56. “Not Everything Is About Trans* Issues, You Know!”

No, But Some Things Are

I had some unfortunate exchanges with a colleague a few weeks ago. It wasn't pretty. This person has come to me a number of times for advice on trans* issues, and I've happily obliged. Unfortunately, I really have no interest in helping her anymore after what happened. There's a little back-history: At a (different) colleague's Christmas party, we were talking and I admitted that I'm hard of hearing. I have a very hard time making out words, even though I've had my hearing tested and my sensitivity to sounds is above average. I can hear that someone is talking–even from a distance–but I have a very hard time making out what they're saying, even if they're in front of me, and especially when there are ambient noises.

Metamorpho-sis_frustrated2.pngThe problem came when she dismissed this: "Oh everyone has that!" Excuse me? Are you telling me that you know more about my hearing problem than I do? No, everyone doesn't have this issue. I have to work very, very hard (it gets exhausting, especially when there's ambient noise) to work out what words people are saying. Often, if we're in a place with lots of ambient noise like a pub, I have to lean way in, or I just give up and disengage from the conversation. I also nod and smile a lot, so it makes it look like I'm actually hearing what they're saying.

So it was deeply offensive when she was telling me that I don't actually have a "real" hearing problem. I called her out on it, and thankfully she eventually apologized (in a heartfelt way that I appreciated). However, I will note that I get quickly leery of people who hurt then apologize. It's happened too often in my life, and I just stop interacting with people who exhibit that pattern more than a couple times. So she was on thin ice after this, in my book.

A week or two later, we were discussing some films she was planning to show in her philosophy of film course. She mentioned that she's showing Tootsie. I asked if she was planning on raising the trans* issues related to that movie (a guy dresses up as a woman in order to "invade" women's spaces in terms of getting a movie role meant for a woman…because he can't find movie roles as a man).

Here response? "This has nothing to do with trans* issues."

Umm, yes it does! "No, it doesn't." YES IT DOES!

It's extreme cis privilege not even to see the huge trans* implications of this movie, particularly since it's a dominant trope that trans women are "really men" who dress up as women in order to "invade" women's spaces (like bathrooms, change rooms) and to gain an advantage by doing so (e.g., sports). The trans* implications should have been front and centre, especially to someone who I've talked to a few times about trans* issues. But not only did she not acknowledge the relevant, and very important, trans* issues in Tootsie, she claimed there aren't any!!

Well, since I have a bit of a reputation for not backing down in these sorts of "calling out" contexts, I pressed her. I said, no, there are very serious trans* issues here, and that she needed to recognize that. This is when she said something to the effect of:

"Not everything has to do with trans* issues, you know!"

This is classic. It's painting me as a one-issue activist: that all I talk about is trans* issues. (I don't! It's not even my primary area of research/teaching!!) But more importantly than this, of course not everything is about trans* issues. Relatively speaking, few things are. But some things do involve trans* issues, and this is one of them!

We had a heated disagreement over this. I just said, "I'm done with this conversation" and left. When she tried to re-start the conversation a couple days later, even though I told her that her talking to me about it was making me very angry (to the point of shaking with anger), that was the end of my having anything to do with her.

…she hasn't apologized. I don't expect one.

Yours truly,