I’ve written before about misgendering and other microaggressions, things that individually don’t amount to anything but that collectively work rather like water torture. Here’s a good example of that.
On Sunday, I was out for a meal that for various reasons I was anxious about. After weeks of being alone and quite frankly, letting myself go, I decided it was time to make a bit of an effort. I put on some cute clothes and nice jewellery, did some proper makeup prep, used the good perfume and put on my favourite lipstick. And in every single interaction I had with the waiter, he called me sir.
Did I shout “did you assume my gender?” in a big booming voice and storm out? No, because that shit only happens in right-wingers’ social media posts. I did what I almost always do: nothing. I didn’t think he was doing it deliberately and I didn’t want to embarrass him.
So instead I let him embarrass me, repeatedly.
Do you remember the feeling of embarrassment you used to get as a school kid, the skin-crawling, nauseous feeling, the cold in the pit of your stomach? It’s that. It’s not just embarrassment about what happened; it’s also the extra embarrassment that comes from having people who know you see it. Their looks of awkwardness or pity amplify it.
I couldn’t finish my food, and afterwards I went home and cried.
I’m supposed to be going to one more restaurant this week, a birthday lunch with one of my dearest friends. It’s only my second restaurant visit in many months, and it’s probably the last social contact I’m going to have until we come out of the imminent Tier 4 COVID restrictions.
Last night the restaurant called me to switch my booking to its sister restaurant due to unforeseen circumstances. The caller had my name and pronouns in front of them, asked for me by name and heard me say “that’s me!” in response, and when they heard my voice they immediately started calling me sir.
So that’s two different establishments in the space of a couple of days deciding that my appearance and my voice don’t entitle me to the correct pronouns. And my brain, which is on a rather shoogly peg right now, is convinced that as trouble comes in threes I’ll be misgendered throughout my birthday lunch.
So now I don’t want to go.
It sounds irrational, I know. It is irrational. But so far this week the misgendering hospitality hit rate is 100%, and it’s against the backdrop of the usual anti-trans stuff online – which washed-up indie rocker is going to drink the anti-trans kool-aid and dominate my Twitter feed THIS week? – and some trans-related unpleasantness from closer to home, so why shouldn’t I expect it to continue?
So what’s supposed to be a happy occasion, something to look forward to, is something to dread. If it’s a repeat of Sunday I’ll be upset and embarrassed; if it isn’t, the prospect will still have cast a cloud over the whole thing because I’m so worried about it.
These misgenderings aren’t transphobia. I’m well aware of what that looks and sounds like, and God knows there’s enough of it around right now that I’m not going to forget its sound and its shape. This is different. Transphobia is thunder, all noise and fury. These little insults are raindrops.
Who’s afraid of water?
Raindrops don’t fall in isolation. Other drops fall, and they merge, and they can become a trickle, a rivulet, a stream, a river. And rivers are powerful, dangerous things.
I fear that one day, a river will wash me away.