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:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.41.06 PM

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

Friday Reads: An Anthology of Native LGBT Myths

Unfortunately I can’t find a bigger picture of the cover.

Today I’ll be reading some more of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Myths from the Arapaho to the Zuni: An Anthology, edited by Jim Elledge. I’ve been reading this book for class — namely, so I could find a myth to turn into a skit that would be performed in order to teach our classmates about trans* issues from a Native perspective (my class is a 400-level First Nations Studies course in community development). I’ve found that myth now, and so the other thing I’ll be doing today is writing the skit and putting together a props list.

However, I’m still reading the book. Some of the myths are really interesting, some are funny, some are WTF — like most myths from most cultures. The one thing they all have in common, however, is they show that the origins of American and Canadian literature were most definitely not heteronormative and cissexist — knowledge of queer and trans identities has existed in North America as long as Native cultures have. This book is not even a complete anthology — it is a selection of some of the myths, notably ones where Two-Spirit characters are more prominent then those where they have more secondary or tertiary roles.

In fact, in many of the myths, Two-Spirit characters were responsible for much of why the world is the way it is. They create cultural traditions, they decide how the animals will be, they create the earth itself…. They were not people of little importance; they were vital parts of community and cosmology.

Interesting how easily that narrative can get turned around. From the original literature of this continent acknowledging and even featuring prominently trans and queer individuals to us fighting for our right to live in peace, let alone have the same basic rights as cis and het people do.

Another example of how colonialism is still alive and well in these countries. We’ve come a long way, but it’s not even a fraction of an inch of the distance we still need to travel. Let’s not forget that.