written in July 2016
For two years, I was wearing a plush tiger head as a hat. For two years, that tiger was my head. The child I was taking care of, and I don’t mean the one inside, I mean the one I was often carrying around on my shoulders, loved it. Now that I think of it, I was a child inside, and I loved it too. Everywhere I went, people were smiling to me. It didn’t matter who or what they were smiling at, I was statistically living in a happier world than most, a world where people smiled politely, and were maybe retrospectively too scared of me to talk to me too much.
It all fell apart two winters ago. In a matter of weeks, I was assaulted several times, verbally and physically, I was robbed of my right hand — sorry, I mean my phone — not once but twice. What had changed? I was still living in the same city, the same neighbourhoods. I was still the same child inside, the child that had been bullied so many times for being yellow, for being queer, for being autistic, for being me. I was still sporting the same hat. I focused on the hat because half of the attacks had focused on the hat. The tiger was a point of entry. The smiles had slowly become injunctions to smile, “Hey, Tony is not happy today”, or the more cryptic “Woohooohoohooooo!” that IS funny the first time and becomes creepy when it’s from behind and I jump even with the very good earplugs I carry around most of the time. Because I had a tiger on my head maybe I was becoming public property, I had to smile and I had to be Tigger and jump around, jump jump, jump around.
I almost wrote an article, at the peak of the storm, about street harassment, that maybe it didn’t target only women, but all people perceived as vulnerable by the assholes out there. I had sentences in my head writing themselves about the harassment of the young, and the handicapped, and the autistic. And I got scared of a backlash from my feminist friends, because I was scared of shedding male tears.
Because I focused on the hat, I decided to keep all this to myself.
What else had changed? I thought about political climate, I thought about ten years of Sarkozy in power, I thought of the ugly Battle for Marriage, and years before Trump made it cool, I thought of moving to Canada. All of this didn’t explain the sudden shift.
What had changed was this (point at dress). I had started wearing heels, and dresses, and makeup. For years I had worked on constructing this male human being impersonation that managed to get me from point A to point B, even job interviews, to get me taken seriously to the point of invisibility, I had this amazing male passing.
And suddenly I had torn the James Potter veil that shielded the real me from the people outside.
To men, I appear “less than a man”, I am “male-ish but a traitor because also feminine”. To women, I am “a man in a skirt”, I am “not one of us”.
It seems that to the lazy and to the binary, I am fair game to be hassled by people of all ages and genders, because I’m not 100% anything. Apparently that’s the lot of you people.
I read this text to Pauline, one of my partners and my editor. The tiger had been one of our early conversations. I was wearing its head, and she was proudly sporting its stripes on her thighs, and there too, we felt a connexion. She always helps me see typos and inconsistencies. After a couple of helpful comments about this paragraph, she went on a rant, and I decided to read it to you:
“I think anything that disturbs the status quo of the binary is perceived as a threat.
Because fragile masculinity.
If the “weirdo” is AFAB, it’s “a pity”, “you’ll never find a man like this”, and “you filthy dyke”.
If the “traitor” is AMAB, the subtext is “HOW DARE YOU TREAT YOUR GLORIOUS ASSIGNED GENDER LIKE THIS”, “you’ll make us all look weak!”, and “omg, I don’t want you to make me question my rigid and turgescent heterosexuality!!!”.”
To stop the assaults, for months I stayed home. At first when I got out of the house I carefully avoided the places I got hit the hardest, and it was difficult because they were all outside my home. It took longer and longer routes to get from point A to point B. Most of all, I didn’t want to exist outside, to me and to others. I wore black pants and grey coats, my idea of blending in.
What had made me a target was not my clothes and definitely not the tiger hat. Blaming what the victim was wearing, who would do that? I had to admit: me, me, I was doing just that, to myself.
The problem was not my dress and my heels, it was not my gender expression, and it was not even being me outside, the problem was THEM as a whole and them individually, and it felt so good to shift that burden from my bare, slender shoulders. I was not the one at fault, and I was not the one “choosing my oppression” on the days I decided to dress outside the gender norm. I was merely myself, wearing myself, being myself. Slowly, with support, I started walking with more confidence. Have you ever tried tip-toeing around people with Placebo blasting in your ears? The Nancy Boy was almost dancing again in stride, wearing anything with pride.
Last year I finally stood up to and left the abusive partner who bullied me into being something else to fit her idea of a relationship. I have also decided to be me, and to do that, I have to apply a better selection in the humans I hang around. So I won’t be bullied into being someone else to fit their idea of a gendered human being.
And so far it’s been good! I’m surrounded by loving, non-conforming queer pegs in round holes, and I love it.
Yet I still can’t wear the tiger hat.