Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fending off a TRANS-DAR Alert

This is one suggestion on how to handle a situation when you appear on someone’s Trans-Dar and they are trying to reconcile your appearance with what they perceive to be your gender.

The Scene

You are at the grocery store one afternoon, and have stopped in front of the fish counter to check out their current selection. As you bend over to peer though the glass, you become aware of hushed whispering off to your left, and as you look up this couple, about the same age as you, watch you intently with a frown on their faces as you stand upright again.

It’s bound to happen. Sooner or later, no matter how well you pass in your intended gender, someone is going to get confused by some clue that they are receiving from you and get frustrated because you don't automatically fall into one of their predefined gender stereotypes.

So you are now alerted to their confusion. The question is, what do you do about it?

Your Options

If they appear angry or hostile, your options are limited. Put some distance between you and them, if possible (and if the situation allows) leave with some grace and decorum so you don’t look like a startled rabbit escaping a rabid dog.

Suggestions here include:
  • Going up to the check-out lane where there are more people, or talking with a manager or other employee. A stopgap measure till you can get out of the store.
  • You may not want to go out to your car alone.
  • If you are a woman, just ask for an escort out to your car. Just about every establishment will help you.
  • If you are a guy, you can always ask that someone go help you out with a large bag of salt, or tell them you have something heavy you need to bring into the store and you hurt your back. Be a little creative here.
  • And above all else, quickly run through your mind all the different ways you can protect yourself, so you are mentally prepared if needed.
So hopefully they are not angry, which gives you several more options:
  • Completely ignore them
  • Give them a mean look, or a shake of the head (or other gesture).
  • Go talk to them
So What Do You Do?

If you ignore them (which I have done multiple times in the past myself), you possibly could feed their Trans-Dar alertness, as they had a question in their mind about you, and so they just might be even more alert for other situations.

If you give them a look, or a shake of the head (or other gesture), you also might just encourage their Trans-Dar alertness, as they had a question in their mind about you, and received a negative reaction from you.

Both of these are typical reactions from all of us in situations such as this. But please consider one other alternative.

Turn to face them.

Plant a large smile on your face, assume your most polite attitude, and walk over and greet them.

“Excuse me, but are you [pick a random person’s name] who used to go to [pick a random school name] in [pick a town]? You look so familiar, and all these great memories just ran through my mind when I saw you!”

You, gentle reader, have now put the shoe on the other foot, and are:
  • Requesting them (in the conversational sense) to respond to your question.
  • Validating to them that you, in the gender that you are currently presenting, have lived a significant portion of your life this way.
  • Showing them that you are a real person, that’s friendly with feelings, emotions, and a good personality.
  • Pretty much preventing them from mentally labeling you as some type of object then emotionally dismissing you.
  • And finally, letting them know that their Trans-Dar was not tuned properly.
And in response to your question, they will in all likelihood say that they are from somewhere else, which then gives you the chance to exchange a little more small talk. Ask them a few other simple questions, and when you are ready, you can say something like “Well, it’s been really nice talking with you! Maybe we’ll run into each other again here.”

Congratulations! You have turned what could have been a situation where this couple left with negative feelings into something more personable, and polished your interpersonal skills in the process.

Here Is Your Homework

Practice what you will say when you encounter a situation such as this, which will let you handle this quickly with grace and dignity.

Always have an exit strategy if things don't go as planned.