I'm no stranger to harsh words from ignorant people. I was bullied as a kid like many of us were. I may not have had a singular face to my bully but the consistent verbal attacks from people who felt that my gender presentation, even as a child, was some kind of attack on their own, have left the collective imprint of emotional bruising caused by one. I was born a girl and dressed like a boy. I begged to keep my hair short and cried every time my mother tried to put a dress on me so she just gave up trying and let me dress how I wanted to most of the time, unless it was some public outing in which she did not want my own presentation being a reflection of her identity which I think was a subconscious act to be protective.
I was repetitively asked "Are you a boy or a girl?" throughout childhood and adolescence and usually followed by "Fucking dyke!" It wasn't just kids either. When I was 12, a Portuguese female customs officer loudly asked the question in front of other travellers. When I answered she said, "Next time you come through here, try looking like one."
This consistent public humiliation left me scarred for life. This hurt is triggered every time someone violates a part of my identity now.
Words can be violent. Especially in the context of someone who is transgender and language used around our bodies. We spend most of our lives confused or hating ourselves so when people crawl into our psyches and compound that self-loathing, it becomes dangerous. We feel alone and unwanted and freakish. Very recently, all of these wounds resurfaced when I saw this comment left by a woman on a video I posted on Facebook for a Pledge Music Campaign to raise funding for a tour for my band The Cliks to promote our new album Black Tie Elevator.
"This is a chick and needs money for bottom surgery."
I felt that violation. I reposted stating "Don't let this anger you. Let it empower you." For the most part, reactions paralleled mine but a few people, although well meaning, suggested I should not dignify the comment with a response. I suddenly felt as though I had done something wrong because my entire life I was trained to not speak up for myself, to let it go and not dignify responses. Unfortunately, this left me, and many people like me victims at times by our own hand.
You teach people how to treat you and if you teach them you're a rug, they will walk all over you without a second thought. When you suddenly stand up and tell them you're a curtain and you want to be free to hang in the breeze, they're going to think you're a lying asshole and your friendship will take a blow or end. After of years of victimizing myself for being walked on, I realized the common denominator in my loss of friendships was ME. It took me years of retraining myself and flexing my boundaries. This has now led to long lasting and respectful friendships. Bullying is a form of exercising control over people through their own personal repressed fear. It's a two-way street.
Ignoring bullies is one of the most dangerous acts an individual can impose on society and themselves. It imposes shame on the victim and further strengthens the aggressor. We believe it ends in the schoolyard but it doesn't. It's perpetuated daily in our adult lives with our silence and complacence.
When I got a little famous, it resurfaced. From horrible YouTube and Facebook comments, to people on my own team. Before my top surgery, my ex-manager called me "You better not have mental problems on the road because of this." On Dirty King, photographer/artistic director Dean Karr chose a close up of my scarred chest for the cover, the President of Tommy Boy records Tom Silverman wrote in an email "This is a rock band not an episode of Nip Tuck." My band mates impounded it saying it would 'ruin the band'. Most hurtful was when a band mate called me "it" and called me by my old name.
When I expressed hurt, I was told I was being too sensitive. Taking it the wrong way. My body was theirs to be spoken of with disgust and shame and I should sit in silence. No one spoke up for me. I never spoke up for myself.
Most recently, a local magazine asked me to write a "raw and unedited" memoir. So I did. My life has not been roses and my childhood was extremely traumatic. They requested a meeting, revisions and essentially sent my publicist a totally rewritten piece that removed all my trauma calling it "too dark" but very poignantly pointed my double mastectomy and my choice to not have bottom surgery, even though I had not mentioned it in my original draft. The language all over the piece was insulting. After attempts at three revisions, I deflated. I felt that voice in my head come back saying "Don't cause trouble. This is a good opportunity for your career." I was so tired that I gave them the thumbs up. That old wound came back and took over and my humiliation was so strong that it triggered my complacence.
I received a copy of the magazine at my CD release launch. They had changed the title of the piece without our permission to "Girl, Interrupted." I was beside myself. The correlation to my gender and mental stability left me feeling humiliated. Cowardly. Most people I've expressed this to still don't understand why with the exception of a close trans male friend. But I can't expect them to as they have not lived their entire lives with the violent energy thrown at their body's daily.
I have never spoken publicly about some incidents I have in this piece because I worried they would make younger trans folks lose a sense of hope. I'm sure many will advise me that I shouldn't have. That I should let it go. That I may face career repercussions. But I won't because it's that silence that creates complacency in us all.
You're not alone. I get bullied all the time but I overcome. I call it out and I'm loud about it. Don't shame me for speaking up for myself. Shame those who hurt me.