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I recently came back from a life-changing workshop with a bunch of trans women writers and I definitely learned a lot while there.
But not everything was sunshine and roses. Actually, I felt excluded, less valuable, less part of the group at times. Now reflecting on the whole experience, I realized a number of things were going on. I felt awkward being surrounded by people who I had just met and a number who already knew/were dating each other. They would split off and do their own things or hang around in their circles and I’ve always found it hard to enter conversations. My autism manifests in part as strong writing skills and obvious weaknesses in non-verbal communication. Aka, I’m good behind a computer screen, but I’m a socially awkward turtle in real life around strangers. With friends and in classrooms, I’m more an annoying chatterbox that probably talks too much.
I was also cut off from my support network because I didn’t have data in the US and didn’t have my crew to turn to. This resulted me into curling inside myself like a child in fetal position and I was just so upset that I lost the ability to speak for a bit. I can’t recall the last time I became so upset that I became non-verbal. None of this helped in making connections with the people around me. I didn’t have any friends to step in and help ease me into conversation with strangers.
I eventually got a little support from a couple people which I’m super grateful for. It definitely helped a lot. But the point of me writing is not about the people who were supportive. I’m writing this piece to draw attention to the production and creation of undesirable bodies.
To be undesirable looks like an infinite number of things. At the core, it feels like being lonely, rejected, un-validated. Its impact is negative and is strongly linked to experiences of marginalized/abject identities.
Here are a few ways I’ve experienced undesirability before:
Undesirability feels like being in a social space and watching as people go up to talk to your white, thin, male friend but not you.
Undesirability is when you’re the only trans woman in a trans arts group.
Undesirability is when you’re the only trans woman in a queer space period.
Undesirability is hearing about someone’s numerous sexual and romantic experiences and feeling bad about how you don’t have much experience let alone good experiences.
Undesirability is not being invited or kept abreast of things going on.
Undesirability is not being thought about in positive ways by others, especially those in positions of power.
Undesirability is not hearing from anyone at all on dating websites. Maybe one message a year.
Undesirability is getting gross messages from men who want to use you on dating websites, and not any responses looking for healthy, consensual relationships.
Undesirability is when it’s a challenge to find jobs, dates, or hookups especially from people you want them from.
Undesirability is when you don’t have people around you who support, encourage, and validate your experiences/work.
Undesirability is silence, emptiness, inaction. It’s like sitting in a bare, empty room with nothing. Nothing to keep you distracted except yourself.
Undesirability is when all your co-workers are in healthy romantic relationship and you’re the only single person present.
Undesirability is failing to make connections in spaces and developing networks because no one wants to network with you.
Undesirability is having your work/skills/abilities ignored and/or valued less than other’s who you know aren’t as good as you.
Undesirability is watching people younger than you bypassing you is your profession and watch them develop skills and be given opportunities that aren’t given to you.
Undesirability is being denied support, feedback, guidance, and space to grow with assistance.
Undesirability is hearing the pervasive message from everywhere and nowhere that you aren’t worthy, that your life doesn’t matter.
Undesirability looks like not being defended when bad things happen to you by your peers.
Undesirability is not seeing people like you content, in positions of power and authority, or positively in the media.
I’m sharing these stories and experiences to start to name things that a lot of people may not recognize. And some people may recognize some of these experiences and hopefully, find language and resonance.
I’ve spoken about this topic in a number of other spaces in a number of different incarnations. I’m writing this because the message needs to be repeated. We need to be intentional in the work we do. We need to be aware of how desirability impacts our dynamics with other people. We need to be aware of how desirability ties together systems of oppression like racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, ableism, misogynoir, transmisogyny, and fatphobia to name just a few. We need to make the effort to remember, connect with, and include people who’re more in the margins. Think about the things that I’ve mentioned here and what you can do to solve this. We are all complicit in this including myself so don’t feel guilty about the mistakes that you make. Just work towards of changing this. I cannot stress this enough. If we want to change systems of oppression, cycles of violence, or creating communities of care and support, we need to start with those around us.