Hungover Sunday, sexual harassment extra!

Apologies for letting more than an entire week slip by without a post: I did have some things I wanted to write about but I really struggled to find the time.

There’s an annual festival currently underway in Melbourne which I’ve been busy helping out with, not as an attendee per se but as a person with specialised expertise and experience. I’ve attended nearly a dozen of these festivals over the last twenty years. And as I mentioned last week, some people were aware of my gender status when I turned up for the opening social event, and the range of support I’ve received from old friends and some new ones has been wonderful in almost all cases.

Now, when I say almost all… some reactions were of the kind where the person who came to offer their congratulations thought they were being supportive in providing their anecdotes about friends and relatives who are trans, which sometimes revealed a faulty grasp of understanding why it hurts to be misgendered – referring to a transgender son or nephew who now goes by a masculine name and wants to be referred to with male pronouns, say, it’s not at all confusing to me that they were most likely given a feminine name at birth… so why do you have to continually keep referring to him as “she”? I understand what this is like.

I also touched on a related issue in the comments for that thread I linked to just before. The most recent comment is by one of the festival attendees and she has been one of the helpful people correcting others when I am referred to by my birth name. I can totally understand, given that I’ve been to ten of these events before, how people might want to refer to my previous participation and/or contributions which I’ve made to the running of these festivals, by invoking the name I was using at the time. However, a lot of the time it isn’t actually needful for people to bring up my birth name and gender in reference to the past: even if I wasn’t called Xanthë at the time, referring to something I did in the year 2005 say, isn’t actually ambiguous with the name retrospectively altered: I am still the same person. With a few positive changes!

It’s an obvious and well-entrenched habit of mind to refer to the past exactly as it was, and for people to thus refer to my previous persona without thinking of the related issues of disclosure, but it does have the very real effect of outing me as trans to anyone who happens to be in earshot. When it happened in that group, it was not really a risk for me. Lots of people have my back there. In other company it might not be a good thing.

Anyway, I wanted to underline that those sorts of little things are the sorts of niggling minutiæ that were almost certainly not intended as hurtful or aggressive towards me, and which I filed away under the mental heading of ‘something which I will raise as a small issue in the future, if this establishes itself as a pattern of behaviour’. So now I will draw a clear dividing line between those behaviours and something else which occurred over the weekend.

I received several instances of unwanted sexual attention! There was only one offender involved, but he was persistent. On Friday I was dressed rather smartly and femininely, so upon passing directly by one another, he asked aloud why I was kitted out like so. I decided not to beat around the bush and simply stated that since we had last met, I had come out as being transgender. The next time we were in close proximity he asked whether this meant I would like to be fucked by him, and I answered with a curt (and unequivocal) “No, thanks,” and walked away. I could have killed myself afterwards for having added the word ‘thanks’ out of my usual politeness (sigh, old habits die hard).

This unfortunately wasn’t the end of matters. Standing in an entrance corridor later the same day I didn’t see the guy approach and he offered up a sort of “hey, you’re so sexy!” comment as he was going out, which I could have done without everyone else hearing who happened to be there. Okay, now I know who to avoid. This all happened, by the way, at one of the official events of the festival – not a social event (people who’ve been following the discussion on sexual harassment at conferences, please note).

So, I did my best to avoid this guy thereafter, which is not too difficult, when there are two hundred others you can mingle with and get away from by turns. Last night though there had been one of the major festival events and afterwards there was the inevitable partying at a hotel bar – the sort of quasi-connected social event where all of the people in the public bar actually tend to be the festival attendees (or conference audience, for parity) and their friends. Early on in the evening I was standing with a glass of wine in hand and felt my bottom being groped, and so spun around relatively slowly (so as not to spill my glass) to see the retreating back of the same guy. Fondling my arse without my consent is not wanted!

So for the rest of the time in that space I was keeping an eye out for where that guy was, and if he looked like he was approaching the people I was with I tried to position myself so that there was someone else in between us, or just backing out and going to find someone else at the party to talk to. Not the best way of dealing with the problem, but I didn’t want to make a fuss either.

Today, unfortunately the consequences of having half a bottle of wine and staying out to about 2 am have caught up with me. Further posts will probably surface sometime soonish on the semi-regular pattern of before June (sustaining one post a day was occasionally more trouble than it was worth).

13 thoughts on “Hungover Sunday, sexual harassment extra!

  1. Perhaps “like” is not appropriate, because uggh, that is awful and a ridiculous drain on your energy that could’ve been spent enjoying the festival. But “like” from me means “I appreciate your writing here”.

