I Am Not Your Petri Dish: Dealing With Transphobia In College

Posted by Nazariya LGBT in Cake, Campus Watch, Staff Picks
May 16, 2018

By Kabir Trivedi:

I still remember when I first read about the Orlando nightclub shooting. On the morning of June 13, I opened my phone to read the words ‘gay’ ‘shooting’ ‘nightclub’, ‘49’. I began to get a pain in the pit of my stomach, the kind you get when someone you love abandons you; the kind that spreads until you can feel it in your fingers. I thought it would leave, and I would get back on track with my college applications and career track. But months passed, and that nasty feeling kept coming back. After all, it wasn’t as if a friend had left me. 49 had.

Queerphobia is, in its definition, a fear or hatred of queer and LGBTQIA+ spectrum people. But I think this definition needs to be rewritten. Queerphobia is the reason we lose our friends to vicious murders (the instances of which are too many to name) or suicide such as our dear friend Pachu, a 22-year-old transgender man we lost this week, who could not even have his gender affirmed in the press coverage about him. They called him “she”. He was a man.

Pachu, a trans man who recently committed suicide because of transphobia. Source: Facebook.

Queerphobia is every look, every comment that makes our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters afraid to hold their lovers’ hands in public. Queerphobia is the feeling you get of complete self-abhoration when your mother asks why you just can’t be normal. It is a monster of many shapes, ever present and ever growing, more powerful with each victim it attacks. Being a mentally and physically healthy (for the most part), immensely privileged transgender man, it may not occur to many that queerphobia can affect me. It does, immensely, and almost every day. In college, it may be the rumours spread about me or the way professors interact with me. At home, it may be the immense pressure of keeping up appearances of ‘normalcy’. On the streets of our nation’s capital (comparitively one of the safest cities for queer people), it may be stray calls of “dekh, hijri!”. But what is important to note is that if the privileges of caste, class, and religion can be transcended to make someone like me feel unsafe, it is only too easy to imagine what the daily life is for Dalit and tribal queer people, disabled queer people, or economically disadvantaged queer people.

Here, we must distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ queerphobia. Hard homophobia is easy to track; it is visible and tangible in violence, slurs, or structural disadvantages placed in our legal system (such as Section 377 of the IPC). Soft homophobia is a little harder to trace, and all the more damaging for that reason. It’s a comment here, a joke there, all passed off as ‘polite polite’. Every time you try to question it, your experience is invalidated. For me, it is the primary form of transphobia, as it is more everyday, and can even get exacerbated by this everydayness. It can hide behind the guise of “nothing’s wrong”, and make the queer person pointing it out look the villain.

As a metaphor (or maybe some sort of misplaced coping mechanism), I think the song “Home” by Lisa Hannigan applies to my experience of queerphobia. Maybe that’s why it’s on just about every playlist I make.

For me, transphobia in my college and home leaves me with a sense of alienation with my body and my personhood. I am, but I am not.

“Home, so far from home,
So far to go
And we’ve only just begun”

Every medical professional I go to has laughed at me. Every college professor has treated me as their personal petri dish, throwing in whatever name and pronoun they choose. I hide now, smoking in my bathroom while my parents think I’m at yoga. It’s the only substance that doesn’t clash with my psychological medication.

And oh, every lie we told
Is written in stone
Every lie we wrote
In our bones”

But I digress. The question was how I deal with queerphobia. I fight. I fight everyday. I sit in front of bureaucratic offices all day to meet with officers who couldn’t care less, to start the Queer Collective in my college. I correct people about my pronouns no matter how redundant it gets. I fight people who crack jokes and pass comments about my community, no matter how ugly it gets. Most importantly, I fight myself. Every time I feel like the Miranda House Queer Collective has not made a difference, I look at a card a junior gave to me. It says, “Thank you for building a community“. That card keeps me from taking steps I can’t come back from. But it’s also a testament to how much the queer community needs to be just that, a community. There would be no fight left in me had I not found my people, willing to fight by my side. People who are willing to change whichever institution they are in, and to change the world, making it a safer place for queer people everyday.

“And hold on, there’s nothing to pack
We know we’re not coming back.”

Images courtesy of Kabir Trivedi.