“What the Hell Was That?”, He Asked His Friends, Referring to Me

Gabrielle's New Year Portrait 20142013 was a year filled with beautiful new experiences, new friends, personal growth and important life lessons. In 2014 I plan to continue working toward my goal of living life (full-time) as a trans woman and fostering much needed, positive trans awareness in society. Among other things, it includes taking every opportunity to attend to public aspects of life in my female form; as my true self (Gabrielle, not my man-facade).

The photo (upper-left) was taken just before heading out to make a few purchases from a local grocery store, and meet up with a friend at a local coffee shop. I ended up wearing a faux leather hat, which my wife, the Fabulous Mrs. H., recommended just before leaving the house. You can see the hat here in my Flickr photo.

Continued positive public experiences
I’ve gone grocery shopping several times over the last few months (in my female form) without a hitch. I’m happy to say it’s almost become routine and boring. Almost. I still experience some fear in doing so, but I know that the fear is a lie, and I choose not to listen to it. With an “I don’t care what people think of me” attitude, I just go about my business, and things tend to go very smoothly. No one has laughed at me in public in quite some time.

More often than not, the grocery store cashiers seem to be a little shy around me, or perhaps slightly uncomfortable. It’s an understandable reaction in dealing with a trans woman, which is something they probably don’t encounter in day to day life, and so may be filled with the usual misconceptions. Even though they’re a little quieter when dealing with me, and often make as little eye contact as possible, they’ve been nothing but polite and professional, and I’m pleased with that.

I’m a person, NOT a thing
As I approached the grocery store this past Saturday, a group of four teenage boys were making their exit. They stopped talking immediately upon noticing me, and made no effort to disguise their stares. Just as we had passed by each other and they were now behind me, I clearly heard one of them comment, “What the hell was that?!”, referring to me as the “that”.

Dare I have some fun with this?
I generally try to amuse myself in situations like these, and bring a little humor or at least something light-hearted to the table. Maybe I can win someone over, who would otherwise judge me in a negative way just for being trans. With the boys only a couple of steps behind me, I considered responding with, “I can hear you, you know.”

Best play it safe
Before the words left my mouth, I paused to consider the potential for a negative escalation of events, and decided not to tempt fate.

It’s unfortunate an opportunity to bring some light-hearted amusement to the situation went unrealized. Their remark didn’t bother me much, though. I get it – the remark and why it was made. In short, people fear what they don’t understand. In this case, an attempt to show defiant, non-acceptance of my being was the chosen reaction by a young, naive mind.

I was once a young, naive mind, too.

The psychology behind this kind of behavior
This particular kind of derogatory reaction requires the presence of: more than one person, a naivety among at least one or more of the group, an element of fear, the social expectation of not showing fear, and an expectation of demonstrating social conformity by openly rejecting and disparaging that which instigated the fear.

This demonstration serves the purpose within the group by building a foundation of expected/accepted social structure, policing it, and compelling continued conformity. The boy who made the rude comment may not have been terribly bothered by my presence, but rather simply delivering what he felt was the expected reaction to my presence. Once he became aware that all of the group had taken notice of me, by all accounts, the living embodiment of a perceived social taboo, he may have felt it necessary to display his rejection of me to the others, in an effort to proactively show his expected conforming social behavior. Even if only in reaction to his perceived social expectation, it also serves to keep the others in check by conditioning, or “policing” continued social expectation of the group. This is one of many ways that such negative behavior displays are taught and perpetuated. Once this behavior has solidified as “good” and “normal” and “expected”, it can be rather difficult to change. It’s entirely possible that the young man who made the rude comment was more uncomfortable about potentially being seen as “not rejecting of me” rather than any discomfort caused by my presence (as a trans woman, “social taboo” and something he is naive to).

Which combination of social conformity mechanics were playing out in his mind are only speculative on my part. It is an interesting study, though, in my opinion. The best way to bring about positive change within society is to educate society. Understanding what is going on within a given social construct will increase the potential to educate the people who subscribe there to.

Some cool kids
A couple weeks ago, I repeatedly encountered a group of about 4 or 5 young children, ages approx. 8-12, while at the same grocery store. I expected to get some funny looks or for them to begin smiling and whispering to each other about me. To my delight, they didn’t seem to take notice of me as anything other than just another human being taking care of grocery shopping.

A beautiful day with nothing to complain about
After shopping, I met up with a couple of friends at a local coffee shop and had a very enjoyable evening. The worst thing that happened in my day was this rude, and meaningless comment. Everything else was absolutely beautiful. I can’t really complain about that. Well, I could, but I won’t. I’m quite grateful for an awesome evening out. :)

Talk to me
What have your experiences been out in public? Have you encountered rude teenagers and chosen to engage them? Have you successfully “flipped” things and made friends of people like this in the process? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and/or experiences.


