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.

Day in the Life: Passing

Last week, I met a new friend, who I know is very comfortable with transgender people – she has had many friends who are trans in the past. She said something to me that was very surprising to me, “You don’t look like you were ever a boy.” It was absolutely flattering, to hear that I ‘pass’ so well that even people familiar with transgenderism wouldn’t guess I was trans. It also made me reflect on my current situation of being to the point I pass more often than not now.

Its an odd sensation; after years of walking around somewhere in-between the two genders, of having the wrong pronoun used, of having to use my former male name, I am now at a new stage. My gender marker, my name, my appearance, and my mannerisms all point to the fact I am female. I walk down the street and am read as female. I go to work where nearly all of my coworkers only know me as female.

I used to absolutely dread going to bars; I would have to flash an ID that outted me immediately, which I knew (depending on the bar) could lead to embarrassment, teasing, and potentially much worse. Now, I hardly give it a second thought. There is still risk and I do recognize that, but I usually do not get outted unless I decide to do so myself. I can walk around the bar and blend in with most other girls.

I believe this gives me an amount of privilege; I really can blend in. If I want, nobody has to know I’m trans unless I want them to. Now that I am in this position, I understand why so many transwomen chose to go stealth at this point. Going stealth means transitioning, then living your life as your chosen sex entirely, doing what you can to hide the fact you were ever the other sex. I’m not quite there; SRS is a big missing step, but I am close enough I can see the temptation.

It isn’t the path for me; I like talking about being transgender, and I think it is important I continue to talk about it. If all transsexual people go stealth after transitioning, there would be nobody to guide the younger trans people just starting out, just as I was helped by several in-transition and post-transition women when I was starting. There would be no one to show the people just starting that yes, it does get better. Its often these people who have transitioned that can make some of the biggest impact in advocacy for trans rights. Because of all this, I don’t think I can ever go completely stealth.

Right now, I am really enjoying the position I’m in. I pass well enough I can live like an ‘average’ person when I want, but I can also stand out when I want, and I do, often.I feel empowered, it is my decision now.

5 Things About Being Trans

Many people have asked me what life is like as a transgender woman, now that I have transitioned. This question, I have realized, is an incredibly loaded one. I would usually answer in a very broad sense, like how amazing it is to actually be comfortable in your own skin, to have the freedom to express myself without constantly having to lie and filter. Often, I would tie in how transitioning has mitigated the overwhelming devastating sense of incongruency between my mind and my body I felt in the past. These are very “big picture” sorts of answers. However, there are many other “small picture” answers about what my day to day life as a transgender woman is like. Here are just 5 things that a transgender person may experience on a day to day basis.

5) Dealing with anyone in any sort of professional capacity is inherently more complicated until you are several years into hormones and have gotten all of your paperwork changed (which is, in many cases, impossible). Be it going to a bar (a bartender once insisted on calling me Sir after they saw my ID), doctors, or even calling your bank on the phone, you will have to either offer up some satisfactory excuse as to why this woman has a boy’s name, or be forced to out yourself and hope that you aren’t dealing with a transphobic person. Sometimes this can be an interesting thing, a great conversation starter. Often it means jumping through extra hoops to constantly prove you truly are who you say you are. Somewhat less common, it can be a very bad thing, where a trans person’s life can be in danger.

4) Binaries seem strange, after a while. Maybe this is more my reaction to transition, but I still find it noteworthy. Physically transitioning challenges the boundaries that are imposed on us by almost our entire society. After crossing a line that is considered by so many to be impossible to change, I’ve started questioning other boundaries society dictates. I think this may be why many transgender people are at least open to the idea of polyamory, many of us want to try new things, and makes many transgender people good with creating unorthodox solutions to problems.

