Going Out and Being Outted

This past weekend, I went out to a bar with several good friends, to see one of our very close friends playing guitar for a funk show. Overall, the show was great, they had good energy, and my whole table was up and dancing most the night. For some reason, most of the rest of the crowd just sat back, took out their phones, and took pictures of us all dancing instead of joining in. Of course, we did not let this phase us and just enjoyed the show anyways; we weren’t letting anyone ruin our good time!

During the show, when we were dancing, a guy came up and started dancing with me, which was fun and exciting. I did have a quick moment of anxiety, wondering if this guy somehow knew I was transgender, and if he didn’t, what would he do when he found out? We danced, and his hands were on my body, and I was afraid but excited, and enjoying myself. Then the song ended, and I went back to my table. After that particular moment, I let go of the anxiety, I let the situation just slip from my mind as I enjoyed my time with friends at our table.

After the show, my friend who was performing joined us at our table, and we were all hanging out enjoying a pitcher of beer. The guy who had danced with me came up and joined us, reflecting on the show with my friend who played guitar. However, I noticed now this guy was using male pronouns for me. He even pointed right at me and said “That guy” more than once. I wasn’t exactly sober by this point, so it took me a minute to really understand that he thought I was a man. Several of my friends at the table noticed, but nobody was sure exactly what to do. It’s a situation most people will never encounter, what do you do when someone starts to assert your transgender friend is not really the gender they are presenting?

Many people I have been around when things like this have happened do not notice, or give the other person the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a slip up. After all, we all mess up pronouns sometimes, myself included. There is a difference, however, between a slip up, and intentionally asserting someone is not the gender they present as. A slip up happens inconsistently; if someone uses the wrong pronoun over the course of several distinct sentences or thoughts, I consider it intentional; not a mistake. This night, it was repeated, and intentional. It was not a slip up of a pronoun, but this man directly asserting to me and everyone at my table that the person in my chair was a guy. This would have been humiliating with most people. If anyone did not know at that point I was transgender, they now did, or at least would suspect this.
There are a lot of possible consequences in a situation like this. First off, this situation could be dangerous for the transgender person, especially if they are alone. There are countless stories of something like this happening, and when the other person realizes they have been flirting with a transgender person (which, to them, means the trans person is the sex they were born, not how they identify or present), they get angry they were “tricked” into being attracted to someone outside of their sexual orientation, and lash out in anger. This could (and often does) result in verbal harassment, beatings, rape, or death. Luckily, I was with many friends, so even if this guy was angry, he could not lash out at me. This behaviour often comes from straight men, but I’ve experienced such lashing out when a lesbian flirted with me, until she realized I was trans, after which she turned to her friends and started mocking me in front of everyone.

There are more than the physical dangers though. The emotional distress that can be caused by situations like this is significant and just as dangerous, though much less immediate. Being forced out of the closet in a public situation itself can have direct results (the typical dangers of being outted… being fired/denied opportunities/rejected by family or friends, etc). But there are indirect results too. Everyone in this world has the right to define themselves however they see fit. In these situations, someone else is invalidating a transgender person’s identity, asserting that they are not actually the gender they present as, and often puts transgender people in a lower category of person, which can make a transgender person feel isolated and helpless It may make a transgender person doubt themselves, or consider themselves not good enough. A transgirl like me may have spent a lot of time and energy to look pretty, like fixing my hair, applying make up, putting on a cute skirt, and wearing uncomfortable heels, and to have someone come publicly declare you are male makes that effort seem fruitless. Situations like this may result in the transgender person isolating themselves and avoiding social situations, especially out in public where this humiliation and danger could repeat.

If the transgender person is surrounded by friends or family who let this happen without intervening or defending them, the transgender person may feel like their issues don’t matter, that their friends don’t really support them, making it hard to trust them, which makes the trans person feel even more isolated. If you are a friend of a transgender person and this happens, my advice would be to use the right pronouns assertively. When some stranger says “that guy” correct them that there is no guy there, just a girl (or whatever pronouns your friend uses). It doesn’t have to to be confrontational, you can be polite about it, or give the person funny looks and laugh at their inability to comprehend a person’s gender.

Of course, trans people like myself deal with this sort of situation often, and we get better at dealing with them. Most times, you can ignore what some random person on a street says, or when some conservative nutjob says we’re monsters. But sometimes, it slips in passed all the armor we put up and truly hits us at the core. A person can cause damage our self-esteem and confidence in our gender expression. Even after we build all of that back up (which we learn to do in order to survive), there may be a lingering fear that the situation will be repeated the next time we go out. It’s a struggle not to let situations like this bring you down and prevent you from exploring new opportunities and situations.  I do believe that we are all individually responsible for our own happiness, but that does not mean we are completely unaffected by the things that happen to us.

For me personally, I was very lucky to be with friends who supported me that night. My friends stood up for me and laughed at the guy when he called me a man. The guy who was causing problems was driven home, and I had friends to support me afterwards. Still, it definitely impacted me, and reminds me why I try not to go to bars alone. It also leaves me wondering how this person knew, and what I could do to avoid it happening again, both questions for which I don’t have any answers and cannot change, nor prevent from repeating.

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