I was just a 17-year old kid from the Bronx with dreams of becoming a scientist, and somehow the world’s most famous astronomer found time to invite me to Ithaca in upstate NY and spend a Saturday with him.
I remember that snowy day like it was yesterday. He met me at the bus stop. He showed me his laboratory at Cornell University. Carl reached behind his desk, and inscribed this book (Cosmic Connection) for me:
For Neil Tyson,
With all good wisdom to a future astronomer.
- Carl Sagan
At the end of the day, he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his phone number, his home phone number, on a scrap of paper. And he said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home, with my family.”
I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a co-operative enterprise, spanning the generations. It’s the passing of a torch from teacher to student to teacher. A community of minds reaching back from antiquity and forward to the stars.”
When you are hurting, there will always be people who find a way to make it about themselves. If you break your wrist, they’ll complain about a sprained ankle. If you are sad, they’re sadder. If you’re asking for help, they’ll demand more attention.
Here is a fact: I was in a hospital and sobbing into my palms when a woman approached me and asked why I was making so much noise and I managed to stutter that my best friend shot himself in the head and now he was 100% certified dead and she made this little grunt and had the nerve to tell me, “Well now you made me sad.”
When you get angry, there are going to be people who ask you to shut up and sit down, and they’re not going to do it nicely. Theirs are the faces that turn bright red before you have a chance to finish your sentence. They won’t ask you to explain yourself. They’ll be mad that you’re mad and that will be their whole reason alone.
Here is a fact: I was in an alleyway a few weeks ago, stroking my friend’s back as she vomited fourteen tequila shots. “I hate men,” she wheezed as her sides heaved, “I hate all of them.”
I braided her hair so it wouldn’t get caught in the mess. I didn’t correct her and reply that she does in fact love her father and her little brother too, that there are strangers she has yet to meet that will be better for her than any of her shitty ex-boyfriends, that half of our group of friends identifies as male - I could hear each of her bruises in those words and I didn’t ask her to soften the blow when she was trying to buff them out of her skin. She doesn’t hate all men. She never did.
She had the misfortune to be overheard by a drunk guy in an ill-fitting suit, a boy trying to look like a man and leering down my dress as he stormed towards us. “Fuck you, lady,” he said, “Fuck you. Not all men are evil, you know.”
“Thanks,” I told him dryly, pulling on her hand, trying to get her inside again, “See you.”
He followed us. Wouldn’t stop shouting. How dare she get mad. How dare she was hurting. “It’s hard for me too!” he yowled after us. “With fuckers like you, how’s a guy supposed to live?”
Here’s a fact: my father is Cuban and my genes repeat his. Once one of my teachers looked at my heritage and said, “Your skin doesn’t look dirty enough to be a Mexican.”
When my cheeks grew pink and my tongue dried up, someone else in the classroom stood up. “You can’t say that,” he said, “That’s fucking racist. We could report you for that.”
Our teacher turned vicious. “You wanna fail this class? Go ahead. Report me. I was joking. It’s my word against yours. I hate kids like you. You think you’ve got all the power - you don’t. I do.”
Later that kid and I became close friends and we skipped class to do anything else and the two of us were lying on our backs staring up at the sky and as we talked about that moment, he sighed, “I hate white people.” His girlfriend is white and so is his mom. I reached out until my fingers were resting in the warmth of his palm.
He spoke up each time our teacher said something shitty. He failed the class. I stayed silent. I got the A but I wish that I didn’t.
Here is a fact: I think gender is a social construct and people that want to tell others what defines it just haven’t done their homework. I personally happen to have the luck of the draw and am the same gender as my sex, which basically just means society leaves me alone about this one particular thing.
Until I met Alex, who said he hated cis people. My throat closed up. I’m not good at confrontation. I avoided him because I didn’t want to bother him.
One day I was going on a walk and I found him behind our school, bleeding out of the side of his mouth. The only thing I really know is how to patch people up. He winced when the antibacterial cream went across his new wounds. “I hate cis people,” he said weakly.
I looked at him and pushed his hair back from his head. “I understand why you do.”
Here is a fact: anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is how people stop themselves from hurting. Anger is how people stop themselves by empathizing.
It is easy for the drunken man to be mad at my friend. If he says “Hey, fuck you, lady,” he doesn’t have to worry about what’s so wrong about men.
It’s easy for my teacher to fail the kids who speak up. If we’re just smart-ass students, it’s not his fault we fuck up.
