Trans-Scribed, Supposed Safety in Expected Experience

By River Flora|February 26, 2018Columns, Student Writing, Top Stories, Trans-Scribed|


Supposed Safety in Expected Experience

River Flora

Portland is so often touted as a wet-dream, queer paradise, safe-space. The idyllic land of bounty and sex changes. A home for all those disenfranchised transfolx to live off their odd jobs and craft cash. It’s a lie perpetuated both by those infected with Portland infatuation (local and afar) and those who basically loathe the very thought of Portland.

Recently, I moved to an area of Portland that is supposed to be even more especially safe for transfags like myself – which is basically a white liberal’s way of saying the neighborhood has been gentrified enough to satisfy their qualifications for safety. None the less, I did know some transfolx who lived nearby and recommended the place for relative safety in travel. What a beautiful promise I was about to make myself in moving to this space! Community bikeable, enough lovely housemates to make rent somewhat achievable each month…

… And that’s the lie I told myself in preparation. I think that’s part of the homeostasis magic I play with as a “visibly trans” person. I need to know the truth about the world so I can coerce myself into going along with life though minor emotional self-deceptions:

“No one at this party is going to care that you haven’t shaved today because your face is ragged from the scraping and you can’t afford the full face of makeup it costs to completely conceal a beard.”

“If I explain my pronouns to my employer, they’ll totally be understanding and work with me on genuine mutual respect.”

“I’ll be safe getting around – look at all these ‘We accept all people’ solidarity signs (right next to signs that read: “No Public Restrooms” – what a joke)!

Important for this transfag to remember, however, is that such propelling self-deceptions don’t actually provide safety. The things that actually provide me safety are the privileges that come with being a tall white person in a city steeped in a racist history it most certainly hasn’t escaped; being housed and having community in a city that does all it can to break down the houseless and drive them out of city limits – or at least out of sight.

These intersections, however, don’t always keep a person safe. The first day I lived in this new rental home, I walked to a cannabis store. On my way back home, I was pushed around and called a faggot by a person entirely in light blue sweats – hoodie and pants – and sporting the oh-so-fashionable fascist head-shave. They started this lovely exchange by asking for a cigarette, and continued to talk to me while I walked. Eventually they started pushing my shoulder, which quickly turned to shoving and invitations to fight.

“I’m not like those faggot n****’s you’re used to fuckin’ with!” screamed the (also white) person with a clear desire to punch me over and over again. “What’re you gonna do, huh? What’re you gonna do?!”

I was grateful to reach a crosswalk and abruptly turned to go into a grocery store. The person must have decided it wasn’t the best place to beat someone up, because they fell behind and hurled homophobic and anti-trans remarks at my back until the store door swung shut.

One of my first thoughts was relief that this happened where it did and not two blocks over, where there were significantly fewer cameras and people and thus significantly less incentive for eventual disengagement. Another reaction was pure devastation – here I had just moved to this area, and not a quarter mile from my new home I was getting assaulted on busy roads.

For about a week I was nervous about going anywhere at all without company. I’m still slightly unnerved, but conversations and reflection have helped me accept a disgruntling truth: this violence wasn’t typical of the area: it was just typical to the experience of folks who are visibly trans.

It is typical to receive street harassment, and I’d been fooling myself into thinking it wasn’t necessarily so. It is typical to exist alone in a street full of people where no one intervenes.

It is typical to have cause to be afraid and motive to tell oneself some lies.

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