Trans people are used to catching stares, especially non-binary folks like me. When I presented as male, passers by would give me a neutral look. Their eyes said “Hey, you’re another human directly in my line of sight.” Granted, this was also likely a product of my whiteness. Post-transition, I receive a whole host of signals from they way I’m looked at. It’s not my fault I’m so aesthetically compelling. My inner taxonomy nerd compels me to piece together this compendium of glances, ogles, stares and sideyes that I’ve been subjected to over the years. Maybe it will be of use to other transfolks. You might be thinking – “She can’t read people’s minds from just the way people look at her.” Well, I’m not claiming to do that. I’m not a psychic or a mentalist – only an amateur translator of body language. So here it is, a list of looks I get as a trans person.
When some baffled cis person checks out my body and my style, eventually concluding that I’m trans – they clocked me. They are trying to figure out – is this person, god forbid, one of those transgenders I hear about on the news so often? The ones that want to be able to use bathrooms and pronouns and join the military? This particular glare involves a lot of eye and/or head movement. The voyeur scanning every inch of my body. His eyes are thirsty for a detail – residual stubble, wide shoulders, large feet – that might give away my assigned gender. The clock is sometimes followed by further stares and glares (see below), or by such totally appropriate questions as “Have you had THE Surgery?” or “How do you people even have sex?”
Needless to say, getting clocked is an unpleasant experience. After all the clockings I’ve received, I now can fully empathize with the corpses of murder victims on CSI. Like body laid out in the morgue, every bit of me is scanned for evidence. I assume that this not only happens to to trans people. Cis men and women with certain distinctive features, such as amazonian cis women and diminutive cis men, may also be subjected to the Clock.
The Death Ray
The Death Ray is, simply put, a cis person attempting to murder me with their eyes. It is the unblinking glare of an individual filled with hate and malice towards all trans people. For a good visual reference, check out the look Jack Nicholson gives Shelley Duvall in The Shining before attempting to dismember her with an axe. When I catch one of these, all of my red flags go up. I will try to avoid the Death Ray wielder at all costs, and clutch my self-defense implement of choice, if one is on hand.
The Confused Ogle
Trans people are very sexy. Thus, people are always checking us out. The savvy ogler doesn’t care whether or not my hormones are store-bought. I don’t mind this kind of attention. Sometimes it flatters me. I am, admittedly, something of an exhibitionist. Unfortunately, the respectful variety of voyeur is exceedingly rare, especially amongst straight men.
When a less savvy ogler clocks me mid-check out, their expression quickly becomes a Confused Ogle. A sly glance at my ass or a thigh devolves into shifty-eyed bewilderment. It’s the expression of someone hit by a full-scale sexistential crisis. If his hetero masculinity is fragile enough, the ogler may mentally lash out against me for “Making him do something gay,” even though the Confused Ogle is the straightest thing he could be doing. Feelings of confusion and anger may resolve themselves into a Death Ray (see above) charged with self-loathing.
The Ally’s Beneficent Gaze
Receiving a Beneficent Gaze is more pleasant than getting Death-Rayed, but both leave a bad taste in my mouth. Here’s what it looks like. A cis someone clocks me. Her eyes brighten. Her mouth widens into a grin. She seems all bright and happy, yet somehow gives off an aura of condescension. My translation of this body language: “Oh aren’t you a cute little trans here out in the wild.” It’s as if she’s spotted a rare pokemon.
The Ally’s Beneficent Gaze annoys me because it’s meant to be comforting, but comes off as self-serving. “I’m one of the good ones,” the Ally conveys with this gaze, assured that the God of Trans has added to the number of Ally points on His Eternal ledger. Beneficent Gaze’s my be followed by awkward and disingenuous expressions of solidarity, such as “You know, I totally support the right of all transgenders,” or, “You look really good. Like, I can barely tell you’re a trans.”
The Comrade Connection
My favorite look from this list, Comrade Connections can only occur between two trans people. It’s when another trans person recognizes me as comrade, and sends a telepathic signal of fellow-feeling through eye contact. Comrade Connections exist in many varieties. Sometimes the eye contact is accompanied by the slightest nod of approval. Sometimes there are eye rolls, “Ugh, don’t cis people suck?” Many Comrade Connections are actually just two trans people aggressively checking each other out. As mentioned earlier, trans people are very attractive. Who’s in a better position to appreciate that than another trans person? Comrade Connections are often accompanied by expressions of validations, such as “Wow, I really like that dress,” or “Wanna get together later and violently overthrow cis supremacy?”
These can be tricky because not all trans people want to be recognized as such in public, especially if they are stealth. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to body language and keep things nuanced as possible when attempting a Comrade Connection.
The Seattle Side Eye
Here’s a region-specific look for you, from my present home city. It’s very difficult to catch one of these in progress – you could say that’s the point. Most Seattlites are too sheepish to give me an out-and-out glare. Getting caught mid-glare may tarnish their reputation as tolerant liberals, or even worse – it might trigger a verbal confrontation, something Seattlites avoid at all costs. Thus, when they think I’m looking elsewhere, they will covertly flick their eyes towards me in an expression of disdain. This is the Seattle Side Eye.
Most Seattlites are desensitized to trans folks – there are a lot of us here. Because of this, I get the Side Eye if I am deemed “too much.” Too femme. Too loud. Too slutty. As long as you keep it neutral and stay passive, the average Seattlite will look right through you. But once you start to stand out – that’s when the passive aggression begins.
So there it is, the Look List. It’s by no means complete. Have any additions? If so, feel free to leave a comment.