It’s easy for me to hate Alex for labeling me as dangerous when I’ve never hurt someone a day in my life. But I’m safe in my skin and his life is at risk just by going to the bathroom. I understand why he says things like that. I finally do.
There’s a difference between the spread of hatred and the frustration of people who are hurting. The thing is, when you are broken, there will always be someone who says “I’m worse, stop talking.” There will always be people who are mad you’re trying to steal the attention. There will always be people who get mad at the same time as you do - they hate being challenged. It changes the rules.
I say I hate all Mondays but my sister was born on one and she’s the greatest joy I have ever known. I say I hate brown but it’s really just the word and how it turns your mouth down - the colour is my hair and my eyes and my favorite sweater. I say I hate pineapple but I still try it again every Easter, just to see if it stings less this year. It’s okay to be sad when you hear someone generalize a group you’re in. But instead of assuming they’re evil and filled with hatred, maybe ask them why they think that way - who knows, you might just end up with a new and kind friend.”
“Mother,” I slowly repeated in Korean. “I am not a boy. I am a girl. I am transgender.” My face reddened, and tears blurred my vision. I braced myself for her rejection and the end to a relationship that had only begun.
Silence again filled the room. I searched my mother’s eyes for any signs of shock, disgust or sadness. But a serene expression lined her face as she sat with ease on the couch. I started to worry that my words had been lost in translation. Then my mother began to speak.
“Mommy knew,” she said calmly through my friend, who looked just as dumbfounded as I was by her response. “I was waiting for you to tell me.”
“Birth dream,” my mother replied. In Korea some pregnant women still believe that dreams offer a hint about the gender of their unborn child. “I had dreams for each of your siblings, but I had no dream for you. Your gender was always a mystery to me.”
I wanted to reply but didn’t know where to begin. My mother instead continued to speak for both of us. “Hyun-gi,” she said, stroking my head. “You are beautiful and precious. I thought I gave birth to a son, but it is OK. I have a daughter instead.””
An open letter to the ‘nice guy’ who tried to hit me because I stopped him from taking home a drunk girl who was begging him to leave her alone (or: why you should never ask a poet if she’s really an ugly cocksucker or if that’s just her day job):
The thing is, everyone assumes that by taking away our rights, you make us weak.
In reality, just the opposite occurs. We are used to the sling of insults - there is nothing you can say that hasn’t already been said to me. We are used constantly being on the outlook for our aggressor - so yes, I can spot an asshole from across the room and it’s because I often have to.
The thing is: you are making our skins thicker and our spines stronger than anyone who doesn’t have to put up with the shit that we do. We are the same generation that can wear pretty dresses and cut up your corpse in the same moment: because trust me, we know how to get blood out of our clothing.
You think women are little helpless flowers but I know at least a quarter of my lady friends with self-defense classes under their belts, at least half who can fight their way out of a chokehold with nothing but their carkeys like daggers in their fists, at least three-fourths who are so used to any kind of slur you can throw at them that they have four witty comebacks just resting on their backburners, and all of them - all of them - are baptized in the fire of another person’s violation, whether verbal or otherwise. You are not making the submissive housewives or the shy secretaries of your wet dreams. You have made dragons.
You have made mothers with sharp teeth who can balance eight different tasks and still remember your favorite dinner. You have made CEOs who do better work because they’re used to being told they’re sub-par. You are making artists and poets and musicians who’ve seen the dark in the world. You are making social justice warriors - I use this not as a defamation but as a banner, as the way they brand themselves because it is a battle, isn’t it, and nobody’s come out without their share of scars - you are making a generation of caustically beautiful ladies who have seen more shit by six a.m. than you have all your life and they still walk better in heels than you do in your boat shoes.
We do not invite your ‘nice guy’ into our beds, you’re right, because the nice guys of our lives have been our fathers asking us if we ‘are really going out in that,’ have been our best friend telling us that his girlfriend should give up sex because he’s paid for dinner, have been our uncles and brothers and the great gentlemen who hang out of their cars and laugh when the thirteen-year-old they just honked at jumps and looks terrified (but should totally accept the compliment as if it was a gift instead of the moment she recognizes she’s never going to be safe) -
you wanna know why we don’t let nice men into our beds? Because we rarely find them.
