Rants and Raves / Stories

How to Make Genderqueer People Feel Unwelcome

I get a lot of crap from the LGBTQ+ community. I’m bisexual, so a lot of gay people feel I don’t belong anyway, and I’m married to a man, which is a double whammy (at the moment, I still look fairly femme, even if I’m wearing more masculine clothing). I’m too straight for the gays, too gay for the straights. Even though I have been an out bisexual since I was sixteen, and I’m trans masculine.

I get it from the trans community too. I’m genderqueer, which means I do not fit neatly into the two little gender boxes everyone – trans and cis alike – want me to fit into. This makes it difficult for them to believe that I am trans.

Today I got a lesson in just how unwelcome genderqueer people can feel in trans – and gay – spaces.

I’m going to keep this vague (and if you’re in the know, please respect it), because I know it’s probably not any one person’s fault, and I don’t want anyone to feel that way. My goal with this post is not to lay blame, but to teach. Consider this a teaching moment, not a shaming one. Again, I’m not blaming anyone, not out to start a fight or a revolution. This is to point out where the trans community is failing its genderqueer members.

A prominent trans person was coming to my town, and I had plans to go see him talk. The event wasn’t really promoted that well, but it was clear from what I had seen that it was supposed to be a “Everyone is welcome” sort of deal. It was billed as a “Wherever you are in your transition, whoever you are, it doesn’t matter. Come in and be welcome. Ask whatever questions you want.” That sounded fantastic.

Until I realized where it was being held. A bathhouse.

For those who don’t know, most bathhouses are men-only, gay men-only spaces. While I respect that, I found it…odd…that a trans activist and speaker would choose such a place to have a talk. I figured the bathhouse had a space for such things, though, otherwise, why have it there?

I didn’t dwell too much on it, and when the day came, decided I probably didn’t need to man it up a lot. I wore my usual – T-shirt, jeans, and a coat – and added my packer. I figured for such a thing I wouldn’t need to put on makeup or a beard to look more masculine, and, since it was a bathhouse, it would probably steam right off my face anyway.

Naturally, neither my husband (who is also bi) or I have ever been to a bathhouse before, and I was dismayed when I saw the inside. It was like a military instillation. Buff men were behind the counters, and only very masculine men with deep voices were waiting in line. I had my husband go first to talk to them, because I didn’t want to open my mouth.

I stuck out like a sore thumb. A big, femme, straight-looking, unwanted sore thumb.

The rules were clear. Men only. Gay men only. You will see porn here (not a problem). No cross dressing, no feminine-looking people. You will be searched. You must buy a membership and rent a locker, which meant a fairly hefty fee.

We walked away.

Why? Because I didn’t feel we could afford to spend nearly $60 to go to a place ONCE, where I was going to feel completely and totally unwelcome. And unsafe.

I get it, and I’m not upset that the bathhouse has those rules. It’s a safe place for gay men to relax and watch porn and meet other gay men. I have no problem with this. (Putting aside, for a moment, the fairly relevant discussion of the prejudice many gay men have against femme people of all kinds.)

What hurt was the exclusion from the trans community. Why would a trans event be hosted where a number of its members would feel unwelcome (and by a strict interpretation of the rules would not be allowed)? My ID – which I had to give to them – clearly states I am female. What if someone even more femme than me – someone just taking their first steps into their transition, or someone who was trans but wasn’t interested in (or couldn’t afford) transition – showed up?

Wrap it up with the hefty price tag just to get in, and you just completely excluded the very people you are trying to serve. Many trans people live below the poverty line, and wouldn’t be able to afford to drop that much money (for a likely useless membership at a bathhouse) just to talk to someone who could help them.

What if other genderqueer people had wanted to come, but decided that they wouldn’t be welcome? Is this really what the trans community wants to do to some of its members?

I felt the venue for this event was very badly chosen. The gay community hasn’t exactly been completely supportive of trans people, especially those who lean in the femme direction (just look up “masc for masc” or “no femmes” and see how much they care about the femme members of their own community). While I get that this was meant to be for trans men, not all trans men can (or want to) present themselves as 100% diesel masculine, nor are all of them gay.

So why hold it in a place that clearly states that no women, no straight men, and no one who looks feminine can enter?

I’m sure they probably would have let me in, had we decided to stay. That’s not the issue – everyone was very polite (a few of the men in line even told us of another event we could go to instead). It was the very real fear that I would be outed as a woman (even though I am not) hiding in a man-only space. Violence to trans people (unfortunately, mainly trans women) has happened for this very reason. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk or the price.

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