February 10, 2011

In which I am a little exhausted

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Hey there, what have you been up to? Doing okay? Great, great. Oh, me? I've been knowingly making myself miserable, but what else is new?

So, every month, I do this thing where I start running low on birth control pills. I wake up and say, "Only five pills left! Better call in the prescription!" -- but then I don't. So the next morning I wake up and say, "Only four pills left!" -- but I still don't call. I don't call in the prescription until long after the pills are gone. I resist and resist, until PMS sets in. I can't describe how terrible PMS is for me. (Well, I can, but I deleted it because it's super gross.) And yet, I knowingly bring it on myself -- more than once a month, since lately I've been getting sloppy about taking my pills even when I'm not running out!

Or, this semester I've been doing this thing where I kind of don't go to class. Well, I always attend my grad class. And I pretty much attend Romanticism, because that dude is a hardass about late homework, but if there's nothing to turn in, I don't bother. King Arthur, though-- I think I'm literally 50/50. And Astronomy... last night I was up until 5am marathonning recorded lectures in a desperate attempt to prepare for the quiz today, because I haven't shown up since the last quiz. I wish that guy kept track of attendance; I might actually go. I like these classes. I like these professors! I'm actively curious about the subject matter. And yet-- resistance.

I know what I need to do, to make myself happy, and it even lines up with what I'm naturally inclined to do, and yet-- I resist. So I just end up stewing in my unhappiness and my bitter knowledge that the whole thing is my own damn fault.

Except-- the resistance isn't my fault, not completely. I resist taking my birth control specifically because it feels so wrong to put fucking estrogen in my system. And I resist going to class because it's the only place where I'm still in the closet. The closer I get to making my life look the way I want it to look, the harder it is for me to endure the parts that still don't match.

I wish I could just dodge the question for a little while, to take a break, but the world we live in doesn't allow for that. People make judgments about my gender before they even ask my name, so I'm fighting an uphill battle from the beginning. I can only choose to correct them, or let the lie stand. And when my teacher starts with "Yes, the girl in the back-- sorry, I don't know your name," there's no way I'm going to respond to that by saying to the whole classroom, "It's Lawrence."

I had to choose between outing myself to everyone in all my classes, and shoving myself back into an increasingly-agonizing closet every time I wanted to learn something. Being closeted is hard to bear, and genuinely impeding my ability to learn, but coming out would have to be such a production, it would surely get in the way of my classmates' education, too. I don't want class time wasted on people's double-takes, or on clarifying my identity, or on anything to do with me. So until there's a chance that anyone, ever, would look at me and consider the possibility that I might be male, this is what I'm sticking with.

Which just leaves me feeling like this whole thing is so unfair. I have to choose between having my identity acknowledged, and learning during class time. But I've been a little sick lately, and I'm stressed out because my car broke down, and I don't want to go through that kind of emotional turmoil to learn how to predict lunar eclipses. I just want to go to class and do my homework like a normal student. And I can't.

Usually I like to open things up for trans 101 questions in my posts but I think I'd rather not, this week. Right now I'd like to focus on all the other things in my life, rather than letting this one aspect define me.

Instead, I'd like to ask all of you to do me a favor. Don't assume you know someone's gender until you've at least asked their name. Actually try this. When you get dinner tonight, don't think about the girl in line ahead of you who is taking forever-- think about the person ahead of you. Self-censor your own gendering instincts as much as you can. And I guess, let me know how it goes. It'll probably be harder than you expect.


  1. Lawrence, ack! that's so frustrating. I'm so sorry you had to experience that in classes, especially, when I'd believe that a classroom is one of the places where ideally a person should feel the most safe at Duke.

    This doesn't undo what you've already had to endure from the assumptions of professors, but I wonder if you had thought of consulting with the professor outside of class? I'm not sure what you'd be comfortable with, but perhaps you could simply ask that they use, (if you're comfortable), male pronouns, Lawrence, etc.

    It's just a thought-although I'm sure you've probably considered this before. I just don't know what else I'd do in this situation. And thanks a ton for the last paragraph-that's such a good reminder. =)

  2. I took this out of the post for brevity, but the main reason I'm still closeted in class is that there's no way to just tell the teacher. The first time they call on me in class, they're going to out me to everyone else-- and for three of my classes, that means 30-40 students and 1-3 TAs. Nobody really talks in discussions, and when we do it's more or less anonymous. To demand that everyone learn my name just feels... narcissistic. The point of class is to learn. I feel like coming out would inevitably make me a topic of conversation in a context that's just not about me.

