The most difficult thing for me to communicate to people who don’t live it is what it is like to fear for Minerva’s physical and emotional safety any and every moment that she is in public while away from me. How do I find the words that accurately articulate what that puts me through? And if I could find them, would you truly understand? Do you have the life experiences necessary to form a basis of understanding, a context for what that feels like?
Now, I’m not saying you’re an idiot, I’m not saying you’re cold hearted, but what I am saying is that she is treated completely differently than you. People stare and yell and interrogate her, questioning her existence and her right to be, her right to take up space. When we leave this building she will check her pocket for her knife, and as she is double checking that she could pull it out quickly enough if she needed to, I will look around the corners and in the shadows to make sure that no one who has that look is there, the look that says “Who you are makes me confused and angry and I will want to hurt you if you come near me.”
I can recognize that look in an instant from twenty feet away, because I have had to learn to feel it seeping out of your pores for our safety. When we are together in public, we cannot risk to get too distracted by each other, we cannot afford to let our guard down, and we have developed a nonverbal system that means “Look out that person looks upset at us for being, brace yourself for staring or interrogations about genitals or yelling or denial and refusal of her identity or worse.”
I have felt the need to run and she has had to reveal her knife before. We have had to learn whole new meanings to the words ‘Be safe’ ‘Be careful’ It doesn’t just mean avoid dangerous situations anymore, because if we don’t actively protect ourselves, if we are not constantly aware of who is around us, we will get hurt.
Maybe you think I’m judgmental. Should I really take one look at someone and decide if they are gonna be the asshole who asks if she’s a dude or a girl? Should I seriously make the call based on the privileges you have? Let me ask you a question- Can we afford not to? With the knowledge and reality that her sisters make up almost all of the murders against trans* people, can we risk it?
And yeah, we can talk about privilege; that likelihood goes down a little because she is white. Still, if you’re listening you can hear that what I’m really saying is “Oh, good thing she is slightly less likely to be murdered, how lucky.”
People with more privilege are less likely to understand what it is to be oppressed, are less likely to understand what we go through, are more likely to be confused and angry, and why? Because they don’t have to think about any of this shit. When we leave the grocery store with out incident, there is reason to celebrate. “How lovely was it, Minerva darling, that we weren’t subject to discrimination, staring, or other hate crimes while we were selecting and making our purchase?”
The people who are more likely to understand how complicated it is when she needs to pee in public are the ones who are less likely to harass us. And if the world can take one look at a person and based on that treat them with a certain amount of privilege, I can also take one look and see what kinds of privilege you have.
Do you appear to be white? Straight? Cis gender? Male? Are you wearing a suit? Are you conventionally attractive? These are just some of the things that I consider about every single person who comes near her.
If you would like to take a moment here to insist that you don’t see these things, you don’t see race or sexual orientation or gender or class, you just see people, keep in mind that in doing so, you are denying their history and experience and identity. You are denying who we are.
You don’t see gender? You don’t see her gender? Do you know how fucking hard it is for her to prove her gender to the world? How rare it is to be around someone who embraces her gender? Nevermind that, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who even acknowledges that her gender exists. This world is designed to invalidate her existence as a trans lady and she has to exert exhausting amounts of effort in trying to say,”No really! I’m a girl!”
“I don’t see gender.” Do you really fucking think she wants to be told that? Listen to that- her gender doesn’t matter, because all you see is people. Yeah, she knows her gender doesn’t fucking matter to you, because every day most people will look right past her presentation and see something she’s not and then insist on telling her, “No that’s what you really are.” See her gender. Acknowledge it. Respect it. Understand the history that comes with it and consider what it means about her life experience. Hear me when I tell you that I got fired when my coworkers met her. Understand that because of existing systems, no I fucking can’t do anything about it.
I am so sick of trying to explain to privileged people that this world is not set up to be in favor of a brown person who is dating a visibly trans person. I am so frustrated by trying to find the right words to express to you what it feels like going through life knowing that people hate her because of her transness. She walks around with the knowledge that most people’s understanding of trans women is the stereotypes that say she is a rapist, she is a prostitute, she is a joke, she is pretend. Can you feel what that is like?
In order for you to grasp it, I first must teach you about the systems that we are navigating. I know there are a lot of concepts I talk about that this world doesn’t generally teach people to think about, like privilege and what transphobia feels like. Another reality is that I don’t have the time or energy to explain it to every person I walk by. Being trans and queer and brown has no job description and I am not responsible for being your educator.
So do us a favor and educate yourself, because it takes more than not being an asshole to make space for oppressed people. You are taught to internalize cissexism. Have you ever taken a biology class that tells you that males have penises and females have vaginas? That’s cissexism. Being nice to us isn’t what makes you not transphobic, actively checking your privilege and making an effort to understand how someone else’s life experience is completely altered by being not cis is a good start.
And then when we are uncomfortable with your cis-ness, understand why. Don’t try and convince us that you’re not like that, because the people who will feel the need to prove themselves to us are the ones who refuse to respect why we feel unsafe and who will ignore our boundaries. When we walk down the street and don’t trust someone, it isn’t because we assume they’re a horrible person, it’s because they come from a completely different life experience that places them higher in the social order than us and they probably don’t understand that it exists and that feels unsafe. I don’t think that every person is going to be an asshole to her, but it could be any person. And I can’t risk letting my guard down. I will fucking protect her however I see fit and I don’t want anyone to tell me that we ought to just relax or stop being so afraid, because this is real and this is how we have to live.
And after all this I feel like these words aren’t important. Who will hear them, I mean really hear them? Who will do something about it? I feel so fucking angry that I don’t feel like this is considered an important issue and so fucking hurt that most people will have never considered any of this. She has been and will be one of the most important people in my life. She has taught me how to love myself and stand up for myself and that having panic attacks doesn’t make me a horrible person and that sex can be exciting and consensual and that I am capable of having a healthy, loving relationship. She is wonderful and inspiring and to know that there are people who want people like her to be dead? It’s hard for me to feel like anyone else knows what that’s like.
I’m crying because I only know these two beautiful people over the internet but they have touched my heart so deeply. Their words are powerful and needed. Their existence is revolutionary and they are so strong to hold up against the scrutiny and the hatred. Knowing they both are in this world makes me want to be a better person. Their courage inspires me and I’m just in awe.
Thank you Galileo, thank you Minerva. I don’t even really know you, I may never get to meet you or hug you, but I love you.