easily a stranger’s attempt at politeness can turn into an invisible spear that cuts through me without anybody noticing. I have already abandoned the idea that being misgendered by strangers is worth the effort it takes to try and correct them. I have realised that these people’s perception of gender tend to be of rock-like quality, unmovable once established.
But do I need to correct each and every misgendering imbecile that comes my way? Personally speaking – no. I have come to the point where I can brush off the occasional incorrect title or pronoun, as long as I know that that person will be gone from my life after a few minutes of business-related conversation. It hurts, yes, but it hurts me, even more, to gather up the courage to address the mistake, form my shaky voice into a correction, and then end up being misunderstood or completely overlooked anyway. In the end, most of us do not have the energy needed to be the constant educator on things trans. And that’s ok. We just have to make sure that we use that precious energy we do have on people that matter and people that are open to our truths.
By Lafayette, a transgender linguist who also rocks a part time job in customer services.