I always find it awkward when I notice other transgender people in public. I never know what to say or how to act. My first instinct is to react the same way I would on a roller coaster when you pass another ride vehicle. You look at the people in the other car excitedly and wave as if to say “You’re on a roller coaster??? I’m on a roller coaster!!! HI!” I recognize that this could be a problematic reaction in real life to this particular situation so mostly I kind of just stare awkwardly for a few seconds then do nothing, hoping that the stare wasn’t interpreted as judgement. I wish there was a way to let the other person know that we are alike without making them feel as if they’re being clocked.
Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be able to pick out every trans person in a crowd, or that everyone I think is trans is actually trans. Nor do I advocate any conduct that would put someone in an unsafe situation.
The thing is, the urge to talk to them does not come from a place of judgement or malice. I would want them to know we have shared experience. That there are others like them and resources in the community for them, if they didn’t know. Community building. I can understand that for someone who is early in transition or doesn’t often have their identity recognized by others, it could be upsetting that they were read as trans. I know even after almost 10 years there are things about me that give me away. I do still have dysphoria about those things, but I’ve come to a place of acceptance that they are a part of me, and I can’t blame other people on the roller coaster for noticing that I too am on the ride.
That said, being visibly trans is not usually a choice someone makes. Some would liken it to walking up to someone with an obvious tumor and being like “Pssssttt…. I used to have a big tumor. Hi!” I feel the problem with that analogy is that there isn’t a community around people with tumors. They aren’t being systematically oppressed and denied access to healthcare, housing, public accommodations. They don’t have a shared culture and history.
When I ask other trans people what the appropriate response is, I get a lot of conflicting opinions. In one camp are the people who say “Never under any circumstances let the other person know you clocked them. If that happened to me, it would greatly upset me.” and the other is mostly ambivalent or in the same rut as me about the issue. What this says to me is that there is a large subset of trans people who believe that being transgender is the worst thing they can be, and to be identified as such by another person would be devastating.
Now, it’s not exactly rocket science how they came to that conclusion. Society feeds us that sort of subtext on an alarmingly consistent basis. I’m not saying when that when I see another trans person out in the world that I want to set off the tra*** alarm that will blink pink and blue lights while confetti falls from the ceiling like they are the 1,000,000th customer. I just want a simple discreet way of recognizing our shared experience, opening the door to a more in-depth conversation if desired. That’s all.
What if that person has never met another trans person before? What if they don’t know what doctors to go to or what support groups are in the area? What if they’re having a really hard time with people in their lives accepting them and they just needed a little help? I want to tell that person that there are more of us around than they know, and they don’t have to be ashamed. Instead I just stare, and we go about our business as usual in our separate corners of the world.