Alex Blaze

Harassment open thread

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 10, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: homophobic behavior, transphobia

Just yesterday someone yelled the French equivalent of "faggot" at Alberto and me from their car, and it got me to thinking about how homophobic and transphobic harassment still occurs in 2008. I really thought that it was mostly over, especially in a city like Paris, but we get stared at a lot, get yelled at sometimes, and almost never see other same-sex couples holding hands outside of the Marais, Paris's gayborhood.

This place isn't as progressive as it seems on first glance.

So for all of you, have you recently experienced homophobic, transphobic, or sexist street harassment recently? Participated in it? Do you think it's still common in 2008? Does it depend on where you are?

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Alex, I think it totally depends on where you are. For example, when Shannon and I are in Tucson we get fewer odd looks than when we are in Phoenix. And that also depends upon what part of the city you're in. Tempe is more of a college town, and most of the people here tend to be pretty liberal. So I usually don't feel uncomfortable in Tempe. But if we were in Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, or certain parts of Phoenix proper, then yes . . . we would get some looks. He seems to notice things more than I do, though. So maybe I'm just totally oblivious.

Have you ever considered that people are staring because you're a hot tamale? That's what I tell myself, anyway!

A lot depends on where your at but yes its very much alive and well.Im on line quite abit in differnt forums and I see its ugly head rise up specialy when a topic like same sex marrige is brought up.Most people even here in south Georgia know folks who are gay but unless they get realy angry at some one the nasty words are rarely heard.But folks online will more oftne let there guard down and blast away after all im behind my firewall and you cant see me etc.You see many a persons true colors online than you would if you meet them face to face.

There's definitely regional differences -- and not just the expected ones between big cities and small towns.

I just got back from NYC and there's a "culture of the street" where people aren't shy about commenting about other people. As a consequence, a good friend of mine who's transitioning there gets called "hey, that's a man" far more than she does in SF, where "California politeness" is at work. OTOH, when she visited Gettysburg, she wasn't read at all -- probably in part because trans people are so far off the radar there that people just assumed she was another big-boned woman (lots of descendants of German farmers out there).

OTOH, NYC isn't as socially liberal as one might think. Another friend of mine laments the loss of her hetero privilege since her husband transitioned. She's OK with being seen as a lesbian, the issue is having to be careful now about when and where she expresses PDAs.

Sadly gay and lesbian spaces can be less tolerant of trans people than straight spaces. Another crossdresser I know experienced her worse harassment ever on Castro Street in SF.

And as Cathy notes, online space are places where people will often say things that they'd never think of saying to someone face to face.

I also think that thanks to American culture, Parisians share the same complex that all-male schoolboys do. American culture depicts the French as weak and effeminate, i.e. gay. A similar anxiety about being perceived as being gay goes on in predominantly male environments. They put even more of an effort to repudiate the stereotype they're stigmatized with.

It also has to do with the culture. Contrary to the stereotype, French culture is rather gruff and macho among men. The gays over there seem to be an equivalent of the Argentine gays we have in the Americas: There's the charade of being an open-minded culture, yet many of them are closeted emotionally. No PDA whatsoever.

Actually, my whole transition process was triggered by an incident of violence. I know it doesn't normally work that way, but it did. I tried to beat up a golf club and two fence posts with my ribs and my side. Actually, said golf club and two fence boards were wielded by some kids delivering a critique of a piece of artwork that I'd done and displayed in a gallery, of a male torso zipping itself up while two female arms were trying to claw their way out (entitled "Bodybag"). I was lucky: the whole thing was interrupted by a neighbor who didn't like the assailants' method of critique.

It did a number on me though. For about three months, I did nothing but go to work, and back home. I'd check under the car as I was walking toward it to ensure that no one was hiding there. I'd look in the back seat before climbing in, to make sure nobody was waiting out of sight. I stopped making trips to the grocery store, even on the way home from work. My fridge and shelves emptied out. I stopped eating, aside from lunch at work. I stopped contact with my family and cut off friendships. I was thinking suicide the whole time. And then I finally started on an attempt, but for some reason, it just hit me at that crucial moment that I shouldn't do that until I at least try to finally make a go of transition. I'd already seen the ugliest of what could be thrown at me. The worst that could happen was death, and I was already in the process of arranging that. I could either crawl back further into the suffocating closet that was destined to kill me, or I could come out and face it. So I came out. I was scared shitless, mind you, but the crisis point had been reached and it was an either-or situation.

And then one of the first community functions I'd attended was a Trans Day of Remembrance. Very scary. :(

It's been much better since then. In the early "wobbly hatchling" stage of my transition, I had a lot of resistence (refusals to help) from Medicentre doctors in trying to get a referral to a GID specialist, and got escorted out of a WalMart because of a complaint, but after that, it was only snickers and quizzical looks. Eventually, those turned into lusty gazes from the guys and competitive "cut her apart" looks from the girls.

Online by far is the worst environment for harassment. Serious day-to-day stuff only happens from the rare far-gone nut-jobs (although you can't predict those), and I'm not even talking about the religious right (frighteningly enough, there's people even more dangerous than the Fundies). I don't mean to downplay your experience, but certain things don't really faze me. Serena could be right about people being attracted, and this could also be touching a raw nerve with them if you're free to be out, while they're suffocating in a closet.

Participated in it? Not with regards to GLBT people. I was pretty much of the mindset right from leaving home that any responsible lifestyle was one that I could support (goes back to the recent post on fetish). I'm Metis, though, and ashamed to admit that I subscribed to some of the anti-Native deny-your-heritage crap that was fed me for quite some time. I can understand why people act out homophobically prior to coming out.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 11, 2008 12:44 AM

Walking hand in hand in Thailand is something even straight men do. But, if you are a Foreigner walking hand in hand with a Thai man it is presumed you are a Gay couple and the Thai is a person for hire even if this is not the case.

