I Am Queer, I Am Non-Binary, and I Don’t Know What it Means to Feel Safe

[The image features the author, Sam, glancing nervously over his shoulder while a hostile stranger smirks from across the aisle of the bus.]

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

From the moment I stepped onto the bus, there was something about me that didn’t sit right with you.

You couldn’t put your finger on it, but I knew what it was from the start, from the way that you looked at me.

You heard my voice as I greeted the driver. As you eyed me up and down, searching for my curves, you decided that I was, indeed, “a woman who was trying to be a man.”

And I think that’s what got your goat. I think you didn’t like that I had the nerve to stray outside of what you thought I ought to be.

I took my seat, and after I did, my partner – a masculine queer who, shocker, you also didn’t care for – sat next to me. You crinkled your nose at us, as if we smelled vile, as if we were rotten to you. But you moved over a seat to be closer to us anyway, to be sure that we would hear you when you spoke to us.

“You getting married soon?” you ask us. This would normally be a harmless question, but you say it with a growl in your voice, staring daggers. You say it in a way that sounds angry, hostile.

I begin to feel afraid, wondering how many of my trans siblings had conversations that started just like this one but ended with blows to their skulls.

“We’re…”

I remember the time we were nearly run over by an SUV, the way I screamed expletives down the street while bystanders pretended that I didn’t exist and that I didn’t hurt. I remember being told, shortly after, “Sam, the police don’t care about hate crimes. Let’s go home.” I remember our friend being beaten with a baseball bat, found unconscious and bloodied and broken. I remember all the close calls that felt too close, too near, and too present.

In my panicked state, I blurt out, “We’re… sisters.”

I pretend to laugh, and my partner, playing along, nervously chuckles.

“I want you to get married,” you push. “I want to be there. I want to watch.”

Your eyes widen, and you laugh, licking your lips like a carnivore staring down fresh meat. I begin to feel nauseous.

My partner and I get up to move to the back of the bus, and when I turn around to see if you’re following, your face contorts as your throat makes a deep hacking sound. I watch, seemingly in slow motion, as you rise from your seat to spit at us. I watch your phlegm splat onto the bus floor, inches away from my heels.

I want to yell obscenities at you. I want to tell you to rot in hell. I want to scream until I fracture your ear drums.

But I say nothing. I say nothing at all, because being transgender means never knowing if a small altercation could lead to violence. And because getting the last word between us runs the risk of those being the last words I ever speak. And it’s a risk I won’t let myself take.

The driver says nothing, and the other passengers on the bus say nothing, and you, satisfied with yourself, take your seat again.

I shroud myself in the silence, and I try to steady my shaking hands. I spend the next fifteen minutes – which feel like a lifetime – pretending to stare out the window, while I feel your eyes on me, your mouth forming a gleeful, delighted smirk.

You’ve put me in my place, haven’t you? Seeing me so powerless makes you feel something, something you enjoy, something that makes you straighten your spine a little and bare your teeth.

I try to imagine what you must be thinking. Maybe it’s the same thing that teenage boy was thinking when he tweeted to me, “Die, tranny faggot scum.” Maybe it’s the same thing those men were thinking as they blew that red light, nearly hitting us as they yelled, “Straights have the right of way!”

Or maybe, just maybe, there were no words for it and, instead, you imagined a perfect, circular wound in the center of my forehead, matching the bullets held in the belly of your shotgun.

I can’t ride the bus for a week after the incident. I skip all my classes. I order takeout instead of going to the grocery store, and I call in sick to work. Not because this is the first time it’s ever happened and I’m shocked, but because it happens all too often and I am afraid that the next time will be the last time.

Every time I approach the bus stop, I can see your face, and the foul, disgusted looks you give me. When I close my eyes, I can hear the crackling sound in your throat as you prepare another loogie to spit in my direction. And everywhere I turn, I wonder which ones are like you, the ones who have forgotten my humanity. The ones that see me a wild animal to be put into submission.

For too many of us, when you are transgender, there is no such thing as feeling safe.

