Trigger Warning- this post talks about some incidents of transphobia/cissexism and about invasive questions people ask asexuals and trans people
One thing I am very glad to have learned over the past year or so is that it is ok for me to refuse to answer invasive questions. When I came out to my new roommate as trans, she asked about whether I would have or had already had surgery, and I just said “That’s private medical information.” She immediately apologized and backed off. I thought about saying something to make her feel better or saying that it was ok, but I didn’t. It really isn’t ok for people to ask invasive questions like that, and I’m not going to pretend it is just to make people feel better. I did quite appreciate her response though; she made a genuine apology, backed off, and did not make a big deal out of it. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, either. I am quite proud of myself for standing up for myself, though.
But there have been times before that when it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I could just refuse to answer questions like that or tell people that certain topics are no one else’s business. When I came out to a previous new roommate as trans, she went off on a tangent about how I shouldn’t have surgery unless I’m really, really, really sure about it, and her friend had had some sort of cosmetic surgery (breast reduction, I think) and regretted it. Because cosmetic surgery is totally just like GCS (hint: no it isn’t). I wanted to tell her that I was really, really, really sure, and that those two things aren’t entirely comparable anyway, but she talks so much that it’s hard for anyone else to say anything, and I hadn’t yet learned how to have a conversation with someone where I have to interrupt just to get a word in edgewise. But whether or not I want surgery or how sure I am wasn’t really any of her business in the first place (I’d known her for a few weeks, tops, and we were roommates, not super close bestest friends), and I wish I’d known that saying I wasn’t comfortable with the subject was an option. At the time, though, I was much too busy being happy that she wasn’t rejecting me to think about much else.
People tend to ask various sorts of invasive questions about my asexuality, too. I’ve been asked about masturbation habits and about specific details of what does or does not arouse me. One time, one of my roommates thought it would be a good idea to show me a picture of an erect penis just so she could ask me if it aroused me. She was one of the people who seemed to be so convinced that I was missing out on something really, totally, super amazing, that surely I would love sex if I just tried it with the right person. I’m not sure how successful I was in convincing her that there (probably) is no ‘right’ person for me–that if it’s only super extra awesome amazing when you do it with someone you feel a certain way about, and I never feel that way about anyone, then I’m really not missing out on anything by not trying sex. At least with her, though, we were good enough friends that we talked about personal things. She still crossed a line (especially with showing me a freaking pornographic picture just to ask if it aroused me! not ok!), but not as egregiously as if it had been someone I barely knew asking all those invasive questions.
The worst was when I was seeing a new therapist for the first time. I’d come in to talk about how I was worried I was getting depressed again (and I was), not to talk about my sexual orientation. But there was a question about sexual orientation on the paperwork, and since there wasn’t an option for asexual, I’d written it in on the side. The therapist saw that I’d written in my sexual orientation, and he wasn’t familiar with asexuality, so he asked me a few questions about it. I’m ok with doing a little basic explanation about what asexuality is with someone who isn’t familiar with it, but I didn’t particularly want to spend a lot of time on it. It wasn’t what I’d come in to talk about, after all. But the conversation was going along fine until he decided to ask me if I masturbate. I get that sometimes people talk about some very personal things with therapists, including sex, but that is NOT the sort of question that it is ok to ask someone during the first freaking session when they didn’t even come in to talk about sex! He was trying to satisfy his own curiosity, and it was pretty obvious that his asking whether I masturbate was part of that, and this was much worse than some stranger asking, because there is a certain amount of vulnerability in talking to a therapist. Fortunately, I’d learned by then that that was the sort of question I could refuse to answer, so I said something like “That’s a very personal question”, and that was enough to get him to stop.
And then there was that time with Alice. I’d insisted that she use my preferred pronouns, so she decided to bring up something she’d been meaning to for a while. She said she didn’t want to live with a man (for religious reasons, of course). She made it sound like I needed to choose between continuing to live in my own home and being able to live openly and genuinely as myself. She wanted me to not be trans, or at least to get back in the fucking closet. And she said she wanted to talk about the details of when or whether I would be having surgery or other medical things (and possibly legal things too, like changing name/ID). Like it was any of her business. And I didn’t know well enough to say that it was none of her fucking business. I was caught by surprise, and I didn’t know how to respond, and I’m not good at interrupting people so I let a lot of things go that I wanted to object to, and then it was all too much and I had to get away, and I excused myself as politely as possible and went into my room to hide and have a panic attack. And all she could say to that was “Why were you so upset? I was just pouring out my heart!” like she has any right to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t be upset about.
I learned that it is ok to ask people to use my preferred name and pronouns (even if I don’t pass, even if they have a hard time with it) earlier than I learned that it is ok to not answer invasive questions. But most of the time I don’t bother, because I am afraid, because of what happened the last time I tried to insist that someone should use my preferred pronouns. Even when it’s family members or friends who are totally cool about things and tell me repeatedly to correct them when they slip up, I’m still very hesitant to actually correct anyone. It’s scariest with my roommates, though, because I know from experience what sort of a hard time they could give me if they decide to take issue with it. Even though I’ve learned that the place I live has some sort of policy of not discriminating against trans people, I still don’t want to find out what would happen if one of them decided to make a fuss and say “I don’t want to live with a man.” Maybe they would move the one who made a fuss to a different room. Maybe they would move me. I don’t want to deal with new roommates, anymore. I hate having to wonder if they’ll be transphobic.
But… I am at least out to all of my current roommates, and they all at least say they don’t have a problem with me being a trans man. And it really does bother me when they use the wrong pronouns. I could just ask. Just once. Just so they know I meant it when I asked before. And really, the only one I’m unsure of is the new one, and she lived with a trans roommate before, and even though there’s a lot I don’t like about what she said about her*, she did use her preferred pronouns, which is, frankly, all I really want from her. I mean, I would also like to, perhaps, do a little education about trans people and try to get her to use more respectful terms, but that would take work, and effort, and it’s not really something I need to be making my top priority when I am already dealing with courses and possibly depression, and it’s not like I even talk to her very much anyway, and she hasn’t said anything about trans people, whether me or her former roommate, since the conversation we had when I came out. Which is to say, it is not my responsibility to educate others, but I would like to, if at some point it seems like the benefits would outweigh the costs (which is to say, probably not when I’m having a hard time just getting my homework done and making sure I don’t skip meals or classes because of how tired I am).
* She called her a “man trying to be a woman” and me a “woman trying to be a man”, and was all offended that she was not told by the administration that her previous roommate was trans when she moved in (I really hope I don’t need to actually say why outing a trans person to their new roommates when they move in as a matter of policy would be a really, really bad idea), while at the same time saying that there’s nothing wrong with being trans. Either there’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on there, or she is very ignorant about trans issues. Or both.