Sunday, July 01, 2007


The other day, I was in the company of a transwoman friend of mine, and she did a small favor for me, to which I enthusiastically responded "Thanks, dude!"

She cheerfully but very quickly said "I'm not a dude, but you're welcome!"

And my face must've fallen slightly as my heart broke a little bit, but I covered up fast with "Then thanks, dudette!"

I know exactly what it's like to be so sensitive, to be on edge to every gendered reference, to feel the sting of thoughtless, casual words. At that moment, I had the sudden sinking feeling of knowing what it's like to be the not-sensitive-enough person, to have a thoughtless and automatic response give offense where none is intended.

I call everyone dude- it's not a gendered remark, for me. And ah ha, therein lies the privilege that let me hurt the feelings of a friend, for which I feel quite sorry. Worse still, hurt in a way that I've been hurt myself, in a way that I ought very much to know better than to do.

Of course, there's no way to know how much of her response was (trans)gender-pain based, part of an ongoing fight to be seen as a woman (which every now and again I remember is often a much harder fight for transwomen), and how much was gendered indignation of the same sort that various conscientious feminist friends of mine wince and correct me when I say 'freshmen' instead of 'first year' or "you guys" when referring to a mixed (or even all female) group.

I'm not prepared to fight with out language to the same extent as, say, the We'Moon Collective out in Estacada, Oregon, who get their deliveries from the US Postal Service in the moon box since even phallocentric homonyms are frowned upon; an anecdote I read in the local queer newspaper in high school which has ever since kept me from taking them quite seriously.

But I'm definitely willing to acknowledge that using masculine language as a universal standard is a pretty lousy practice, one that's a big step on the slippery slope of sexism, and does a lot to subtly undermine women and feminist notions.

So I'm glad to be corrected, and glad to get the kick in the pants that reminds me that my casual use of masculine terms, even terms that have lost their gendered markings in my own vocabulary (like dude), are still very gendered for other folks. I may entirely be projecting when I say that I think she flinched at that term for personal, trans-related reasons. There are some who would call that being too sensitive, but I know well that when every acknowledgement of one's identity comes at a hard-fought price, the little things are huge, too. I remember trying to describe to someone once the reason that I didn't want to wear any articles of women's clothing, be it socks or sneakers, even though to the casual eye they were essentially unisex. It was too hard to keep a grasp on my masculinity before transition, and I had to keep a tight grip on the tiniest things to reassure myself, as well as present a unified front to the rest of the world.

So it's possible that my friend was just being a feminist woman, reminding me to curb my assumptions and my language, which was obviously gendered to her even if I used it unthinkingly. Still, it takes on additional weight coming from her, as a woman whose womanhood most likely comes dearly to her, as my manhood does to me.

It's a lesson to remember that my own privilege is generally invisible to me but very visible to others, and in this case, while I'm not sure which set of circumstances most contributed to the offense I gave, I still hurt the feelings of a friend, and I hope I won't forget it soon.

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