Recently the BBC journalist Caroline Wyatt was in the news, having received a pioneering treatment for her multiple sclerosis. As a result I saw her name also appearing in an online social media space in the trans community. It was the old chestnut: “Is she, you know, one of us?”
Caroline is famous aside from for being a successful journalist, for being a lady of height. Her voice is slightly deeper than that of the average woman, and a casual Google search of her name finds much online speculation about her of the kind described in the paragraph above. Much of it is particularly nasty in its use of transphobic and misogynous language, and it appears to be an issue that has followed her throughout her career. It should be something that is so obvious that it shouldn’t have to be repeated, but her cis/trans status is none of our damn business, unless she chooses to reveal it. And even then, it’s probably not particularly interesting. Nothing to see here, move on.
Unfortunately this is an experience faced by many natal women whose appearance does not conform to cisnormative expectations of petiteness or soprano voices. Ladies of height who are not trans will tell you a litany of regrettable encounters and experiences, from being thought to be male on the phone, to being taken as trans in shops and public places, or even amazingly by their friends and family who should know better. Sometimes you will find that it makes them allies, I have a very tall natal female friend who told me that it makes her understand at first hand some of what we go through. But more often it results in hostility, after all to them it must be the equivalent of a transphobe telling us we’re not either the women or men we’ve become. I’d prefer them to understand like my friend that it’s not us that are the problem, but I can’t really blame them for not liking it.
TDAR, analagous to a trans version of gaydar, the ability to spot other People Like Us, is something we all flirt with from time to time. You know how it goes, every now and then you see someone, and your TDAR pings. Are they, you think? I don’t know about you, but my TDAR is irreparably broken. Probably thousands of trans people have waltzed past me unseen without a ping, while cis people constantly send it haywire. I never pay much attention, other than a slight extra dimension added to my idle people watching. On the very occasional moments that trans people do notice each other there’s that appraisal and slight smile at each other, and you keep on your way.
But we must keep it to ourselves. My online friends above broke the golden TDAR rule, forgetting that it’s something for private amusement, not to be shared with the world. In the case of an obscure hidden social media arena it’s pretty harmless, but when it’s somewhere the person hears about it the opposite is the case. Let me assure you as an extremely tall trans woman from a family of very tall natal women, that kind of talk goes down like a lead balloon. This is something I’ve had cause to see at a personal level, not long after my transition a family rift was caused by someone openly speculating about one of my relatives. It harmed me, it harmed the relative in question, and it damaged our family relationships, probably forever.
Every time something like this happens, a potential friend becomes an enemy. These women should be our allies, let’s not lose them!
Radar screen (CC0) via Pixabay.