GingerSass

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GingerSass - adding ginger to your sass

Shame

Today I felt more shame than I have ever felt before in my life. I felt like a failure to my lesbian and educator identities.

While on last period bathroom duty today, I was drained, sick, and ready to go home. (Bathroom duty involves collecting bathroom passes, being wary of students cutting class, and making sure students don’t try to go in the other gender’s bathroom to get into trouble.) My colleague and I had just finished dealing with rambunctious students, and I was looking down at an assignment a student had handed me. A student came up to me, gave me their bathroom pass, and started to walk towards the women’s room. I had barely glanced at the student, and I pointed in the direction of the men’s room.

“I’m a she.”

I looked up and took a second look at the student, apologizing profusely. She continued into the bathroom, and I felt a wave of shame wash over me.

I regularly defend and comfort my own fiancée when she is mistreated in the women’s room when we go out in public. I spent my years of undergrad and grad school purposefully using unisex bathrooms and educating myself on trans* issues. I’ve gotten into arguments with complete strangers over people going into the “right” bathroom, and what that means.

So what the heck caused me to become as ignorant as those I have argued against so many times? Was it the fact that my activist roots have remained closeted in my sometimes closed-minded work setting? Was it my femme lesbian privilege? Was it my place of power as a teacher in a school setting?

While the student used the bathroom, I questioned these things, as well as tried to gather my thoughts on how I could sufficiently apologize– or assuage my guilt– for doing the exact opposite of what I stand for.

When the student came out of the restroom, I called her over and said, “I’m really, truly sorry. I always get upset when people give my fiancée problems in the bathroom and mistake her for a guy, and I feel awful. I’ve been trying to think of how I could possibly apologize to you for the past 5 minutes, and nothing is sufficient. I feel like an asshole. I’m so sorry.”

The student’s entire demeanor changed, and she said, “It’s okay. Wait, your fiancée…? You’re gay…?” I pulled up a pic of V & I at her sorority formal, her in her tux and I in my gown, and the student started telling me her life story. I learned how she had been disowned by her family after coming out, and how she couldn’t get over how others at our school couldn’t express their true selves or be out.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women's bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women’s bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

“I don’t get upset or angry when people start to yell at me I’m going to the wrong bathroom. I choose to dress this way. I cut my hair. I wear boy clothes. But I can’t choose who I am. All that matters is I know who I am,” she told me.

She then started asking me questions, trying to dispel rumors from the truth.

“Is it true girls can’t go to prom with a girl? And that girls have to dress like girls, in dresses? My friend said that (somebody with power) said so.”

I felt an inexplicable anger flowing through me, and I gave the girl my name, email address, and the day and classroom I stay after in. “I don’t know you, but if ANYONE gives you trouble, I will stand up for you and fight for you. None of what you’re saying is legal. You stay in touch with me.”

The girl thanked me, and said she was going to email me after school today. I wrote her a pass back to class, and we went our separate ways. I’m sure we were both thinking about our conversation when we said goodbye, a conversation that would not have had happened if I hadn’t made an ignorant, shameful mistake.

I am a white, middle-class, feminine woman. I have received a college and graduate school education. I have a lot of privileges that I am aware of, and I have some, like my gender-identity, that I sometimes take for granted. Compared to society as a whole, my lesbianism makes me a minority. Yet, I am able to hide my differences. I put on makeup. I wear feminine clothing and jewelry. If you saw me on the street, you would probably assume that I am an average, heterosexual white girl. Unlike my “butch” counterparts, nobody would assume that I am gay and “different.” I have faced little discrimination in my life. I cannot imagine being judged for my sexuality solely based on my appearance, and I cannot even fathom how the intersection of race and gender-identity would come into play if I were a African-American teenage butch-or-androgynous-appearing lesbian.

I am so incredibly grateful for reality checks that remind me of how fortunate I am, and reality checks that make me feel shame for making assumptions or taking things for granted. I am so continuously amazed and in awe of all of the gender non-conforming, atypical, defying-the-stereotypes individuals in my life, particularly my more masculine, “butch” fiancée, friends, and loved ones. Thank you for always being strong, and thank you for being unafraid to be who you are. You show me what it means to be a better person and woman.

