A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend. She’s a tall(ish) lady with light brown hair and very, very European facial features. In a crowd of Colombians, she sticks out like a sore thumb. It was a nice lunch; I hadn’t seen her in months, and it was nice catching up.
We left the mall and as we were walking to the bus station, she looked at me and said “Wow, people are staring at you a lot.”
I can’t remember whether I laughed or not, but I was pretty amused at that. I’m used to having people stare at my American/European friends, and it was funny to see the shoe on the other foot.
She had a point, though. I’d stopped consciously thinking about it because it happens so often, but in the last 5-6 months I’ve had people staring at me all the time. All the time.
I step onto a bus and immediately see a couple of people twisting their head around to gawk at me, maybe say something to the person sitting next to them. I walk into the women’s bathroom, and can see from my peripheral vision a lady or two eyeing me, maybe even smirking. I’ll be stood in a waiting room, and raise my eyes from my phone to see a man staring at me (and not in that way.)
It’s horrible. It makes me feel incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable everywhere I go. I’ll sometimes go into the bathroom and run as quickly as I can to a stall, or if the bathroom has a huge line (which it often does #girlproblems) I’ll just hold it in and spend 15 minutes looking for an empty bathroom where I can go in shame.
You might think this is just down to being tall. After all, I’m 5’11” (I think) in a country where most men aren’t taller than 5’7″, MAYBE 5’9″, which means I dwarf men and look an absolute giant standing next to most other women.
That’s what I tell myself sometimes to keep from breaking into tears when walking down the street feeling like a freak, but there are a few experiences I’ve had that come to mind that show it really goes beyond that.
Imagine a young woman. She is going shopping for the very first time. She is very, very insecure about her appearance and how others see her. She has lived her whole life as a man, and is terrified of being rejected or judged now that she is finally showing who she is, and making herself incredibly vulnerable in the process.
Now picture her taking a couple of blouses to a changing room, only for the woman at the entrance to sneer at her. Imagine how much shame the young woman feels. No, more than that. Little more. There we go.
People have been judging me since the very first day I presented female, and while it’s gotten a little bit better as hormones, longer hair, and better makeup and fashion skills do their thing, it happens often enough to remind me of how the world sees me. Not as a person worthy of respect, but as an object to analyse.
A few months ago I went to a beauty parlour and asked to get a mani-pedi. The lady there did a clear manicure, so we moved on to the pedicure. After taking my socks off and putting them into the bucket of water provided, I told the lady I wanted a french on my toes, and she walked away after giving me a look. It was a busy day, so I thought nothing of it. I’m a very patient person, so I just browsed on my phone for a while. 5 minutes passed, then 20… 40 minutes. I was being deliberately ignored. I decided to wait it out and see how long it would take the woman to serve a paying customer.
After an hour, she started gathering her things and getting ready to go. My feet were freezing, and I felt the most humiliated I’ve ever felt in my life. I put my shoes and socks back on, and left the place without paying for anything. I felt so furious I couldn’t trust myself to even complain to anyone, or confront that woman.
I walked to a park and cried for a good 15-20 minutes.
It’s not an unique experience, either. I’ve walked into stores and asked to try on women’s jeans or a pair of heels, gotten a weird look, and then been treated with contempt. I can see how uncomfortable I make people, and it really hurts.
On Wednesday something magical happened. I went a whole day without being misgendered, and without anyone giving me those sideways looks, stares, and smirks. I caught a couple of guys staring at me, but it was not in a “oh god look at that thing” way, more of a ‘checking me out’ sort of thing. It was uh, interesting? Definitely better than being looked down on and judged, that’s for sure.
The same thing happened on Thursday. I felt completely invisible, and it was incredible. I hadn’t felt like that since early May, when I started presenting male. It was such a weight off my shoulders… I couldn’t believe I’d gotten used to such a heavy burden.
Today I got the stares again. I don’t know what changed.
I’m writing this post to express the frustration I’m feeling right now at this whole situation. Why do I have to feel terrified of going shoe shopping? Why rush into a bathroom I have every right in the world to be in? Why is it that I feel judged everywhere I go?
Being stared at, assessed, classified all the time weighs on you. There are times when I don’t feel human. I feel like I’m a freakshow.
COME SEE THE AMAZING TRANSGENDER! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT ACTUALLY THINKS ANYONE WILL SEE IT AS A WOMAN? HA!
Sigh. It also extends to online discourse. I see people talking about ‘the transgenders’ or ‘trannies’ and speaking for me. Telling me who I am, who I’m not, what I should be, what I feel, what I think. Oh, right, of course I’m confused. Why would I know how I feel better than you do? I’m only a transgender, it’s not like I’m a person with thoughts and feelings.
Quick aside: my personal preference is to be referred to as a transgender woman, or a transgender person. Familiar terms like ‘trans lady’ are fine as well. What bothers me is being reduced to a label “trans/transgender” without anything else to mark me as a person.
I’ve started to experience objectification as a woman, had people speak for me, see me as a pretty old thing, worthy of the same respect as a shower curtain, but this is different. I’m not saying it’s worse… just different.
I think everyone has a right to feel comfortable in their own skin, and that’s why this is so difficult. I only ever feel safe when I’m with certain friends who have chosen to respect me, once in a blue moon when I ‘pass’ particularly well, or when I’m completely alone. It feels like a basic violation of my rights to be seen and treated like something everyone has a right to weigh on, look at, and judge silently.
I’m a person. I’m a woman. I have feelings, I have a mind, and I can see you putting me into a little box. Now stop that.
Sorry if today’s post is all over the place, it’s a very sensitive subject, and I got a little emotional writing it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and whether you’ve felt something like this if you’re also trans, or in another context (as an immigrant, member of certain religion, etc).
Happy Friday, and hope you have a great weekend 🙂
P.S.- I got my cast taken off on Thursday! Yay!!! 😀