Rendering Myself Invisible
Rendering Myself Invisible
As someone who wears many hats (figuratively and literally), I often find myself in spaces that are largely unfamiliar with trans identities. As a fairly androgynous looking person, it’s honestly anyone’s guess what gender I will be perceived as on any given day. When I’m in unknown territory— spaces where the binary gender is rigidly enforced or assumed, i.e. most non-queer spaces— a massive amount of my mental and emotional energy is inevitably devoted to determining:
How am I being perceived? Am I safe?
Should I out myself by asking to be referred to by my correct pronouns? (they/them/theirs)
How will folks respond if I do? Am I able to handle those responses right now?
Am I capable of performing the mental and emotional labor that education about pronouns and identities will ultimately require?
What will I do if I have to use the bathroom?!?
This past weekend, I worked at a large fitness expo, where I essentially allowed myself to be erased. Normally, I at least make an attempt to self-advocate, but in this particular instance, I never once clarified or explained my pronouns— even to my coworkers— because I was physically and mentally exhausted. I simply did not have the energy to out myself as non-binary OR educate about trans identities. Having already had to deal with navigating air travel, which includes the added stress of using public restrooms and going through TSA (where you are literally categorized by what is assumed to be your sexual anatomy!), I arrived emotionally drained and went straight from the airport to the expo. I had naively thought that my pronouns were understood when I accepted the gig, especially since I make my pronouns and identity readily available on my website, in my email signatures, on my social media, etc. But alas, that was not the case. Upon arriving, I quickly realized that the person who had invited me did not understand or know my pronouns, or if they did, they were actively choosing not to use them. Over the course of the trip, I was so busy working that I didn’t even have time to process how that made me feel or what that would do to my mental health. I just went into survival mode, kept quiet, and got the job done.
Working in the fitness industry is frustrating, as harmful assumptions about gender, presentation, and ability are virtually inescapable. Cisheteropatriarchal norms are replicated and enforced in a variety of ways in normative gym settings, from subtle sexism and racism to blatant fatphobia and transphobia. Most days, I wake up ready to challenge those assumptions—prepared to do whatever education and advocacy is required to create and maintain intentionally inclusive spaces for myself and my clients. Deconstructing harmful notions about health and wellness is exactly why I became a personal trainer, and I do not take this task lightly. But, as a being with finite amounts of physical and emotional energy, there are still times where I find myself immobilized, particularly when I am overwhelmed or exhausted from having to explain myself or my identity to others. Sometimes, when things get too personal, it is easier to sit back and allow myself to be rendered invisible. However, the emotional damage that comes with reaching a point of self-erasure is not easily healed or forgotten.
I have written this piece largely to process my own feelings of erasure and grief, but I hope that this also gives insight into why some marginalized folks might choose to remain silent in the face of harassment, discrimination, or blatant erasure. For those of us who exist outside the binary, daily life requires either constant education or self-erasure in the name of assimilation— both of which are excruciating and tiresome endeavors. I hope that one day we can separate ourselves from harmful assumptions and stop relying on marginalized people’s emotional labor to create change. But for now, I just want you to know— I’m so tired.
NORMALIZE asking for pronouns. NORMALIZE not assuming gender identity, regardless of how a person chooses to present. NORMALIZE all-gender bathrooms. NORMALIZE gender as a spectrum rather than a binary. And, lastly, NORMALIZE respect for all identities, not just the ones you think are valid.
We’ve got lots of work to do.
NOTE: Non-binary folks come in all races, shapes, sizes, and gender presentations. Media representation of non-binary folks has historically centered white, thin, masculine/androgynous looking AFAB people (like myself) and it is important to interrogate our own biases of what we think trans or non-binary folks might look like. While I am marginalized in some ways, I am also privileged in others (white, thin, sometimes read as male, perceived as “healthy”). There are many folks who do not have that luxury and experience microagressions based on race, gender, size, etc. simultaneously. Intersectionality matters!