TOPICAL DIS/ORDER, FLINTA*, PRIDE, ESSAYS
Speaking Out While Fitting In
by CLAIRE FISHER
Pretty privilege. Straight-passing privilege. Cis-presenting privilege. While it may go by many names, the understanding is the same: people are more likely to listen to what you have to say when you occupy one (or more) of these groups. Although pretty privilege is subjective, there is a general understanding of society’s baseline for attractiveness. For straight- and cis-presenting privilege, the requirements vary. I identify as a non-binary lesbian, but I’ve been open about sleeping with and dating men in the past and this confuses people. Especially those who don’t identify as Queer or non-cis. In some instances this works in my favor, however in most cases it just really pisses me off.
Despite the fact that no one wants to admit it, we all have an internal checklist that’s immediately called up when interacting with someone new. We check to see if this person is like us, if we can trust them, which topics to discuss. What we might not be so willing to accept is that this checklist also automatically determines whether we decide to accept what the other person is telling us. For me, my checklist seems to inherently dismiss anything a cis, white, heterosexual man has to say. This is an internal bias I have to consciously work through in order to determine my own thoughts and feelings about the matter that’s being discussed.
As someone who loves fun makeup, the color pink, and wearing dresses, I am the stereotypical example for an unconscious mind to register ‘FEMALE.’ While I don’t blame others for holding these internal biases, I won’t accept blatant ignorance in a time where pronouns are available in social media bios and Google is still free. Because I fit so many items on the checklist that we so wrongfully align with what it means to be a woman, I have no shortage of uncomfortable interactions in which I am referred to as ‘girl,’ ‘queen,’ ‘girly,’ or the likes. Every time without fail when I respond to such a comment with, ‘I’m actually non-binary, please don’t call me girl,’ the ignorant party responds with immediate defense. ‘Sorry I just saw your outfits and—’, ‘Omg I had no idea, I just assumed because—’, etc.
This is exactly the point in the conversation where I have to make a choice. I have to make the choice of if I’d rather shoulder an uncomfortable conversation about my own identity for the potential betterment of further non-binary/gender non-conforming individuals said ignorant party comes into contact with in the future, or I let it go at the expense of my mental health. Because I occupy a space between what this person knows and how they think XYZ should look, I hold an interesting type of power. They’re more likely to listen to what I have to say because I look like them. Don’t get me wrong, I internalize this all the time—in the form of, ‘Should I do XYZ to present more androgynously?’, ‘If I changed my pronouns to they/them would they be more likely to be respected or am I setting myself up for (even more) failure?’
However, occupying this space doesn’t always grant me a free pass from a headache. Sometimes it opens me up to even more ridicule, absurd questions, or—in extreme cases—violence. Because I blend in with what these people know, they feel entitled to use me as their personal guide on a trip through Pronoun Town. They think I can provide them with a crash course that they then can dangle in front of other ignorant friends, claiming ‘wokeness’ and reflecting on how difficult it is to get pronouns correct. What’s most frustrating is that now I have somehow become a spokesperson on behalf of all people who identify the same way that I do. No, I don’t know what it ‘feels like’ to be non-binary, because that means something different to each non-binary individual. While I’d love to be a famous lesbian, my journey out of the closet is not the same as that of every single other lesbian’s.
Despite knowing that I owe no one an education that they could get on their own, I feel a sort of responsibility in taking on the burden so that it doesn’t get passed on down the line. Who knows what further ignorant comments lie in waiting? What if the next person doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle such a conversation? So long as I check these boxes, I’ll continue to shoulder the education for those who are seemingly unable to google.
EDITED BY MACY RIPLEY.