"Mai pen Rai!" = It doesn't matter

I had transitioned many years before, and thought I passed fairly successfully, but I did hear some ugly comments while living in a very conservative part of Mexico. My days of being beaten up regularly were while I was still in grade school.

There is way too much violence going on against us gender variant folks. How can we put an end to it once and for all? Any ideas?

Serena~ That's the spirit! That made me laugh.

Cathy~ I agree about the internet. People are meaner in general online, especially on online forums that are anonymous or "drive by," like newspaper comments sections. I'd like to think that we're a bit more polite in general in these parts because we get to know each other, but in a place like YouTube, those comments can get out of hand instantly.

I dunno, tho, since 1 mean comment in the street seems to be worth about 100 online.

Lena~ How many times do G and L people need to hear about how T people are treated in supposedly "our" spaces before we change? Seriously.

Lucrece~ Yeah, there's a lot of machismo here, a lot of closet cases running around, a lot of family pressure to stay closeted, etc. But I'll admit that I seriously thought it would be more open in Paris even though I've been proven otherwise in the few weeks I've been here. Then again, I never lived in a major city in America, and like others are pointing out here, they aren't bastions of acceptance either.

Mercedes~ Downplay all you want. I could use some perspective.

That's an interesting theory about them being closet cases, though. I ought to have a response along those lines....

Robert~ It's funny, b/c Alberto's Italian, and there men hold hands all the time (but there's a specific macho way of doing it). When I visited Naples a few years back, I was like "Oh, they're not that cute of a couple, but yay for outness!" And then "Geez, you'd think the guy on the left could do better, but at least they're open!" And then "Wow, even the high school boys are into the outness here. Yay for their equivalent of GLSEN!" And then it dawned on me that maybe they were all just friends.

But in France, I do see guys kissing hello, and they're not couples. But they're close. And gay guys have also started kissing hello with just about any other gay guy, like women do here with each other, and I can't say I don't enjoy that!

Shakay~ Continuously speaking out against it and educating others?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 11, 2008 5:45 AM

Alex, you may recall I mentioned the same phenomenon in Venice and very frequently these men are father and son, brothers, cousins, or particularly close friends. Ain't Gay, no way.

I tried to get my Bob into it, but he has never made the transition to comfort. We were checked out by a lovely Katoey today at Carrefour though. Full make up, dress, hair, nails, Adam's apple and smile happily doing her job in a French owned Supermarket. It is also common to see katoeys operating any type of store but particularly beauty salons, florists and restaurants.

I thanked my checkout person in Thai and added: "suayy mak mak" = beautiful very much.

I've never had any transphobic incidents happen to me. I can't understand it, why I don't stand out, I look like used food.

I was at an assertiveness training course the other day. It turns out I'm a D type - Dominant - personality, the type for whom assertiveness really means being aware of others' views, as well as my own. Anyway, all the gals on the course (it was 90% male) were gasbagging during one of the breaks, and I had a natter with an HR person about trans issues. Including outing myself. I do that when there's an educational point to it, otherwise I don't advertise. Now she'd had to have her 15 year old border collie put down the previous week, and was still upset about it. Being a D, I had no hesitation in showing my condolences. I shared with her the fact that I knew how she felt, I'd had to have our little terrier, 19 years old, put down the day after my son was born.

And she commiserated with me, saying how terrible it would have been with all the hormonal mess after giving birth.

Just ten minutes earlier, I'd outed myself, remember.

The intellect may know, but the subconscious that sees the body language and all sorts of visual and auditory cues doesn't, it takes a while to catch up.

If I knew how I do it, I'd bottle it, or at least write a book. So many women's lives would be changed by being able to blend in. But I don't know how, I just do it.

Anyway... I haven't experienced transphobia, but I have experienced homophobia. That's why I went fulltime long before I was ready, only 3 weeks after first wearing a bra, or any other item of female apparel.

In the same kind of work clothing I'd worn all my life, I stopped being able to pass as male. I looked like a butch dyke in male drag, and got threatened with rape by a bunch of drunks on the way to work. So the next day, I went to work as Zoe. A week later, started HRT, and a week after that, I'd got the name change, DL etc done. It was still 4 months before I saw the shrink for the first time, there was a waiting list.

That homophobic incident was on July 25th, 2005 though, not exactly recent.

I recently had an incident where a cab driver decided to stare at my breasts for the entire five minutes that I was in his car. Under normal circumstances I would have told him off but my children where in the back seat. It makes me angry that summer is hunting season for the perverts. Each year some sicko is caught with a shoe camera that he has used to take pictures up womens skirts. As much as I love summer I hate that it seems to bring out the trolls that think that they have a right to assault women in this manner

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 13, 2008 4:43 PM

Alex, my experience of France is that society is both "behind the curve" in certain ways when it comes to LGBT issues AND just plain different culturally in its expectations concerning behavior in general.

"Behind the curve" in that, despite stronger anti-discrimination legislation, the French LGBT community still fights to overcome a greater internalized shame than members of the "out and proud" US community. In other words, I think they're ahead of us regarding laws on the books, but kinda "behind" us when it comes to feeling good about being LGBT. (A legal exception may be marriage equality, which I believe has stalled in France?)

The cultural aspect relates to the expectation that ALL behavior is expected to be, for lack of a better word, "lower-key." Most French people are quieter and more reserved than most Americans. And more concerned about privacy. Maybe its an artifact from having been an occupied country not that long ago. But French people don't advertise aspects of their identity the way Americans do. A good example is bumper stickers. Sure, you see them in France, but not anything like you do in the States!

This continues to happen because it is acceptable and until that train of thought changes within all cultures, do not be deluded into thinking yours was an isolated event.