Shannon T.L. Kearns
Shannon T.L. Kearns
Entitlement Over Transgender Bodies And Stories
Shannon T.L. Kearns > Entitlement Over Transgender Bodies And Stories
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Let’s talk about entitlement, shall we?

I’m sitting at a booth in my favorite brewery. I got there shortly after they open because I had a meeting and wanted to get a comfortable spot. After my meeting I stayed on to do some work. The space is filling up; a group of people have set up several tables for a party they are hosting, others are hanging out post work. I am happily writing away in my journal.

A white, cisgender man comes up to my booth. “Do you mind if my friends and I sit with you?” I try to respond as politely as possible: “I would prefer not.” He starts to get pissy: “This is a really busy place and there are three of us.” The insinuation is that I must share my booth with them, that there is no other option.

But here’s the thing: If these three people sit at the same booth, I’ll need to either join them or leave. It’s not like this is a long table where they can sit at one end and I can be at the other undisturbed.

I can tell he’s not going to back down. That he won’t take no for an answer. So even though I have half of a beer left, I pack up my things and end up leaving the brewery entirely.

I’m sure that he sat down with his friends feeling entirely justified about this turn of events. It never even occurred to him that since I was there first I should be able to sit in peace. It never occurred to him to wait until a table opened up. It never occurred to him that he was just out of luck. He simply saw something that he wanted and took it.

Here’s another example: A young man is interviewing for a position. He shows up at the wrong time and on top of that he shows up late for the wrong time. He barely apologizes for being late. He knows nothing about the company, not really. He shows very little interest in our mission and vision. And yet, none of that seems to bother him.

Another man gets cast in a show. He shows up late, often. He makes uncomfortable comments to the people around him. He disparages the mission of the company. And yet he knows that he will continue to get work so it doesn’t matter if his behavior is bad.

Or the director who feels like he can do a show about transgender people without casting a transgender person in the role. And then an actor in the show (who is cisgender) then defends that director’s decision and says that it was solely about talent (even though very talented transgender people auditioned). And on top of that, even though lots of folks in the transgender community have said that the writing of the character (also written by a cisgender person) (not to mention the casting) was offensive, everyone involved in the production tells the trans community that really, it isn’t offensive at all. In fact it’s a needed story because it’s touching.

I’ve been seeing this entitlement over and over and over again in the past several months. Almost always from white, cisgender men. Most of the time they are also heterosexual (but not always). They walk into spaces as if they own them, as if they are owed things, as if they have gotten where they are solely through hard work and talent. They act this way even when they bring the flimsiest of resumes to the table. They act this way even though the reason they get so many roles is because there are ten women auditioning for every one man (and because there is one women’s role for every five male roles at least).

They act as if every space belongs to them, every job belongs to them, every story belongs to them.

They take ownership over transgender stories and roles and get irate when you push back. As if they cannot understand how anything could possibly not belong to them.

Because they feel that the world belongs to them.

And if someone says, “No. This is not yours” they take it as an affront to their freedom. They will claim that it’s art! That they can see the story more objectively! That they want to tell interesting stories! That they want to take on interesting acting challenges!That they should be able to tell whatever stories they want to!

(Side note: If you feel like your stories and acting choices are boring and bland, that’s a problem with your life and the writing that is out there. Maybe instead of taking ownership over stories that aren’t yours to tell or embody you should investigate why there aren’t any interesting options being written for your gender and race.)

And it’s exhausting. Because every time I say something like “cast transgender actors in transgender roles” I get pulled into an hours long argument over it with cisgender people giving me every excuse they can instead of simply listening to myself and other transgender people. And in the time that I am arguing for my humanity and the humanity of my community you know what I’m not doing? Creating new art. Because I am exhausted and scared and sad and frustrated. Because even though I keep telling people that when you cast cisgender people in transgender roles you are literally hurting my community you would rather argue about talent and artistic freedom.

You know, the guy who took my booth today probably had no idea I was trans. But it’s dangerous for transgender people and so I didn’t feel like I could stand up to him. Because what if he turned violent? And what if the people who were next to my booth had overheard me talking about being trans earlier and joined in? Maybe all of those thoughts weren’t conscious in the moment that I ceded the booth to him, but that deep seated knowledge that I am pretty much always unsafe lives in my bones and my body.

It’s not about the booth, it’s about the fact that I move through the world with people constantly trying to take the very few things that I have claim on: my story and my body and my space.

Do you know how exhausting this is?

So let me have a moment of claiming:

The stories of transgender people are not yours. The bodies of transgender people are not yours. The roles for transgender people are not yours. Our stories are not yours to tell. They are not yours to act in. They are not yours. Our bodies are not yours to own, to fetishize, to see naked without consent. They are not yours to project onto. They are not yours.

You are not entitled to my story. You are not entitled to my body. You are not entitled to my space.

It is mine and I am claiming it.

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Photo Credit: MichaelGat Flickr via Compfight cc