B.C. on Gender: You

Every song has a you
a you that the singer sings to
and you're it this time
baby, you're it this time

-- Ani Difranco, "Dilate"

You Don't Say

I was first reading Read My Lips by Riki Anne Wilchins in December 1996. Siobhan and I were in Stratford, Ontario celebrating our one-year anniversary of the relationship. Riki's book immediately impressed me. Political. Theoretical. Funny. It was all there.

I've always liked this particular passage:

17 Things You Don't Say to a Transexual


Don't #3. "Well, I want you to know that I certainly consider you a woman."

It is a never-ending source of wonderment that well-intentioned, and otherwise very well-brought-up people say this to me, with a light of total sincerity in their eyes for which any self-respecting cocker spaniel would kill.

Unfortunately, this assurance turns on at least four assumptions which, upon closer inspection, prove to be unfounded: (a) my gender is a subject about which reasonable people might be expected to reasonably differ; (b) my gender is a topic that is currently open for discussion; (c) my gender, and your perception of it, is something about which I am seeking some reassurance; and (d) you, since you are a nontransexual, are in just the providential position of providing me with this reassurance I so desperately seek.

Some part of me latched on to this passage and went, "yeah!" I grokked what Riki was saying with every part of my intellect. But... just intellect. See, I'd never really experienced that moment in a way that produced the annoyance that Riki's words seemed to channel.

I even had a long e-mail conversation with someone about Riki's response, and in the end we kinda concluded that someone who would say, "I want you to know that I consider you a woman" is probably trying. Trying to say something positive and supportive. And maybe doesn't deserve a snippy response.

And then I met you.

I think that the first time we met, the first thing you did was express surprise at the way I looked. You knew in advance that I was trans, and I guess you were expecting me to be more obviously trans.

I think the first time you said it was in e-mail. "I want you to know that I consider you a woman." And at the time, I didn't really think about it. Riki's scenario didn't come into my mind, because I knew you, and I knew you meant it in the good way.

But you kept saying it. Me, and that other trans person you know. You want me to know that in your mind we're both women. It was meant to be reassuring, I'm sure. You want me to know that you consider me a woman. As opposed to the other things that you might consider me.

I first started thinking about the Riki Anne Wilchins quotation after we'd known each other for six months or so. I would think of Riki every time you said it: "You know that I consider you a woman."

Why did you find it necessary to tell me that so often? Sometimes you would tell me that there were things about the way you unconsciously interacted with women that you wanted me to know.

And there was the time I told you about that hard situation that I was working through, and you listened and the first thing you said was "If it ever needs be, I will personally swear under oath that you're a woman. The way you reacted to those situations was exactly the way a woman would react."

There came a point in all of that when my brain was filled with "methinks the lady doth protest too much." It started to annoy me. It was then that I really felt the situation that Riki talked about.

What was up with that? Why did you feel the need to keep telling me that over and over and over again? I tried to just shrug it off, and assume that your words were coming from a good place. You were trying to reassure me of... something. (What? And why did you think I needed reassurance?) Did you know or even suspect that your repeated statement was having the opposite effect?

And I've always been out. I put my transness forward, so it doesn't surprise anyone later. Yes, I'm cocky. I think that I pass. There are times when I don't say anything, and people don't know. But if we're going to be on a first name basis, hey, I'll bring it up pretty early. I put it forward. I want people to be able to talk about it. So maybe I paved the way, or something.

"I want you to know that I certainly consider you a woman."

(Suddenly, a memory: Kate Bornstein at Buddies, doing her book tour for My Gender Workbook. Someone asked her if there was anything she didn't like about her transition. She talked about dogs, and how they lie on their backs and their owners scritch them on their tummies because it's so cuuuute. But the dogs don't think that they're being cute. It's pack socialization. The dog is saying, "I'm prostrating myself to show that I'm not challenging the pack leader; you have nothing to fear from me." The thing that Kate doesn't like is constantly feeling like she's lying on her back saying "you have nothing to fear from me.")

And you. Who the fuck do you think you are deigning to reassure me that you consider me a woman?

Copyright © 2002 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated December 24th, 2002.
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