Friday, May 9, 2014

Ooh, look, gender police, take two!

Some time ago I wrote a post on being gender policed by a younger male.  I did not give specifics of this. I also generalized quite a few of the events. This blog post is not that exact blog post.  I was quite upset while writing it, and did not save a backup copy. Later, this man started screaming at me that I was a liar, further triggering me, so I took the post down. One of my closest friends, Emily Titon, fielded quite a lot of this situation, so knows more or less the entire story.  

I do not enjoy having to elucidate this here. It is difficult to write about, and I risk becoming re-triggered by the situation.  I have a number of difficulties relating in the disability community due to previous instances of bulllying, gaslighting, and the internalized ableism of others coming out in conversation with me.  This is why I deleted the original entry to avoid conflict, but that wasn’t being true to myself.

This man accused me of LYING (several times, sometimes but not always in caps) because I could not provide direct quotes. He also conveniently did not remember many events--because they did not trigger him.  So this post, written several weeks later instead of the morning after the events (on zero sleep because I could not become untriggered or calm down after a final offense), will not have direct quotes. Part of this is because as a result of this interaction I have left a private group and unfriended two people.  I could possibly stilll find our chat logs, but I would rather not do so as the experience of going back through them would be triggering all over again.

This, therefore, is my personal interpretation of events. In some ways, it will be more specific than the last version of this post.  In other ways, because of time passing, it will be more general. THERE WILL BE NO DIRECT QUOTES as I do not have them.  I will give general summaries of sentiments expressed, sometimes in comically exaggerated dialogue. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I AM LYING. If anything, I am creating a parody of bigotry.  This post is liable to be on the long side.

My first indication that this young man (12 years my junior--and those were a big 12 years for me) had a problem understanding gender and gender policing is when the following happened:

We were discussing approaches to activism. I am a third generation New Yorker and third generation activist, and these two things are related. I learned activism with compassion.  I wrote about it on Martin Luther King day on my Facebook, and I then backdated the entry, so if you need a refresher on my family’s activism, it’s told through the story of my grandfather, an Italian- and English-American Queens native with family as far away as Africa (a fact which probably informed his politics).  

I told this man that I had learned not to go on other people’s walls and correct them or police them.  He said, “That’s probably a female-gendered response.”

Oh, really?  I’m transgender, but okay, kiddo.

I didn’t say anything. Sometimes if triggered, you lose words.  Sometimes if you have disability stuff in common with Autistics/are neurodiverse, you lose words too.  In his words, I was supposed to articulate to him I was triggered. I’ve been mulling over that one.  The thing is, telling him would have only been paying him a courtesy.  Especially as I was struggling with words then.  I just got through it, because being triggered is similar to a panic attack that can ruin and change  your entire day.  Later he told me I had acted wrongly by not informing him.  This is victim blaming, plain and simple.  He is a 21-year-old man with a personal mythology that it upsets him too much to upset someone so he doesn’t upset people.  Would that it was so easy.  But if he really is so concerned with the impact of upsetting people, then basically he should not victim blame or gaslight.  But that did come later, so let’s continue.

There may or may not have been another similar instance after the first triggery experience. It’s now blurry.  I did notice him doing ableist things around me, like talking around me in threads as if I was some kind of intruder among his friends or something.  I was in a private group with him (I have left it) so I spent some time psych-braining about how he interacted with people. I could have unfriended or blocked him after the first incident and was considering leaving the group (I don’t do groups well, especially not anymore), but I was biding my time a bit. I reasoned that he was young and certainly younger people still have room to learn, and with that I left it alone.

Then I came out as trans in a thread in the private group. This person came in to tell me that he had a theory of being able to categorize people’s gender by speech patterns, and that I have a “femme” way of relating events in text. I told him perhaps my female name had leant to this interpretation as well.  For me, I have no cognitive dissonance whatsoever with being pangender but maintaining a female name, because I picked it myself long before I came out. Keeping this name is honoring my younger self.  I have been Elena to my friends for 20 years now, and that won’t change any time soon, although since coming out as transgender I do vastly prefer being known simply as E. The truth is that part of my reclamation of Elena has to do with the fact that some sites refuse to allow me to be known as E.

I discussed my situation at length with the aim of informing not him but the people in the thread who might actually learn something.  It’s possible that I may be too good at switching into anthropologist or psychology brain, because instead of telling him he was wrong, I asked him why he felt I was “femme.”  He then listed several reasons related to my speech patterns and how I communicated things in text.

