If you haven’t yet seen episode 7 of “Real World: Ex-Plosion,” then let me give you a heads up. There is a lot of talk about … well, me.
There’s discussion of my sexuality, my gender expression (and, interestingly, how fashion fits into all of this), and even more talk about trans identity. All of this discussion is useful because this episode, as well as trans identity, are both issues much (and I mean much) bigger than me.
I know, I know. It’s really easy for all of us to want to make this about me, my reactions, my feelings. And I appreciate that. A lot.
However, what I appreciate even more is the learning opportunity that being misidentified as trans (on a national level) has given me.
For one, it’s taught me so much about myself.
My initial response (“But, I don’t want to be trans.”) to finding out that people thought I was trans can be explained in about three words: I am Ari. For me, that means I’m a filmmaker, a model, and a pusher. … I spend a lot of time crafting my work, and just as much time crafting my identity. Those two things have always been shaped by what I do and how I feel, never by how other people perceived me. My initial reaction to being defined as anything other than what I perceive myself to be was, justifiably, a rejection.
“I don’t want to be trans,” meant “You don’t know me, and I don’t want you to label me or, more importantly, tell my story for me.”
Saying that, the second thing I learned was that the need to externally identify oneself is almost never about us, but rather almost always about other people’s feelings externally. When people started calling me trans on the internet, what they were saying was “Here’s a girl who is masculine and taller than I’m used to and whose body shape is not what I most readily associate with femininity. Because I don’t understand that, because I’ve never experienced that, I’m going to decide she was born a boy.”
I’ve realized that the way people perceive and label me has very little to do with me and much more to do with a lack of exposure to people like me. This experience is true for anyone. Whether we’re being misidentified on national television or having someone judge or label us in our everyday lives.
The third and most important thing this experience has taught me is that we are our own resources. When I first discovered that people thought I was trans, it confused and saddened me because I did not want who I am — Ari Fitz, an at-times androgynous lesbian of color — to be hidden by who I was not.
It also frightened me because I knew I wasn’t ready to become or represent an entire community of people I believe to be more than capable of representing themselves. Still, recognizing that this was bigger than my own ignorance or that of my 10 roommates, I stepped outside of myself and back into my Oakland support system. Luckily for me, they were there as they always have been. As seen in the episode, they were not only there to teach me what I didn’t know, but also to remind me of our most important resource: our willingness to learn.
Whether you personally identify as trans or not, trans issues are important. And they’re important for much more than trivial matters of dress, or sexuality, or body type. They’re important because trans people are, well, people — like gay people, like lesbian people, like bisexual people, like straight people. They’re also important because a lot of trans people don’t have the luxury of cleaning up misidentifications as easily as I can.
Transgender (or gender variant) people often lose their homes, jobs, families, health insurance and a number of other luxuries we take for granted because of who they are — not inside, but in the eyes of others. And, put plainly, I find that, like all forms of discrimination, to be unacceptable.
So, am I a trans woman? No. But does that make me any less willing to learn and speak out about transgender needs? Absolutely not.
Support transgender rights with the National Center for Transgender Equality.
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