Existing

You know that feeling when your crush remembers your name? Or asks about something important to you? That fluttery, happy feeling, that voice in your head yelling “Oh my gods, they know I exist!”

Or maybe you get that feeling when you meet your idol and they show interest in what you’re talking about. Or when anyone important to you shows you that they know you’re there. They’re aware. You have made an impression, no matter how small.

Now imagine the feeling you get when the opposite happens: you’re ignored, pushed aside, dismissed. It’s a sinking, awful feeling, isn’t it? Like an anchor dragging your heart down to your stomach.

You don’t exist to them. You didn’t make an impression. They are not aware of you at all, nor your brilliance or your individuality.

You have been erased.

I ask you to imagine these feelings because they are two feelings I deal with very often in relation to my gender identity — and more often than not I deal with the second one. Most days my gender identity is erased, and I am left with that sinking feeling, and a horrible decision: do I correct the person who just misgendered me, or do I let it slide? A decision that is very rarely easy.

There are few situations I find myself in where correcting someone is the easy and best path: they will accept it, apologize, and be sincere. They will accept me not being binary.

More often, I know that correcting someone, or asking for more gender options on things like survey forms, will lead to a rolling of the eyes at best; a screed about “Why do you people have to make everything so PC all the time?” or, perhaps, violence at worst.

I usually choose not to correct people face to face. I let it slide. Most people see me as a heterosexual, cisgender woman and I let them think that, even though it’s wrong on all counts. For the most part it’s a microaggression that slowly wears down at my mental health, causing me to question my very existence and worthiness on a daily basis — though there are some areas of my life where “being a woman” is okay, and doesn’t hurt me mentally. I don’t know why those areas exist, but they do, and I don’t want to ignore their existence in this post.

Passing as a cishet woman is safe for me in many ways, but unsafe in others. It’s a balance I have to strike, and mostly I choose to let people continue to erase me. At least face to face.

But when it comes to forms I have to fill out for various reasons, I ask people to give me more options than “male” or “female”. Why? Because I rarely get any personal response from the form-makers — I send an email, hope they see it, and go about my day. It gives me a sense of accomplishment even if I have no proof I’ve made any difference; I have made a small stand for my continued visible existence; I have fought back against the erasure I face every day.

Today I got some proof that this works. I don’t know if I made this change happen or if it was a bunch of us trans*/non-binary folks, but it did happen, and it made me happy.

I filled out the Volunteer Survey form for the Vancouver International Writers’ Fest today – the festival I volunteer at every year. When I got to the gender section, this is what it looked like:

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Four multiple choice options PLUS a place to fill in a different answer. Prefaced with “I identify as:”, not “Other”.

I was immediately filled with elation. That first feeling I described above? I am floating on a cloud of it.

I exist.

I matter.

I made an impression.

And this is a big deal, when I mostly deal with the second feeling I described. The first feeling is such a rare occurrence when it comes to my gender identity that when it does come, it’s almost overpowering.

So, thank you VIWF. Thank you for listening, and thank you for giving me a small space in my life that said, very clearly: You exist. We have noticed you. Here is a place where you can proclaim your existence and have it be validated.

-Katje