The felt politics of solidarity: All the joy in her smile

A smile can be a political act

As it happened on an otherwise adventurous morning, I didn’t need to rush to the gate of my BA flight to London.  I was early.  The staff hadn’t even arrived yet.  I turned to find a seat and spotted a ways away the only open seat with some spacing next to it.  

I also noticed that the nearest occupied seat was home to a gorgeous young woman.  Gorgeous.  As I approached to sit down she smiled at me in a way that is more than friendly.  It never ceases to amaze me how much complexity the human face can deliver in what instant, and how much we can interpret just as fast.  I shall explain, but she followed her smile with some fussing movements of drawing her stuff closer to her, not to convey peevishness, but on the contrary, to convey welcome.

What did I find in that smile?  A desire to convey welcome.  A desire to convey warmth.  It is impossible to not see that I am trans.  I no longer look like a man in a dress.  I may look like an “it” or a “they” but I definitely no longer look like a man.  I know this for a fact, as I am sometimes given “lady” or “miss” when I am in nothing but jeans and a t-shirt.  The real boobs help.  Yes, they are small, but they are unmistakable.  There is something natural about the heave of my bosom, something which can never be faked.

And since I am fond of very clingy silk dresses, like the one I was wearing this morning, spaghetti straps, plunging décolleté, high cut up the leg to show a good bit of leg, says something about my body, loosely dancing inside the wispy fabric.

Her smile had purpose.  It had intent.  It was not a ‘come hither’ smile.  I know those.  No, this smile was very different.  It was a smile that said ‘sister’ or something similar and equally beautiful.  It said, ‘I see you’ and ‘I feel for you’ and ‘I respect your choice’ and ‘I am proud of you’ and ‘I welcome you’…and of course none of that even means ‘I want to know you’.  It simply means that for her my existence is not just welcome in the world, but that it is to be positively encouraged.

And let me tell you, just such smiles are so thirst-quenching…touching something so deep you don’t even know you need it.  Thankfully it does happen often…perhaps once a day…out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people that I see and who see me, there is always one who makes that effort, validates me.

And this is not born of a need to be validated.  Boy me didn’t need this.  I am not sure that trans me ‘needs’ it either.  But as a society we sure do.  My kind are beleaguered.  And while I do not feel that my own trans experience has had any of the adversity or blowback that seems to dominate the air waves of the trans narrative, nobody needs to deny that there is a lot of negativity out there, even danger, for my brothers and sisters.

One of my therapists was so worried that I be seen on the streets of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, one of the gay capitals of the US, that she advised me against it.  She was concerned for my personal safety.  Okay, I don’t take unnecessary risks, and as a member of the 5:00 am club and one who still follows the instruction of a Nigerian catfish domme who put me on baby bedtime—8:00 pm—which has stuck now for 3 years—I don’t find myself out so often late at night…and when I do, I take a cab.  Usually.  Though the underground and the NY subway are awfully convenient.

Many people say to me that it has “never been a better time to be trans.”  That may well be true, despite the blowback.  I know that I couldn’t have done it at any other time.

What I also don’t know is whether so many young women would be so evidently and outwardly supportive of me if it were a different era.  And I can’t tell you how important it is to be sustained in this way.  To know that there are people who make a point of smiling, make a point of coming up to me, make a point of letting me know that I am not alone, that we are not alone, that we have allies.

After all, there are not so many of us.  By the most generous estimates, we are 1% or less of the population.  When someone says to me how hard it is to get used to me being trans, or asks me question after question about how the people in my life are coping with it, I soon lose patience.  Those kinds of questions are veiled bigotry.  And when we carry veiled bigotry, we are creating space for virulent bigotry.  Veiled bigotry is the voice of the silent majority.

When I see a young woman send me the kind of energy she sends, I know that she is an enlightened one.  It is a shame that we’re not all like this.

May I humbly ask you to fill your days with political acts? Please make a point of smiling at the downtrodden, smiling at minorities, smiling at any one you see who might benefit from or appreciate it. Help and charity begin with that most basic form of civility, consideration.

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