Everyday life experiences can be challenging for una mujer diversa (person of diverse womanhood), and even grocery shopping can become complicated. I experience toxic attitudes, ranging from leering to physical aggressions. And I keep asking myself why? What did I do that was so bad to be treated this way?
The same behaviors keep repeating over and over again, with the bus driver, the building security guard, or the grocery store owner.
As an example, this is what happens almost every time I go out to buy lemons. I say hello, but I don't get back a greeting; I face hostility from the get-go. And if they do answer they would just say something like, “What do you want?” As far as I'm concerned, what I want is not to be treated aggressively. And the lemons, of course.
At some point, I thought I wanted to be treated the same way the other women who shop in the store were treated. But then I thought about the unsolicited catcalls the shop owners make to their female neighbors and about how they get upset if the women don't smile and flirt back. I don't want that either. I will say it again: I just want to be treated with respect.
From experience, I can say people see my gender expression as a joke that offends them, and so I brace myself to be addressed as a man. These microaggressions are unavoidable, so from time to time, I prefer to pretend that nothing happened. For the same reason, I avoid asking questions or making comments that will give them the possibility to misgender me as a man with their language.
So instead of asking if they have lemons, because I know they would answer “Yes/no, sir,” I prefer to say something like “Where can I find lemons?” Because again, what I want is to buy lemons, and not give the store owner the opportunity to voice his obnoxious statement about my life.
And when it's time to pay, they give off the impression that they are doing me a special favor, judging by the look on their faces, as if they were giving me the lemons for free or I was going to run away with them. Or when I'm in line, the cashiers act as if I was not there and they would tell the people behind me to move forward. So the woman that I am complains: I was here first!
I have also had the items I was purchasing thrown at me. When that happens, on top of being humiliated because I have to pick up the lemons on the floor, I wonder why they treat me this way. The term “fragile masculinities” comes to mind, and I try to apply what I have learned about it to the situation.
I talk to other women who are transitioning and we find common experiences. The men who attend to us see it as a favor, but there is something lying deeper down. They feel that we are hurting their masculine self. They think that if they have an interaction with women like us, they will become homosexualized, they will become gay.
For them, the word “homosexual” is an ambiguous term that reflects their misunderstanding of anyone, man or woman, who dresses in a way they do not approve. For them, we are nothing more than a “fag in disguise.” Yet, they do not seem to find us too “fag,” when they insinuate that we are blindly willing to sleep with any man who comes our way.
The narrative of “I respect homosexuals, but I don't want to have anything to do with them” means that any interaction they have with someone who deviates from their biased molds is interpreted as being physically, sexually, attracted to them. If we ask the bus driver about the route, he is going to feel that we are flirting with him, and he responds as if you had punched him.
Their understanding of the world is so limited that, first, they do not stop to think that the world does not revolve around them. Second, that ordinary people do not think of anyone who crosses their path as potential sexual partners. And third, not all people are attracted to men, and those who are attracted to men are not going to be attracted to all of them.
I would like to see the day when I go someplace and the security guard treats me with respect, without lustfully scanning me from top to bottom, respects the name by which I identify, and does not call me whatever he wants. But above all, without physical aggression and without assaults on my sexuality.
I would like to see the day when my boss does not call me into their office to explain to me that the way I dress confuses people, but instead say that they would have my back and not tolerate disrespectful behaviors towards my life. The day when they call me in to talk about a work promotion, not my genitals.
I hope the day comes when buying lemons is just that, and the store does not turn into yet another space in society where individuals are treated according to what they are supposed to have under their skirts. Those of us who buy lemons are not penises or vaginas with legs; we are people.