Saturday, June 18, 2022

On Transitioning in Public Spaces

I’ve been avoiding writing some version of this post for some time, but here we are.

Okay. I’m trans. If you’ve been reading this for a while, if you follow my Twitter, or if you know me from elsewhere, you’ve probably noticed something going on. I mean, this blog used to be named after me, or rather my birth name. It was embedded in the URL! But in 2020, during the pandemic that seemed to destroy everybody’s mental and/or physical health, I was stuck at home, slowly falling apart as I finally took the time to try to make sense out of my seemingly permanently confused gender identity. Beyond that and the fact that live music wasn’t really happening, I was also faced with a conundrum of writing for a website whose very name misrepresented me to my core.

First I had to find my own name. I went with the most obvious choice to me, the only choice that ever really made sense to me: Patti. Is it an homage to Patti Smith? Well, sorta. I mean, it is. It’s not like I can even defend every song of hers, or every thing she’s ever done. But unlike plenty of producers of mainstream media, she’s always been one to openly subvert society’s expectation of gender performance, and I have always admired that in a unique way. At a certain point, I had to just move forward and stop endlessly questioning every decision I had to make. I accepted the uncertainty, the risk, and the vulnerability. What else could I do? Delaying further became increasingly painful.

And then I had to rename the website. Now it’s Metronomic Underground, a blatant reference to one of Stereolab’s most kosmische songs. In the process, I undertook the tedious task of updating every single internal link on the blog. I also had to rename my musical pseudonym. Ironically, I had originally chosen The Nowhere Man in 2008 specifically in reference to the agender or genderfluid character in the Yellow Submarine film, which fascinated me since childhood. However, the drawbacks associated with that name had become too great. For one thing, there’s a million other people also using it. So now I’m Chromatic Apparition. I think it suits me and my music better.

Earlier this year, I’d decided I should try to write a post in commemoration of this blog’s 15th anniversary, sort of like I had for the 10th, in order to properly introduce the new blog name. I also wanted to celebrate five years in Berlin and perhaps allude to my personal changes. But life got in the way and I never found the time. It didn’t help that I didn’t really know what to say.

Well, now I do. As previously posted, I went to five concerts in the span of two weeks after a very long lull. I’ve written some about the experience of live music during a pandemic, particularly now that most people are ignoring it, downplaying it, denying it, or trying to find their peace with it and have a good time despite it. But something else struck me hard these past two weeks. In the past, despite timidly identifying as non-binary, I believe I was generally seen as a man and afforded some of the typical privileges of men. At this point, I’m about a year into hormone replacement therapy, and I seem to be generally treated as a woman, which usually brings me joy. However, people in public spaces treat me quite a bit differently now, which does not always bring me joy!

At all of the four large-scale concerts I recently attended, I experienced multiple incidents of people threatening my space in ways I’d rarely dealt with before. I was pushed and jostled constantly without any sign of concern or apology. I was hit hard with a bag without any sort of acknowledgment. People repeatedly intruded into my space without comment. When I protested, I was often completely ignored, as if I didn’t exist. I stood powerless as a man used his female partner as a battering ram to barge into my spot. He had the presence of mind to ask if he was bothering anyone, but when I responded in the affirmative, he looked right past me and pretended not to hear. The Beach House show was probably the worst experience of them all, despite that that was the one show to which I hadn’t gone alone. My partner, who is also a woman, intervened on my behalf on two occasions, but was only barely met with better success.

My life in public spaces outside of concerts hasn’t been much better. I’ve had men blatantly cut me off and push into my space on public transit. I get interrupted more often. I’ve been overlooked and ignored by service personnel at bars and in other queues. I’ve had bored men start talking to me and asking me questions despite my obvious disinterest.

It’s not like none of these things happened to me before. They did. But it was different. It was infrequent and less of a pattern. It wasn’t every time I went out. If I spoke up, I could usually get my aggressor’s attention and sometimes even argue for my space back. I mean, even the way people look at me has changed. Men used to make eye contact in order to assess how threatening I might be, and I always looked away first and presumably made it clear who was dominant. Women rarely made eye contact with me if not necessary. While earlier in transition, I was frequently looked at with confusion or open disgust or contempt, and that hasn’t completely gone away. Now, if I don’t get that treatment, men size up my body; my eyes are an afterthought. On the other hand, women do actually look at me now, and sometimes we even politely negotiate for an open seat on public transit; at least, until a man simply skips right past us and takes it for himself.

I’m aware that there are other factors at play here as well. I was never particularly fond of large crowds, and I didn’t exactly enjoy many of the physical aspects of going to concerts. I’ve probably lost some of the resistance to that discomfort that I built up over the years before the pandemic. I also know that people are restless at the moment and ready to party hard to make up for the time they feel they’ve lost. There are probably still plenty of people who still aren’t comfortable with concerts, which means the balance of people who do show up is perhaps skewed towards the rowdier, ruder, and more reckless fans.

This is all profoundly bizarre for me. Everything about transitioning is bizarre. I don’t say that to mean anything negative about transitioning in itself. It’s rather the experience of transitioning in society that is needlessly stigmatized and uniquely challenging. I’ve never been happier with my identity and my body, and yet there are countless struggles in practically every facet of my life. I just want to live my life, seek the care and community I need, and not have to worry about my safety or comfort any more than I did in the past. But if my concertgoing experiences continue in this trend, it is not likely that I will be going out as often as I did in, say, 2019. I’m not happy about that. I don’t know how else to feel right now. Maybe I’ll find some other way to spend my time and money. Or maybe I’ll build my confidence and learn to assert my needs more effectively.

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