If You Only Knew
Earlier this year, I had my gender brought into question for refusing to share my McNuggets with a stranger. If there was a competition for the single-worst segue ever made, I’d be mortified if that didn’t win. It raises the question: how unhinged must you be to openly question someone’s gender, specifically in response to them refusing to share their overpriced processed chicken with you?
Not unusually so, it turns out.
On a similar occasion, I was quite horrifyingly approached by a stranger who loudly proclaimed that I “stand out” and they “know what [I am]: a woman in a man’s body.” Let that sink in: without hesitation, a complete stranger outed me to an entire restaurant at lunch time for being visible. And they used the incorrect language; last I checked, no man owns this body.
Some might interpret these interactions as one-off – yet still slightly disturbing – occasions; after all, everyone has that one time they’ve encountered someone with the interpersonal skills of a bleach stain. The reality, however, is significantly less humorous: people who are LGBTQIA+ can’t even eat in public without being at risk of invasive harassment.
It’s a reminder I feel more people need: we’re not only LGBTQIA+. We’re more than diverse in sex, sexuality and gender; we’re also students, technicians, restaurant staff, venture capitalists and literally every other role in society. We visit IKEA, stub our toes, and accidentally call those in positions of power ‘mum’, just like everyone else.
But we aren’t treated like everyone else.
The LGBTQIA+ community exists because we share an ongoing history of occlusion from society, whether due to social, legal or medical prejudices. By excluding people who are LGBTQIA+, society has inadvertently marginalised editors, grandparents and doctors, among others. Additionally, the notion that people who are LGBTQIA+ are ‘the other’ has demonised alternative styles of dress, mannerisms and effectively anything that might constitute someone’s personality. Fortunately, by understanding the adage “united we stand, divided we fall”, the LGBTQIA+ community has driven the repeal of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and revolutionised social perceptions.
Yet prejudice persists. Others attempt to reduce our entire existences to a misunderstanding or a fetish, who then expect us to accept responsibility for their interest in us. Regardless of whether you have a degree, volunteer regularly at a soup kitchen or saved someone’s life, too many people interpret being LGBTQIA+ as the entirety of your character.
Let’s drive that point home.
I was on a rooftop bar. You know the routine by now: someone approached me and asked an inappropriate question. Sure enough, a drunk person questioned a trans woman on her gender on the roof of a building. No thanks, I’ve read this obituary already. But there was nowhere to go and I doubted the bar staff would hardly take the matter seriously; even if they did, it might have escalated the situation. I, however, should be a diplomat, because for the next painfully tense five minutes, I was repeatedly asked whether I was male or female. That was until they realised their vocabulary contained over five words and asked to make out with me. Nothing says ‘attractive’ quite like a stranger fetishising me. The switch was so sudden that I’m beginning to think that the McNugget segue was a lot smoother.
And then there are the ongoing effects of not recognising that we’re more than LGBTQIA+.
My self-expression is influenced by the threat or potential of harassment just as much as the harassment itself. People have stared as though I don’t belong in public countless times. Quite simply, I don’t always express myself fully. I’m misgendered so often that when someone actually genders me correctly, I experience genuine surprise. And every time I consider correcting someone who misgendered me, my stomach swells with anxiety, rather than the nuggets I love so. And on how many occasions have I overcome that feeling and corrected someone over the last five years? Less. Than. Four. Sure enough, in the majority, I was treated as though I was being unreasonable.
But this experience isn’t unique to me.
It happens all-too-often amongst others who are LGBTQIA+. The looming potential of harassment results in many of us interrogating ourselves before entering public. What percentage of the population is going to stare today? Where can I sit that’s least likely to attract the ire of a passing bogan with a chip on their shoulder? Do I wear pants and melt in the sun, or do I risk a 2x staring multiplier for wearing a skirt? Can I kiss my partner in public without being called a slur or assaulted? These aren’t superficial questions; they’re legitimate, and having to ask them whatsoever is an undue burden on the self-esteem of people who are LGBTQIA+, especially youth. Our self-expression shouldn’t have to factor in our safety.
It’s as though we who are LGBTQIA+ aren’t allowed self-confidence without consequence, despite our continued advances towards equality. Friends have been openly mocked and even assaulted for being LGBTQIA+. Activists, students, government employees and innumerable other labels, all harassed for just one of them.
This is why the LGBTQIA+ community is so vocal; we have to be. We can’t go away, because we need to continue establishing a society where everyone can exist and express themselves without undue fear. A task so successful thus far that the interactions I’ve listed are – despite my pessimism – recognised for what they are: unacceptable. Each of us is more than LGBTQIA+, however until others stop criticising our entire existence on that element of our identities, we have to continue to champion it.