15 thoughts on ““What the Hell Was That?”, He Asked His Friends, Referring to Me”

  1. On the rare occasions when I get out I still tend to go to safe places or places where I can get by in stealth mode.
    I think that it is important that more and more of us get out into the civilian population in daylight rather than stealth.
    The next time that the young men in this group seem a “T” they may not feel compelled to comment as they did this time. Perhaps they will comment “There is another man dressed as a women”. It may be a small step in some ways but it is huge moving from a “that” to being recognized as a “man dressed as a woman”.
    Keep on keeping on.
    In my case both my wife and I have more finely honed “T-dar” than the average civilian. As a “T” (or as the wife of a “T”) we are more acutely aware of people presenting in their non-natal gender. The more that my wife (and presumabley the wives of other “T” people) sees “T” folks out and about and interacting with society in general the more accepting she is becoming of my desires to get out and about while dressed.
    Thank you for keeping your blog.

  2. What a bunch of tw**s. :-) On the plus side, you don’t seem too narked by it, which I guess is a good thing. x

    As to other reactions…. I can think of two. One good, one not so much. The not so good one was three youths (or ‘yooves’ as we’d say locally ;-) ) who shouted “transvestite? F*** dat sh**!” It really wasn’t the time to stop and try and win people over ;-)

    The good one was three young teenagers. I walked by and one said – in a shocked voice – “I think that was a guy!” That did make me smile, that they were so surprised by it.

    1. Thanks for sharing a couple of your experiences, Lynn! :) Yes, probably a very smart move to ignore the first reaction. I love that you smiled with the second group, showing them that you were comfortable with, and happy to be yourself. Excellent!

      No, it really don’t bother me much, the way teenagers get so hyper-reactive about trans folk. I don’t like it, but it’s not a big deal. It’s a show of their own insecurity that they attempt to mask by acting out (and reinforce the “social rules” of their group, etc.). I suppose that if I were insecure, too, I’d go back to hiding from the world. But… I’m too busy spreading my wings and learning to fly and loving it! :D

      Interestingly, I was asked to help out with a LGBTQ educational presentation at a high school next week, where I’ll get to talk directly to a bunch of teenagers! Opportunity came knocking rather quickly after this one! I only regret that this high school is a bit far away to even potentially find these same teenage boys (I doubt they traveled 45 minutes just to go to the grocery store). I’m very happy to have an opportunity to educate some teenagers with reality, facts, and (and this one is very important) real-life human experience, complete with personality, painful past experiences to share, and a very positive outlook for the future.

  3. When we look at our experiences at the most basic level, all of us are nothing more than ghosts driving a meat covered skeleton. What the hell do we have to be afraid of?

    1. Interesting take on things, Mike, thanks for sharing. :) I prefer to think of us as spiritual beings having a human experience, but that works, too. And you’re right – there is nothing to fear except for that which our own minds spin inside of our own heads (which is always a false state; a mental drama).

  4. I am new to your writings but I am very impressed by your honesty and skill at examining these social and personal issues in a humorous and thoughtful way.
    I used to be scared to go out of the house dressed and would only attempt it in the middle of the night when I could be fairly sure most were fast asleep. Even then a distant sound would cause panic and the mad dash to the safety of my back porch. I was even chased by the cops one night!(They caught me, but that’s another story!)
    I learned and I grew and decided that I HAD to get out. Since accepting my femme side some 6 yrs ago, I try to get out as much as I can, usually every major holiday I spend with my sister and her family. They live in another state adjacent to mine so the likelihood that I’ll see someone I know in male mode is VERY slim. I’ve grown very comfortable out and about as Tonya. Whereas I used to avoid people that I think look unaccepting, now I seek them out! I don’t pass 100% and I have no illusions about it. That is actually a good thing I think sometimes. I want people to see me and know exactly what I am. Then, I want to SHOW them that I am not scared of what they think, that I am completely at ease with myself. I want to challenge any preconceived ideas they may have of “us” and show them that we are just people like everyone else. The important thing here is to “humanize” the experience for them so we are not a thing, but caring, feeling individuals. Humor always works best to do this along with a smile. Above all, remember that if your uncomfortable with how you are presenting, others will be too.
    That said, I will tell you my favorite line I have used many times. It happened first in a checkout line at a supermarket but I have adopted it for many situations since. While waiting to check out, a small girl riding in the cart of the woman behind me said to her mom where she thought I probably wouldn’t hear, “Mom, is that a man?”. The mother looked at me, obviously mortified. Without missing a beat I looked at them with a HUGE smile and said “not today!”.

