Monday, February 20, 2006

Candidly Transgender

(By Brianna Austin)

I was walking down Broadway -- a small group of friends in tow – when, just as I crossed West 22nd Street, I heard a voice shout, “Hey, beautiful, is that an Adam’s Apple you have”? With a chuckle I turned and saw four or five guys in their late-20s, sitting in their compact car (no doubt part of the “bridge-and-tunnel-crowd” that descend upon Manhattan from New Jersey, Connecticut and the other New York boroughs each weekend) laughing as they waited for the light to change.

“Honey, that’s the least of what I have,” I said with a giggle, prompting them to laugh once more. We then engaged in a playful banter for the next few moments. Were they initially laughing at me? Perhaps, though I wasn’t sure, but, now, they were laughing with me. As the light changed they pulled off with a parting, “you’re pretty cool, have a great night!” And so I did.

Since I had walked out of the closet so many years ago, encounters like these have become a regular occurrence for me. I don’t necessarily go looking for them; but it’s pretty hard not to find them when you’re walking down the street in a pink, spaghetti strap, Gucci mini-dress and matching spiked sandals. And though things don’t always go so smoothly, I have to say that most times they do.

For all the remarks that are aimed at me, I never took any of it too seriously. Several of my friends were offended at the Adam’s Apple remark, and given the chance would have opted for a simple, “Fuck you,” or some other aggressive response. Many of the guys who are arrogant with TG girls are often insecure within themselves to start with, making for a potentially explosive situation. So, when met with head on anger it is a breeding ground for physical confrontation. Leaving me to wonder why any TG would risk the possibility of physical harm as their first course of action? What purpose could such an action provide?

Even if I had taken an aggressive stance, met a physical confrontation head on, and emerged victorious, what is the prize? The odds are higher that I would have ruined my new shoes rather than changed anyone’s views about me. Not to mention that the rest of the evening I would have been all worked up emotionally, only to have me right back where it all started anyway. That’s not to say that I take everything that comes along, because sometimes, you just have to stand your ground. But I at least try to give the antagonist a way out, by trying to ease the tension first. If it doesn’t work, then sometimes you have to decide your next option. In fact later that same night, outside of Centro Fly, the club we were en route to, another fellow yelled out from his SUV, as he was waiting to park.

Again – with a smile – I found myself in a verbal banter; however, this time was different. This guy was hostile and arrogant. The more my remarks brought laughs from his friends, the angrier he became. But, I never downgraded him; I only made light of the situation. It is easy to keep a lighthearted mood if you don’t allow people under your skin. By realizing that their words don’t define you, but only them, makes that easier to do. Someone calling me a freak, fairly or jerk doesn’t necessarily make me those things; but does define them for saying it. With every insult he threw, I tossed back something light and easy, until finally, when he had been verbally out jousted long enough, he screamed, “ I’m gonna kick your ass fagot!”

What was I to do? My friends were quite stunned when I reached down and took my shoes off, looked at him and quietly said, “OK, come on. But, keep in mind that how bad a beating I give you will depend on how dirty you get my dress.” He stood there a long minute, absorbing the words, and finally, cracked a smile and started to laugh. And that was that. Maybe he realized how ridiculous the whole affair was, or perhaps he suddenly realized that had he lost, his friends would never have let him live it down. Still, right until the very end, I kept offering him a way out through humor, and just in time, he took it. Confronting someone is always a last resort however, and only if you’re confident you can handle the situation. Otherwise just walk away: use your head, not your ego. Believe me, I have walked away from many hostile situations where I felt that I was in danger.

For the most part I have found that being candidly transgender disarms people. Straight guys love to yell, “You’re a guy,” or something to that effect. But, when you shrug it off as though “Your point being,” what else is there really left for them to say? Their punch line came and went, and had no affect. When they then know that you know that they know, everyone is more comfortable. That doesn’t imply abusing yourself for their sake, but rather making light of the obvious. There are times when being TG can be funny, and onlookers shouldn’t be expected to pretend that something out of “their” ordinary hasn’t occurred. When someone yells out, “Hey, you’re a guy,” that’s an observation not necessarily an insult. And even if it is first intended to be, most people would chuckle when my friend Dahlia would counter, “Thanks for reminding me, I had almost forgotten.”

