Friday, January 26, 2007

poison in the well

Someone at my work she'd me today, and it threw me for a bit of a loop. I was coming in the door, all bundled up against the ridiculous cold, and was so intent on getting upstairs to the library that I didn't notice that the guard working at the welcome desk was new, and trying to ask me for my ID. Then I heard one of the guys who works in the building say "It's ok, she works in the library."

Which didn't really register with me, I just turned and noticed the guard and said "I work upstairs," and he waved me through.

But walking upstairs I had a WTF? moment.

First, I was frustrated with myself for not doing something. For once, it wasn't that I didn't have the guts to confront the situation, it was just that it happened so quickly, almost in passing, that I didn't have a chance to address it. As I stomped up the last few stairs I started reviewing alternate scenarios in my head- maybe going over and introducing myself to the new guy, "Hey, yeah, my name's Eli, I work in the library" and saying something funny but pointed to the facilities guy "How're you doing, man? Did I hear you call me she? What's up with that? You forget to drink your coffee this morning?"

Because honestly, it's not really okay for him to call me she, and I can't think of why he hadn't occurred to me that he thinks of me as she. He has known me the whole time I've worked here, so I guess he drew his conclusions when he met me and hasn't bothered to re-evaluate.

Which leads me to the second thing which is that in some ways, it's throwing me for a loop because it's making me wonder again about how much I've really changed over the past year. I guess I've just assumed that the people at my workplace either have read me as male from the start and either assumed that I'm doing some kind of late bloomer puberty thing, or haven't really noticed...or thought I was a dyke but then realized that I'm a dude now. Because duh, obviously, I'm a dude.

Except now I want to call myself on some shit because what is it that makes me think "Duh, I'm a dude?" I've got some definitively masculine secondary sex features, like a deeper voice and sideburns/stubble, and a flat chest, and more masculine proportions (broader shoulders, etc)...but not only is it in some ways against my politics to automatically assign those as dudely features, it also makes sense that, gradual and in some cases subtle as they've been, not everyone has noticed or understood the mechanics of my transition.

If there are folks who've read me as male from the start who haven't said anything about my sudden post-pubertal appearance, then it makes sense that there are folks who read me as female from the start who haven't really noticed or had the shoe drop about my more physically masculinized appearance, and so still call me she.

And if I'm annoyed that they used to automatically call me she because I used to have breasts, if I follow that reasoning, I can't be annoyed that they don't automatically call me he now because I have sideburns/flat chest.

On the other hand, I think that there are enough deliberately masculine cues in my appearance to warrant at least some thought about the matter. I'm pretty sure that most of the people in this building call me he, whether because they know they're supposed to or because they themselves see me as he (or both, I suppose). I'm all about not making gender/pronoun assumptions based on bodies, but I'm also in favor of the being sensitive and picking up on cues to try to be respectful of a person's pronoun preferences.

Blah. So I'm trying not to be resentful about this pronoun slippage on the part of this guy (because harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting your enemies to die! a piece of Nelson Mandela's wisdom that I heard for the first time the other day and haven't been able to stop thinking about). Getting to that realization has got me thinking that it's just not that big of a deal if one dude, whom I interact with once a week or so when he's changing the lightbulbs in the library, thinks I'm a she. Don't sweat the small stuff, right? The small stuff can be really oppressive when it's constant- a continuous, day-in, day-out stream of invalidation is a pretty crushing negative emotional burden to carry around- but right now, when I'm in such a good place, one small moment of someone else's mistake stings only temporarily.

And hold on, that's an important thought right there, that bit about it being someone else's mistake. Big lesson learned for me, and it's part of what's been such a good thing for me about this transition- I can finally accept that people who aren't seeing me for myself, people who call me she or refuse to respect me, are making their own mistakes. It was really hard for me to accept those mistakes as external to myself when I still felt like my own body was a mistake...I think it takes a different kind of strength and conviction than mine to be able to reject the short-sightedness of others without making any sort of physical changes. Now that I'm happier with the steps I've taken (mostly physically, but also mentally) to make things right with myself, it's easier to not care so much about what other people think.

Still, I do wish I'd been quick enough on my feet to correct him and affirm myself. or something.

1 comment:

roses said...

Do you think he may not have realized yet because he might only see you when you walk in the door and are all bundled up from the cold?