  5. Hey, I’v read this blog a couple of times now, each time I read it i feel more confident to go out. Thank you. x

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Tayna! :) That’s fantastic! Hold your head high, be proud of who you are, and don’t let any negative sentiments form others get to you. In all of my public errands, shopping, etc., in my female form since this past summer (too many to count), this is the only time that anyone has come close to anything that might be considered any kind of direct disparaging remark (which it wasn’t really direct as it was not said to me, but rather just *about* me, to his friends). Let these things slide, and one with your day. It’s not about *you*, but rather about *them*; they’re the ones with the problem, so let it be THEIR problem, and do not make it yours! :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. I very, very rarely get out due to time committed to work and family. Still, I admit that this is something I’m not sure how I’d deal with.

    Clearly you’ve set a good example dealing with it with understanding, confidence, and maturity. I know that I personally have to learn to become more understanding of people.

    Thanks again, and I’m glad the rest of your day was beautiful.

    1. If something like this does happen to you, Eryka, do your best to just take it in stride and go about your business. Be mindful of *why* things like this sometimes take place and don’t take it personally. It’s really not personal – it’s just people behaving poorly because **they** are uncomfortable with their own sensibilities (or lack there of). So long as you don’t feed into it, whatever poor behavior has taken place, it will likely just go away, allowing you to go about your business. Additionally, if/when someone does behave poorly about your or toward you, and you choose to just ignore it and continue with your business, it sends a message back to the poorly behaved individual(s) that they have no power over you. In other words, it diminishes their false sense of superiority over you based on incorrect thinking (that people who are different than they are, are somehow lesser people).

      This like this happen so infrequently to me now, they’re not even something I think about much when I’m out. Neither should you. Be mindful of your surroundings and be careful, but don’t ever be afraid to get out just because of the *potential* for people to behave poorly toward you. Take trans out of the picture, and there’s a potential for people to behave poorly toward anyone at any time for anything. So don’t be afraid to live your life on *your* terms. It *is*, after all, *your* life to live! :)

  7. The only negative experience I’ve had out in public was one time shopping for clothes. I walked past a middle-aged couple in the store and noticed the guy smirk and chuckle. That would have been fine, but looking back I saw him nudge his wife and say something. Then she turned around and just stared at me. She stared at me for a really long time, and made no attempt to hide it. I felt like an exhibit in a zoo or something. In retrospect I should have smiled or said something, but I just stood there.

    That was only my fourth time leaving the house as a girl, and my confidence was pretty shaken afterwards. It was a long time before I went out again, (well, like two weeks). The dress I bought that day is still my favourite though! :)

    1. Thanks for sharing, Ashley. :) It sucks when people not only read us, but then feel compelled to judge and treat us as if we’re some kind of strange spectacle that needs pointing out so that everyone can get a look. That’s happened to me a few times, too. I don’t like it, but I do understand why people do that.

      It’s a bummer you didn’t smile back at them that day. Sometimes doing that helps people realize that we’re just *people* going about our business, just like they are. If it does happen again, I hope you do give them a big smile! :) Give ’em a smile and if they continue staring, introduce yourself. Why not? If you’ve already entered “awkward-ville”, may as well have some fun with it. You might even win them over and crack open a few minds in the process, maybe even make a new friend or two. You never know. Unless you get really bad vibes from the onlookers, there’s probably little to no danger in trying. I try to use a little humor to loosen people up, and most of the time it works, and I get a smile out of them (the good kind), and enjoy a little conversation.

      As for people who say rude things, I don’t take it personally and I don’t let it get to me. I hope you don’t either, at least not any more. They’re the one with the problem, NOT you. You’re the one with the courage to actually LIVE your life and let your light shine! Sorry if that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s the truth and I think you understand. :)

  8. It’s all about nice, but, didn’t you say you felt as a man with a femme side or simply wanted to be a man outside the dress code which is meant for men (which is my case, I don’t want to be confined in the restrictive mainstream style rules meant for men). So now you are a woman by all means, instead?
    Which is a genuine curiousity, from me :).

  9. Hi Gabrielle, I love your website. It has allowed me to grow by reading some of the posts. I have been underdressing all my life, now I am in the second half century of it.
    I have recently been going out dressed, not trying to pass and have never had any bad experiences. I have been out to to shopping centres, movies or busy strip shops. Having coffee and just enjoying the experience.
    I would suggest if you go out expecting negative things to happen, they will. Think positive things and that is generally what happens. Reflecting on the book by Susan Jeffers ‘Feel the Fear and di it anyway’! Yes I am always anxious each and everyday I leave the home dressed and yet I still get a buzz from feeling the freedom of wearing what I want. Most people are not that observant. Sometimes you see the double take and I still smile. When shopping I get treated well. Not a lot of conversation yet when in stores. Still working on my own confidence. Still it is extremely liberating experience and I will keep going with my journey.

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