Friday, January 10, 2014

Making the World A Little More Trans Friendly

From time to time, when someone on a social media site mentions an upcoming event or a new venue, an inevitable question is raised, “Is it trans friendly?”

And while I understand the place where that question comes from, I have to admit I’m not sure how it should be answered. If the event has been shared by someone in the tg/cd community, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the person who presented it considered it trans friendly.  

But what actually constitutes “trans friendly”?

I actually have a little bit of experience in this area.  Although that experience has nothing to do with the transgender community.  I grew up in Western New England in a small town that was predominately white.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  My town was entirely white... with the exception of a few families.

I don’t consider the people who live there to be racist.  Although every community has its share of the ignorant and the prejudiced. The problem with our little town was that there was no diversity... no exposure to other races or cultures.  No opportunity to form close bonds or personal ties with anyone outside our own culture.

In that vacuum, unfortunately, stereotypes and preconceived notions prevail. And if those stereotypes are negative -- as they often are -- then negative stereotypes prevail.

And that, to me, is the problem that America is having right now with the transgender community.  People don’t know us.  They’ve heard about us.  Perhaps they’ve seen depictions of us on television or in the movies.  But those depictions are rarely realistic.  And they’re often unflattering.

In addition to attending events in all kinds of different clubs and venues in Southern California and Las Vegas, I’ve also come out to many of my co-workers, and hung out with some of them outside of work.  Usually that means nothing more than a bit of barhopping after work. And yet... I know it’s had an effect. I know they see me differently now. And they also see the trans community differently.

As with the people back in my hometown, the people I work with aren’t prejudiced. In fact, I consider them to be quite open and welcoming.  Some of them are pretty cool and hip. Much cooler than me.  But most of them had never met a transgender person in the flesh before.  (At least not that they were aware of.)

I can’t say for sure what they thought a typical transgender person would be like.  But after knowing me as a guy and then getting to know me as a trans girl, I think they’ve realized that there is no “typical” trans person.  Our community is -- as all communities are -- made up of a variety of very distinct and unique individuals.  

Now that may sound like I’m stating the obvious. And I am. But in a vacuum of familiarity, the obvious sometimes isn’t so obvious and we fall back on stereotypes. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. And right now, others are doing it to us.

So what’s the solution?  Fortunately, the solution is in our hands. But it won’t be easy.  It involves getting past our inhibitions. Getting outside of our comfort zones.  And basically... getting out.

We have to broaden our horizons. We have to mingle. We have to dare to go to places that might not be trans friendly. Because the first step to making a non-friendly place (or person) more friendly is by putting your friendly face on the stereotype.

In Los Angeles, I’ve been to concerts and movie theaters and shopping malls -- and thought to myself, I just might be the only tgirl in this crowd.  (Of course there may have been others, but if so, they were extremely passable. And therefore invisible.) 

Think about that for a second. I’m at a concert in Los Angeles... one of the largest cities in the world and a veritable melting pot of diversity.  All around me, I can see many different races and ethnicities represented. Several gay and lesbian couples. Women in evening gowns. Guys in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. People from almost every single walk of life.  And yet, I’m the only trans girl.

No wonder we’re not well known. Most of the time we’re not present. 

Now does this mean that we all have a responsibility to go out more often? To push boundaries?  I don’t think so. That might sounds like a contradiction. But that’s my honest opinion.  

This is a topic I was discussing recently with a good friend of mine, Isabel Omero of Omero Creative. Isabel produces and hostesses cultural events for mainstream audiences around LA. Though part-time, she created her classy, real-world, femme persona after stepping outside her comfort zone. She encourages trans people to (responsibly) step outside theirs and show the world their best selves. Our conversation sparked the idea for this blog.
I won’t try to speak for Isabel, but I personally don’t feel as though we have a responsibility to anyone but ourselves. I certainly can’t put myself in your position. I can’t tell you when and where you should go out. After all, I don’t know your wife or your kids or your friends or your boss.  So I can’t tell you how they’d react. Nor can I tell you that living a more open life won’t put at risk some of the things (and people) you hold dear.

So I’m not saying that you have to go out more often or to a greater variety of places. But I am saying that your world isn’t going to become more trans friendly until you do.

Happy 2014!  Let’s all make it a much more trans friendly year for everyone!

Take care out there.

Stay smart. Stay safe. Stay sexy.


Tyler DeSouza said...

Perfectly put.

