By Lindsay Pratt
Monday, two weeks ago, my lunch date with a beautiful young woman ended with her wanting to leave early for time to “process” before a meeting and my feeling like I must be denser than prison cell walls for not picking up whatever signals I apparently missed. After stewing over my failings for a couple of days, spending an inordinate amount of time making emo hipster leather cuffs while blasting riot grrl music and pretending to be tough, she called and asked if I was free that Saturday for a party. A family party. Not wanting to ruin my chances for a second time, I said I would be “delighted to attend” and even offered to help with the set up. And for the next few days I had fantasies of being her strong butch and doing all the heavy lifting for her, completely ignoring the fact that she is several inches taller than I and the only heavy lifting I have done recently has involved the O.E.D. But, come Saturday, I was excited for what the day had in store.
The party was located at her parents’ house two hours outside of San Francisco, and as I drove, the scenery around me shifted from cityscape to suburbs to vast rolling hills and sprawling ranch houses complete with pools and stables. I drove up the dirt driveway and found her hanging colorful Chinese lanterns around the patio with her younger sister. Her parents greeted me kindly, and I was put to work assisting with the party prep. All signs pointed to an enjoyable evening. But as guests began to arrive – mostly family members, and more cousins than I had ever seen in one gathering– it began to dawn on me, like Dorothy when suddenly blinded by technocolor, that I was not in San Francisco anymore, and a girl presenting as male was not something that was seen as normal or acceptable in this town.
The male members of the family eyed me suspiciously while their girlfriends and wives made comments in not-so-hushed voices while gathered around the food-laden kitchen island. They used male pronouns and elongated the “eeeee” to emphasize my ambiguous gender, and the twin Stepford wives entertained themselves by flirting with me and making lewd gestures, giggling like they were 14 again. I felt exposed. They had, without their knowledge, sensed something about my gender identity that I was not planning to share, and their laughter left me, for the first time, feeling the beginnings of shame.
And while all eyes were on me, and I felt like J. Alfred Prufrock “sprawling on a pin,” I realized that I was completely invisible. Yes, they were watching me, sizing me up, but they were not seeing me. They saw my identity, or rather what they perceived that identity to be. I was a “dyke,” or “transboy,” or whatever it was that each one saw. My name, my interests, my personality were all meaningless: I was merely the queer that had crashed the party.
I spend much of my time focused on what parts of my identity I will share and what I will keep closeted. I dress so that my identity will be more visible and out myself on a constant basis. I do this with pride, and, at times, frustration with the need to be so explicit. But I glimpsed, that day, the smallest fraction of the invisibility that comes with being visible that so many of my transgender friends experience on a daily basis. And what did I do? I ran. I hid. I was afraid to cause a scene even while the deepest part of me was yearning to yell about the ridiculousness of discrimination, because the truth is I can laugh at what happens to me, but the hate that I witness lurking in their eyes is systemic, a wound in our society that long ago went septic. And while it may be easier for me to lick my superficial scratches in silence and hide behind my (usual) ability to pass, it would be a betrayal of my ideals to do so. It would be a validation of people’s discomfort with what, for them, is different. So until the time when I can walk into a white, suburban household and have everyone there see me for who I am, not what I am, it is my task to be unashamedly visible as what I am, because who I am is too valuable to let myself give up.
Lindsay lives in San Francisco and studies Psychology and Queer Studies at City College of San Francisco. Ze has many interests, including acting and poetry.