In the end, we are new to people in the mainstream, and many, especially young straight guys, are intimidated and insecure. So, to cover it up, they try their hand at an insult for laughs. Our society breeds contempt and insult: watch any of the late night talk shows. So I say, there is too much drama in the world already, so why add to it. Does it make you feel better to be hostile to make a statement? Get over it, and make your point by example: live and let live with a smile. Even if the other person is a little slow to grab the idea, usually they’ll realize how silly they are acting in time. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be trying on a new pair of shoes?

Until next time, get out, be safe, and always think pretty!

Brianna Austin

Brianna Austin is a free-lance writer for Jazz Review Magazine, Glide Magazine, TgForum.com, and Girls Club Reporter, and previously contributed to Lady Like Magazine, Tg Community news, and Girl Talk Magazine. She can be reached at: www.briannaaustin.bigstep.com

10 comments:

Lauren Thomas said...

Michelle,

When I consider the amount of time I spend getting ready to go out, I have an expectation of ending the evening on my terms and in my time. However, it would be easy for one person's comments and my response to ruin the evening. Situations like this do happen, and on more than one occasion I have responded in a negative way, and have been grateful that I didn't have to prove something. Briana offers an alternative to ending the evening early and being angry, or worse yet, trying to prove something. She also offers the possibility of enlightening one human being about who we are. So, maybe if there's a next time for me I will remember that I do have a choice in the way I respond.

With Love and Respect,
Lauren

Wil said...

I understand what Brianna was saying ... there was one night that I had gone out with a few friend... we ran across a every lovely lady in my opinion... but my friends keep trying to get a rise out of her (Tg) by thrown out insults. I looked at them walked up to her and kissed her hand, telling her she was beautiful. After that my friends looked at me kind of funny but we invited her and her friends over to our table for drinks and had a night full of laughs and I did get a phone number but never used it ( stupid me lol ). But that is how I handled it for her instead of letting it get to far out of hand.
Wil

Callan said...

Isn't amazing that when you are the kind of tranny that others expect trannys to be -- a clown -- that people like you?

It's one thing being candid about who you are, and not feeling the need to conceal all the time, but it's another thing to be what a bunch of yahoos expect.

Blacks had a time when their polite public representation was people in blackface, and as long as they played that role, the normies in mainstream society thought it was great. They didn't want to know about professors or politicans or enterpreneurs, they wanted shuckin' & jivin'.

Now trannys have a polite public representation as drag queens (especially in NYC) and as long as we play that role, show ourselves to be mouthy & funny & sassy & self-depricating, people smile.

But is living in dragface really being candid, or just giving the rubes what they want to see?

Brianna said...

In regard to the last post, I never suggested putting on a drag face, and in fact said "That doesn’t imply abusing yourself for their sake, but rather making light of the obvious."

The ideas was to disarm, then educate. Nobody will listen if you're yelling.

Brianna said...

I never said to put on a drag face. Clearly I stated "That doesn’t imply abusing yourself for their sake, but rather making light of the obvious."

My point was to disarm then educate. No one hears you when you yell in anger.

Brielle Echo Whitney said...