3) Love and sex have several extra layers of complexity. I think the best way to explain this is with a quick story. I was out to dinner with some friends the other night, one of whom considers herself lesbian. We were talking about romance and dating, and this person hadn’t thought much about how she’d feel about dating a trans person. Despite the fact she identifies as lesbian, she thought she would probably rather be with a transman, due to the anatomy, than a transgirl. While she is absolutely 100% justified in that, it highlights an issue trans people face when dating. Even if you find a girl who likes girls, they may not be interested in dating a trans girl. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve had to deal with gay men who simply can’t understand why I am not interested in them. The difference between sex and gender and peoples’ preferences for each makes it even more difficult to find someone.

2) Medicine has numerous effects on a transsexual person’s life. First and foremost, in my case, I am on 2 medications for transition. Even with good insurance, that is at least $20 a month, $240 a year (I wont even bother saying how much it’d be without insurance..). The medications themselves have various side effects. In my case, one of my medications affects my blood pressure, resulting in dizziness and light headedness frequently. Taking estrogen also let me experience some really interesting things most girls don’t deal with in their early 20’s, such as hot flashes. Oh, did I mention many, many transgender people give themselves bi-weekly intra-muscular injections for their hormones? Thats when you (skip to #1 if you’re squeemish) stab a needle 3 inches into your thigh by yourself, which is not at all fun.

1) The number 1 thing that effects my day to day life as a transgender person is the need to be prepared to be outted in a dangerous situation. Despite how well I pass, how comfortable I am, and the fact I am pretty good at talking to people about it, being transgender can put a person at significantly greater risk. Verbal, emotional, physical, and even sexual violence can all result from being outted in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are hundreds of stories out there of a transgender person being outted at a party and being attacked, of trans people being murdered when their boyfriend or girlfriend finds out what is between their legs. Even authority figures whom we are supposed to feel safe with can be incredibly dangerous. I read a terrible story of a transman being arrested by the NYPD and, once they found out he was trans, they treated him incredibly inhumanely, leaving him handcuffed to a wall for 8 hours with no food or water, nor allowing him to use the restroom, all the while casting judgmental looks and uttering transphobic slurs.

Day in the Life: Going to the Club

So last night, I was pretty frustrated. I had planned to hang out with some friends, but plans fell through. I posted on Facebook that I was bored, and wanted to go out. I was very fortunate to get a text from someone I had met less than a dozen times at Allies and other LGBT events, Cindy. Cindy works for the Alder Health Center (http://www.alderhealth.org), a group dedicated to improving the health conditions of the LGBT community. They offer HIV testing, community health education, counseling, health services, and STD screening, so definitely check them out if you are around the Harrisburg area. Cindy and her girlfriend Francesca were going to a lesbian bar in Lancaster, and to the Lizard Lounge after that. I was intimidated, but I really wanted to get out. They were so kind to come get me, so I didn’t have to drive.

Before I talk about the night, I want to talk about why this is a big deal. I mentioned this in my post about two weeks ago, http://wp.me/p1onfK-1r . I realized that going out to a club was something that would be very difficult for me. There would be a lot of people in close physical contact with me. There are so many stories of transgender people being outted in situations like this, and it is a story that often ends in tragedy. Perhaps I am too worried about it, but I’m a person who tends to worry too much. I was determined to face this fear. Also, a club is a place that, of course, involves a lot of people checking one another out. This situation is sort of a “make it or break it” of passing. If I didn’t pass at the straight club we went to, I was scared of what would happen. And, if you follow this blog, you know facing my fears is something like my goal in life lately.

We went to the Sundown lounge first, which was nice because it felt much safer. There were numerous same sex couples, as well as some straight people. Cindy and Francesca knew the bartender well, and everyone was very friendly. There was a small circle of people dancing, which I was reluctantly drawn into, though only briefly. I learned quickly it is hard to dance with a purse, so I left mine in the car the next time. Going here first was a great decision, as it allowed me to experience the bar scene a little bit more independently than in the past, but I knew, even if I was outted, a good amount of people there wouldn’t care. Also, knowing Cindy was there and would not let anyone get away with doing anything allay my fears.

