Thursday, April 16, 2015

4-16-2015 Entry: Moving in and Meeting the Neighbors


Hello my dear and beloved readers, I have returned! Well, I’ve returned as much as life is currently permitting me to. My docket at work is still a bloody nightmare and although the moving has been completed, the unpacking is still far from finished. Nothing quite like living in a half unpacked house for a few days. I wish it was as easy as just unpacking the remaining boxes and bags of crap we have sitting in our living room, but unfortunately we have to buy some additional furniture to accommodate what’s left (book cases, dressers, and armoires). Overall, however, the move was a success and living in our new house has been exciting.

Despite the excitement, It’s taking some getting used to; what with the extra space but limited closet situation, the longer commute to work, a dog who is so terrified of the backyard that she refuses to poop, a cat who doesn’t understand why she’s been suddenly given an entire upstairs to run around in instead of a shelf and bookcase in the living room like before, leaking faucets, and a broken ice maker in the fridge. Needless to say we overcame one stress (buying a house) only to take on a whole new stress (owning a house), and it’s taking some adjustment.

Part of that adjustment is meeting neighbors who are, more or less, permanent additions to your life. Unlike apartment living where your neighbors come and go every few months and generally stay inside their unit without much opportunity for socialization, house neighbors are very interested in meeting you, learning your names/professions, and telling you about the neighborhood. This generally wouldn’t be a problem, except I’m somewhat forced to introduce myself as Robert to them instead of Emma, which creates a problematic dynamic down the road. When I start dressing, looking, and presenting more and more like a female, these neighbors who know me as Robert are going to become quite confused. If we were in the apartment still, it wouldn’t really matter much because those neighbors would likely be gone within a year or so, or wouldn’t notice enough to care. With house neighbors who will likely be living next to us for as long as we own the house, they are absolutely going to notice and may even be so bold as to ask me what’s going on at some future time. My therapist is convinced that Minnesotans are too nice to actually ask or make a big deal out of it, but I’m less convinced. If I was a cisgender person living in a house and had new neighbors show up (a man and a woman) and then all of a sudden the man I met the first week started wearing wigs and dresses all the time, I would be legitimately confused/interested/curious/disturbed/etc.

I don’t mean to whine or complain, because it is what it is, but it’s definitely something I didn’t really consider before moving to the house. I knew I’d have to meet the neighbors at some point but I wasn’t expecting to meet so many of them right away and be forced to choose whether I was going to come out to them right away or introduce myself as a man. I wish I could say I stood strong and proudly announced that I was Emma, an early transition transwoman, but even I, transwoman extraordinaire that I aspire to be, caved under the social pressure to conform to the easiest label for them to understand. I guess it just means I’ll have to reintroduce myself at a later date, probably much to their confusion, but nothing can be done about it now. I think the hardest part about these social interactions and the pressures that came with them was the fact that the three neighbors I’ve met so far were all men above the age of 40 (one might have been in his late 30’s), two of which were retired. I have found through my travels in this transition period that the hardest people for me to come out to are men, and I believe I know the reason for that.

Because men are higher on the social pyramid of power game as it currently stands in our society (this is changing, but slowly), I feel additional pressure to conform to their assumptions about me being male. If I choose to reveal myself as a transwoman instead of a cismale, then I automatically become the disempowered party in the exchange (assuming we follow the “rules” of the pyramid game). By willingly revoking my male standing and invoking a non-conforming gender instead, I automatically slide down from the top of the pyramid as a white, educated male, to the very bottom of the pyramid as a gender nonconforming individual. When this happens a power imbalance is activated whereby the empowered party (the male I’m meeting) feels socially privileged to either pass judgment upon me or ask me invasive/inappropriate questions. This doesn’t necessarily happen every time because not every top’o’the-pyramider elects to utilize their socially accepted privilege, either because they believe it is rude/unkind to do so, or because they reject the pyramid game altogether (whether they are aware of it or not), but the chances of them using that privilege is quite high.

With women, a group of people who are inherently lower on the pyramid in this power game simply because they were born with a vagina instead of a penis (not saying it’s fair or that I agree with it, but it is what it is), it’s less of a concern that privilege will be elected. Generally speaking (there are exceptions of course) a group of people who have experienced the shitty end of the power game (after centuries of patriarchy) are less likely to inflict the same privilege on others because they understand what it’s like to be judged and disempowered by something completely out of their control. As I said, there are exceptions, many of which are a result of religious belief/privilege (the “god made men and women, which means I, as a woman, am safe and right and true while you are wrong and a sinner” mentality) but I haven’t run into much of that in real life. The internet is different, of course, because people aren’t afraid to be completely awful towards others when they cannot see the person they are discriminating against, but I digress.

So, what to do? How do I overcome my fear of being the disempowered party when presented with the social pressure of choosing to come out to a male I don’t really know or choosing to continue to pretend to be cismale? I honestly don’t really have an answer for that question. An obvious solution would be for the social power pyramid game to change so that being transgender didn’t mean you fell to the bottom of the power schema that most people adopt, but I don’t forsee that happening anytime soon. How can we, as trans individuals, overcome the this dynamic in a safe and positive way? Sure, I could say fuck it and just throw my gender identity in the face of everyone I meet for the first time like a punch in the teeth, but do I really want to be THAT person? The one that everyone is like “Whoa, calm down dude, I just said hello. No need to go full gender rage on me.” Won't that mentality lead me to greater conflict with those I meet instead of greater harmony?

Where is the happy medium between being respectful towards others (have to show respect to receive respect in return, right?) but also claim personal power against everything the other person has been pre-programmed with? I don’t believe it is enough for me as an individual to deviate from the rules of the social power game if I can’t coax others to come along with me, at least partially. If I did that, then I would just be a rebel, and “normal” people despise and push against rebels. There must be a way to accomplish both personal validity and empowerment, while not disempowering the other person by spitting in the face of their accepted social programming. Just because I believe and know gender to be something that is infinite in nature (not a binary), doesn’t mean they do or even want to believe the same thing.

Is the answer to just be so happy and positive about your gender non-conformity that they have no choice but to accept you? If such confidence is the greatest way to accomplish a positive interaction, then how does one build that confidence?
I believe that's what I must work on: building my confidence. I must learn to be unafraid to tell the truth about who I am when I’m asked. How I will accomplish that, I’m not certain, but I believe it’s the most appropriate course of action. Perhaps the best thing to do with regards to my neighbors is to reintroduce myself again sooner rather than later. Perhaps the next time I have an opportunity to speak with any of the three I’ve met so far I will tell them the truth about myself. I will explain that although I introduced myself as Robert, that I'd really actually prefer it if they called me Emma and she/her.
I won’t lie, that idea isn’t super comfortable for me, but in order to build confidence I believe I must break free from my comfort zone. I must learn to not shrink back, but to stand tall and proud of who and what I am. I am at the forefront of human evolution and there is no shame in being different from others; no shame except for what we impose upon ourselves and I refuse to impose any such shame on myself for who and what I am.

 

Well, that's all I really have for now. Thanks for reading, as always, and I’ll try to blog again soon.

-Emma

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