I have decided today that I will no longer be participating in gender 101 workshops.
Today, I sat through a gender workshop constructed entirely around centering straight and/or cis people, where queer and trans people were being forced to throw down their emotional and intellectual labor. Any questions around gender were up for grabs, as long as people could get over their ego and fears to ask them. Our straight supervisor simply declared it so. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions that might not seen politically correct,” she told everyone at the beginning. I knew there were confusion and lack of understanding around basic gender issues. I swallowed my worries and braced myself for the questions, but none came. During the workshop, the facilitator posed questions: Do people know what gender expression is? What parts of our bodies are gendered by society? Silence blinked back. I felt my stomach dropping and queasiness bubbling up my throat. Eventually one of the queer people would end up explaining, then silence would follow. No questions. Another prompt, queer person’s answer, then silence. It continued for another hour.
In response to a list of words to describe gender expression, I watched B describe to the group about how they conceptualize their gender expression as not masculine or feminine, but sometimes “cute” and “sad” and “awkward.” I looked away, knowing that in this group, it would be met with blank stares and a scattered set of snaps — some affirming, some understanding, most obligatory. It is always trendy to support queer aesthetics, fluid and “cool” gender expressions, and trans femme folks in movement spaces — but no one sticks around to make sure folks are safe walking home at night or to support them through the daily violence they endure for that “queer look.” I hate the hypocrisy and silence behind all those snaps. How people snap in moments like this, then turn around to ignore or directly inflict violence on trans & gender non-conforming people. How trans people get more respect as post-death hashtags than an alive human being. How everyone wants the undercut hair, septum piercings, and plaid clothes, but not the mental health problems, family disowning, or gender dysphoria.
Then at one point, someone mentioned the presence of queer & trans people in our home countries even prior to the colonization. And I felt everyone scrambling to cling onto this bit of fact, tightly. All of a sudden, people began to speak at length. Perhaps it was because it meant that their ancestors — and by extension, perhaps themselves — were not responsible for all these gender oppressions we were talking about. That they may not be responsible for gender binary, cissexism, or trans people dying. It is so easy to wash our hands clean, because it was the White man’s tool after all — even if we later took it, sharpened it, and used it against our own people.
I saw how people repeatedly fled to these types of easier, safer topics (i.e. intellectualization of queerness), but remained unwilling to engage in vulnerable dialogue with the queer person sitting right in front of them. And that is probably when I dissociated.
In the end, we all threw ourselves raw & bloody against their wall of clean logic, quiet skepticism, and tolerance in an effort to be heard. To be more than a practicing ground for interesting grammatical combinations. To be part of this supposed community. To be truly seen — for our unapologetic queer being & all the intimate crevices of ourselves that we do not yet know.