Sister Act

16 Mar

Public domain,

This article by Annika Penelope is good and you should read it – even if you’re not trans, it will give you a better idea of how much crap transpeople have to grapple with while they’re transitioning and while I know it’s not the main point of her article, I also feel like it says some revealing things about what being female is like in general. However, when I read number 4 on her list, I knew I needed to talk about that really narrow part of it right now (welcome to that spiritually capslocked post on the sister thing that I promised you).

I’ll reproduce it here, emphasis mine:

I grew up in a mostly white, conservative suburb where my family was considered “middle-class” because we didn’t have a house on the water or a yacht. In other words, I lived in such a privileged bubble that I had never even heard of microaggressions until I started experiencing them after coming out. If, like me, you were presenting as a heternormative white boy before transitioning, these can seem a little jarring at first, but it’s something that nearly everyone but straight, white cis men have to deal with on a regular basis. So what are microaggressions, exactly? In my case, it’s every time a well-intentioned friend posts an article about a trans* person on my wall or remarks on my physical changes since the last time they saw me, or every time someone asks if my girlfriend and I are sisters (even if we’re holding hands). It’s the little interactions that happen every day that remind you that you are “different” in some way.

"Hey, mister, she's my sister."

“Hey, mister, she’s my sister.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

First off, this article is actually the first time I ever heard the word microagressions, and it was one of those cloud-parting, thank you jargon! moments for me. Because wow, yes, that is a phenomenon, isn’t it.

Also, when I read the part in bold I can’t tell you how relieved I was that this happens to someone else.

People don’t just ask Squiddy and me if we’re sisters – often they ask if we’re twins. This happens constantly. We don’t just hear this from strangers when we go to the store, but from people who see us all the time. We’re a really physical couple, as anyone who knows us can attest. We hold hands, cuddle, generally toe the line of how much PDA-sap is bearable for other human beings. Yet one of the security guards in our building, where we have lived for 1.5 years, recently asked me if we were twins and told me he used to mistake us for each other. For a while, he didn’t even realize we were separate people. That last part is definitely a new one and weird, but he’s at least the 3rd guard in our building to ask us the twins question. I really, fundamentally don’t understand.

Annika and her partner look more dissimilar than Squiddy and I do, admittedly. If you read our descriptions on paper, maybe you’d be forgiven for getting us confused – we both have brown hair and eyes, are caucasian-y, wear glasses (different kinds of glasses!) and are similar heights. But we have different facial structures and body types and, I cannot stress this enough, are pretty physically intimate in public. Not to unpleasant-for-people levels or anything, but we tend to cuddle a lot and kiss each other goodbye every morning on our way out of the building.

"Sisters?""We're close."

“We’re close.”

Photo by Nao Ha am Amanha and used under a Creative Commons license

It has been incredibly embarrassing for us to have to deal with this. It’s certainly not the worst thing in the world – may these be our worries, I know – but it makes me feel kind of dirty and weird. How affectionate do people think sisters are? Do we really look so similar that it’s strange that we’re attracted to each other? It never occurred to me, before reading this article, that people asking us this wasn’t somehow a sign that there was something wrong with us.

So I have to ask, does this happen to other gay couples? Is this common? That would be one seriously bizarre form of standard straight-world microagression. This might make more sense to me if people asked the sisters/twins question in a way that seemed overtly hostile, but they almost never do.

My best guess as to why this happens is that the idea of not being straight genuinely doesn’t occur to the people who do this. It must be so far off their radar that when they see a close relationship between women, the only available boxes are BFFs and sisters. This would also serve as an explanation for the rarer-but-it-happens phenomena where we tell someone that we are together and they start misgendering one or both of us, even though neither of us said anything about gender or is dressed particularly butch.

This is part of why I try to make a point of continually coming out in casual conversations. If this post was about boxes! are they always good for us? I guess the conclusion here is that sometimes you really do need to give people a new box.


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