These days the current climate towards the trans community can be hostile and dangerous; with trans folks experiencing much higher rates of violence and murders than cis-folks. Because of this difficult climate, I thought it would be informative and extremely important to speak to some of our local trans individuals and hear what they have to say.
We will be using some terms in this article that you may not understand, so I want to give you some definitions:
• TRANSGENDER Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex at birth.
• MISGENDERING Is the act of labelling others with a gender that does not match their gender identity.
• NON-BINARY Is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary.
• CISGENDER (Sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.
Now that I have you up-to-date with the definitions, I look forward to sharing with you these astounding interviews. After reading these two interviews I was blown away by what these two have gone through during their journey to becoming their true selves. As they answer each question, please keep an open mind and try to let their words resonate with you. I found what they shared to be quite essential in grasping what it’s like to be a trans or non binary person. I believe knowledge is power and if we can bring a better understanding to people about the trans community we can break down some barriers and stigmas that they have been burdened with.
I know many of you may not know what trans people go through in this world or what is happening to them around the globe. I hope by sharing with you the lives of your neighbours, I can convince you that all humans deserve to be treated as equals.
What is it like to be misgendered? Does it matter if it is on accident or on purpose? How does the intent of the person who misgenders you matter, if at all?
Being misgendered doesn’t ever feel GOOD, and always feels dysphoric, but there is a huge difference between being accidentally misgendered and purposely misgendered. Being misgendered feels weird and wrong – imagine if someone called you by a name that wasn’t yours and acted as if you should respond. You would probably be confused, and likely say something like, “Actually, my name is __,” but if the person didn’t know you, then you wouldn’t be hurt or angered by their calling you the wrong name. But what if people insisted on calling you by that other name, even after you corrected them several times, and explained your feelings? You’d probably begin to feel weirded out, frustrated, and disrespected. This is what it feels like to be purposely misgendered.
Being misgendered always feels like a bit of a slap. Whether someone accidentally hits you in the face or intentionally punches you, it’s still going to hurt, right? It’s easier to move on from the moment when you can identify that the intention behind it was not malicious. Misgendering becomes abuse when you are conscious of the pronouns someone uses but still insist upon using other pronouns. When you refuse to use the pronouns someone has stated they use, you are basically telling that person that you do not respect them, or consider their validity.
As a trans non-binary person, I understand that things I consider to be social norms (asking a person’s pronouns upon making their acquaintance, for example) are not practiced, nor even known about, by most people who live inside mainstream culture. I think that a common misconception amongst a lot of cishet folks is that trans people will hate you if you accidentally misgender them. This really isn’t the case. We understand that sometimes, you might slip up and use the wrong pronoun in reference to us, especially if you’ve been calling us by different pronouns for most of our lives; in fact, we expect this. If you do misgender someone, just quickly correct yourself and work to get it right next time. it starts to feel like intentional harm if you continuously refer to them by different pronouns. It takes away a person’s ability to feel safe and respected.
— BRETON LALAMA Non-Binary
Being misgendered hurts, no matter the intent. However the intensity of the pain and range of emotions experience, does relate to the intent of the person. Also the meaning the person holds that does the misgendering, shapes the experience.
Some of my friends and family members that are supportive, went through a grieving process. The physical female they knew all those years does not exist anymore. This led them to sometimes unintentionally misgender me. I had patience and allowed the process to take place.
When I am misgendered on purpose, I feel degraded and invalid. I feel misunderstood and powerless. When I am misgendered on purpose, it comes from pure bigotry or the refusal to accept who I am. I learned quickly to define people’s intent, listen to their opinion and determine if it’s worth addressing. I learned that a lot of people that misgender me constantly, have no value and their acceptance is not required.
It is important to be aware that it is absolutely unacceptable to missgender a transgender person or use their dead name in public. It is dangerous, rude and extremely disrespectful.
— BLAKE SMITH Trans male
What is it like using public washrooms or change rooms as a transperson?
