I found myself filling in a campus safety survey for my university’s Student Union yesterday. As I began the form, I thought about how safe I feel on campus.
I have this arguably unhealthy tendency to wander around all kinds of places alone at night, but inevitably feel a bit on edge and on guard in town and city centres. By contrast, I always feel comfortable on campus. I mean, this place is full of busy academic types during the day and feels quiet yet friendly at night. During the early years of my transition in particular the place was like a safe haven.
Moreover, I’ve always felt that I got off pretty lightly compared to many of my trans friends: I’m lucky really. I mean, I don’t get pestered by transphobic morons on a regular basis, and I’ve never been physically or sexually assaulted. At least, not since all those times I was beaten up as a teenager. But that was ages ago, and they had no idea I was trans (…right?)
Yet as I continued with the survey, I began to realise how much being trans causes us to redefine what counts as “lucky”, and, for that matter, what counts as a normal experience.
Firstly, there were the questions on physical attacks. Of course I’ve never been physically attacked! Oh wait, there was that time that someone threw a mysterious object at the back of my head outside the Union nightclub. Yeah, that time when the security guys clearly couldn’t care less and gave me some hassle because I immediately approached them and asked for help. Still, that was just the one time, right?
So, on to harassment. I know some trans people on campus who have had all kinds of horrible experiences in halls and suchforth but again, I’ve been pretty lucky. Except for that time I was subject to some totally inappropriate questioning during a club night at the Union: good thing my friends were there to stand up for me. And that time I was pestered by a chaser. And that time I was kicked off a bus and told to “cut my hair” after I got confused over the fare. And the time a woman refused to sell me a banana because she wouldn’t accept my gender(!) Huh, how these incidents build up…
These incidents are extremely infrequent, leading me to think that I’m lucky. This thought process points to the normalisation of transphobia: I’m entirely used to the idea that people will treat me like crap because of who I am. It’s something we all get used to, to one extent or another.
This normalisation then leads me to redefine safety. A safe place becomes a place where I experience minimal harassment, rather than somewhere I don’t expect to be harassed at all. I suppose I always expect to be harassed to some extent.
Of course, this is all par for course in the UK if you’re not a visibly abled middle-class white guy. Ho hum.
A bit painful to read, as it’s rather accurate:
“This normalisation then leads me to redefine safety. A safe place becomes a place where I experience minimal harassment, rather than somewhere I don’t expect to be harassed at all. ”
I get harassed/verbally abused frequently, haven’t managed a week without some incident and was recently followed, fortunately only briefly by a group of men shouting… well you can guess.
It shakes me up but I do exactly what you do- think ‘at least I haven’t been physically assaulted yet’. After all, this stuff is just what we should expect, right?
I don’t think you comment on it in the post, but the follow on from always expecting to be harassed to some extent is that we blame ourselves: ‘If I passed better it wouldn’t happen.’ The hatred gets internalised: the abuse is because I look so hideous, not because the abusers are dangerous bigots.
I loved this post. I have found myself in situations many times in talking to friends who are not trans (mostly family or coworkers) where I will casually mention something that happened to me, usually like altercations where someone yelled faggot or something at me and threw something that didn’t hit me or something and to me, that’s like, an example of the fact that bad things don’t happen to me and is not even a big deal, but the non-trans/non-queer family member/friend–who has never had something like that happen to them–gets all horrified like the thing that I thought was an example of the fact that I’ve almost never felt like i was in real danger is an example of something really scary to them.
It always takes me aback when someone reacts like that because I forget that the “normal” that a lot of trans folks have in terms of how people treat us is not normal and is not how things should be.
anyway, thanks for posting this.
Thanks for the comments. Anonymous is right about the internalisation of hatred – on one recent occasion I convinced myself I wasn’t femme enough and got into a right state.