When I first came out as trans, I was fully immersed in the LGBTQ community: presenting at conferences, visiting GSAs across the state, going to every pride humanly possible, and living in a house filled with fellow queers. Aside from classes, I was rarely the only trans person in a space and when I was, I had numerous safe havens to return to. Even when something bad happened, I would always have my safe little bubble of queerness to retreat to.
Now, I’m rarely surrounded by the same kind of community I had grown so used to in undergrad. Certainly I have friends within the LGBTQ community who I see regularly, but it’s not the same kind of consistent immersion. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, just an adjustment. The biggest adjustment is learning how to navigate predominantly cis-spaces as either the token trans person or being completely erased as a trans person.
Tokenisation is exhausting, mentally and physically. I always find myself biting my tongue in conversations, wondering if I can safely bring up my trans identity without judgement, ending up at the receiving end of invasive personal questions, or becoming the sudden expert on all things trans. Every time a well-meaning friend forwards something trans-related to me, curious about my opinion, or inquisitively approaches me with a desire for knowledge on allyship, the trans community, or academic resources on trans people, I force myself to smile politely and pretend like I appreciate their eagerness to know more when I really just want to respond with “Have you heard of Google?” I’m not a walking encyclopedia and I don’t speak for all trans people.
Then there’s erasure. When I’m the only trans person in a room, one of two things typically happens. Sometimes I feel like I have to completely blend in, almost embracing the erasure, in order to protect my emotional and/or physical being. Other times I feel the need to be as trans as fucking possible in order to break the erasure and make the invisible the most prominent thing in the room. A happy medium feels impossible in a society that has been built upon binaries. In activist, academic, and everyday discourse it seems as if trans people are either completely erased or the only present topic. But something doesn’t have to be explicitly or solely about trans people to be trans inclusive. The normalisation of trans-inclusivity in every day spaces is crucial in overcoming erasure.
The erasure and tokenisation I experience are especially prominent in classroom settings, partially because I’m trans and partially because I do research within the trans community. Even in gender studies classes, I’ve always found myself becoming a broken record asking “what about trans people?” in lectures and seminars, while other students largely remain silent. As a result, both as an undergraduate student and now as a postgraduate student, I have had professors frequently ask me for opinions, resources, and recommendations on how to make classrooms and syllabi trans-inclusive, many of whom put in virtually no effort on their part to take those steps. While in some ways this was flattering, almost being treated as a colleague to academics I highly respect while I am still a student, it can sometimes be frustrating because suddenly I’m expected to be the expert when I’m in school to learn from the experts.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll spend lots and lots more time in predominately cis-spaces, whether that be in activist, academic, or every day spaces. What I won’t accept is the tokenisation and erasure that comes with those spaces. But intentionally or not, people will attempt to do it anyway. Those are the moments when I miss the community I created during my four years at Bucknell. Those are the moments I wish I could escape into my little queer bubble, to rant about the cisheteropatriarchy and laugh with my chosen family. I’m learning to recreate the feelings of joy and comfort and the community I found in that bubble anywhere I go so I can find the strength to fight against the tokenisation and erasure that I face. But in the meantime: cis folks reading this, get your shit together.