Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adventures in Transition, Special Zeitgeist Edition: Where No Trans Has Gone Before

This post, ducks, will be a bit different in that it's going to be personal and I won't just be using my personal experience as a way to make a larger point. (Well, not much, anyway.)

I went to my first bridal shower on Saturday. At least, my first one as a woman; I seem to recall showing up to my fiancee's shower back in the Pona Time before I transitioned.

Like a lot of women, I suspect, the prospect filled me with emotions, most along the lines of "do I have to do this?"

Not initially, though.

I found out that my friend Joanna was going to have a shower when I called her from Thailand, a few days before I left for home. My friend/lackey/McDonald's wallah had returned to the States, and I finally decided to spend a small fortune and use my cell phone to call folks at home. Joanna was one of the first I called; we've known each other since high school, albeit with a nine-year interregnum between graduation and accidentally running into each other in a grocery store.

I wasn't expecting her to have a shower; she isn't having a bridal party (dashing my last, best hopes of being a bridesmaid; oh well), but her mom wanted to throw her one and she gave in. I was simultaneously glad to hear that she was having one and bracing myself to not be invited.

Except that I was.

I was very touched, because I felt so--well, accepted. Not so much by Joanna, who's always been supportive and morphed from friend to closet girlfriend with ease. But it meant a lot to me that she was willing to bring me into such an intimate family occasion, especially one as highly gendered as a bridal shower.

That feeling lasted a few weeks. Then the dread set in.

Events like this play merry hell with my insecurities. It's times like these when I feel most acutely my lack of a girlhood, the huge gaps in my socialization into ordinary female society. Normally, that doesn't bother me: after all, I'm not exactly unhappy that nobody told me I shouldn't study military history, or challenge my teachers, or be bad at math. (I took care of the last one all by myself, ducks.) But times like these, so encrusted with (ok, stupid) tradition and drenched in (ok, ridiculous) mores--these leave me feeling exposed.

Or worse, leave me fearing that I'll be exposed.

I mean, what am I supposed to bring? What's the etiquette? Will I make a huge faux-pas? Sure, I can (and did) ask my mom about this stuff, but I can't help but feel a little foolish: for not knowing, for needing to ask, for feeling that I needed to ask.

As it turned out, I had no worries. Most of the people who came already either knew me or knew about me and were all really lovely. A few had no idea (as I didn't) what the hell the wishing well was for. I had a pretty good time. Except. (You knew there would be an except, right?)

One of the women was somebody I didn't really know. We talked and as it turns out she knew my background, and we had a...well, sure, pleasant...little talk about some of my trans stuff. But sitting across from us was a woman I had never met before, a nice lady from Oklahoma. And at one point I noticed her listening to me and the other woman talking.

The next time I heard her refer to me, she used male pronouns.

This sort of thing happens occasionally; my official rule is to give people three screwups before I correct them. But this one put me in a fix: either say something, and draw attention to it, or ignore it and let her think that she was right. (But seriously: there weren't any men invited, I was wearing a dress, I was wearing high heels for fuck's sake--how do you think I prefer to be addressed?) I let it go that time. But it wasn't fun.

I rode the train home with several women from the shower. One of them talked about her boyfriend, and we all chimed in with advice and opinions. It was the very stereotypically female-gendered end to a very stereotypically female-gendered day.

My head was in a bit of a whirl. Part of my transition has been to finally put some distance between me as a trans person and me as a woman. That is, after all these years of being trans, of having that as the most important part of my life, I really want to try and just be for a while. I've done a gradual retreat from trans-only spaces, including a message board where I had been a long-time commentator.

But. I had been out with these other women, all or almost all of whom knew, and it wasn't a big deal; they didn't treat me any different than any of the other women at the party. So maybe I shouldn't worry about it, maybe I shouldn't care who knew and who didn't? Maybe it didn't matter.

But why did that make me feel so bad? Was I trying to be something I thought I had to be? (That worked out so well the last time I tried it.) Would I be happier not having anything trans in my life anymore? And if so, what about this blog, which gives me great pleasure to work on, even as it draws me back deeper into a world I am ambivalent about.

I still haven't figured it out yet. I hope I do. Because being stuck in the twilight zone of genders got old years ago.


  1. She wasn't a nice lady from Oklahoma. She was an ignorant cow from Oklahoma. Bridal showers draw 'em like flies.

  2. We women from Oklahoma aren't all like that, I swear. Also, you're not the only one--I never know what to do (or bring, or wear) at showers, either. Anyway, love the blog, C.L. Cheers!