Even in the gay community, the mainstream feels that in many cases that they are quite accepted, but the ones who are out tend to be the more flamboyant ones, maybe because there is no way to hide it anyway. 50% of gay guys are quite generic, and many times are not open about it, thus diluting the perception and strengthening the sterotype. The challenge for Trans seems even more daunting.

With all the legislation slowly turning, I feel the most intelligent approach is to show overall that a high percentage of previously marginalized communities are the "same" in most ways as the general population versus the previous campaigns highlighting differences or segments that are quite extreme in nature(ex: gay parades with leather daddies, drag and sparkles everywhere).

There is always room for the interesting, funny, flamboyant or artistic individual, but if we are to be included as equal human beings with the mainstream, fears need to be overcome and similarities need to be stressed - not differences.

Great idea Cici. Trying not to feed into their fears and prove, one individual at a time that we are all the same. Every group/ segment of people has it's artists and those who are a bit different.


Anonymous said...

I was going mention this privately but-screw it. Last summer a club where I have played live music for years, began a drag-themed talent/variety show. Coincidentally, I have been singing songs by female artists in karaoke booths with a few friends for years. I decided after a lot of thought, to put down the guitar, switch from original music to cover songs and perform, not as a guy singing girl song but as a girl singing girl songs. No key changes, no octave changes, and thanks to Suddenly Fem, dressed for it as well. This past winter I visited family and friends-I live overseas-and decided that, in the context of pushing creative boundaries, I should at least tell people who I know would not lose their marbles over it-in fact I even told my parents. I think they don't know what to make of it but, as a performance that I worked hard to get right it took the focus away from how 'weird' or 'alien' it is. In fact last saturday I was just getting ready to dedicate a song to Linda Ronstadt, who recently lost her voice due to illness. One of the staff said that members of my martial art club would be coming by.
That-I was not ready for. I barely got changed into street clothes when they walked in. I did tell them that I sang before. But this is exactly the two parts of my world that I have tried to keep separate. The next show is in april. I think it would be good as you said, for people to know that, hey it's still me. But I don't know, it was hard enough to put it out there for a general audience. We'll see how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Well said ! You are such an Inspirition and a Kind wonderful human being !

Jordan said...

I could not agree more with you. I live in the Midwest, in Iowa, and gay and lesbian is very acceptable. Obviously there are always the people that are going to hate no matter how "normal" you behave, but generally it's a very safe place for the gay and lesbian community.

Being trans myself and only having come out with in the last nine months to my girl friend, the idea of going out terrified me. I've been lucky and had mostly positive responses from the people I've come out to, and have recently begun to go out and shop and other things during the day. I'm so glad I have, and honestly, I've realized that if I do pass or don't pass, it doesn't matter. Either way, I'm making people aware, and showing them that we're just like everyone else.

I love your blogs, and you have been an inspiration to me. You are absolutely right about this, and if thank you for bringing it up.

I'm going to continue to get out there and make the world more trans friendly.

rhonda sock said...

I have seen you out and about in Vegas and you do our community proud. Your insights are right on. Maybe one of these days i can follow in your footsteps. Go Minutemen!

Sandra Lopes said...

In my country, at the Government level, trans laws are incredibly modern, almost futuristic: you can now change your gender with a relatively simple administrative procedure. You don't even need to go through all the surgery, and the medical teams following up your case are even allowed to suggest you to legally change gender and name while you're doing the Real Life test. There are still some kinks to fix with marriage and adoption, if one of the members of the couple changes gender, but same-gender marriages are now fully allowed without restrictions (adoption is still tricky), so there are some victories at the legal level. As a consequence, a lot of trans people have decided to go through transition, since it's so much easier these days (strangely enough, FtM outnumber MtF at 2:1). LGBT people get non-discrimination legislation to make sure they are not unjustly fired from their jobs or harmed in any way.

That's on the legal side of things.

On the real world, of course, discrimination runs rampant. You can't just wave prejudice away with good laws. But the laws at least point in the right direction. And because they exist and have been publicly discussed (most often condemned!), people are aware that trans people exist, which is better than being prejudiced as something that "we never knew that they existed".

