I have this friend named Kayah. You might remember her from my previous blog post addressing transgender identity. This week I’ve brought her back into the spotlight due to a potentially dangerous situation she was in a couple of weeks ago. This is her story.
Kayah is one of the most harmless, most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing through my short life. She’s fun, ambitious and brave. She’s openly accepting of all kinds of people and never have I known her to put up with anyone’s bullshit. That’s why, when I heard about her recent interaction with someone, I nearly blew up. The way they treated her and called her out, and the way she dealt with it is something that we should be talking about regarding the trans community.
Last week I talked about harassment; however relevant that blog post was, it mainly focused on cisgender women. Today, I want to speak about people who find themselves harassed because they don’t look “normal” according to our society.
Kayah lives in a pretty urban area, a place where she has lived all of her life, a place where I have lived also. She was walking down a central street of town with a small group of friends when they passed by a strange man who had his phone out, obviously filming them. After they’d completely passed by him, he stopped and disappeared before returning, this time without his phone. He soon began to ask rather loudly at Kayah, “Are you a boy or a girl?” continuously as he followed them along the street. This obnoxious and ignorant behavior enraged both Kayah and her friends, though they tried ignoring the man.
The man kept following them. He continued to ask for Kayah’s gender. Eventually, Kayah spun around, looked the man in the eye and said, “Fuck off.” The man stopped.
It was only a few moments after that the man ran up behind Kayah, grabbed the hat off of her head and threw it to the ground. Enraged, Kayah turned around again, appearing to her friends as if she would hit the man in an act of self defense. Though she didn’t intend to, the man perceived it in the same way her friends did, and he finally backed off. While walking away from them, one of the Kayah’s friends yelled out “What’s your problem?” in which the man responded by turning around, sticking out his tongue, and thrusting his hips directly at them.
Fast-forward a couple days later and Kayah is, again, in the same area of town. She ran into a woman who had witnessed the encounter and they spoke for a couple of minutes. The woman told Kayah how the man had approached her asking that same question: “Are they a boy or a girl?” Assuming that Kayah was a transgender man (female-to-male), she told him so. It was after she responded to his question that he began filming Kayah. Knowing this infuriated Kayah.
Why would someone take their assumption and verbally relay it to someone who had already been harassing her?
Not only did this unfamiliar woman mistaken Kayah’s sexual identification, but she used her assumption to potentially make the situation worse. Whether she did this knowingly or not, she shouldn’t have done it.
Unfortunately, these are common errors made by people that identify as cisgender or don’t struggle with their sexual identities. What exactly are these errors and what can we do to fix them?
Here’s the problem.
Street harassment is probably the most disturbing situation, here. I don’t care who you are or what you believe in, there is literally no fucking reason to harass anyone–stranger or friend. There is no excuse to film someone while loudly asking them personal questions. There is absolutely no excuse for physically touching someone–FOR PHYSICALLY TAKING OFF AN ITEM OF THEIR CLOTHING–without their permission. People are entitled to their bodies and have their own control over the way they dress and present themselves. No one has to agree with it, no one has to say it’s right or wrong, but no one has the right to verbally or physically do something about it, especially in public.
Assuming someone’s gender is another issue. Whereas it can be hard for people who identify as cisgender (cis people identify with the sex that they were assigned at birth; I identify as female and, since I am anatomically a female, I identify as cisgender), some people–regardless of how they dress–do not identify as a boy or do not identify as a girl, or do not identify as anything at all (this term is non-binary, or genderqueer; model and actor Ruby Rose identifies as non-binary). Unless you know for sure that someone is a boy, a girl, lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, you probably shouldn’t discuss it with other people. In other terms, don’t out someone without their express permission. Questioning and being curious about it in your head is one thing, but telling other people what you think is right, is completely different.
So how do we address these pressing issues that seem to be a growing problem in our society?
Here’s what we should do.
We could most definitely start by being nice to people. Crazy, right? I understand that harassment is something that will take a lot of work to stop–and we may never be able to stop it completely–but it’s something that needs to be prevented, especially since we find it happening more and more often towards people who are “different.” If someone is different from you, be nice to them. If someone doesn’t believe what you believe, be nice to them. If someone’s mere presence is insulting your beliefs, you may need an ego check. Overall, we need to be nice to people. If being “nice” to someone that makes you upset simply equals being polite, being polite is better than being a straight-up dick. If you have a problem accepting someone’s appearance, identity or beliefs, you don’t need to tell them that; instead, you need to find the qualities in them that makes you happy and, in return, be nice to them. Seriously, just be nice to people. It’s not that hard and it makes your life a hell of a lot better.
Gender identities can be complicated sometimes. If you’re not sure about someone’s gender, politely ask them what pronouns they like to go by. It can be a little offensive to hear “Are you a boy or a girl?”, especially when it’s coming from a complete stranger. A simple, “How would you like for me to address you?” or “What pronouns do you go by?” is a simple enough way to put it. It’s as easy as asking a person what their favorite ice cream flavor is. If you ever find yourself in a situation similar to that of the woman in the story, don’t let your assumptions define a person. Getting something as serious as one’s identity wrong can be embarrassing, impolite and degrading, just to name a few. If someone asks you about a strangers identity, try telling them, “I’m not really sure, but it’s not my place to label them.” If you ever witness someone being harassed due to their sexual identity, do what you can to help them without making the situation worse. Walk by their side as a form of protection, firmly tell the harasser to leave them alone or call the authorities.
After the confrontation, Kayah found herself very disturbed. She was scared and “incredibly shaken,” saying that she “was not prepared to handle [it] physically or emotionally.” Why should a person ever be put in a situation where they would feel like that?
I feel like I am regularly ending my blog posts reminding my readers that all people are human and deserve to be treated like humans. Why do we live in a world where people are treated like trash simply for being themselves?
Image Courtesy of: ealuxe.com