    • Thanks nvr. Knowing you’re up to speed with the general tenor of anti-harassment policies being considered elsewhere, what happened to me generally falls within its ambitus, easily. So, despite people being aware how much I am in support of such policies, my preferred course of action in this event was not to create unnecessary drama about it, but to:

      1. Stay away from the guy.
      2. If I couldn’t avoid 1, then to make clear I won’t tolerate more of the same behaviour; so if he speaks to me in the same way ever again, he’ll get an earful in return.
      3. If enacting 2 doesn’t prevent further unwanted behaviour, then to contact one of the responsible people at the festival to inform them that I have a problem with someone that I can’t handle by myself by asking for it to stop.

      In other words, I haven’t escalated the response (yet), but obviously I have noted here that it did happen. Hyper-skeptics of the anti-feminist variety spotted in the blogosphere world would no doubt point out that my accusation of the bum groping is totally unsubstantiated and a false accusation against the guy, since I didn’t actually see him do it. Funny, human beings don’t have eyes in the back of their head.

      Which is not to say that someone else at the festival might be in the position of being unable to keep the guy at a distance, and for whatever reason might be unable (situationally) to demand the guy not harass them. To prevent accusations that my non-reporting of the harassment is opening up the possibility of other people being harassed; my report wouldn’t change that possibility.

  2. It makes me very sad and angry that anti feminist hyper skeptics you speak of make you have to qualify everything you say and make you have to justify whether your non report might harm someone. You were clearly by your description a victim in all this. He was clearly way over the line right from the first moment of your interaction.

    You are fairly new to being out and that enough stress without have to worry about harrassment and whether or not you should have to report it. Whatever you do feel safe is perfectly justified and only you can know what good choices are; no one else can tell you. I hate the climate the skeptic bigots have created for people.

    That being said I am happy that it seems most people are trying to support you even if they are akward about it. The people in my life are getting much better at prounouns and names too but they frequently lose it when talking about the past tense. I think when people relate past events they bring up a picture in the mind of who was there and remember your previous presentation. I find this carries over that people who met me post transition never question me being a woman but people Ive known a long time stumble frequently even when well intentioned. That is not to say that I don’t cringe when mom calls me by my male name in the middle of the shopping mall but I think I understand why it happens.

    Glad to see you writing again :)

    • Hi Anna,

      the hyper-skeptics are out there and they are fucking infuriating! If you really want to get irate about how they basically treat all women as liars, have a read of Ashley Miller’s blog post in response to one of these fuckers: Why Women Don’t Report Harassment

      Oh, awkward support is definitely better than no support at all! And I usually am pretty lenient on people misnaming or misgendering me, so that someone will have to have done it at least twice in a row before I’ll say something under my breath (“her!”). Plus, people around me are pretty aware and are helping out too (like Lisa mentioned above). I know I’ll have to put up with mum and close family and friends slipping back to the previous state of things; that’s unavoidable. I like your point that people are probably seeing the old “me” or the old “you” in their mind’s eye when they commit these faux pas!

  3. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Xanthë. Thank you for blogging about this. Sometimes it takes someone (relatively) new to being perceived and treated as a woman to point out how outrageous some behaviour actually is. Sexual harassment is so persistent that, in many cases, it becomes background noise for those perceived as women for decades. We have to force ourselves to stop noticing it or go mad.

    I only really noticed its prevalence in my own life by its absence; when I became too old and disabled for the ‘tastes’ of most creeps and it almost disappeared. It’s amazing how very short grey hair, walking aids or a wheelchair make one nearly ‘invisible’.

    I feel sad, but not ashamed, that I gave up fighting against that stuff long ago (apart from raising my four sons and daughter not to be sexist), because there really was no support† and trying to fight it all was impossible. Nowadays I’m glad to see from places like FreeThought Blogs that there really are people out there who are NOT prepared to let it carry on, regardless of the hyper-skeptics (who are really not skeptical at all; they’ve allowed themselves to side with the patriarchy and the status quo).

    † You know what I find particularly odious? When people who should be supporting us tell us that we should be flattered by such attentions! Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!

    But there are bright spots. Just yesterday I read a scientific study†† that had proved that trans* people really do have the biological brains (and mental body-map) of our gender rather than our bodies’ sex (which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who doesn’t believe in mind/body dualism) and was discussing this with a young man (Spectrumite, like me) who hitherto had been rather resistant to discussing anything to do with gender issues; I thought he wouldn’t think outside the gender binary. But I was wrong. This time he showed he actually got it, and we had a very productive conversation in which he displayed real empathy. =^_^=

    The only sad thing was that this research was published twelve YEARS ago – you’d think that by now it would be open, public and accepted knowledge. Or at least known in SOME circles! But no, every trans* person has to fight the whole battle all over again.

    Here’s to you winning every single one of them!

