A weekly series examining the human experience in passengers’ stories as delivered from a therapist moon-lighting as a rideshare driver.
Every once in a while I get a call to pick up a transgender person. Most of the time they’re just regular folks trying blend in and live their lives like everyone else. Most of them have one thing in common, though: the way they race into my car like they’re trying to get out of a hail storm. When I pull up, transgender women often scurry into my car as if seeking refuge from the world. They fling themselves in the back seat of my Lexus drenched with judgments, dripping with abuse, trying to wipe off projections. Usually they’re complaining about the previous driver.
When Casey jumped in my car, initially I was surprised. I was expecting a man, but instead a pretty, 20-something strawberry blond in fashionable, conservative attire showed up.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it,” she began. “I can’t believe what just happened!”
Then she told me a story, the same story I’d heard from the previous two transgender passengers. “I had to get out of the last car. The driver kept asking personal questions, like, what do I have between my legs, how does it work, etc. Oh my God!” She made a cup with her hands and poured her face into it. “I told him, I’m not comfortable. Why do you think its okay to talk to me like this? Would you talk to another woman this way?”
All I wanted was to make her feel safe, to know that not all drivers are going to molest her (psychologically), to give her the same rights every other person enjoys when they call for a fucking cab.
“I’m so sorry you had to deal with that”, I said. “That’s inappropriate. I hope you reported him. I can help you with that.”
“I just couldn’t believe it”, she kept saying.
When you listen to someone like this, you realize that sexual assault is as psychological as it is physical. When someone trespasses your boundaries like this, it’s as if they’ve kicked down your front door, walked into your home and did what they wanted before walking out with your stuff. I can only imagine how traumatizing that is.
But I am a cisgender man, so imagine is all I can do. I suppose this is one privilege of being a cisgender man: nobody ever asks me questions about my sexuality, much less the fine details of my privates. It just seems a given that everybody knows not to go there, not unless they want a beating. But Casey was just the latest in a string of transgender women enlightening me: this is not a given for them.
“I pointed out to him how inappropriate he was, but he wouldn’t stop. I started texting my friends and writing about it on Facebook as it was happening. I didn’t know what else to do, so finally I asked him to pull over and I jumped out.”
I pulled into her driveway, shut off the car, and turned to face her. “I’m really sorry. I wish you didn’t have to deal with that, but I admire how you handled it”, I offered.
I had no fancy intervention handy. I just hoped to maybe give her a corrective experience.
Maybe, by the time she left my car, she could feel like a human being again.
She did all the right things except one. She set solid boundaries, advocated for herself, and sought support from her network. The only thing she did wrong was to get in his car, but I’m learning that every step is a potential booby-trap for transgender people in the world today. It is a fact of life for them, when they step out into the world, to find themselves in the middle of a dodgeball game. It’s no wonder transgender people have the highest suicide rate of any demographic in the USA. Over 40 percent of all transgender people attempt suicide. When you can’t even take a cab in peace, you probably start wondering if you belong on this planet.
When encountering a transgender woman, many cisgender men don’t see a person. They see a mirror. If they are full of questions about their sexuality, when they look into the mirror all they see are their questions. “Why am I attracted to this person? What does it mean? Am I gay? If I’m gay, am I still a man?” These questions fog up the mirror so that a guy can’t see himself clearly. It’s dangerous business bringing questions to a mirror unless you’re willing to open your eyes. But if you don’t have the courage, or the grace to do that, the easy way out is to treat the mirror like an object, and reduce it to binary perceptions. You can bash the mirror by creating laws that marginalize people, try to drive them indoors so you never have to look at them. You can create labels and policies that stigmatize them so they are denied personhood. You can talk to them like objects, and heap all your judgments on them.
But mirrors are fragile things. If not handled with care, they break, and bleeding ensues.
I looked at Casey and tried to imagine the courage it took for her to break out of the gender binary box. Most people struggle just to declare a major they love for fear of upsetting the family. People like Casey have something extra. t’s an uncommon valor that makes them stand up and say, “No, I will not be defined by my anatomy. This is who I AM and I’m not going to be buried alive inside your box of definitions.”
Somehow, transgender people manage to escape like light through the cracks of ancient gender binarism. Like Shiva, they’re not “male” or “female”; they’re the perfect integration. They’re the moon and the sun embracing in a full, passionate kiss. I imagine it must be terrifying to live that deeply inside one’s truth. No wonder it sends the world into a panic. But like Shiva’s Trident, Casey destroys old, wooden illusions. She’s breathing life into her own personal creation. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, she’s the courageous one who breaks free from the chains of captivity, only to be labeled “crazy” by the enslaved.
Funny how the enslaved keep the rules.
“You’re not the cisgender whisperer,” I told her. “Its not your fault you got a guy who doesn’t know how to manage his insecurities. You have the right to live in peace just like anybody else. You shouldn’t have to set boundaries every time you step out into the world. But you handled yourself with a lot of maturity. I’m proud of you. You set good boundaries and advocated for yourself. You shouldn’t have to do that but it seems like you’re good at it. Those qualities are going to take you far.”
She smiled. It must feel good to be seen for who she is.
She told me she works as a lobbyist for a human rights organization currently fighting SB6, known as the “bathroom bill,” an ugly piece of discrimination masquerading as legislation. There was nothing “confused” about her. She’s dancing like Shiva through the universe, smashing illusions and creating new order. Unlike many young people in their early 20’s, she made solid eye contact and spoke passionately about who she is and what she stands for. She was pleasant, strong, intelligent, and humble. Just another human being trying to shine her light in a dark world without standing out.
By the end of the conversation it was clear: what’s between her legs is the least of who she is.
As I drove away, I thought: I have no good excuse to deny the truth of who I am. There’s no reason not to create myself in the image of the highest as I understand it, and to declare that out loud, in living color. There is no box that can contain the great I AM. Thanks to heroes like Casey for reminding me.
*Names and some details have been changed to protect identities.
Photo credit: Getty Images