Hi Bri,
I totally agree with you in the disarm, educate & celebrate venues.
A couple of weeks ago our sister Adarabeth came to visit me on her way to Europe...I took her to a party & gallery opening at an East Village venue given by Mona Ray Mason of the Transgender Project..http://www.ndri.org/transgender/ There were alot of people there as it's basically a straight bar that is T friendly, and I was being sized up by several big guys... upon going ouside to have a smoke, I spoke with a few of them who had gathered around me...and I candidly started to talk about my TG nature, in a matter of fact kind of way, and acknowledged to 2 boys that I indeed shared commonalities in the workforce with them, and by the time that we got into a dialogue about both, they viewed me as a REAL person who they could relate to. Upon re~entering the bar, the looks of hidden lust & confusion turned to smiles of acceptance & respect... it was a small victory. It takes balls to be a chick , right! After we left, I took Adara to Mitali East for dinner (it's an extreemly good Indian restaurant. ) It was late, and we were actually the only ones there, save for one woman standing alone outside.
She came in, and looked abit lost...so we said that she could sit down with us & wait for her party... She said that she was a tourist from Britian, and was here with her son. She was 42. She, in somewhat wide eyed amazement leaned over to me and asked in a wisper...are you a man? I smiles and said "sometimes, but not really" ... she asked if Adara was a man too, and was she my partner... I looked at Adara who was smiling, and she nodded, and said that we were just friends. I intoned that in reality, though there are extenuating circumstances, we're both actually married, me seperated. She was amazed and kept complimenting us on how really beautiful we were, and how nice too! By this time the waiters were around the table, as we again matter of factly spoke of our duality, and of Genderevolve. I don't remember if we wrote that for them, but they were interested & respectful... and dinner became a lovely sharing session with some open minds... All in all, it was a really good evening out... The one comment that I couldn't figure out was when we were up at Rockafellar center, and had walked to the skating rink... My coat isn't full length, and I was weraing heels & hose...it was REALLY COLD out...Anyway, we passed a group of boys who were out for a good time... one said: WOAH! there's a real soldier in a dress! Now I can't figure if we had beenread, or just that I had bare legs & a short coat in the cold...nevermind, we turned around at the landing, and smiled to each other, ignoring the boys... Some Japanese tourists asked us nicely to take their pictures, and we did & they reciprocated for us, thank you's, and we were off... both of us do have the ability to act naturally, gracefully, with confidence in who we are, and that seems to be a real key to being accepted as, once again, a REAL person, NOT an anomaly. I'd say again that transcendance is in the brain, if you believe, you will become... That said, Thank you for joining us sister, welcome, and hope that we will get a hang on when you visit back... of course, your town would be too sweet too...lol

XO,

B~Cup!

Marlena Dahlstrom said...

Actually what Brianna described is a classic example of using akido principles of redirecting an attacker's energy. As she said, by agreeing when someone points out you're a guy takes away their punchline -- and in fact Eddie Izzard had a routine on this very point: "You're a bloke in dress." "Yes, yes I am." "Well, erm, um, erm... Well how about those Niners...."

For it's worth, there's six responses one can use when attacked:
- Fighting back, which is entirely appropriate when the stakes are serious enough.
- Withdrawing or giving in, which may be appropriate.
- Doing nothing, which is not the same thing as withdrawing, rather it's not allowing yourself to be drawn into the fight.
- Deception, which isn't a solution, but can be useful for buying time until a better dealing with things
- Negotiating
- Redirecting the attacker's energy, as described above, until they wear themselves out.

Michele Angelique said...

RE: Candidly Transgender

Thank you Brianna for sharing this excellent article, which delivers the message that disarming conflict is preferable to engaging in it. I agree wholeheartedly! As you stated in your subsequent comment, no one's going to listen if they're being yelled at. That's so true. If people are on the defensive, they are deaf to anything you say. By disarming them, they may be more receptive to positive interaction with you.

I agree that one tool for disarming conflict in some situations is humor. It may be that laughing and making light of a comment is the best way to go. On the other hand, one must be careful such humor is not perceived as a challenge. If the perpetrator feels you are laughing *at* him, in front of his friends, this could backfire. Humor should never be directed at the aggressor, particularly making him the brunt of the joke. That's too dangerous. If instead you can laugh at yourself, make yourself the brunt of the joke (ie: be candid or honest), it may diffuse a situation because the other does not expect it.

Brianna, I hope you don't mind me saying so, but in the situation where you took your shoes off and told the guy "ok come on", and he started laughing... wow, you are one brave gal! It could just as easily gone the other way, and he would have lunged at you. With all due respect, I would never recommend joking in this way because the assailant might not realize it's a joke. Some men actually enjoy beating women, and they can "justify" beating a transwoman more easily. They may be more than happy for the opportunity. Please be careful of those misogynists, because they would smash you just as soon as look at you. Unless you know for sure you could kick the guy's ass, and you don't mind ruining your night ladies, please don't try this particular joke.

