By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
This column isn’t about anything, necessarily or rather, I’m not trying to make a particular point. Anyway, part of this whole gig and everything else I do is that my job is to think about all things trans.
Fortunately, I’m pretty much endlessly fascinated with the world and with the experience of being trans in it. I also have a tendency to notice little details and to overthink things.
Just ask my girlfriend.
As I write this, I’m in Florida with her, visiting my Mom and stepfather for Christmas. At this point, my parents have lived down here for some years and I’ve spent enough time here to notice recurring themes—ways that people pretty consistently react to me, and to my trans-ness.
Florida, as you may have heard, is a strange place. And, the Gulf Coast where my Mom lives is a weird mix of The South and the Southerners you’d expect, with a lot of people from The Midwest, New England, and New York along with a smattering of Amish folks, just to keep things interesting.
It’s still Southern culture at its core and that’s where things get interesting for me as a very, very out trans woman.
Because you see, despite the feeling that I might get myself killed if I go too far away from the coast, or into the wrong bar, people are unfailingly polite to me. And, even if I’m in a store, and everyone there is staring at me out of the corners of their eyes, giving me the, “Oh my Lord, it’s a giant transsexual!” look, they will all still, unfailingly, call me, “ma’am” and refer to me with female pronouns and honorifics.
I have a lot of theories about why this is. They may be wrong, or right. I don’t really know. Maybe I should ask a proper sociologist. One theory I have though, is that it’s because Southern culture is often very focused on politeness and certain social norms. So although many of them can tell I’m trans, I’m still presenting myself in a manner they recognize as feminine and, therefore, politeness dictates that they use proper feminine forms of address for me.
I have also noticed that when I am around cultures with perhaps more misogyny embedded in them, there’s this effect where, even though I am, again, recognizable as a transgender woman, they will unfailingly gender me using female forms. Because, as the reasoning seems to go, no “man” would present himself like this. So, even though they may not completely accept me as female, I couldn’t possibly (by their misogynistic norms) be a “real” man. Therefore, the default ends up being female forms of address and association.
Again, who knows, maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe I’ve hung out with too many drunken sociologists; and not taken enough sociology classes, or any sociology classes for that matter. But, this is what I have observed.
The practical upshot of all this is that I end up looking forward to visiting my mom in Florida because it’s one of the few times all year when I know I will not have to deal much with constant misgendering. More than that, it’s like a little mini-gender-affirmation-vacay!!
Not only do I almost never get misgendered, at least not to my face, but when I sit down at a restaurant with my mom, my girlfriend, or any group of female presenting people, inevitably when the server comes over they will say, “Hello ladies!” And, they will continue to pepper their speech with all manner of very female-specific honorifics and terms of endearment.
It’s honestly really wonderful! Not only am I not being actively misgendered. But my gender is being constantly affirmed! It’s such an incredible balm for my dysphoria.
I know I’m lucky in that my gender identity is pretty much binary female and that I also identify as femme. Perhaps not “high-femme” but at least what I think of as, “Yankee femme.” Plus, I go out of my way to present in ways that I hope will telegraph that.
I’m sure this same set of circumstances must seriously suck for my trans gender-nonconforming and non-binary siblings. I have heard many terrible stories about how hard it is to feel simply, erased, and it makes my heart ache.
I really believe in the importance of trying to use language that is as gender neutral as possible. It’s why, when I have to address groups of people, I try to use the words, “folks” and, ironically enough because it’s primarily a Southern colloquialism, the very gender-neutral useful, “y’all.”
I want to support, as much as possible, in my work and my language, a society that acknowledges and lifts up all gender identities. And, despite my own binary-oriented gender identity, I don’t really believe in gender as just a binary.
But my gods … I do get worn down by all the misgendering I experience in the more “liberal” areas that I usually live and travel in. When I’m not being actively misgendered, all the neutral language can feel positively ungendering to me, which sucks almost as much.
I worked hard for this gender identity!
Still, doing the right thing is not always the easiest thing, is it? Sometimes, we have to make our own sacrifices to support our siblings, sisters, and brothers.
But please, just know there’s a toll we pay ourselves. It’s a big enough one to make a trip to the South seem relaxing, even for a giant, super-queer, very out, trans woman.
So maybe I do have a point after all. Maybe it’s to be kind. To please recognize that despite our commonalities in this community, we each have our different difficulties, even those of us who aren’t trying to destroy the binary, but would rather open it up to a rainbow of other gender-options—including my old, stodgy, binary-female identity.
Or, I dunno. Maybe I’m just over-thinking, and over-sharing things again. I’ll let you decide.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to my gender-affirming vacation. This very nice person serving us just asked, “Would you lovely ladies like another drink before Happy Hour ends?”
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at [email protected].