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“My pal is very supportive of my ambiguous gender identity (as revealed in a drunken heart-to-heart). Too supportive. He (kinda) subtly brings it up in any conversation it might fit (almost regardless of who’s present) how okay and correct and *fascinating* he thinks my identity is. I’m not sure how to tell him nicely I don’t need to be reminded of who I am and how okay it is all the time. I *know* it’s okay. But it’s too heavy to always think about it. I feel like a zoo animal around him. Help!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Erika Lynn as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Erika Lynn Says:

SAM (your new name), I can totally relate.  My parents, after years of denial, anger, and overall disgust at the idea of my transition, within the span of a few months, very quickly decided that they would allow me to transition to Erika Lynn. After years and years of not telling anyone except for a handful of close friends as demanded by them, I suddenly was greeted on the street and in stores by family friends and my parent’s work colleagues telling me that they were totally supportive of me transitioning, and that as soon as my younger sister was ok, they’d call me Erika.

Whenever we had a conversation, either with some worker in a store, or with family friends, or with really anybody, my mom in particular would go out of her way to mention that I was a girl and that I was transgender and that I was Erika Lynn and so on and so forth. It was infuriating. I felt like I had absolutely no agency, and what made it more insulting was how openly uncomfortable she had been just weeks before. The last straw was when at a party for my sister’s soccer, she was telling half the parents details about my transition she had no right to share, talking about me as if I was some novelty thing, not her living breathing daughter at a very awkward, sensitive and volatile time in her life who needed to let people into her life more slowly that what her parents were doing. I literally pulled her inside our house and into her bedroom and in my loudest whisper explain how hurt and uncomfortable she made me, how she had no right to share that information, and how in the future, if she wants to let someone into my life on my behalf, she needs to tell me first. For the next month after that, she’d start off every conversation between the two of us with how sorry she was that she was insensitive, how she didn’t know what to do in situations like this, and how she was just trying to be supportive.

I think your friend is feeling some of these same feelings my mom felt. Key things I got from your question: 1. ZANE (your friend) lets people into your life on your behalf without your permission, it seems (given that he’ll bring this up around anyone); 2. he’s treating this part of you, and you by extension, as a novelty, as you put it, a zoo animal; 3. he likes to emphasize that your identity is “okay and correct.” All of these are signs of a well-meaning friend who has no idea how to integrate this new piece of information into their life, isn’t completely down with your new, surprising (to them) identity and is trying to do the best they can to be supportive and understanding of who you are.

I think it would be good for you to have a heart to heart with your friend, to tell him what you’re feeling, how he makes you feel when he treats you like a zoo animal, when he tells you you’re so fascinating. Chances are, he doesn’t realize what he’s doing to you, and he’s just doing his best to figure out new territory. You don’t owe him an explanation, and you aren’t responsible for his education, but if you want him to change his behavior, you need to sit down and tell him how you’re feeling, and offer a path for change. If you want, find some queer/trans*/gender-non-conforming education resources for him to read. Everyone is Gay is a great start! There are tons of other books I’m sure you could buy or check out from a library, and of course there are millions of relevant websites he could read. Given how “fascinating” he finds you, and how it’s seems you’d prefer to be non-confrontation, I’d recommend couching your suggestions in terms of opportunities for education. Ultimately, I think that will help him realize that mistakes he’s made, and give him the tools for change, in a way that’s agreeable for the two of you.

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