  3. Oh, gawd how I hate showers. I never know what to bring, where to sit, how to make polite chitchat, how to be enthusiastic about the dumbass games without you know, actually being competitive, and finally what to do when there's no freaking alcohol. And I had a girlhood. A fairly girly girlhood even.

    In other words, if you felt like a visitor from a strange planet that's because you're normal. Although it's understandable that you had extra anxieties and I don't mean to diminish that, just trust me on this- awkwardness is a completely sane response to showers.

    I'm sorry the Oklahoma woman couldn't contain her bigotry and not embarrass herself and probably piss off a few of those present. Although if her only experience with transpeople has been through the MSM she might just be genuinely ignorant, but I don't know if it's worth giving her the benefit of the doubt.

  4. I'm no fan of showers myself, but yipes, that sounds awkward.

    I get asked to "explain" my gender a lot...I don't often make a point of telling people "I consider myself X, because of Y, please refer to me as Z" just because I don't feel like it's worth the effort sometimes. Regrettably this leads to people assuming all sorts of comical things about my gender, and more than once I've been in a room where different acquaintances had different assumptions and were basically debating over what I was, exactly, because they all had incomplete information.

    Love your blog, please keep it up if it continues to be rewarding and enjoyable for you. (You had me as a reader from the word 'doucheoisie' -- I -love- your writing.)

  5. @oshima: OMG, I've been forgetting to push "douchoisie" lately! And I wanted that to be a meme that would sweep the net!

    @kate: thank you so much--good to know it's not just me. Still, highly gendered spaces tend to stir stuff up in me of late.

    @everyone: thank you for your synmpathy, & of course the nice things you have to say about the blog!

  6. >>But why did that make me feel so bad? <<

    Because someone went out of her way to attack your identity. Some people feel that the gender system would fall apart if not rigorously enforced, so they harass anyone whose gender expression is out of the ordinary. It's very rude, especially at someone else's party.

    If you want to be discreet, there's little to be done. If you want to make people *quit* using the wrong pronouns for you, put the shoe on the other foot: do it to them. They'll hate it, and will almost certainly object, in which case you can agree to stop when they do.

  7. Yeah, I think when people are being deliberately nasty to you, it tends to hurt. And no mistake, that asshole woman from Oklahoma was being deliberately nasty. She wasn't confused. She was being a bitch. It was an attack, pure and simple. She knew you'd be in a bind because being confrontational wasn't a very good option, since you were a guest and she probably guessed at all your trepidation about being invited and whatnot, and she went for it and attacked your right to be there, right to decide who to be, your integrity with regards to your being what you say you are, etc. It was a fine piece of bitchcraft, really.

    I am not by nature mean or aggressive, so when people pull complicated power moves like that, it always leaves me sort of marvelling - how did they come up with that?

    "Oh, gawd how I hate showers. I never know what to bring, where to sit, how to make polite chitchat, how to be enthusiastic about the dumbass games without you know, actually being competitive, and finally what to do when there's no freaking alcohol."

    Oh, same here. Plus, the type of folks that like bridal shower-type events always find me weird, and I feel like a Martian trying to blend in with the earthlings and failing. It's painful.

  8. Thanks all for letting me know that being clueless about showers is a non-gendered experience!

    Except for the pronouns, Oklahoma! (where the wind comes...) was very sweet, so I'm inclined to give her a tiny bit of the benefit of the doubt. Though I have to admit, @ysabetwordsmith, I like your strategy--subversive and snarky is pretty much my SOP :)

  9. Hello Lovely,

    Thank you for the tip to this post. And I'm glad that your answer to "do I have to do this?" was yes. It was a great comfort to have you at my unwanted, unneeded, big-ass suburban bridal shower. As you know, even the spectre of that event was somewhat mortifying to me; but I decided to accept that the party was given by my mom with the best of intentions, and to just roll with it.

    I was very upset to hear of the incident you described. It doesn't sound like anyone I know (ESPECIALLY anyone I know well enough to invite to my shower!) and I discreetly sniffed the ether to see if there was some other perspective afloat.

    Bottom line: Okie messed up badly, and knew it, and felt (feels) horrendous. Remember, she knew you from the Pona Time. (She may not have seen you since then?) My assessment is that she was in a pretty deep mindbend when she saw the new you, and in her confusion, totally screwed up.

    You feared:

    What's the etiquette? Will I make a huge faux-pas?

    She made a huge faux pas. Could you not afford someone the compassion that you yourself would ask for?

    Here’s to another 20 years of thrilling adventures,


    Ps. I hope that in the interest of maintaining meaningful relationships, you will consider dialing down the “subversive and snarky” and turning up the “classy and compassionate.” And as a special bonus, you’ll evoke more tears at your funeral!