That Moment When Someone Unknowingly Threatens Your Right to Exist

Photo by John Cameron

Semi-stealth life complicates confronting bigotry.

“My objection to Trump is that he wants me dead,” I lazily interjected as a guest outed himself as a fan of the Cheeto. He was about to leave, which was lucky because these days I tend to ask people to leave when they bring that kind of toxicity into my space and lack the grace to keep it to themselves. He didn’t seem to know how to react to my comment.

By now, my friends don’t out me. Not to boyfriends, not to their children. My own mum knows better unless she has to out me to inform someone who wasn’t aware of my transition for the essentials: name, pronouns, why she suddenly has a daughter. That doesn’t come up much anymore. It’s not a state of true stealth because I still discuss the issues from a personal context with some. My internet presence is reasonably out still. In person, not so much.

This man had no idea exactly how queer I was — he met myself and my fiancée together — and the idea that Trump would want me dead, specifically, didn’t quite make sense. I mean sure Trump is after lesbians too, but not with the same fervour. Not to the extent that lesbians necessarily feel that the Trump administration wants them dead, though I expect the pressure is similar. Should any cis lesbians out there want to educate me, I’d love to hear how things are feeling; I expect they don’t feel too good.

Even if he didn’t know, it speaks volumes that he just spent an evening hanging out with a bunch of sex positive queer women before outing himself as a Trump supporter. It was never going to end well, was it? But I digress.

It was pretty clear he didn’t know he was talking to a trans person, or even a group of trans people (there were three of us that evening). I wasn’t about to out my friends and I definitely wasn’t outing myself, so the comment floated by without context. Luckily drunkenness, the supportive intervention of a friend, and his need to catch a bus kept me from having to explain further.

Some time ago, when I still went to support groups, a lady showed up that had recently emerged from the woodwork. To a lot of us transitioning people that seemed madness: not all of us wanted to be invisible, but there’s safety in it. Placing oneself in danger seems crazy. Her explanation was that she felt disconnected, but also she struggled when in the company of (presumably) cisgender people and transphobia happened. She felt she couldn’t challenge it without outing herself. By coming back out of the woodwork, she was able to reclaim that power to confront people.

I understand what she meant now. Learning how to confront those who unknowingly threaten you without making it clear you are threatened is difficult; I have no idea how to do it. Seems I’ll have to learn if I want to continue on the trajectory I find myself travelling.

I’ve written several essays that explore how out is out enough. This incident is different for me because it’s the first time I threatened to out myself. Every other time, it’s been the well meaning act of a friend: outing a friend to me, asking me to weigh in on a transgender issue, or casually raising a uniquely transgender point such that it’s obvious I have some special insight. This time, my own sense of injustice went into gear and set me on an outing.

"PERHAPS THAT MEANS I’M NOT OUT ENOUGH?"

Perhaps that means I’m not out enough? Difficult to say. One near-miss isn’t enough to establish a low water mark but it’s clear that I can’t keep silent when confronted by a Trump thumper. No wonder I spend so much time avoiding them online.

I am finding other outlets for fighting injustice. I’ve become more associated with leftist movements as my distance from transgender groups increase; I committed to attending a local counter protest with Antifa rather than the local trans/LGBTQ+ organisations. I joined the editorial team for a left wing news outlet. The drift continues. I’ll always be queer, but the specificity of my queerness continues to diminish.

Photo by Nikko Macaspac

One’s outness is a dynamic thing. I’ll keep saying it: there is a spectrum of outness. We can be more than either out-and-proud or invisible. We can make noise without being out. We can protect our rights without exposing ourselves. Visibility is a choice; disclosure is our right. Part of transgender activism includes the right to disclose; me exercising that right doesn’t diminish my status or helpfulness. I just offer a different kind of help.

The current obstacle is learning how I can help without compromising myself. That is a skill I can learn. As I grow into my comfort zone, I’ll be able to offer better help: the safer I feel, the more effective I can be.

I think this is something many activists miss, no matter their cause: people who are secure take bigger risks. When I feel powerful, I commit more energy to the causes that matter most to me. It’s when I’m vulnerable, under attack, poverty stricken and insecure in my livelihood I’m not going to speak out. I’m going to keep quiet and do my best to survive. I’m going to retreat into whatever safe space I can find.

"IT’S AN IRONY TO FIND MYSELF MORE SECURE AS AN ACTIVIST THE MORE WOODWORKED I AM."

It’s an irony to find myself more secure as an activist the more woodworked I am. The less visible I am, the more I’m willing to speak up. I can’t explain it, but the explanation might be how bigots reply to a noisy queer: stalking, doxing, harassment. If I’m difficult to find, they have a harder time hurting me. Perhaps that’s the lesson here.

Transitioning is about comfort. Comfort in oneself, comfort with one’s place in the world. There is no water mark for comfort, we just find where we’re happy and stay there; we find our place on the spectrum. That’s why there’s no such thing as not trans enough.

By the same token, there’s no such thing as not out enough, but moments like the other night with the Trump thumper confront me with my own status. I can only count that as a good thing; a chance to reflect on my comfort. Wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of human existence, it’s worth the chance to reflect. Stay vigilant in your comfort.

Comments
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MelissaD
MelissaD

I believe you have all the correct puzzle pieces. How you put them together to meet your needs will be interesting to see. I find myself in the role of advocate instead of outing myself these days. I also find myself writing letters to the editor in the local paper to express trans viewpoints. I agree we all need to find a balance. Safe journey.