A few nights ago I gave a lecture on gender at a local university organization for aspiring mental health professionals. It was a general overview on gender. I explained the difference between sex and gender as well as their fluidity. I also elaborated on specific transgender terms and how to be more gender inclusive.
At the very start of my talk, I noticed one person who sat directly across from me. He was hunched in his chair, his body language read: closed. His head was down, and he was the only person with his phone in his hand. As I spoke he continued to check his phone and type things. At some points, I thought maybe he was even recording me; I felt uncomfortable. I always try to look around at the entire audience when I'm giving a presentation, but every time my eyes went in his direction I was distracted by what he was doing. I would've wondered why he was even at the meeting if the girl next to him, who I remembered from last year, hadn't been all over him. I guessed that she dragged her boyfriend along.
"MAYBE IT WAS THAT I TALKED ABOUT TOXIC MASCULINITY AND HOW IT'S DANGEROUS FOR ALL GENDERS."
Before I had known anything about this man, his behavior screamed- rude, insensitive, and hostile. The energy coming from his direction felt bad, but I brushed it off and made it through without letting it affect me too much. Often, people come to my lectures very guarded, but as I give them the facts and tools to understand gender they open up and realize that it's much more complex than they knew. By the end of my presentation, there didn't seem to be a change in his demeanor or expression, in fact it seemed like he had gotten more impatient. Maybe it was the fact that I brought up my now white male privilege and how uncomfortable it makes me feel. Maybe it was that I talked about toxic masculinity and how it's dangerous for all genders. Maybe something I said really hit a nerve for him. Whatever it was, I didn't really care at the moment.
When I was done speaking I opened the floor for a Q&A, something I usually do and one of my favorite parts of speaking. I love when people ask questions about my transition in hopes of learning more about our community. I've gotten thoughtful questions about my family, what it's like to be non-binary in a binary world, how I decided to take hormones, and so many more. This group was very quiet with only one or two questions. Then as I was about to wrap up he raised his hand. I had no expectations when I called on him but for a second I thought maybe he was actually using the opportunity to learn.
"You mentioned you were suicidal, have you ever tried to kill yourself?"
There was something about the look on his face when he asked that made me sick to my stomach.
"Yes I have."
He barely waited a second to ask his follow up.
"How did you do it?"
I should've told him it was an inappropriate question but he caught me off guard and I answered. Then I paused for a second and turned back to him.
"Why was that relevant?” I asked.
"Well I'm a cop and I see that kind of stuff."
His smirk made me want to throw up right there. I fought the burning sensation spreading throughout my body, filling every inch of me with fear. I pushed the anxiety deep inside and smiled at everyone.
I have had two particularly bad experiences with police officers surrounding suicide attempts when I was very young that are part of my CPTSD. The two times I've been pulled over while driving (in my 13 years of having a license), I have had full-blown panic attacks to the point where the police officers asked me why I am physically shaking and seem nervous. I had to explain that I have PTSD and that often being around police officers or guns elicits a response in my body that I cannot control. Luckily both of those officers were understanding and respectful when I mentioned my PTSD.
"BUT THIS MAN DIDN'T SHOW ANY COMPASSION OR EMPATHY AFTER LISTENING TO MY STORY FOR ALMOST AN HOUR."
But this man didn't show any compassion or empathy after listening to my story for almost an hour. Before I knew anything about him, I didn't like him very much. Which is okay, because I don't have to like everyone and they don't have to like me. I do hope that people will treat me with respect because I always treat others with respect whether I care for them or not. Because all humans deserve that respect. But now I know something about this man. I know that he is a police officer. I know that he has sworn to protect the people he serves. Every single one. Even those of us who struggle with mental health. Or those of us who may have a gender identity that differs from societal expectations. He has sworn to uphold and protect the law that says we are all created equal. But I didn't see any desire to learn how to be more inclusive. I didn't see any respect. What I saw was a man who used his power and his privilege to make me relive some of the most horrible moments of my life and then he smiled at me and told me he was a cop.
Tell me, how safe should I feel now?
I wrote this post in early November but decided not to publish it until I had processed the situation. It's over two months later and I'm just starting to feel like the fog of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms that descended on my life with that one thoughtless question is finally lifting.
I do want to take a second to recognize my privilege since this story focuses on my fear in relation to how others perceive me.
I have been assaulted for being a woman and I have been assaulted for being trans, but I have never been attacked or judged by the color of my skin, and I doubt I ever will be. In most every interaction, I have white privilege that affords me safety where others have none. So while my experiences were terrifying they could have been much worse if they had been compounded by racism. And while my fear is valid, it comes from trauma, whereas my friends of color fear some interactions simply because of who they are.
Recognizing my privilege in these situations doesn't diminish the validity of my feelings, but it does remind me that I am not the only one fighting for justice. Just like the trans community needs cisgender people to help dismantle the binary, our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings of color need white folks to help end white supremacy.
So here's to destroying social constructs together in 2018!