Myself being non-binary means that I don’t identify with being solely male or solely female; I feel like I am somewhere in the middle of that, a third gender. The bathroom I use is definitely decided by how I feel I am presenting. If I’m not wearing a binder, I’m not going to go into the men’s bathroom – not because I don’t feel male, but because I am very conscious of making other people feel uncomfortable. Likewise, if I’m “passing” as male, I’m not going to go into the women’s bathroom because that makes women uncomfortable. I probably split between men and women’s pretty equally, which is a good summary of how I present, too. That being said, I definitely receive a lot more judgement when I use the men’s bathroom. Even when I feel super masc and am sure I’m at least sort of passing for male, men will have something to say about me in “their” bathroom. I’ve been laughed at, jeered at, stared at… but the thing is, that when I’m presenting that masc and I go into the female bathroom, women also stare and become nervous and uneasy. It’s a tricky thing, because you end up feeling like you can’t win, so I just try to use the bathroom that it’s going to make me feel the most comfortable to use, and be conscious of others’ comfortability but not at the expense of my own safety and comfort. This is why, when there is a gender neutral bathroom, I am so excited and immediately at ease!
— BRETON LALAMA
When I first transitioned, I was terrified when using public washrooms. I still have some fear around using public washrooms and change rooms today. I do feel the fear and anxiety I have will not disappear – definitely not in the near future.
I have experienced some very awkward moments, in both public washrooms and change rooms. I was in three very dangerous situations in public washrooms while I was by myself. I do not see how I am something to fear in public washrooms but I’ve had men make comments in regards to how I use a stall on numerous times and I have been stared at head-to-toe when washing my hands or waiting in line. My worst bathroom experiences have been at events with high alcohol intake. Depending on where I am I avoid public washrooms as best as I can. I have been out with female friends before and they empty and block off the women’s room so I could finally go in, but that’s only been in extreme events when it’s been unsafe or the men’s stall is unusable. I have also brought friends in with me to stand outside of a stall to protect me and they were absolutely needed if the stall had no lock or was too visible in a busy venue.
During the first year of my transition I stuck to the wheelchair washroom at my local gym. I was welcome to use the men’s room, however, it was unsafe due to the set up. Some change rooms do not have a private area to change and some do not have proper curtains on the showers so I always do a walk through of the change room first just to make sure it is safe for me.
Since I had top surgery I am comfortable using change rooms on my own. I do my best to hide my top surgery scars to avoid conversation about them. I am not a fan of public swimming pool change rooms and avoid them and I have never had issues with change rooms at stores.
— BLAKE SMITH
How does transphobia and violence in the trans community, locally and nationally, shape your experiences and politics?
Oof. That’s a big question. There is so much grossness in the world. That’s the best way I can think to concisely articulate what I mean. International trans violence is just as concerning and painful as local trans violence, and often more cause for distress and concern – here in Toronto, we’re so very lucky to have the community that we have. We have a built in support system, so that when trans violence does happen there is a whole army of love that fights it back. Something you hear a lot is that trans violence isn’t as “important” of an issue as, say, starvation, because it’s not as basic of a need. I understand what people are getting at when they say this, but I actually believe that all inequality has overlaps. First world modern corporate capitalism perpetuates a culture that tells you you must be wealthy to succeed but makes it essentially impossible to get there. This culture breeds desperation and mental isolation as people feel like competitors rather than fellow human beings.
This is obviously a watered down and summarized version of a very complex and age old issue, but I think this mindset is the roots of all kinds of violence and inequality, because life is hard, and people need someone to be angry at. Trans people are an easy target, because we look visibly different, and that can feel like a huge threat to someone who is working their ass off to “succeed” within the barriers of what society tells them is desirable. One way I feel like I can help make a difference is to support and actively participate in movements that promote equality in general. Trans violence is just one of many incarnations of hate. I think that by focusing on equality and visibility of all people as a general thing, we simultaneously fight against trans violence. This is why I always opt to vote for a party whose platform is less about profit, and more about people.
— BRETON LALAMA
Cissexism is real and currently a major concern. Every act of violence around the world fuels the systemic prejudice of transgender identifying individuals, causing discrimination. This takes away our equality and our rights as a human being.
Too often I am reading articles online from around the world regards transgender people being murdered. Most of the victims are trans women and POC. I read articles pertaining to transphobia in the US daily. The extent of transphobia going on in the world is never ending and many basic human rights are not being met. People are sheep and it does concern me here in Niagara because pride colours and the rainbow flag seem to upset Niagara on its own.
Allies are our voice when we can not get the task done alone. An ally is always a voice for the community and never against. Because of the current political events in Canada and locally, I have the fire in be active again as an advocate. I refuse to be invisible as a transgender individual. We have worth and we belong in Niagara. We belong period. We deserve to peacefully live as our true authentic self.
— BLAKE SMITH
I would like to thank both Breton and Blake for helping us comprehend what it’s like to be a trans person and helping us to better understand things that we take for granted. Until next time readers, keep an open mind.