They’re out there, I know it, but they’re not the ones wetting themselves when a woman asks ‘why do you think that?’ instead of sitting back and letting him laugh with his buddies about femi-nazis. They’re out there and they’re probably as pissed as we are that at least one third of their population has openly admitted there are times when they think it’s okay to force their significant other to have sex: they’re out there, and the sad thing is, if you’re a male, you’re statistically not one of them. As far as we know, you don’t exist. You are a white knight only you believe in.
Here’s the thing about forcing people down: eventually they’re going to get strong enough to push right on back, and when you’ve spent the whole time sitting on your ass sinking your teeth into your healthy wage gap, you’re not going to be ready for it.
You’ve hurt us, over and over. When the time comes for us to hurt back, do you know how many of us are going to ask ‘Where was the mercy when I was begging like he is now? Where was that mercy when I got pregnant? Where was that mercy when I was called selfish for being a single parent? Where was that mercy when he forced himself on me? Where was that mercy, in anything?’
The thing about oppression is that it can only last for so long. You are not making yourself dominant, you’re making yourself weak. I’ve seen men crumble because they feel uncomfortable when they get hit on by other men as if the stench of their own mistakes is strangling them. I’ve seen them get impassioned because a teacher preferred females and I’ve laughed because I had eight other classes where it was reversed and in all of those eight, it went uncontested. I have legitimately punched a boy who said that a show for girls was shameful because it tries to teach lessons instead of catering to his desire for sex - as if just by liking something, he owns it. I’ve seen boys growl about women’s history month and had to wonder if they’ve ever held a textbook where the only names of girls are tiny footnotes. I’ve seen fathers ask why the curriculum I use for my six-year-olds is carefully gender neutral, why I let his son play at cooking or his daughter be a doctor.
I have never heard a mother complain except to beg me to get her little girl to talk more, to do more, to succeed - do you see? Do you see?
Here’s the thing about stepping on us: we have learned to stop licking your boots
and now we want to ruin you.
Look, you know I love you. You know this isn’t me trying to tell you that you’re terrible forever. You know I don’t hate you for what I’m about to say.
But, well, y’all keep fucking up. And you keep fucking up in the same exact ways, even after hearing me and other trans women tell you ad nauseam exactly how you’re fucking up. And hell, you probably literally are sick of hearing it. But if you’re serious about doing right by trans women — and, if I call you friend, you are — then please listen.
(And please, don’t try to claim that it’s misogynist to specifically address cis women instead of just “cis people”. That’s BS and you know it. Cis women oppress us in certain ways that cis men do not.)
I get how important it is to love your bodies, and I totally support that. I also get that it can be cathartic to attack your oppressors’ bodies. I understand where that’s coming from, totally.
- As a woman with a penis, I can tell you with certainty that you would not be afforded more respect if you had a penis. In fact, you’d face even more of an uphill battle getting the jobs, recognition, etc. that you want, because every single time you did anything at all, people would just dismiss you for being a trans woman. You could fucking cure cancer, and all anyone would say in response is, “that’s a duuuuuuuuuude lol that’s disgusting”. You’d face even more misogyny, even more abuse, and even more dehumanization in general.
- The uterus and/or vagina is not the fount of all womanhood. In saying or implying that it is, you are saying that trans women are not women. And you know that’s not true.
- Trans women are women. Some trans women have penises. Ergo, some women have penises. So when you insult penises/testicles/etc. in general, you are attacking other women’s bodies. How is this pro-woman? How is it feminist? (Radscum needn’t bother replying to this, obvs.)
- Trans women’s health issues are women’s health issues. When you say you don’t care about the health of people with penises, you are necessarily saying that you don’t care about trans women’s health.
I know you know this already; it’s all pretty obvious remedial Trans 023 stuff. And yet, when I bring it up in reference to something you posted, y’all resist it in various ways, usually tearing pages from the Derailing for Dummies* playbook. Which frustrates me so much, because you know better, and I know you know better.
Yes, by all means, be proud of your vagina! And support/boost/offer education about how DFAB reproductive systems work, since society actively tries to suppress that information! And defend everyone’s right to choose tooth-and-nail! And raise holy hell about the fact that it’s easier to get Viagra than it is to get birth control! But here’s a thought: you can do all of that without degendering trans women, without shitting on our needs and our bodies, without situationally revoking our personhood when it’s convenient for your arguments.
You can. You really can. If I thought otherwise, we wouldn’t be friends.
So please, please pay more attention to what you say and what it means. This shit needs to change. So please, help change it.
* No, I don’t care for the title. It’s still a good (and wonderfully sarcastic) reference to the derailing tactics folks use.