I am interrupting my telling of the story of my BFF and me to finish a post I started to write on my phone while sitting on the toilet last night. A toilet in the women’t bathroom of the bar I was attending for St. Patrick’s day.
This post was fueled first by Peroni, then by Bloody Mary, and finally by cold sobriety.
When I first came to the conclusion that I really might be trans, I found myself at an impasse: while presenting as a straight, cis, white guy, and an American to boot, I had about as much privilege as one could ever hope for in their lifetime. Sure, I wasn’t rich, but I pretty much had all the other bases covered. Could I really turn all that away, to become a member of one of the most politically-demonized groups out there?
We know now where I landed on that decision, and I am a much, much better person for it. But what I didn’t know then, and have only just begun to learn now, is what exactly “privilege” is. Or rather, what it isn’t.
Privilege is invisibility. No, it’s more than that. Real privilege is not even knowing that visibility is a concept that other people have to contend with.
And that’s not to say that there aren’t many other types of privilege. There are. But this, to me, is such a basic type that I took for granted for nearly my whole life.
The deeper I have gotten into my transition, the more and more awkward it has come to be when I have to show my ID, which features a pre-transition picture along with my deadname and a nice little “M”. It probably doesn’t help things that I typically go all-out femme when I do go out to bars, but dammit the world deserves to bask in my radiant rainbow unicorn glory.
There’s a nice little Irish bar that’s local to me, which has recently become a favorite for my friends and me. I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous post, but I love all things Celtic, and they also have good cocktails and an extensive beer list (which is largely made up lovely dark wheaty things, rather than foul IPAs). It also always has live music. In most respects, then, it’s a pretty great fit.
There is but one fly in the ointment: the last two times I’ve gone, the bouncer has done his very best to make me feel like shit.
The first time, I nearly didn’t get in. After giving him my ID, he looked over it carefully, looked up and down the new cute-ass dress Naomi had bought for me, raised his eyebrow, scowled…I smiled, shrugged, and said “yep”. He looked back at the ID, back at me, scowled some more…
Naomi, who had already gotten in, walked back to us and said “I know, she’s really cute, right?”
He then asked my birthday, and finally let me in when I answered correctly.
That experience was a little off-putting, but validating in the weirdest way. Last night’s, however, wrecked what had otherwise been a fantastic evening.
As mentioned, we had decided to go to that same Irish bar for St. Patrick’s day. I had done better on my makeup than ever before, I loved my outfit, and we had just finished some really excellent Hawaiian pizza next door. I was feeling good, and ready to have a good time.
Then I saw that same bouncer there at the door. I was the first up this time. My heart dropped, not knowing what would happen next.
He smiled warmly as I approached, and asked how I was doing. I breathed a sigh of relief and smiled back. “Good, and you?” I asked as I handed over my ID.
His face immediately fell into that same, disgusted scowl. This time, he couldn’t throw my ID back at me fast enough.
He never told me how he was doing. He never said another word. Instead, the man actually rolled his eyes and shook his head.
The whole exchange took like ten seconds at most. It’s amazing how inhuman a person can make you feel in so little time.
Those ten seconds took me hours to recover from. Whether or not he even knew he had responded to me in such a way, I’m sure he soon forgot about me. I, however, might carry that experience my whole life, especially now that I have written it down.
The dude was a spitting image of the bearded Piscatella from Orange is the New Black. Huge, broadly-built, pomade comb-over and a full beard. He even wears the same overly-serious grimace at rest. I’ve sort of gotten over that show in the last few seasons, but man did they do a good job with that character, because he is exactly that person.
Like Piscatella, the man drips toxic masculinity, the same kind that dumped Coke on my head and called me “fag” in school. The kind that outwardly projects this distorted image of hyper-masculinity, while secretly being super into competitive table-setting behind closed doors. The kind for which all things soft and sweet are abhorrent. The kind that would label me a gender traitor, because just by treating me as anything more than subhuman, he runs the risk of being labelled a “fag” himself.
I bet he drives a lifted Cummins with massive chrome wheels shod in offroad Mickey Thompsons, and he loves to roll coal from his six inch stacks.
Anyway, this post really isn’t about my real-life Piscatella. It’s about what he taught me.
I got 28 years of easy living while other people, from those whose gender or sexual orientation openly differed from the idealized “norm”, to those whose skin tone is anything darker than lily-white, were made to feel less-than simply for existing. I can only imagine how Muslim women who choose to wear hair- and facial-coverings must be made to feel on a daily basis here.
And God, you know? With varying degrees of success, I can still keep my whole thing hidden when I want. I can take hormones, I can have surgeries, I can take voice lessons, I can learn makeup and buy girly clothes. I can even get that damn ID changed. As time goes on, I can effectively hide that I am trans. I can even hide that I’m a lesbian.
Through all that, I still have an extreme amount of privilege in being white in this country–and skin color is something that is permanently visible to bigots.
A common question transfolk always seem to grapple with is whether they would rather be cis. My experience last night shows, in the smallest way possible, how shitty the trans experience can be. But honestly, at this point right now, if I could magically wave a wand and become a ciswoman, I like to think that I wouldn’t do it. I am, in such a strange way, deeply thankful that I am trans. Otherwise, I would never have anywhere near the understanding of how privileged some people are, nor as deep an empathy for those many people who enjoy less privilege than I, even if I still lack the understanding that comes with living their experiences.
But anyway, my sympathies to that guy. I hope he didn’t catch my gay.