Today I’d like to give a voice to a friend of mine who made a significant change in her life. Here is her article about her experiences in the Esperanto community.
Sophia: A short introduction to the concept: being trans, an abbreviation for transgender or transsexual, means that I was born with a body that didn’t fit me as far as apparent gender is concerned, and I’ve taken steps to transform it, as well as to take up a different role in society. I don’t believe I was ever a man; all that’s changed has been my appearance as well as how I affirm myself.
As a result of being trans I go through some of the most intense discrimination you can imagine. I’m bisexual, for instance, and have experienced discrimination both for being apparently a gay man and apparently a lesbian woman. I’ve been heckled, for instance, and stared at. I wasn’t always able to openly display affection for my girlfriend. Sometimes guys have ignored the obvious and just assumed we’re straight and available, and tried to flirt with one or both of us, something which would never happen if we were a male-female couple.
However, this discrimination is an order of magnitude less than the discrimination which I can directly connect with being trans. I’ve had people who consider themselves left-wing, conscious or tolerant throw me out of their house, or their social group, or tell me not to contact them again. I’ve had water thrown on me, a billion insults from random strangers on the street, and all sorts of people in perfectly reasonable voices telling me that I am fundamentally unattractive or undeserving of my basic rights.
Being Trans In Esperantujo
Well, I thought it would be interesting now for me to write about the difference between my experiences being trans in Esperantujo and being trans in normal life. [Editor’s note: Esperantujo is the Esperanto word for the abstract concept of everywhere in the world where Esperanto is currently spoken.]
For a lot of people, Esperantujo is a sort of safe haven; a place where they can be themselves, and know that they will be accepted.
To some extent, Esperantujo is that for me. I certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable when I was holding my girlfriend’s hand at an Esperanto event, for instance. I don’t feel like people are going to find me strange for being polyamorous, or vegan, or for having unusual esoteric beliefs.
As for being trans… let’s say that I don’t let my guard down. There are a lot of people in Esperantujo who very fully accept who I am. For instance, I find that quite a few of the straight men in Esperantujo are open to flirting with me. Outside Esperantujo on the other hand, most straight men who know I am trans are so scared of being seen by others as gay that you can pretty much see them searching for masculine aspects of my appearance so that they don’t have to be attracted to me.
Transphobia In Esperantujo
On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty crappy experiences with transphobia in Esperantujo.
My first Esperanto event was the Junulara Esperanto-Semajno (JES 2012-2013). I hadn’t taken hormones yet and it was still fairly easy to see I was trans just by looking at me.
I experienced reasonably good treatment – well, except for the millions of micro-discriminations which were a fact of my everyday life back then. Of course, I heard the occasional accidental “he” – or intentional one – something which is capable of making me feel far worse than I wish a single, often innocently-intended word could. I got stared at. I was asked awkward questions. The usual.
A friend did tell me, though, that several people had talked to her about me. Apparently, it was mostly Russians and Ukrainians – I guess because of their more conservative cultures. She reported that one had said, “Why does the boy want to be a girl and the girl want to be a boy??” – unfair, since my partner at the time was just presenting androgynously.
Once I took hormones and started blending in as a woman, the micro-discriminations lessened, both in and out of Esperantujo. Still, I’ve kept doing talks about transsexuality in most of the Esperanto events I’ve gone to, and that’s given people a chance to know I am trans and also talk about the topic with me, which quite often turns uncomfortable. For instance, one member of my audience in a recent talk referred to me as male right after I had given a long monologue on why doing exactly that is both incorrect and incredibly uncomfortable for me to hear.
I’ve only had one experience of severe discrimination in Esperantujo, the details of which are unpleasant enough that I won’t recount them here. But that did contribute to me feeling genuinely uncomfortable in that event.
Nowadays, I’m wondering whether to stop doing my talks about trans issues and blend in. The thought of doing so chafes me ideologically, but it’s also true that I enjoy social experiences much better when I am not bombarded with discrimination, minor and major, and of course I only get that when people know my history. Esperantujo is a safe-ish place in that regard, but still not safe enough as far as I’m concerned.
Overall, I’d say Esperantujo is sort of polarised. On one hand, there are quite a few people in Esperantujo who are really aware of trans issues or just really accepting, and around those I feel genuinely comfortable, like I can really let my hair down. People like that are rarer to find outside of Esperantujo.
On the other hand, Esperanto attracts people from all sorts of cultures, including the more conservative ones, and some of those people seem rather less comfortable around me. Besides that, there is a small minority of somewhat extreme personalities that seem to be drawn to Esperanto, anti-social people who are maybe looking for an accepting place, I don’t know; these, when they choose to get in my face, can do a lot to make my experience in these events less enjoyable.
If you’re moved by these words, I would recommend, like I recommend anyone, that you read a little about trans issues and get educated. I think a great start is Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. (Try to avoid mainstream documentaries, though, as the message is often distorted according to what the producers think their viewers can handle). Besides that, perhaps you can come to one of my talks on the topic if we’re at the same Esperanto event – supposing I keep doing them.
Related Esperanto vocabulary
transsexual = trans-seksa
transsexual person = transseksulo
bisexual = ambaŭ-seks-ema (literally: both-sex-inclined)
homosexual = sam-seks-ema (literally: same-sex-inclined)
heterosexual = mal-sam-seks-ema (literally: different-sex-inclined)
polyamorous = plur-am-ema (literally: many-love-inclined)
gay = gejo
lesbian = lesbo
queer = kviro
Sophia’s photo used with permission. Flag image attribution: user Torbakhopper on Flickr.com.