by Kylee Anderson
Each night when I close shop the computer prompts me with a question: Are you SURE you want to settle? Considering the mundane nature of the question–it refers to finalizing cash records for the day–I find it both haunting and existential. I like the question enough to post it on my fridge, a sort of check-in for how I’m doing in relation to various facets of my life. Complicated situations arise and honestly, I settle more than I care to admit. Example: A few weeks ago I was at work speaking with a friend, recounting the previous night’s WeHo meet-up, when John, a server–technically, I am his supervisor–barged into the conversation:
Me: “…and thanks for asking for my friend’s pronouns right away. A lot of people don’t get that instant respect-–”
John: “Whoa, what do you mean pronouns? As in transgendered people?”
Cue Gender Studies 101, located in my office at 11 pm on a Friday. Neither professor nor student, I have a choice: to teach, or to dismiss. For whatever reason, that night I attempt to educate John. Perhaps it’s because he holds a PhD in something science-y that I attribute his earnestness to a simple thirst for knowledge. I expel a loud sigh and throw some serious side eye, as he, with his mildly endearing curiosity, seems legitimately interested in knowing more. I break it down: Explain that gender is not determined by one’s genitalia, that the male/female box checked on a birth certificate does not define who we are.
The friend in question identifies as genderqueer/genderfluid, which is non-binary, i.e. not explicitly male or female. This jump from gender as a social construct to lesser known gender identities confounds John. Slowly and precisely, I extricate gender presentation (the way you act, look and present yourself in society) from gender (what you feel you are) and orientation (who you’re attracted to). I even get personal, detailing my own coming out as queer, which coincided with my then-girlfriend coming out as trans. I google “Genderbread Person” and instruct him to view it as a primer. The visual aid tilts the discussion forward.
As both a feminist and a supervisor, I regulate overt harassment in my workplace and take it upon myself to correct and shut down rampant misinformation about the community beyond the LGB.
In short: I’m queer as f**k. Don’t be an ass or I will call you out.
Every visibly out person has been in this position. I assess the scene, asking myself the following: is this person asking honest questions not rooted in fear, hate or morbid curiosity (safety is always a consideration)? Are they really asking to be educated or do they have a passing interest in something topical/visible in pop culture that brought up the question? (Don’t even get me started on this Bruce Jenner media fiasco.) Are they going to genuinely listen to and/or participate in such discourse or is my time and breath wasted on deaf ears? Few people sincerely wish to learn when they approach me with such questions. They want neatly giftwrapped hetero-/homonormative platitudes. Is it worth the time expended?
The incessant need to be right overpowers me, as per usual. Before I delve in I think, I’m going to savor this.
John, a straight cis white male, has just inserted himself into a casual conversation between myself and a friend (both queer cis people), right as I thank him for not immediately presuming someones gender. The misinformation and half-truths widely believed and spread about the BTQQIP2SAA community is staggering. The alphabet soup of identifiers is a lot to swallow, but I feel the need to protect them regardless. When someone blithely throws out a word like “transgendered,” troublesome for its verbing of a gender (nobody says “I am a femaled” or “a lesbianed,” they make no grammatical sense!), I crack my knuckles, straighten my tie and prepare for the worst.
No way will I let him wield any more power than his white male privilege already grants him. I determine the direction of the discussion. He asks questions and I refuse to oversimplify. He really is trying, I’ll give him that much. The question of public restrooms comes up, mistaken identity and “what about the children” and I have to take a minute to collect myself.
The privilege of higher education does not necessarily guarantee that a person is smart or even educated, but it does enact and enable entitlement. John decided he was owed an explanation to the terms he was unfamiliar with, in detail, simply because he was curious. The power dynamic was pretty fascinating in and of itself. I was the one deemed in possession of said knowledge, yet there he was demanding it from me, his supervisor, in my office. Needless to say, he got a generous amount of furrowed brows and exasperated sighs. I still haven’t responded to his friend request.
The entitlement factor goes well beyond four year degrees and a desire to learn. It’s endemic to young urban millennials and I am no exception. Especially those of us living in LA. The fast pace of, well, everything, develops within us an insistence upon ourselves. We want to immediately know what we don’t already know. Possessing knowledge becomes a presumed right as opposed to a privilege. But while knowledge can be rapidly obtained, understanding takes time. Answers to these deceptively simple questions have to be concise, comprehendible and relevant. They must also unpack the multitude of layers inherent to sensitive topics like gender, class, race, culture, ability et al, and the intersectionality that brings them together.
It is at this intersection that I intend to examine people’s lived experiences as one way to bridge the gap between knowing and comprehending.
So, here’s the question: Did I settle? Not that time. I choose my battles wisely. Shira Tarrant, author of Men and Feminism, puts it this way: “Making change also means we all have to examine our own place in various systems of domination–how we benefit and how we hold back.” When we passively acquiesce to micro-aggressions, permit ignorance to flow freely and disengage with everyday inequalities, we allow these inequalities to remain the status quo. Determine who is worth your valuable time and proceed with cautious optimism.