I am many things. I am a writer, a socially isolated disabled person, and an internet addict. Any of those things can and do effect my interactions online because most are textual.  When I first started to feel transgender-ish, at age 3, I informed my mother that I was going to grow up to be a boy.  (This was not her favorite thing, and the resulting conversations I had with her were not my favorite thing.)  I assimilated into cis female space, but never easily. I was on the outside a tomboy who was queer (notably attracted to women, but not a lesbian).  I didn’t ever fit in with women--many geek girls don’t, though, so that’s not an indicator.  I did note their behaviors, though.  There is absolutely nothing in my experience that backs up this man’s assertion that my being courteous about people’s walls, for instance, is a “female-gendered response.  It’s called basic courtesy and respect of people’s autonomy and willingness to let them have an opinion unless it’s dangerous or something.  Have you ever heard of cat fights? There is an expression because they are real.  If being courteous about information on people’s walls is “female-gendered” or “femme,” then my female parent must be trans, and in fact all gaslighty women must really not be women!  But, see, I’m fairly certain this guy is cis.  He neither grew up skirting transgender issues nor relating to women as a presumably cis woman.  Women (or anyone who has lived as a woman while figuring out trans issues, i.e. me) know(s) women better than men know women.  That’s where tons of self help comes from, so you know I’m right.  This is why quite a lot of women refuse to have that many female friends.  Don’t believe me?  Most women I’ve talked to report that they didn’t have many female friends until at least college age. I’m the same way.

I could tell you a million stories that illustrate how I am not actually femme, just a writer, but I’ll give the salient points: I don’t know what even happens in a salon.  I collected rocks and dreamed of climbing trees as a kid. Spiders, lizards and snakes are my favorite animals. This blog is named after a cornsnake, for fuck’s sake.  (I also enjoy bears. Is that too femme?)  I don’t own a dress. I own one pair of shoes.  I don’t dress for anything other than comfort (although I have a lot of sensory requirements, I will admit).  I refuse to be fashion-policed.  I don’t shop for clothes, or anything else, for fun. (Partly that’s a reality of being poor, but I’m an in-and-out-of-there shopper. I don’t window-shop or do any of that for fun and never have.)

See, now I’m starting to sound possibly sexist, or something,  but all I am trying to do is point out: I am in a female body until I die.  I don’t want surgery. (He said “I was not like other trans people” because of some of this. Well, sure.  Only a subset of trans people get media attention. They may fit a stereotype. That belongs in another post.)  Additionally, my binary did break later in life, partly due to trauma. (Speaking for myself only--I can’t speak for how/why/when other people’s binaries break or don’t function.) Nonbinary experiences of being trans ARE different from that of trans people who have an intact binary.   None of this has any bearing on whether I am “femme” or have “female-gendered” behaviors or not.

I have a few. Not too many though.  But of course I have some--I float around in a nebulous gender soup.  It doesn’t matter, though. By him labeling me, he’s gender-policing me.  He asserted all kinds of things about how he KNOWS female behavior and femme behavior.

You know who knows those things? People who have lived or identify as women.  But even with that being said, any time he’s asserting how I come across, making a point over and over again, that’s gender policing.

So no. Actually, no. He doesn’t know.  The only person responsible for understanding (for the purpose of self-accceptance) their own gender is the person in that particular body. We can try to make people understand, but we’ll fail at times (especially if we are “not like other trans people”), like I did here, especially when I talked to him after the first time I wrote this damn post.  

Because I did talk to him after this second policing session.  I PMed him to tell him that this line of reasoning he was going after was not going to help him, that it was nonproductive to get into this too far as he never knew when he was around trans*, or even just nonbinary folks like me.  He asserted that he understood that I wanted to be known as nonbinary.  He apologized.  But then he blocked me.  He has a reasoning of being overloaded, which is perfectly reasonable, but I had been reasonable with him, letting him know I only confronted him out of respect--which is how I roll. I don’t confront people I don’t think will learn something.

So he blocked me on Facebook and I blogged this the first time. He then unblocked me, talked around me in threads a bit, and then started gaslighting me in PM.  He called me a liar in several places.  (Once in PM and once on a reposting of the original blog post.)  Sometimes it was in caps.  I was re-triggered and I wanted to not be called a liar so I took the post down.  I kept talking to him and he kept saying that we weren’t really compatible with being friends because of communication differences.  Whatever. That’s happened to me before.  He told me that I should have informed him I was triggered.  He related the situation to some kind of error in computer science or other.  

No.  This was policing. It also became gaslighting.  You can ask people who know that I was upset enough (partly due to the fact that gaslighting from other crips feels worse) to take the original post down.  I can only remember ever deleting one other thing in the past 12 months or more--I don’t delete often. In fact, I deleted something else due to a friend of this same person. So now, neither of those people are in my life.  It’s not that I am so conflict avoidant--it’s that I have disability-community-specific trauma.

But the truth is, this still happened, and now it’s blogged again.  Sorry but I won’t be asking his permission to exist, to be transgender, or to figure out what my gender is.  This post stays up. It’s for me, but also for any trans* person who has been gaslit and policed about their gender.  So here it is.

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