I try to remember a time when I could ride the bus, or walk the streets, or encounter a stranger and not feel that sudden twinge in my gut, that wound up feeling that readies my body for fight or flight. I try to remember a time when I was more gentle, when I smiled at people I didn’t know, and I met the eyes of every person who looked at me and I did not look away.

These days, my head hangs low, and I look through everyone as if I were walking amongst ghosts.

Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Editor’s Note: We at LQTU! want to acknowledge and affirm that, by and large, trans women of color carry the burden of violence in our community. That being said, Sam shares his experience with the hopes of offering some insight into his fears and experiences around street harassment as a white queer and non-binary person. We previously wrote a brief piece about the street harassment that trans women face as well, and today’s piece is not meant to talk over, compare/contrast, or ignore this reality. We encourage anyone in the trans community to share their stories and contribute to this ongoing conversation.

19 thoughts on “I Am Queer, I Am Non-Binary, and I Don’t Know What it Means to Feel Safe

  1. threekidsandi says:

    I am so sorry, honey, truly. I have had strangers try to run me down with trucks, too, same hate, different motivations. I know what that sort of fear is like. I pray you find a safe space. You and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. chellem90 says:

    It’s absolutely heartbreaking that anyone should have to live in a world with such evil, narrow minded and awful idiots! I will continue to fight every day of my life for a day when people like me, you and anyone else who doesn’t fit into the worlds idea of ‘Normal’ we deserve to live in a happy, equal and diverse world! Thank you for sharing such a personal story! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mia (genderdrift) says:

    I’m so, so sorry that happened. It’s the absolute example of why, when weighing up whether to transition, I think about social changes like this very seriously. Right now, on an average day I have to go out, I wear nail varnish, maybe a little bit of makeup and I have long hair. But then I just wear a beanie hat, a black t-shirt and jeans. I don’t blend in but I don’t stick out either. Obviously if I transition that’s going to change. I don’t like thinking that bullies are a legitimate reason to not go through with this, but they totally are. Eugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ziya Tamesis says:

      Yeah, I’m in a similar boat. I try to present as gender-neutral, but I’ve only had the courage to go so far. People easily read me as the gender I was assigned at birth and I usually don’t refute them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kris says:

    Oh, Sam, you’ve found the missing link! Darwin would have rejoiced! Hope you can put this sub-species out of your head, they don’t pay rent… Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Katie J. says:

    Thank you for your bravery in sharing this story. The world needs to be aware of what you face, and you should feel safe to walk down the street. I would smile at you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. JK says:

    The part about this that disgusts me the most isn’t the obviously disgusting individual; it’s the complete indifference of everyone else on the bus. The deeply ugly side of the impersonality of our society. I don’t dream of a world without hate; it will never happen. But I do dream of a world where hate will be shameful, where individuals like that who are full of hate will be the ones shamed into silence. We need a new paradigm of what is and isn’t acceptable, but it feels like it will be a long time before we get there.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Ula says:

    I can’t believe that no one on that bus did or said anything. My heart goes out to you. No one should have to live in fear.
    I’m still hopeful that things are changing (not fast enough – I know), and one day people like that will be a minority. People will speak up for love and compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sam Dylan Finch says:

    I feel so much love and support on this comment thread. Thank you so much! ❤ It felt good to share this story and take a step away from fear and a step toward healing. I'm so grateful for all of you.

    Like

  9. gaytransguy says:

    I spent twenty years not transitioning because of the fear of this happening. I finally started being visibly non gender conforming, and getting top surgery, and both hate and misgendering and unwelcome questions are part of my every day interactions with strangers. My long-term partner, a queer cis guy who is a very outgoing person and, because of his privilege, believes in the innate goodness of people if they just “understand”, is now playing trans 101 when this shit starts. I just started taking testosterone and am awaiting even more bullshit as my facial hair starts growing. I wish I could wear a button that said “if you aren’t cool with trans and gnc people don’t talk to me or my boyfriend”. Sam, thank you for sharing your story. I empathize completely.

    Like

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