There are two types of bigotry in the world: one born from hatred and one born from ignorance. The second is more forgivable; people aren’t born knowing everything, and as time progresses, society’s morals and values change. This is a normal part of life.
When I was packing for Italy, I prepared for open bigotry. As a genderqueer, non-binary trans person who usually presents more masculine than feminine, I was prepared for transphobia, or more likely, homophobia. I knew Italy was Catholic, I knew they had pretty regressive views on gay people, I knew about statements the Pope put out about trans people. I was ready.
Instead, what met me at the airport, was invisibility. I wasn’t read as queer. I wasn’t read as trans. No one saw anything different because, as a concept, my identity didn’t exist.
It’s hard to explain the frustration of not being seen as different when difference has defined your life. It’s even more difficult when the people you are confiding in have no grasp of the concept you are trying to describe. Much of my first month here was explaining what genderqueer meant to everybody I met, and then following up with “yes, ‘they’ as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct in English.”
But I can’t be mad at these people. They weren’t trying to be hateful. Even in America, trans issues aren’t widely discussed, much less issues specific to non-binary people. I fully believe everyone who asked just didn’t know any better.
However, for me there’s a difference between being genderqueer in the US and in Italy. I had a community in the US. People I could go to who knew how frustrating the little microaggressions were. People who could sympathize and distract me with a story about how ignorant this one guy they met was. Friends who I could see, and who could remind me, that I am not alone in this identity. I did not make this up. My feelings of binaristic dysphoria are valid, because they feel the same way.
I don’t have that here. I’m the only genderfluid non-binary person in Italy I know. And it’s lonely.
To be a non-binary person in Florence is to be out and closeted at the same time. Think of Schrodinger’s cat, which was both alive and dead until the box was opened. This, instead, is Schrodinger’s closet, except the door is open and the paradox remains. People don’t know I’m supposed to be different. That I don’t see myself in their binary. That their language has no room for me. To them, I’m just another American woman stumbling on basic Italian.
The worst part about it is the internalization of this invisibility. When I arrived, I flinched when people used my birth name, or referred to me with female pronouns. Now it’s happened so many times I barely realize it. I stopped wearing my binder because no one noticed a difference, and all the walking made it hard to breathe. On days when I feel more femme, I hesitate to wear dresses, because pants are the only symbol I can cling to to remind myself I am non-binary. Then I wonder why go through the trouble in the first place? No one will be able to tell anyway.
There are two types of bigotry in the world: one born from hatred and one born from ignorance. I believe the second is more exhausting. The second is explaining your life, your experiences, your humanity over and over again to everyone you meet. The second is politely correcting someone that, after knowing you for three months, still forgets your pronouns, even though they’re “trying really hard” to remember. The second is slipping up on your own pronouns after months of getting it right.
It’s constantly reminding yourself that you are not the person everyone around you sees. That who you really are is someone that doesn’t even exist in their world. And trying your hardest not to get used to that.