click the link above to head to Refinery29 for the full article or read my full Contribution below...
Could you please share your name, age, location, pronouns and how you would describe your identity?
Yaz, 35, London, she-ish/her-ish and I’d describe myself as a butch queer gender non-conforming or masculine of centre woman
Have you experienced gender policing in public spaces in the past?
Yeah, it’s mainly in public toilets but sometimes spaces like changing rooms as well, like in shops or the gym. I’ve also been called ‘sir’ fairly regularly, or sometimes I get people looking me up or down, trying to determine how to refer to me. And of course, the classic “is it a boy or a girl” from kids, with varying degrees of responses from parents. Sometimes they apologise and are visibly embarrassed, sometimes they’ll reprimand their kids and tell them it’s not polite to ask questions like that, sometimes they reiterate the question cus they wanna know the answer too!
In particular have you experienced this in spaces that are gendered 'female' as an AFAB person?
Yeah, mainly toilets and changing areas.
I also sometimes get it at events that are described as 'for women', where you get people glaring at you like you are invading their space, almost like they might just about be able to accept that you are a women, but this space still isn’t for your kind of woman and your presence is somehow devaluing it for the other women present
How has this affected you?
Depends on the day to be honest.
Sometimes I am defiant, almost proud that I am recognised as not being the kind of woman mainstream or hateful people find acceptable.
I can’t lie and say that it doesn’t hurt though. I can’t imagine being so involved in what a stranger is doing or by their presence unless it actively impacts me. Like, if I’m washing my hands in the same bathroom as you, why should it bother you, I’m not coming into your stall with you. Trust me bitch, I’m fucking fabulous, I’m probably checking myself out in the mirror and I am entirely uninterested in whatever you are up to.
It can be really embarrassing. People are basically trying to shame you out of a space, aren’t they? They don’t care whether you are a woman or not, that isn’t why they are doing it, they don’t feel scared. When you feel scared, do you approach the thing that is frightening you, or do you keep away? If you are approaching me to tell me I don’t belong somewhere, it’s because you know you have the power and don’t like that I am transgressing it by coming into a space that you have deemed your own. As much as my skin has grown thick over the years, sometimes you are just not in the mood to have to defend or validate your existence to others.
As a black woman, for me it is also intrinsically racialised as well. I’m only ever approached by white women, usually older but not always. Aunty’s will maybe give me looks and scowl and scurry out incase whatever I am is catching. I’ve had maybe one Aunty say something to me, but usually there is no sense of ownership over a space in the same way. White women have no problem telling you that you don’t belong there because they feel entitled to you, the space you occupy and your body.
Also, considering I’m meant to be the threat, it can also make me feel incredibly unsafe. The energy changes, things get quite tense and you don’t know what could happen. I have been previously engulfed by white women's tears enough to know it never ends well for me. All it takes is one pure delicate distressed damsel to run out of a space cus she’s “frightened for her safety” for their white knights to slay whatever imagined enemy was apparently laying siege to her porcelain throne.
In the past year we have seen an increase in transphobic rhetoric and pushes for policy that are directly targeting trans and non binary people as well as all gender non conforming people. What impact has this had on you?
In many ways being stuck inside the last year has been a blessing in not having to navigate these spaces and I’ve heard this said by many trans women and transfeminine people as well as other gnc folk. I think a lot of people are terrified of what will happen when the world opens up again and all this hatred that has been stewing and validated by the media and politicans is let loose.
I fear for others more than myself. This last year has strengthened my resolve, my pride in my identity and how I present. Part of the reason I would get embarrassed previously was because I wasn’t completely at peace with myself and felt like I was doing something wrong, that my existence was wrong. Now, I make no such apologies and I think I’d be more able to stand up for myself and others. But I really do worry what will happen to those who have not had the luxury of being able to do that over the last year and who are dreading having to go out there again.
These people who claim to speak on behalf of women, to protect us or whatever bullshit. NOT IN MY FUCKING NAME! unfortunately they have great power and while they “debate” the existence of others as theory and ideologies, the very real, very dangerous effects of those conversations are being felt by real people.
Do you anticipate this affecting your experience of public spaces post lockdown?
If so, how?
I worry that a lot of hatred across the board has been emboldened over this period. People seem increasingly unafraid to vocalise it disguised as opinions and they have no issue imposing or enacting those opinions on others.
In your view what can be done to challenge this and what can be done to make your experience of being in public better?
I wish someone else would step in sometimes. To make the other person feel as small as I've felt.
Sometimes I do it. sometimes I have no problem telling some vile bint about herself. Sometimes I disarm them with a wink and smile, usually enraging or confusing them even further. But a lot of the time, that is bravado. So I wish it didn’t require bravery just to take a piss.
I think we need to keep having these conversations to make it really clear that certain people have an agenda that cares very little about women or their spaces, but only certain kinds of women that they deem worthy. I think we need to give ‘poor silenced’ (rolling eye emoji!!!) TERFs less platform instead of hearing about all their unfounded and uninformed concerns all the time.
I think we also need to keep listening to the experiences of trans and gnc people in these spaces and centre some of the most vulnerable people in our communities rather than vilifying them based on fear mongering and hate.
But yeah, just stand up for other people and call out this bullshit. if someone is making someone else feel uncomfortable in that space, I can almost guarantee it ain’t the trans or gnc person in most situations!