Thursday, February 16, 2006

Miss Represented and Miss Interpreted, the Belles of the Ball

Yesterday my coworker vented to me about how it's upsetting to her when people (library patrons) refer to me with the wrong pronoun- she said that it's frustrating, particularly because we are in the school of social work, and these people of all people should be more sensitive and aware. And it's true- while everyone in the world, ideally, would be more sensitive and aware, it does seem that people who are choosing social work as their profession might be particularly well served if they made fewer assumptions and spent more time being aware of how their actions might be unknowingly oppressive/offensive.

And it was good to hear, particularly when she very kindly said that she didn't understand how they could mess up my pronouns when I'm so dedicated and consistent in my gender expression, and my other coworker later corroborated and said it throws her for a loop when people say "Oh, but she told me I could have it until 6pm" because she genuinely doesn't understand who they're talking about. which was very kind, and good to hear.

However, talking with the original coworker, expecially because she brought it up, also made me feel two other somewhat uncomfortable emotions. The first wasn't very strong, and I am rather ashamed of it, actually, but I definitely felt a thread of bitterness. It's just not fair that I try so hard, and I try to correct people, and tell people, and I am consistent and thorough in my gender presentation, as much as I can be given certain bodily limitations. It's painful and frustrating to still be misread and misrepresented. What more am I supposed to do? Put up signs?

and, as Alysse (coworker 1) said, can't they just gossip more, for goodness sakes? There are definitely students who know I'm a guy, and there are definitely students who know I'm a transguy, and you'd think word would spread one way or another so that people would at least know that Eli behind the desk should be called 'he.'

And the other emotion was a discomfitting rush of gratitude to Alysse for bringing this up. I spend so so so much of my energy and brainspace on this, and I have such guilt over that, and I worry so much about how much it spills over into my life and onto the people in my life, possibly (probably?) against their will or convenience. Consequently, whenever someone voluntarily brings up the topic with me I feel absurdly grateful. I want to thank them for offering me the chance to let a few more wild thoughts come rushing out of my head (who was the guy who kept the winds plugged up in a mountain, and only let them come rushing out a little at a time?), and for (knowingly or not) clearing some space for me.

And I'm cogent enough to realize that the fact that I'm grateful is a little fucked up on my part, but I'm still working on not being weirdly about myself, so we'll let it go for a second as we explore it.

And really, I don't know why I'm grateful, because at the same time I'm also guilty (fucked up again) that the people I care about have harder lives because of me- i.e they have to absorb some of the discomfort of my life into their lives, whether by being uncomfortable when other people call their guy friend Eli 'she' or by having the burden of then feeling like they have to correct that mistake. which I (more guilt!) absolutely benefit from, because everytime my friends deal with problems like that for me, it makes my life easier. it's one more skirmish I didn't have to carry out myself.

so when Alysse mentioned that, my feelings got all discombobulated, because I was bitter and grateful and guilty all at the same time.

What can I do, though? It's a complicated feeling to know that the people in my life notice, and care, that I'm living in the world as best I can and still getting a raw deal for it right now.


Julian's Mom said...

It certainly wasn't my intention to make you feel guilty for the impact that you have had on my life (in terms of my interactions with others), especially since that impact has been overwhelmingly positive. I learn so much from you every day.

I also wasn't expecting any gratitude or trying to pass any test of how down I am with the transguy crowd. I know you know this, but I just wanted to say it aloud. I believe in confronting the elephant in the room, so to speak, and I know if this crap has been bothering me, it sure as hell bothers you.

I know how shitty I felt the one time I messed up your pronoun, and I'm glad more for my sake than yours, that I never made that mistake again. It's natural that you are feeling mixed emotions, but I don't think I'm worthy of your gratitude. As I explained to another of our co-workers, I'd offer the same correction if someone referred to her as Haitian when I know she is not.

Basically, I just wish people were more mindful of the experiences, worldviews, and feelings of others, a major theme I deal with in my own life, which is perhaps why I care about yours. Okay, I'm going to shut up before I start singing "Kumbayah."

Anonymous said...

Aolus was the guy who kept the four winds bottled up. Here's a snippet from wikipedia. "In the caves on this island were imprisoned the winds, and Aeolus, directed by the higher gods, let out these winds as soft breezes, gales, or whatever the higher gods wished. Being visited by the Greek hero Odysseus, Aeolus received him favorably, and on the hero's departure presented Odysseus with a bag containing all the adverse winds, so that his friend might reach Ithaca with a fair wind. Odysseus did as Aeolus bid, but in sight of his homeland, having been untroubled by foul weather, he fell asleep and his men, curious, opened the bag, thus releasing all the fierce winds, which blew their ship far off course (Odyssey X, 2; Vigil I, 52)."
So, when you Mom is both a classics major AND a librarian you'll get answers about classical illlusions, unless it is clear that the questions are merely rhetorical or hypothetical. Aolus sounds like a good guy, with a lot of responsibility who was only trying to help. Odysseus seems to have kept his men on a strictly "need to know" basis - not the best management policy.
Love you Elliot, and love your blog. I feel a book in the making...