If you were giving a lecture and there was a black person or a Jewish person or a gay person in the room, would you single them out by repeatedly making jokes at their expense? Of course not, right? So why is it that some people actually think it's okay if the person is transgender?
I recently attended a lecture that promised to detail the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. The speaker was a New York Times best-selling author who had since published a string of books on his own. Since I'm currently facing this publishing dilemma with my memoir, "Balls," I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some expert advice. What I got instead was insulted. Over and over and over again.
I kept my cool while it was happening, but on the drive home I got more and more upset. So the next day I typed up an email and sent it to the lecturer. The text of that email is below.
I've been replaying your lecture over and over in my head. While I know it was not your intention, I feel compelled to tell you how inappropriate the comments and jokes you directed at me actually were. I am an extremely tolerant person with a very good sense of humor so I was able to take it in stride, but had it been another member of the trans community sitting in that chair, you likely would have received a very different reaction.
I thought I would take the opportunity to let you know why what you said was offensive so that should you encounter another trans person in the future you might not make the same mistakes.
"You look very convincing...you could even use a shave."
Often people say things like "I'd never be able to tell" or "you pass really well" intending to be complimentary-and I take it as such. But many trans people find comments like those offensive because they imply that we are just pretending to be the gender we really are. Your "convincing" comment is way more overt, which makes it much worse and I actually did find it offensive. In the future you might want to just say to the person "Wow, you look great." The shaving part of the comment was also inappropriate. Would you have said that to any other guy with 4 days stubble that you'd never met before? I'm guessing not.
Your successive interruptions with plays on the word "balls" while I was trying to explain the purpose and message of the book were completely disruptive. I know you were trying to be funny but after the third time, it was just disrespectful to both me and my work.
Asking the poetry writer sitting next to me to introduce herself and then following up with "And have you always been a woman?" was totally out of line. Again, I know you were trying to be funny, but I almost walked out at that point. I stayed because I was hoping to learn something and didn't expect you'd continue down this path throughout your entire lecture. There's a difference between being funny and being funny at someone else's expense. Especially someone you don't even know. Someone who gave up an evening to come and listen to you speak as an authority figure.
There were a few other zingers you fired off during the course of the 90 minutes, but the final straw for me was the comment you made after telling us about the YouTube Girl who makes a fortune by filming herself telling girls what kind of blush she likes to use and how to apply it: "You could've done that too, Chris." Really? Do I even need to explain that one? It actually makes no sense because being a guy, I don't wear make up...but either way it was both insensitive and offensive. From the looks on the faces of the others in the room, I wasn't the only one who thought so.
Bottom line, ________: I didn't appreciate being the butt of all your jokes, but I sat there and took it like a gentleman. Others in my shoes may have gotten up and left, called you out in front of the group and made you look bad, or punched you in the face. Another blogger might have even chosen to call you out by name publicly online instead of writing to you privately-you never know. So please think twice the next time you interact with someone who is transgender...there's a pretty good chance you will.
One of the goals of my book and sharing my story is to help educate a general audience on what it means to be transgender in the hopes that a better understanding will lead to greater acceptance and sensitivity. I hope you'll consider buying a copy when it comes out. I think you could really benefit from reading it.
Within a few hours I received a short but sincere apology along with an offer to deliver it to me personally over the phone. I accepted his written apology but passed on the phone call. I'd said all I needed to say and was pretty sure he got the message.
Everyone seems to think of bullying as something teens do to teens, but sadly adults do it too. Even well educated, well-read adults. And yes, even authority figures. Just last week an Ohio detective was ordered to undergo sensitivity training for blasting Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" while a transgender woman was being interviewed at the station. But the problem isn't limited to isolated incidents like these. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 90% of trans employees report being harassed on the job.
The goal of my email was to turn a horrible incident into a teachable moment and prevent someone else from having to endure what I endured. I hope by blogging about it, I might be able to help increase awareness and sensitivity on a broader scale. Clearly we need it.