Next we went to the Lizard Lounge. I know very little about the Lancaster club scene, so I may be leaving out some important detail. The Lounge was awesome. At first, it was not very crowded. Then I ran into Sam, one of my friends from Allies. I was so excited to find a familiar face so soon after arriving; it soothed many of my fears. Sam and I caught up for a while. She actually told me she is a frequent reader of this blog, so Sam, when you read this, please know that meant a lot to me. I’m really excited people are reading and enjoying this blog! Anyways, Sam, Cindy, Francesca and I were all dancing together. This was perhaps the best part of the night. I found out I could dance. It was actually a blast; I really enjoyed myself. It was a bit of a surreal experience; if you read my post about my coming out story, the girl I mentioned is an awesome DJ. In Second Life, I would often go to her events. Last night though was the first time I ever actually attended a club like this. I really enjoyed myself, and I can’t wait to go again. It is still a little scary, knowing I could be outted, afraid of the reactions I might face, but I have learned part of being transgender is living with and, when possible, overcoming this fear.

I really do want to give a special shout out to Cindy, Francesca, and Sam. You guys really made last night a special night!

Day in the Life: Voting

I believe voting is important, but I always struggle with one thing. I feel like I must always vote along party lines, simply because the democratic platform sometimes views transgender issues as legitimate issues that should be addressed somehow. Republican platforms will (in my limited, PA experience) universally reject transgender issues. In my conservative little county, there was very little competition for the democratic positions – there were only two or three places where I actually had a choice between candidates. Still, I felt like voting was important. Also, it was a great chance to broaden some people’s horizons.

So I had a unique experience this year. First, I went with my girlfriend when she voted near her parent’s place. If you don’t know much about voting in Lancaster county, PA, I should mention many polling places are nice little christian churches. I understand that these are some of the only facilities capable of housing voting, but I still feel super uncomfortable seeing “HOUSE OF CHRIST” and several crosses as people are voting.

The next in the list of things that are odd about voting in conservative Lancaster are the people outside the polling stations. Now, until recently, I voted only in the presidential elections, so I am used to seeing a republican table and a democrat table, tensely keeping their distance from one another. However, at this primary, there were two tables, they were both republican. We were actually told at the first place we went to “Oh you’re democrat, I cant talk to you guys.” It was said in a teasing fashion, but still, the words had truth in them.

I was registered to vote at a municipal building, so I expected a little bit more equality. Still, there were just two republicans standing at the entrance to endorse their candidates. After talking to these people for a few moments, I came out. I had my girlfriend there, so I knew I had at least some more safety, and they wouldn’t team up on me (Yes, safety is something I always keep in mind when outting myself). I pretty much said “I’m a transgender bisexual woman, I typically vote along democratic lines, since republican candidates usually don’t see LGBT issues as important. What can your candidate offer me?” Watching the reactions of these two conservative people was rather priceless. The middle aged woman just stared at me, stunned, stuttering and shuffling papers. The older gentleman made some conversation about how the democrats hadn’t put forth a candidate, but he had no real answer. After I voted, I said thank you to both of them. It was interesting to watch their body language change as I passed, going from relaxed, tense, confused, stubborn, pretentious, then relaxed again.

Actually checking in for voting was not nearly as fun. I have learned that just jumping out and shouting “I’m trans!” doesn’t really do anything but make people uncomfortable and defensive. Instead, I try to spark conversation, lead it towards issues of social justice and equality, and then once I know no one is going to start shouting, I can be as blunt or subtle as I want to. However, with the four old women working the sign in, I had to skip the intro conversation and go right to stating my legal name, which is still my male name. So, as I’ve learned many people do when confronted outright with something that screams gender-non-conformity, they got defensive. They muttered comments like “Well sign here if this really is you.” I knew I wasn’t in any physical danger in a municipal building, but the rejection, isolation, and judgement these conservative workers showed definitely made voting a much more hostile experience than it should have been.

