Last night, I went with my friend D to see the drag king show at a local queer bar. I wasn’t really expecting to get my dose of transphobic bullshit.
Before the show, I met some of my friend’s friends. This included a really sweet young trans man who I wound up playing pool with for a while. Near the pool table, a few women were talking loudly. They were obviously several drinks into their evening and were talking shit about people they know. Eventually, they got around to one friend of theirs and started talking about how she had been at the bar with them one night and was interested in some woman they had met. They joked and laughed derisively about telling their friend “You know she’s got a dick, right?” about the woman she was interested in (who was apparently trans).
I went on playing pool. I didn’t even look up.
They went on for a while about how stupid their friend was and about how they couldn’t imagine anyone wanting such a person. There were multiple insights declared on the level of “I want a female, not a shemale.”
My newfound friend, and pool adversary stopped playing and walked over to them. “What the fuck? Am I in a queer bar or some stupid sports bar?” They answered with a self-satisfied “Both.”
I wandered to the other side of the room, where my drink was.
I figured I had time for a cigarette too. Maybe I should have said something. I felt like I should have the clever and shaming one liner to shut them up, but I didn’t. I kept quiet.
He challenged them some more. They played it off. If any of the things he said made sense to them or made them feel like their behavior was inappropriate, they certainly weren’t going to admit it.
He knew he was getting nowhere and we went back to our game. They were quieter and moved on to other subjects after a few more choice bits of hateful crap to prove that they weren’t stopping with their litany of transmisogyny because someone asked.
I still said nothing. I acted like I didn’t really notice.
I was ashamed of not saying anything. I was jealous of this kid’s untarnished belief that confronting them might make it better. I had been afraid of saying anything. I had been afraid that if I started to say anything to them that the pool cue in my hand would be too great a temptation. I briefly imagined swinging it in a glorious bar-room brawl for social justice. I was afraid of discovering for certain if they were talking that way so close to me because they had no idea I’m a trans woman, or if they were doing it precisely because they did know. I was afraid of finding out where the rest of the room stood.
I wanted it to be no big deal. I wanted not to care.
My opponent dropped the eight ball and suggested that he and D and I all go outside for a cigarette. We could smoke where we were, but he said he didn’t really feel like being in the room anymore with them. We agreed.
Outside, D expressed her frustration at not thinking of anything that seemed like the right thing to say to them. I nodded. We talked some more about it. He complained about how often he ran in to such hate and ignorance. She concurred and I may have said “yeah” but mostly I nodded and I didn’t say anything.
The women irritating us didn’t stay much longer. He bought me a bar hotdog out of a chafing dish. We had another round of drinks and watched the drag kings, who were great.
At the end of the night, he drove me home and encouraged me to come to next week’s show. He was, I think, embarrassed that I had come to the bar he calls home-turf and not had a wholly welcoming experience. I played pool with a real mensch.