A few years into hormone therapy, I recognised more obvious increases in privilege as a result of transition, my youth fading, etc. But I also knew enough about privilege to suspect I was missing out on awareness of other ways in which my life had gotten easier without my realising. So I opted to not disclose my trans medical history nor come out as bi/queer while attending grad school.
I was accepted in a department centred on social justice. I thought the people in that place wouldn’t be afraid to name my privileges, and take me to task to own them and do better around my awareness. Certainly, being trans and queer impacted some aspects of my life, namely those where I was out and disclosed, but I was after a better understanding of my privileges during seemingly mundane times and places such as going down the street and getting something at a convenience store when I’m unlikely to come out or disclose.
Bedford v Canada was winding its way through the court system, so during a class, my peers and I debated whether Canada should decriminalise sex work, adopt the Nordic model or some other alternative. I was advocating for decriminalisation, something I’ve done many times prior to transition, using the same arguments I still hold today. But it was the first time I was having this debate among people who didn’t know my medical history or my queerness. Never mind about the times I was assumed a sex worker. Or my volunteering for a community kitchen primarily attended by sex workers. Nothing about the exchange was standing out to me, the arguments in favour of the Nordic model and other alternatives were as recycled as mine towards my position.
As the professor was getting us to wind down the debate to move onto other matters, the most vocal advocate for the Nordic model said that if only all johns were like me, she might be in favour of decriminalisation as well but most were worse than the scum underneath her shoe, in her opinion.
I was a deer caught in headlights.
I scanned through my memory of what I’d said that could have implied I was a john.
I couldn’t figure it out.
As I didn’t respond, she explained it was clear that a guy as passionate about sex work advocacy as I was surely had some skin in the game. I hadn’t come out as a sex worker, ergo, I was probably or had considered being a john. I hadn’t considered positioning myself vis-à-vis sex work, I’d never been asked or expected to before.
Never in the years of being assumed a woman while advocating in the same way had anyone proposed I was a joan or a sex worker. Back in the classroom, I thought my options through. It didn’t feel right to qualify myself as someone who had never purchased sex, though it’s true. As I didn’t rebuttal, the class move onto the next topic.
Afterwards, I contemplated how bizarre it was a trans guy, who no one would assume purchases sex so long as they knew his medical history, to have been assumed a john. I started to unpack how in the absence of an “obvious” relationship to gender issues, a connection had been assumed based on my advocacy.
Over the years, I learnt it was routinely assumed pregnancies to which I’d contribute sperm had been terminated whenever I said something pro-choice. I’ve baffled many with challenging the shaming and silencing of menstruation.
My goal for not disclosing at grad school worked. The more you know.
part 2 of 3 of assumed a john