A Letter to Every Stranger Who Meets Me

Hello,

In case you’re wondering, I know exactly what crosses your mind as I approach you: “Is that a man or a woman?”.

I know the anxiety you feel, especially if you have to initiate a conversation with me: maybe you’re a clerk at a store I just entered, or you’re my doctor’s secretary, something like that. Your head melts. Should you call me sir ou ma’am? You get extremely confused because you have just a few seconds to decide, as I walk fast towards you, or I start shopping and it’s your job to offer help to your costumers.

I notice the discomfort I cause on some of you who aren’t familiar with people like me. I see the look in your eyes, some of you showing disgust, others just staring, trying to realize my gender and make assumptions about me.

Some of you decide to deny me service or to pretend you didn’t see this “weird-looking” costumer enter your store. Maybe you think I’m a sinner.

Well, I can tell all of that and much more.

I learned in the past few months what it means to suddenly become visible. Before, when I had long hair, people didn’t stare at me as much. Much fewer clerks denied me service. I was just one in millions. My presence anywhere didn’t mean I was making a political statement and people weren’t so aware of it.

But do you, dear stranger, think my life was easier? Perhaps you do. Perhaps you believe that all of those feelings I cause on many strangers I happen to encounter every day affect me more than having to live with an appearance I felt uncomfortable with.

Turns out it wasn’t.

Having to deal with your prejudices, your wonderings about who I am or what I am and your insecurities about how to treat me is far easier than looking at the mirror and seeing someone else. And it’s not hard to imagine: I guess everyone went or will go through a phase in which they didn’t feel comfortable with something about them.

Just think about when that happened to you and you’ll know how I felt.

So, I ask you: Before you freak out if you have to talk to me in any way, just remember that I am a human being just like you. I don’t care if you call me ma’am or sir (though some people who are like me may feel uncomfortable with this, I’m not. If you later realize somehow I am a ma’am and you called me sir, just apologize and move on!), I just want to be well treated, like everyone else. Before awkwardly staring at me or denying me service, think about how you would feel if someone did that to you.

Respecting people is not that hard. Try it!

Respectfully,

Maria.

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