There are things that I have to say before I can address the matter of why I unfriended you for sharing the billionaire transphobe’s words.
First: on being the monster that no will will speak of
It’s important to acknowledge that there are problems with the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative of transness. But while that narrative is reductive, it encompasses a large part of my truth. I have always known that I was different. I grew up in conservative Catholic Ohio, and didn’t have the language to describe my feelings until I was in my mid-thirties, but “woman” and “girl” were always identities I was not able to fit into, no matter how much I maimed myself. But the alternative of “man” was equally alien.
It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I finally had the language to describe the persistent feeling of not-woman and not-man – non-binary. And more lately trans. But the problem with not having language to describe an important piece of yourself is that difference becomes a wound. You internalize it as a lack, as brokenness, as something that makes you less. Less human. Less worthy. Less loveable. Your very existence is the taboo thing that no one must speak of, and that must mean you are a monster.
Learning to describe the difference doesn’t remove the wound, because when you finally have the words to describe yourself and your experience, you can also see how much people hate you for it.
Second: is it a man or a woman?
I was twelve the first time someone intentionally misgendered me. I’d had long hair for years, because that was what girls did. But one day I got my hair cut short.
It wasn’t long before the girls at school started calling me “Pat”, after the awful transphobic Saturday Night Live sketch from the 90s. I wasn’t allowed to watch SNL, but I knew what it meant. “It’s Pat,” they’d sing. “Is it a man or a woman? It’s Pat.” Sometimes the boys would join in, but it was almost always the girls, letting me know I wasn’t one of them. I would never be one of them
I remember getting off the schoolbus, walking quickly to the entrance of the school, trying to pretend that I hadn’t heard them singing it softly in the back of the bus where the teachers couldn’t hear. My shame felt like a rock on top of my chest that made it hard to breathe. My face burned until it felt hot to the touch, and I hated that I was so pale that everyone could see how red I was, because that just meant they’d laugh more.
I swore never to cut my hair again. I didn’t get another hair cut until my mid-20s, and I didn’t cut my hair short again until I was 36.
I felt that same shame again several years ago when a queer cis woman game designer blogged about her experiences in gaming and used The Watch – the game I wrote as a platform to tell the stories I’d always wanted to tell about people who looked like me – as an example of how AFAB nonbinary people were taking up too much space and making less room for queer women.
How AFAB nonbinary people were just too loud and too much, with our short bright hair and our geeky t-shirts and jeans. We were the problem with gaming spaces. We were the ones pushing women out. In the same post, she used a game written by a cis man as a positive example of female representation.
I felt like I was back on the playground with the cool pretty girls singing “it’s Pat” at me.
She apologized and walked her comments back, but even now it still hurts.
Until about a year ago, I had a queer cis woman friend. I always looked forward to seeing her at conventions, and we spent a fair amount of time between cons tagging each other on Facebook and laughing about being shrill feminist harpies.
But then she went on Twitter and started shouting that non-binary people were stealing opportunities from real trans people and that we needed to stop appropriating trans spaces. We needed to step back, stop occupying so much space. It wasn’t right for us to take opportunities from binary trans people.
I tried to call her in gently. I tried to explain how hurtful it is when queer cis white women police trans and non-binary people. I tried to explain how her arguments bordered on TERF rhetoric. I tried to take it out of public tweets and did all the things I was supposed to – the rhetorical hand-holding, the gentle language. It didn’t make a difference.
She unfriended and blocked me the next day for asking for my humanity to be respected. Just another cool girl singing “it’s Pat”. I have lots of friends who are still friends with her, and I try not to wonder if they ever sing “it’s Pat” together when I’m not around.
Third: on the matter of why I unfriended you
You shared the billionaire transphobe’s post on your wall. Thirty-six-hundred words of TERF rhetoric about how trans gender identity isn’t real, trans people are violent sexual deviants, and affirming the rights of trans people requires harming women.
Someone else tried to call you in first, and you were unapologetic. “Judge the woman after reading her story” you said. “We can’t have a conversation if you don’t learn more about her.”
Learn more about her? I read all 3600 words of the billionaire transphobe’s post, well enough to dig up sources to debunk the lies and highlight how her rhetoric is based in hate that goes hand in hand with violent white supremacy. And besides, I’ve known who she was all along.
I asked you to read what I’d written, but you continued defending sharing her hatred.
When you said, “she’s just trying to make a distinction between gender and sex” – what I heard is “is it a man or a woman? It’s Pat.”
When you said, “she’s just making a distinction between trans women and women, there is a difference and she doesn’t want to see that erased” – what I heard is “AFAB non-binary people are the real threat to queer spaces, because they steal opportunities from real women. Our spaces would be better if they would go away and be silent”.
When you said “if you want to hate her so much read about who you are hating” – what I heard is all of the hateful things that people have said to me because I refuse to be silent about who I am. I don’t need to read about who I am hating, because she – and those like her – are so very eager to shove their hate in my face.
So I unfriended you. Because life is too short for cool girls who sing “is it a man or a woman? It’s Pat” when I walk by. Life is too short for queer cis white women who try to tell me that the art that I make to reflect myself and my experiences is incorrect, that the way that I dress is too much, and that the opportunities I earn for myself take away from better and more worthy queer people.
My transness is new and painful and sharply felt and people are dying and the world is on fire and I do not have room in my life for anyone who thinks that now is the time to talk about how people like me are the real problem. In a world that wants people like me to drown, people like the billionaire transphobe are cement blocks trying to drag us down, and you are promoting her hate by talking about how very reasonable and understandable it all is.
So I don’t know if I am able to have a conversation with you about this. Your first message to me after I unfriended you was “I’m sorry if I offended you,” and while your language was better in subsequent messages, I don’t know that I have it in me to go through this with you right now. I’m carrying my own internalized transphobia, and it’s still so fucking heavy. I don’t have the ability to carry yours too.
I don’t know how to end this letter, so I’ll just sign it,