The museum is packed but I am enjoying looking at the various exhibits. I stand a bit back from the piece I am looking at so as not to block it. As I stand there looking at it, a man walks up, stands directly in front of me and completely blocks my view. He is oblivious to the people around him. He never notices that he has prevented me from continuing to look at the art. After a few moments I simply walk on.
Throughout the day it happens over and over again. Almost always men who walk in front of me or who force me to step aside to avoid a collision. I start to think that it’s just cisgender men who have no idea of the space they take up in the world.
Until I am at a concert attended mostly by women. Throughout the night they push me, step in front of me, stand so close that they are touching me, bump into me over and over and over again. And only once does someone apologize and that’s when I turn my head to look at them because the bump was so aggressive that I thought they were trying to get my attention.
I am flabbergasted because I am always so aware of space. How I take up space, if I am in someone else’s space, if they are in my space. I pay attention to how I move through a room. I follow the rules: if there is a “do not touch” or “do not sit” sign I do not touch or sit. I follow the rules. I respect space. I respect other people in space. And I cannot understand how other people can just be in a space without seeming to give a second thought to the people around them.
But then I started to think about growing up, both as a fundamentalist and as a trans person rules were very important. You followed them so as to not make God mad. You followed them because you didn’t want to make your church mad. Or your parents. I remember coming home from outings and asking “Was I good?” I was very concerned with being good and making everyone happy.
And I learned to pay attention to what the rules were, even the unspoken ones. Especially the unspoken ones. So I wouldn’t be out of line. So I wouldn’t give myself away. I was aware of how I carried my body and how long I looked at other people and how I moved through space.
And then when I transitioned I had to follow a new set of rules: About how to stand and walk and talk and move. About how to be in public bathrooms. About how to make eye contact or not. About how to hold myself so that I wouldn’t “give myself away”. So that no one would look too close. So that I would be safe.
Trans people, I think, have an ingrained sense of awareness of how we move through the world. We’ve had to in order to stay alive.
But even more than the rules I grew up with a powerfully strong sense of empathy. Which means that when I am in a space with other people I am acutely aware of where they are in the space and how they are experiencing it. Which is why I follow the rules and why I pay attention to where my body is and how close I am to other people. It’s why I try not to take up more space than I need to.
Sometimes I get bitter about all of this because I don’t see other people moving through the world with the same care. I see them breaking rules and pushing people around and taking up a ton of space. I see them pushing and shoving and not paying attention to who they might have pushed aside. And I wonder why I can’t be that carefree, that careless.
But then I also think that I don’t want to be someone who is oblivious to the people around me. I don’t want to not pay attention to the other people I am sharing space with. I don’t want to push and shove. (Okay, sometimes I do, but usually that’s only after someone else has pushed and shoved first.)
I want to continue to cultivate empathy and spacial awareness. I just hope that other people start to cultivate it, too.