I have a profile on OkCupid, which is a free dating website. For not having to pay for it, its pretty good. Their matching system is decent and there are a lot of hot queers who use it. I’ve been on a number of dates from that site and, while none of those dates developed into something more, neither were they horrible. All in all, I’ve had a good experience with the site.
Once or twice a month or so, I will get a message from someone asking me something like, “So, were you born a man or a woman?” or “You should probably change your gender to male so that there isn’t any confusion.” or “For a woman with a penis, you are really pretty!” Despite the fact that I clearly state in my profile to NOT message me with foolishness like that. I don’t know if its because they don’t read past the part where I say I’m a big ole’ tranny or if its because as cisgender people, they feel entitled to ask/tell me whatever they want in regards to my gender because I am so freakish and unnatural.
Over and over again I get random strangers asking me, after I come out to them, if I am going to get “the surgery” or “how far along I am” or “are those breasts real”. But that isn’t the only instance where people ask me about “myself”. I can’t tell you how many times someone who, having found out that my family is from South America, has asked me to say something in Spanish. As if I were some parrot who learned a new trick. As if because I’m brown or because I can speak another language, I need to perform that “trick” on command for some white English speaking asshat. Or my favorite, “Oh, you speak Spanish? I’ve never heard you speak it.” Yeah, because you don’t speak Spanish and what reason would I have to speak it with you? Just because I’m brown or speak another language doesn’t mean that I go around speaking Spanish at people who don’t understand it. Just like white English speaking folk don’t go around speaking gibberish at people, there is no point because there is no communication. Moreover, its this feeling of entitlement that white English speaking folks have to demand that folks like me “perform” for them.
Notice a trend here?
Good, because it’s a trend we all need to be aware of. Don’t get me wrong; if we are friends and we’ve gotten to know each other and you are curious about my experience, then by all means ask. However, we need to be constantly checking ourselves to make sure that we aren’t putting folks with oppressed identities and backgrounds on the spot and forcing them to “educate” us. We need to make sure that oppressed folks aren’t doing it horizontally either. If we are going to foster safe spaces and supportive communities, we need to make sure that we are responsible for educating ourselves about other folks. Because by asking strangers to “educate” us about their oppressed experience, we are focusing on that experience alone and we are reducing their personhood to that experience. We don’t see their hopes and their fears and their dreams. We don’t see what makes them fundamentally human. All we see is the baggage that our oppressive society has heaped on them. Not only that, but we are forcing them to relive that whole experience again for us. And when we force folks with oppressed identities to “educate” us, we are claiming their experience as ours. We are recolonizing and objectifying them, on top of the colonization and objectification that they have already experienced. This is the most infinitesimal and yet most profound way that we oppress each other.