Day in the Life: Going to the Bar

This weekend, my girlfriend is away. I’ve decided to make this an opportunity to push myself further, to do things I never imagined I would pass well enough to do. I went to a local bar on my own.

I know, to most, that sounds minor, but to me, it was a huge deal. I got the idea for this odd mission because of a conversation I was having at work the other day. Some of the girls were talking about going to a rather busy club for karaoke. One of the girls went into a story about how, one time she went, and she had a huge problem with guys trying to reach up her skirt, and how annoying that was. I wasn’t really thinking before I blurted out “If that happened to me.. I could end up dead.” Its shocking, but it’s true. There are numerous cases of this exact thing happening. Drunk guy thinks hes hitting on a cute girl, but feels something extra. It attacks his sexuality, and so many people, especially with alcohol, take that like a physical assault. They feel the need to prove they have power over the thing that attacked them. There are hundreds of cases of trans people being beaten or killed in these sort of situations. Alcohol tends to make these violent reactions even more common.

After I said that, I was afraid. The thought of going to a bar and that happening was scary, and I found myself shying away from going out. So in my silly stubborn way, I made it my mission to do just that this weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect; whenever I hand over my ID or my credit card, my old name is flashed infront of the bartender. I’ve had bartenders make a huge issue about it – calling me “Sir” and “He” despite me obviously looking female. So right away, I risk being outted and, well, that can lead to bad things. I wasn’t sure if I would be ignored or flirted with. I wasn’t sure if it would be fun, or scary.

My idea for the night might seem silly to my cisgendered readers (that is, those who are not transgender themselves). I wanted to go to the bar and either not be carded or have a bartender who wouldn’t make a big deal. I planned on finding an excuse to hang around, like karaoke or food or something, and have some time of just being a normal girl going out. There was more I hoped for though. I hoped that someone would notice me. I wished some guy would catch eyes with me and run through the whole flirting thing. Now I know a bunch of you are probably thinking “Bet her GF isn’t gonna be happy to read that.” It’s really more complicated than that, and my partner and I have talked about this in depth already. It isn’t about trying to get a boyfriend, trying to hook up, or anything like that. It has solely to do with passing.

If a guy saw me at the bar and began flirting with me, its clear that I pass. Not only does he see me as female, but he sees me as an attractive female. Its a validation not just of my passing, but of sexuality. He sees me as a potential mate, not just some girl. As I am just now dealing with my sexuality in earnest, this means a lot. I don’t want to go have sex with some random guy, but just the simple flirting would be such a strong affirmation of my gender. Of course, I am way more interested in women, but if a woman is flirting with me, I know she is part of the LGBT community, so she has probably seen or at least heard of trans people before.

I had a fun idea for this mission; I was going to use my twitter ( http://twitter.com/#!/AshleyMcLaughln ) to give a bit of a play by play of what was going on. I plan on continuing this, so feel free to follow me there. It also adds something of a safety net for me – if I am doing this on twitter and I don’t tweet for a long time, someone would know at least where I was.

Okay, now on to what actually happened tonight. Really, not much happened. I went there, there were a lot of people there, but it was mostly couples. When I am there with my girlfriend, we would always notice how other women around us were attractive, but when I was alone, hoping someone would notice me, I just noticed how much more attractive these women were than me. I tried to make eye contact with people, but everyone was coupled off together, so there wasn’t any real conversation. I felt inadequate compared to some of the other women, but I realized that was absolutely normal for a woman. In the end, I only talked to the bartender, who was very nice, didn’t mention at all about the name on my card, and was happy to strike up conversation with me. But still, I was so proud of myself. I took a risk, I followed through. For a transgender person, each of these experiences are a huge accomplishment; the first time going to a girl’s clothing store alone, the first time doing your makeup alone, maybe the first time wearing a suit, tying your tie alone. These, to most people, are just simple day to day things. But for a transgender person, these little tasks represent a huge accomplishment, of comfortably moving into the gender role you were always told was not yours.

