I wrote the following in 2012 for the Queer Monologues hosted at my university by the UNI Proud group and the LGBT Student Outreach Coordinator. I wanted to post it here because it exemplifies the experiences of my trans* friends, and often what I encounter when I wear masculine clothing and cut my hair short. This piece was performed in person in front of a fairly small audience, and yes, I was terribly nervous that day. I started the piece with me wearing a jacket for the first two paragraphs. When I reached the “I am invisible to you” sentence, I tossed my jacket on the ground. The places where I gave verbal emphasis I will mark with italics.
As this was a performance piece, it is best read out loud. Overall, the piece had a good response as in after the show, people came up and held some honest and good discussions about the piece and its meaning. It was an eye opener for some, many of whom had never considered the privileges they may have due to being cisgender. The outreach coordinator asked if she could include it with her Queer Monologues notes for future performances. I said yes, although I asked that she kept me as the author. This piece is in honor of all my trans* friends who have gone through the pain and fears explored in this piece; may the world someday become a better and more accepting place for all of us.
By A. Zingler
I stand near you.
You look me over, the assessment taking mere seconds, but to me it feels like a lifetime. You see my clothing – pants, shirt, sneakers, but it is too androgynous. You look further, seeking a bulge in my pants. There is no noticeable one, and you mentally mark a tally in the female category. Then you see the slight bumps on my chest, you note them as small breasts, and a mark goes in the female category. When I say hello, feeling awkward by this brief and swift appraisal, my higher voice marks it in the female category. Your eyes take in the short haircut, and a mark is made in the male category. You see my face and you note that I’m either clean-shaven or have little to no facial hair; after some hesitation, you tentatively mark the female category. By the end, the tally is four female marks, one male mark, and one mark that you can’t categorize. The assessment is over, and you default to female. You smile and say hello.
There are times when my breasts cannot be seen at all, and my shirt seems to hang flat. What do you do? The assessment in your head slows, and you frown. You mark the lack of breasts as male. You are no longer certain if my face looks feminine enough, but you tentatively mark female anyway. You cannot be sure if there is a bulge in my pants, and so look me over again. You cannot find enough markers to categorize me. This disturbs you. You do not say hello. You do not ask my name. “What are you? A freak?” The words blurt from your mouth.
I am invisible to you. You see me but you don’t. I am physically present before you, but you see only identifiable markers, assessing them until I am categorized. You assume this is necessary for interaction with me. Gender is only male and female, right? So you have every right to place me in one or the other, and if you can’t, then you have every right to demand to know my gender. You have every right to call me a freak, a monster, an it.
When I ask to be recognized, it is a special privilege, and yet you are recognized every day. You walk through the halls, happy in your gender, never once fretting or sweating as people categorize your body into either male or female. You can’t even fathom not doing this before an interaction; you assume the constructs of gender presentations for male and females are constants, unconsciously taking these markers for granted. You protest the term cisgender, claiming that marginalizes you for isn’t everyone’s gender equal to the one assigned at birth?
When I ask to be treated with respect and dignity, it is a special privilege. Yet you can walk around every day, and no one questions your identity. The assumptions made about your gender matches your view of yourself, and you are content. No one tries to erase your identity and tell you that you cannot exist. No one tries to debate you, saying you cannot use that identity or that label for yourself. They do not ask you what you are. They do not ask what is in your pants. They do not act angry, disgusted, and betrayed when they cannot immediately assume a gender for you. They do not think it’s alright to try to physically hurt you, to threaten to rape or kill you for not presenting the way they think you should. You never have to worry about your attacker claiming in court that they had every right to react with physical violence at learning your assigned gender. You don’t have to fear for your life.
When I ask others to use pronouns or terms that describe me accurately, it is a special privilege. Yet you do not worry about pronouns or how people may describe you. You do not have to cringe when people say the wrong pronouns, when they assume you are something you are not, when they classify you in categories that don’t fit. You feel no pain, for your gender matches your assigned sex. You assume that everyone is like this. Those that dare to say they’re different, you treat them as freaks, as a privileged minority that is infringing on your precious liberties. Liberties and privileges I do not share.
I am invisible to you even as I stand in front of you.
cisgender: your gender identity matches the gender assigned to you at birth.
trans*: your gender identity does not match the gender assigned to you at birth. Trans* is also an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of identities. I may write more about this in the future.