    †† http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/85/5/2034.full

    • Thanks so much for your support Tigger! =^..^=

      You know what I find particularly odious? When people who should be supporting us tell us that we should be flattered by such attentions! Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!

      Anyway, you’ll probably be able to guess my reaction when (about a month ago) I asked my own brother how he would feel to be on the receiving end of unsolicited, possibly unwelcome sexual attention, and he gave me the “I’d feel flattered!” response. He is completely soaking in male privilege.

      Pessimistically, I wonder whether the research would ever be used to deny medical options for gender transition to trans people, if they find their brains don’t match the expected profile. It wouldn’t surprise me, given how little the medical establishment is in favour of supporting trans people.

  4. “Pessimistically, I wonder whether the research would ever be used to deny medical options for gender transition to trans people, if they find their brains don’t match the expected profile. It wouldn’t surprise me, given how little the medical establishment is in favour of supporting trans people”

    I would personally be more frightened of someone working on experiments to “cure” us of this brain condition but both possibilities are likely and scary. This is why, while i like research explaining why I experience life the way I do, it also scares me.

  5. I’m a little puzzled by my reaction, but here it is for what it’s worth:
    The fact that the guy (I’m dying to know who it was and hope to hear via the grapevine) sexually harassed you is bad enough, but that he did it while you were a la femme and never previously makes him even more of a sexist moron.
    Or is that just too strangely bi-normative (to coin a word) of me?

    • Hi Aunty Del!

      No, I think it’s perfectly emblematic that the guy in question has a clear double standard of behaviour towards people: previously I was in one category, I was treated one way. Now that I am in the other main apparent one, I am being treated to some pretty lamentable sexism. Lucky me!

      I suppose that is betraying my judgmentalism, however the alternative theory is far worse – I might be his ‘type’. (Which is a thought process requiring a fair quantity of brain bleach.)

  6. Tony’s response to this post is (in additon to guffaws of laughter re “might be his type”):

    As a devout life long fan of ‘would you like to’ moments & for that matter, a serial ‘pls tell me your story’ tragic, I gotta say that I’ve always been a bit staggered by that sort of boorishness.
    Any 9yo could tell you that the guy’s approach was pretty unlikely to succeed. So what pray-bloody-tell was he trying to accomplish?

    Was it clumsiness, or a deliberate assault? Personally, I’m more than familiar with both feet-in-mouth factor when trying to talk with someone over the top of the shouting from the internal desires chorus; also with how Only Child Syndrome can leave someone hellishly ill equipped to understand another’s emotional dialogue – but this is why the gods gave us courtesy & ritual greetings… Hello?

    While I’ll admit that I can’t claim to grok the transitioning urge or journey it entails, my lack of understanding seems microscopic compared to my gulf in comprehension when boofheads behave like that.

    • Hi Tony (in addition to Del)!

      I’m not sure I want to write too much more in the comments to this thread, and I certainly don’t want to identify the person. So may I take a rain-check on this, and I might add a new post in the next day or so?

      I think boof-headed-ness is a definite aspect in this. My changed, transgender status most definitely is (though he would not be aware that I am not yet taking feminising hormones, alas, and would be unaware of my disposition towards gender surgery).

      I think he threw a whole lot of this out as though it were a joke – I perhaps made the mistake of thinking it was, since there’s one conversation I didn’t mention (it would serve to identify him) where he said something that I didn’t think he was serious about, and I was wrong and foolish in answering back.

      So I really think he has no idea about the inappropriateness, or is blasé about it. Either way I’m not very impressed and don’t really want to be around.

      Hope you had a fantastic time while you were down here!

  7. Don’t worry, Xanthë; the brain differences found in that research can only be found post mortem, so (since they aren’t going to kill us to confirm our self-assessments) we should be safe from that particular discrimination.

    Anyway, given that cis-gendered people seem to be universally attached (tee hee) to their ‘bits’ and we have a mental body-map that doesn’t fit ours, I fail to see why surgeons are still reluctant to act.

    The research has been done, the results are in; we really are who we say we are and surely a lifetime of pretending to be someone else costs a lot more in mental health alone than SRS? As for lifelong hormones, there are plenty of other people taking various medications for life (including hormones), for all sorts of reasons, and no-one so much as bats an eyelid at them.

    To end, for those who haven’t already seen it, Zoë Brain has a great reference page:

    http://aebrain.blogspot.com.au/p/reference-works-on-transsexual-and.html

    • Naw, just gives the trans-exterminationists an excuse to kill us all and prove it was justified… /blackest of black humour

      What are you doing up at this hour… watching the Tour perhaps? (I know you could turn this around to ask me the same question, but I asked first.)

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