I have noticed in past conversations and wonder if it applies here, that some transwomen may respond automatically or instinctively with their male side if challenged by a man. Perhaps it is a response learned from youth as a boy. You may be somewhat more prepared to answer a call to physical challenge, than someone who grew up female. It just seems that some transwomen are more bold in the face of confrontation with men, than I have seen from women in similar situations.

For example, one translady I know valiantly put herself as the human barrier between "Bubba" and the men's bathroom door in a club because she was "guarding the door" for a friend. He didn't see her as a woman guarding a door, he saw her as a guy dressed as a woman, standing in his way. He initiated physical violence against her without hesitation. My contention is that most women would not have put themself in this position because they would have jumped out of his way. In your examples Brianna, I sense the same "fearless" quality, and so far you've been lucky. Please do be careful out there.

At the risk of sounding like a meek little woman, in a situation with bubba-type guys taunting me with insults and the potential for physical violence, I would simply high-tail it out of there. I wouldn't joke around, I wouldn't insult them back, I would ignore them, not even look at them, pretend I didn't hear them, and find the exit asap. I know that sounds "weak", but I value my life too much. The only way I would engage the assailants even remotely is if I were backed into a corner. Honestly, I don't think these are the kind of people who will be "educated" any time soon, so I'd just as soon save my skin for those who can.

I think the instinctual male response goes against running away from conflict, but females usually run from physical altercation with men, because we know that men can be very dangerous. Transwomen might do well to adopt some of this feminine self-preservation instinct.

Back to the point, if you are unable to escape dialogue with the bullies, then attempting to disarm them is the only solution. If humor seems appropriate, it's definitely one of the best avenues. Another friend recently told me a story of a confrontation she had with a guy, while herself in guy mode. This guy knows nothing of her TG status, so to him it was a guy-on-guy argument which was fair game to go all out. Before too long it escalated into nose to nose yelling. The guy raised his fist to hit her, and she unexpectedly burst into tears! She even shocked herself! Wouldn't you know, the situation was diffused in about 5 seconds, and the guy was giving her a bear hug and apologizing! She says to me later "gosh, I had no idea the power of a tear! No wonder women cry..."

Brianna I like your idea of using humor to disarm, especially if it's carried off with finesse and charm, as in your examples. Along the same lines would be using a smile to disarm... most people are automatically disarmed by a bright cheery smile from a stranger, so it's a great preventative measure to just go around smiling at everyone all of the time. Besides, most people's automatic reaction is to smile back, and it feels nice to have so many people smiling at you.

Again, thank you Brianna for sharing your perspective. I think you present a valuable message here: escalating conflict is never the solution! Disarm, then if possible, educate.

Love & Light
Michele

Brianna Austin said...

Well certainly I agree and I think stated in the article that you should always use your head instead of ego, and wake away from danger.

In fact, late one night many years ago I had left a club alone, about 6:am and a car went by with some drunk guys and one who started cat calling from the window. As they got closer he realized I was not born female. When I saw the car turning to corner with haste I never they were going around the block to return. I took off with haste let me tell you. My danger meter was sky high and I disappeared from there.

As for the guy when I took my shoes off, although it wasn't my first option, I could have whipped his ass -- I'm not a wall flower :) But actually wan't angry, so to me I was joking, though ready to defend myself if necessary.

Trans-people as you said grow up with a certain machismo and as such like pavlovs dog have built in action-reaction's built into their pysche. But you have to relearn how to process info. But unlike the girl who posted on the blog that I was advocating put on Drag Face, that isn't the case at all.

I was simply suggesting that you do not let anger drive your actions. You don't have to be funny or witty, you can just be happy and respectful, in the face of thier ignorance and disrespect. Lead by example.

Jennifer said...

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Yoda