Also, just as a note.. I am looking for an artist who is skilled with photo manipulation of some sort. I have an interesting idea of making some sort of visual sequence of pictures from throughout transition, but I lack the skills… ❤

Day in the Life: Hospitals

This is going to be the first post tagged “MyStories.” These posts are going to deal with personal experiences of mine, stories of things I have gone through. I will be posting these to give the readers an idea of what it is like being trans. I’d love any feedback you guys would like to offer, if I can make this section somehow easier to relate to.

As some of you know, I was admitted to the Emergency Room a few nights ago. It took my significant other three hours to convince me to go, despite the fact I was in severe pain the entire time. The reason for my reluctance had nothing to do with the diagnosis or prognosis I would receive. It had nothing to do with a fear of pain, of needing surgery, or of risk to my life. No, the reason I refused emergency care that I really needed was fear of discrimination. I knew for being transsexual  I could be hurt, insulted, mocked, stared at, and mistreated for being who I am; just for being who I am, for being different.

There are numerous stories out there of paramedics letting transsexual people die rather than treat them, just because of their gender variance. Stories of doctors allowing these patients suffer, refusing medicine, and so forth. I know things have been improving, that there has already been a lot of progress, and that there were decent chances I would be safe. But I knew there would still be some forms of discrimination and discomfort.

There are also numerous complications to my visit. I am pre-op, as in, I haven’t had any sort of surgery. I also have not had a legal name change. My gender marker on my license though says Female.

My partner and I walked (limped) to the front desk of the emergency desk. I gave them my old name, the male name on my insurance information. I waited to see their confusion, but I was shocked they did not seem too disturbed. They mentioned specifically they would not call out my name, which was reassuring, as I did not have to worry about the awkward, disturbed, confused glances of others in the waiting room when that name is called and I stood up. The nurse who did my entrance exam was even more amazing. She asked the problem, so I said I was transsexual, then explained the problem quickly. Usually when people hear me come out, there is a pause; confusion as they try to rectify their preconceptions of transsexuals with the woman who is standing before them. This nurse though had no pause. She did not even blink when I came out, and promptly went on to asking about my conditions. I was amazed, and felt so welcomed.

I was sent back to the waiting room, though now I was far more comfortable . I was called up again and a nurse led my partner and I to the room I would be staying with. The male nurse was very obviously and stereotypically gay. Some would use the phrase “flamboyant.” He was very friendly, and I felt relaxed to have someone who obviously would have been at least tolerant. He even had a rainbow pin on his name tag. Seeing these familiar things set me at ease.

I became suddenly uncomfortable as the nurse used male pronouns and my legal name. My significant other very politely, but sternly told the nurse and later the doctor that I was a woman, my name was Ashley, and I prefer female pronouns. The staff from then on tried to be sympathetic about the name, but in almost every case they would use male pronouns. Each time they did, I would be hurt, and make me uncomfortable. Even if it is not intended to hurt, people insisting I am male attacks who I am. It tells me “You are not a real girl.” “I will put up with you pretending to be a woman, but you’re still a he.” In many cases, they will say she to my face, then turn around and insist he to their coworkers.

Luckily, the pain medication soon dulled my senses. Things after that point are rather blurry. I remember many confused expressions and glances, but at least the doctor and the nurse who saw me were kind, and my significant other was there, so I was able to cope. Had I been alone, and had I been given a homophobic nurse, the experience would have been difficult, and extremely dangerous. I probably would not have gone. In this case, that might not have been terrible, but if I had needed stitches, needed emergency care, not going would have made everything much worse. Fear that keeps people from seeking help that should have nothing to do with who they are is just wrong, and it’s something we all need to work on.

If there are any staff of Lancaster General Hospital reading this blog, thank you for your awesomeness

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