The trouble with being polite

August 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve just returned from the academic Disneyland that is Cambridge – and it was beautiful. Stunningly, heart-meltingly beautiful. 14 hours days of nothing but early music, a sunny room in an historic college, early morning walks across the bridges, concerts in chapels that are, for want of a better word, ridonkulously gorgeous – all of it, wrapped up into one lovely package of great.

But, and I don’t just think it’s a trans thing – it’s hard to find yourself without London’s protective cloak of diversity, whoever you are, once you’ve gotten used to it. There was a definite white/cis/straight vibe going on. I wanted to ask you guys – what are your best ways of coping?

I’m not talking about the creeps (oh yes, there were some – really, I’m not an ‘it’. I promise.) But the lovely people – the people you’re really glad to have met – who are a bit confused, and don’t quite know what to say – and then I get confused and don’t quite know what to say. Because I’ve been out for the past eleven years and have grown used to NOT having to explain anything, because it’s fairly common knowledge. So, faced with having to drop into conversation the ‘oh, if you wouldn’t mind, no female pronouns’ or the ‘well, no, no hormones, my voice, you see’ – I end up feeling like the stereotypically shy young vicar in a BBC teatime costume drama, spilling his tea from nerves and getting crumbs on the carpet.

I’m not worried about a bad reaction, and I’m not ashamed of bringing it up. But, I suppose, because we’re always told ‘Don’t make a fuss’, and a great number of bigots in the public/private sphere criticise people of all stripes for ‘making a fuss’ when they’re only asking to be treated with a little common courtesy and respect – well, there’s a little part of me that worries I’m being rude. That I’m ‘making things difficult’ for others. Never mind that it makes things unbearable for me not to speak out. To that very little, very young, diffident part, ‘their’ feelings count more. And, to be honest, I think that a very important part of having good social graces is to see the conversation from the other person’s side, and to listen more than you speak – for the initial overtures of friendship, at least.

So, tips and hints? I’ve been trying the old ‘ever so gracious, ever so polite’ routine, and I think that it’s working. But what’s the best way to balance good manners with authenticity and self-respect?

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§ 2 Responses to The trouble with being polite

  • Bdelli says:

    Sorry to be posting on such an old topic, but have just discovered you and thus am working though your old posts.

    I’m a cambridge student who’s conflicted about their gender identity, and I echo your comments on it being perhaps not the best place for dealing with these issues.

    “There was a definite white/cis/straight vibe going on. I wanted to ask you guys – what are your best ways of coping”

    The white/straight perception of cambridge isn’t as bad as some people think, I’m in a very small department only 25 people but there are still several people who don’t fit that preconception.

    However when it comes to transfolk, all the trans people I know are from outside of university, even though I’ve been to a few LGBT events.

    In terms of coping there is the massive advantage (as you noted), that the attitude of the university (from my experience) is too be exceedingly polite and respectful when it comes to specific issues.

    Whilst not being out as genderqueer, I am out as asexual and as someone with some mental health issues, whenever these issues come up, the response tends to be ok.

    I’m starting to consider myself agender, but am only slowly transitioning in terms of my appearance.

    Sorry for the stream of consiousness approach to posting,

    PS: Love your clips of performances too.

    • cnlester says:

      You don’t have to say sorry! (I say as a recovering chronic apologiser – sorry) – thank you so much for your thoughts. Most interesting, most interesting indeed.

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