Over two weeks ago now, my partner and I went to the Trans* Day of Remembrance candlelight vigil at the local Unitarian Universalist church. While the service was, as always, two parts depressing and one part hokey, it reminded me very acutely just how rare and pleasant it is to be in a public space where my partner can wear a skirt safely.
I am surrounded by gender non-conformity in my daily life and I live in a community where it is embraced, so I have forgotten that we are not normal, and why we cannot be safe everywhere. I am losing the ability to see my life in the context of the dominant culture’s values, which makes being confronted with them and the dangers they pose fairly jarring. I can no longer understand or remember why they are disgusted by us or why they fear us. I have lost the ability to see that there is something “wrong” with us according to the unwritten rules that govern gender, because I know that we are absolutely and perfectly beautiful.
My survival instincts, however, will never let me completely erase my cultural conditioning. Whenever we walk down the street, whenever we enter public space and my partner does not pass as a cis person I feel it, our own very real, very immediate lack of safety. It puts me on high alert, I am wary, watching everyone, assessing potential threats. I intentionally make eye contact with everyone who looks at us for too long.
Despite the fact that I can no longer remember why anyone would bat an eyelash at a trans* person, much less fear, hate or wish to harm one, when my partner and I leave the bubble of safety that is our community it all comes rushing back. Tumultuous, clashing with my own most fundamental beliefs, my cultural baggage, my long lost instinct for discerning unspoken cultural rules and transgressions, honed from childhood to understand and digest gender and its rules without ever contemplating them. I wish someone would take this fucking culture back from me because I don’t want it. It’s just dead weight, baggage I have to fight off, like a person dumped into cold water in heavy clothes struggling to stay afloat.
That’s not all true of course, in those moments I have to remember their rules because that’s the only way to know when we’re breaking them, to know when we’re not safe. It’s in those moments I feel like I have a strange sort of double vision. I see my partner the way I have always seen them, beautiful, androgynous, and a bit femme-y, but I am also painfully aware of how the outside world sees them and what the cost of that can be, has been for so many trans-feminine people. That’s when my partner walking out the door in a skirt simultaneously seems to me an ordinary thing and some monumental act of bravery. It seems so strange to me that a thing like that, putting on clothes, should carry so much weight.