This shows a lot in commerce. A decade ago, I would look very suspicious if I were in the "wrong" aisle or department of an apparel shop. Today, if I'm on the "large number" section of a women's shoe shop, the sales reps will help me out picking the right shoes — they know it's for me. A couple of decades ago, hair salons were separated among the genders. Today, I can go to a beauty salon and have my toenails painted, without getting an eyebrow raised by the pedicurist — and they would also be helpful in doing my eyebrows as well. A decade or two ago, I would buy rings or bracelets "as gifts for my wife" and usually pick the Christmas season for that. Today, I'll be directed to the section for clip-on earrings and the sales reps will allow me to try them on first. A decade ago I would be utterly ashamed to get some of my garments fixed, and I used to tell them that these were "special costumes for theatre play". Today, they will ask me if they can take my measurements first for a correct fit. A decade ago, I would order foundation online and hope it would match my own skin colour. Today, practically all makeup shops will allow me to try it out on my skin first. My most recent experience was having the attendant not only recommending the correct shade, but encouraging me to buy more things, and being extremely helpful in picking up fake eyelashes that would look natural on me — and I even got some discounts and the choice of a sample of Chanel perfume, if I wished.

Sandra Lopes said...

Some CD friends of mine have reported similar experiences even on lingerie shops where they do custom bra fittings. Sure, it was nice of them to call them up first and ask if they were fine in doing a fitting session with a genetic male. Obviously they didn't mind. The local representative of Amoena silicone prosthetics, which naturally are also often used by trans people, have been given special training in catering for their "special" customers. Sure, they might found it funny at some point in time, but nowadays it's part of their routine, and they will serve trans people just like cis women.

So there are already a lot of excellent examples at this level. Shop attendants just wish to make money. We're good customers. Because more and more trans people are willing to go out and shop in person, they recognize our right to be a customer, and are very, very helpful.

But where is the line being drawn? The other day I met a transphile outside a popular rock club. We just talked a bit in the parking lot, there were no sexual intentions but merely the wish to spend some time together getting acquainted — he was curious about my crossdressing, without any sort of prejudice, just natural curiosity — and at some point I said that I wished we could have met inside the club itself and have some fun dancing and listening to the music. But both of us knew very well that the bouncers would never let me in. Not necessarily because the bouncers or the club owner had anything against trans people, they might even have been very tolerant. But because they know that most of their clients wouldn't be so tolerant, and, after a few drinks, even the most peaceful transphobe might get courage enough to beat me up — thus creating a security problem, which the bouncers are hired for to prevent.

Something similar might have happened on other public places. A bar, a restaurant, even a movie theatre, might be aware that they aren't legally allowed to deny my entrance to their venue just on the basis that I'm wearing the wrong clothes for my gender. However, they also know that their other regular customers might think otherwise. They might all be aware they couldn't ask the owner to expel me — but they can certainly avoid the venue in the future. "Oh, it's that kind of restaurant; come, honey, we will never come back here again." So they will disallow our entrance, because their customers might not only be transphobic, but, even knowing they cannot discriminate me, they can always go elsewhere, where trans people are not around.

Sandra Lopes said...

I've often dreamed of taking one of my lovely evening dresses to the opera or a classical concert, because I would enjoy myself twice over. These rooms are dark and nobody would see me much anyway (except during the breaks, of course). People cannot shout during the performance anyway, and who cares what they will be saying while driving back home? But I'm also acutely aware that this would not only draw undue attention to myself, but question the "credibility" and "seriousness" of the event organizers and the venue spot. Would it be "fair" to ruin their events just because legally I have the right to dress what I want (so long as I'm not in the nude)?

There are, of course, a few good examples. Certain restaurants and bars in my home town are next to popular LGBT clubs. They first became gay-friendly. But the increasing number of T people around in the neighbourhood made them understand that elegantly-dressed transgendered people also enjoyed nice, quiet dinners. So they quickly opened their doors to them as well. But this is in a relatively small, well-defined area.

Overall, I think this is a very difficult dilemma to solve. In my case, my enthusiasm is curbed by my wife, because she doesn't allow me to go to any kind of public events :-) so the question is moot for me personally — I stick to women's departments in shops and salons. But I imagine that this is not enough. Transgendered people should be more "visible" outside the annual Carnival event (where they're accepted everywhere the event is celebrated), but the question is where to draw the line...

Emily said...

Sandra Lopes makes some good points but overlooks 1 key area i.e. restrooms. Even living in a relatively conservative area in Florida I have found that stores and restaurants want the money and there is no problem. And yes-
I do use the Ladies but am a bit queasy when there are a bunch of ladies in there using the sink and mirrors.--

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