A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a large group of people, most of whom I had not met before, and struck up a conversation with the woman across the table from me. I didn’t catch her name because it was loud in the restaurant, but I’ll call her H. We were all splitting some big margarita pitchers and having fun, and her questions about my split tongue moved onto a conversation about piercings in general, which was fine by me because I always enjoy talking about that sort of thing. I enjoy evangelizing about genital piercings when I have the chance, because I always want to make sure people know they heal very quickly when compared to a lot of other piercings and are often not as painful as one might think. So, since I was tipsy and H was friendly, I found myself talking about how genital piercings are great! And when she said “oh, well, maybe it’s different for men because your parts are larger, but with a smaller area I think it’s more intimidating for women to get those piercings,” it somehow made sense for me to tell her that because I’m trans, my genital piercing experiences were not the same as what most cis men would go through.
(Again, there were many very strong margaritas at our table.)
Her reaction was not really what I want to hear when I disclose to someone, but it wasn’t too surprising either: her eyes got wide and she said “REALLY? I never would have guessed! I couldn’t tell at all!”
Folks, let me be clear: I don’t feel complimented with someone tells me how they “never would have guessed” I was trans. Am I a carnival game? Do you go around guessing if people around you are trans or cis? Really? If folks are trying to be nice when they say this sort of thing, they’re failing. If you like how I rock my gender presentation, tell me! But don’t gush over how fucking cis I look to you because I do not want to hear it.
In that moment, I realized I was stuck in “trans ambassador” mode, which I tried to live in 24/7 when I first came out and quickly learned was a quick way to burn out on any interaction with clueless (even if well-meaning) cisgendered people. I try not to slip into that role if I can avoid it, but in a loud restaurant when both individuals in a conversation are drunk… it’s not an ideal time to have a Teaching Moment about inappropriate reactions to trans disclosure, and it was easier to just let her talk. So I got to hear stories about how surprised H was to know several trans women who were so beautiful and who you would never know were trans, a trans woman she dated who she considered her “bridge” between straight and lesbian relationships (yeah, I’m kicking myself now for not calling her out on that because it was pretty gross, but again: drunk! loud!), etc. etc. I’m pretty sure she was honestly being enthusiastic and excited, but it didn’t make me feel like any less of a novelty item. I doubt she would have liked it if I said “OH, you’re a lesbian! I wouldn’t have known at all! I knew someone who turned out to be a lesbian, and we were all so surprised!” but even in queer-land, etiquette seems to fly out the window where trans people are concerned.
It’s not that I’m particularly angry or bitter about this, but it was a weird moment. I really did just want to talk about how great piercings are and instead I felt like a tipsy science experiment.
Oh, and the best part of this conversation? I was one of four trans folks at our end of the table. Apparently she would have NEVER GUESSED it about any of them, though, so they were all spared the delights of this particular discussion.