Category: Educating, LGBT
  • laurie says:

    You ended up doing a really great thing for her today, though. Don’t lose sight of how you use your privilege, your integrity, your willingness to own your missteps and amend them on the spot. So many people don’t do that. Everyone is going to make mistakes or say the “wrong” thing, but in this case it turned out to be entirely right, because it gave you the entry point for that conversation, one this girl will never forget, and that helped her, I know. You did good.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:43 pm
  • Laura says:

    Wow, that was powerful. I bet that girl felt really good after talking with you. I agree with you, there should be unisex bathrooms. The LGBT community should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to use a bathroom based on their sexuality, its ridiculous. Isn’t that the same thing as having different water fountains for blacks and whites? We are no different, yes we may like different people or have different color skin but that doesn’t make us any less human. We’re all the same in the end. People don’t realize how much their words or actions affect others.

    I like this blog, good for you girly! 🙂

    February 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm
  • Amy says:

    If you wouldnt have made that “mistake”, then you guys would have never had the conversation… And for you to realize what you said – and discuss it afterwards…. Is amazing. Many wouldnt have done that. You defiantly helped that young lady. Maybe it was fate that you said what you said when you said how you said… 😀

    February 7, 2014 at 11:51 pm
  • Cristina M says:

    Oh sweetie! I’m glad you sorted things out. From this butch girl to you… thanks for stepping up. It’s going to be ok. <3

    February 8, 2014 at 12:42 am
  • Christina Amazying H. says:

    It’s funny because Jen actually told me to read this post and I didn’t see if on my newsfeed. I love this one. I have such a struggle with using public restrooms bc I have been traumatized by using the women’s room so many times. Now-a-days I just use the men’s (for the most part unless I’m going to be in an area I might potentially see someone I know). I absolutely HATE the stares, the whispering, the double takes and all that crap that comes along with a butch going into the women’s bathroom. I remember one time in college (abt 7 yrs ago) I was in the women’s bathroom and these 2 ladies who didn’t know each other both walked in, saw me, stopped, walked back out to see if the sign said ‘womens’, walked back in, did a double take and stared at me until they walked into the stall. Then this other time at my own pool that I worked at, I was rinsing off in the shower with my bathing suit on and I heard these Hispanic women say to each other “there’s a man in the shower”. I HAVE BOOBS AND WAS WEARING WOMEN’S ONE PIECE BATHING SUIT! I found this great video on Youtube from a transman that was both humerus and insightful at the same time and really helped me with my bathroom fears. I’ll send it to you on Facebook if you want 🙂

    February 8, 2014 at 1:11 am
  • Mona Darling says:

    “All that matters is I know who I am,”

    True that. In this situation, as well as many others. Wise kid.

    February 8, 2014 at 2:04 am
  • The Animated Woman says:

    I love this post Ginger…I was wondering what I would do in your situation. And you were asking yourself why you automatically reacted to her outward appearance as ‘male’. I wonder too; do you think it’s to do with being surround all day by students who are eager to define themselves as one thing or another? I can see how that might wear away at one’s sensitivities anyways.

    February 8, 2014 at 2:55 am
  • Anonymous says:

    Now this is self reflection….you are so honest and I’m so glad she got to meet you!

    February 8, 2014 at 3:09 am
  • Francesca says:

    You made a mistake. You realized it. You apologized. You showed kindness. You shared your story. You made a difference. You gave this young woman your time and a part of you. That is what she will remember. One last thing, femme lesbians have been invisible, ignored, marginalized, objectified and worse. Your privilege in one area does not erase your oppression in another area. You done good.

    February 8, 2014 at 8:57 am
  • Lizz says:

    She’s lucky to have met you, in whatever way that had to happen. I’m proud of you for owning up to it, making it right, and very probably making difference for her.
    XOXO

    February 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm
  • Darcy Perdu (So Then Stories) says:

    I’m glad you made that mistake because it led to such a great discussion with her! And she was able to see that the person making that assumption was not doing so out of prejudice or malice — just a simple assumption. So it might help her in the future if someone else makes that same mistake — she won’t need to automatically think she’s being judged or insulted.

    February 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm
  • Negro Spice says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I think that every moment in life teaches us something. You learned your lesson and in the meanwhile changed the life of a young person forever! She will no longer feel like she is alone in the world, a freak or any other negative connotation she was probably thinking about herself. At the end of the day your mistake may have saved someones life. So stop earring papers when you are on hall duty. Sending you a big ass electronic hug!

    February 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm
    • Negro Spice says:

      earring= reading.

      February 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm

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