    Even if I had changed my name in ACES at the start of the semester, I would still have had to deal with that initial confusion the first time I went to class with boobs, and I am just so tired of explaining myself.

    I am trying to figure out how to come out in my grad class, though, because it's just me, the prof, and five students, and I'm hoping to ask my professor to be my thesis advisor. But even though gender comes up in conversation all the fucking time, graceful opportunities to correct someone's interpretation of my gender are... rare.

    Or maybe the whole thing just boils down to the fact that transitioning is kind of personal! It just seems unprofessional expose my inner turmoil to teachers and classmates when it's only coincidence that has put us in each other's way. It's none of their business.

  3. Lawrence, it seems, to me, like one of the main reasons you don't want to come out to your classmates is because it would waste their time. My question to you is: If they are going to waste their time questioning you or judging you in any way, isn't it only fair that their close-mindedness takes away from their own class time?
    Also, thinking of people as people and not genders has been a challenge. Thank you so much for bringing that up. I can't wait until your next post!

  4. Well, when you put it that way, I'm more inclined to let them just suck it up. Hmm.

    I think it's 50% not feeling like I have any claim on their time because we don't actually know each other, and 50% not wanting to undergo the painfully awkward ordeal of setting up meetings with my professors just to say a single sentence to them. And also 100% something I should deal with already so I can be a little less crazy on a daily basis.

    Blogging always makes me realise how terrible all my reasons are. Ugggggh. Okay. The prof for my King Arthur class has office hours tomorrow morning. And she keeps making us do group presentations which are so ugh what with my girl name showing up everywhere. I have a friend in that class, he's got my back. Okay.

    Uggggggh! Tomorrow, 10am! I won't back out!

  5. Miraculously, I actually didn't back out! I didn't make it to her office hours but I did talk to her after class, and it was such a complete non-issue for her I felt silly for being so nervous (this is a recurring theme). She basically just said, "Of course everyone wants to be addressed how they identify. I just need to be told what that is."

    I might still have to Explain Myself to the class in general, because as I was waiting for the classroom to empty I had possibly the most painful conversation of my life:

    Dude 1: "All right, it's time to head out, gentlemen... (suddenly, he sees me) ...and lady."
    Me: "Actually I have to stay and talk to the professor."
    Dude 1: "Okay, see you later, girl!"
    Dude 2: "Wait, I think I've forgotten your name."
    (In fact, I had not told him my name, in a desperate bid to dodge the question.)
    Me: "Ah, yes, well, um. It's Lawrence."
    Dude 1: "I've never met a girl named Lawrence before!"
    Dude 2: "Me neither! It's really not a girl's name at all! How unusual!"
    Me: "Erm, uh, yeah.... AUGH."
    Dude 1: "How did you end up with such an unusual name for a girl?"
    Me: "Yes, ha ha ha, it is a long story, I HAVE TO GO BYE NOW SEE YOU LATER."

    Probably it was an optimal situation to come out to them, but I was still waiting to come out to the professor and there were still people milling around the room, and I didn't want to have to have The Conversation twice in a row. As it turns out the prof didn't need The Conversation, she was already on top of it, but I couldn't know that at the time.

    So anyway, that was my morning. I spent the rest of the day running errands all over Durham and getting called ma'am every ten minutes. I need a break.

  6. Well I, for one, am damn proud of you for coming out to your prof.

  7. Congratulations on coming out to your prof!

    And, as to the second, I have an anecdote to share.

    In a fiction writing class, I once wrote a story addressing two themes I found interesting: the increased probability of two people with the same first name dating if they are the same gender, and why couples who date for, like, seven years confuse me.

    In my story, they were both named Jeff or something like that. And since I tend to be pronoun-careful (in this case leaving it, I guess, unintentionally ambiguous), a majority of the class found it easier to assume that one of the Jeffs was female. Some of the comments I got even said something like, "It took me awhile to keep them straight until I figured out that one of them spoke more like a woman" or something like that.

    Which was completely confusing (if complementary) because they were definitely projecting a sense of gender onto these personalities I had written.

    It's often said that the simplest explanation tends to be the most easily supported one, even if it's an oversimplification/butchering of Occam's Razor. But people will jump through some pretty fascinating hoops to find reasons for what they think is the case (see Religion).

    That must have been terribly uncomfortable and I'm sorry for it. Best of luck in your future comings-out, Lawrence :)

  8. Lawrence!!! Tons of congratulations on telling your professor! That rocks, and I'm so happy for you! =)