Notable Assholes: On Being Called a “Shemale Stripper”

by: Rebecca Kling

From Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.”

I ran into quite a few notable assholes and bigots while touring. They were absolutely the exception, far outnumbered by the people who – in person, on Facebook, and via email – told me how much they enjoyed my work, and how important it was to them. I heard from allies, friends and family and partners of trans people, trans people themselves, and those who had never before encountered someone who so strongly questioned society’s gender assumptions. And yet, I also encountered some assholes and bigots.

Cincinnati was the first fest, and the fist asshole, with a volunteer asking if she could call me by my old name, and later that you “can’t erase a Y chromosome.” For more on that, check out these three posts.

Kansas City had the following delightful interaction:

Call Me Maybe is playing loudly in the background.

ME: This song reminds me of camp. My campers sang this song constantly, and I had the chorus in my head for weeks.

HIM: Who the hell would let you near campers?

Of course, he quickly backpedaled: He wasn’t speaking for himself, just on behalf of othersHe would never doubt my qualification to work with children, but wouldn’t every other person on the face of the planet?

By this point in the evening, I was a little tired (and a little intoxicated). Rather than engage, I shut the conversation down – “I’m not having this conversation” – and walked away. I avoided him the rest of the evening, and while I know from a few other people he felt bad about hurting my feelings, I also heard that he remained utterly clueless as to why what he said was so offensive.

After Kansas City Fringe came Minnesota Fringe where – excepting the delightful note on my car – I escaped unscathed. I would peg that as much on Minnesota’s Midwestern passive-aggression as on progressivism, though. But maybe I’m just cynical. (

I think Indianapolis Fringe takes the cake, though, both for the comment and for how I feel about it now.

Like Kansas City, it was the last day of the festival. I was walking around Mass Ave, the main Festival strip, and had stopped to chat with two festival-goers. We were discussing how the fest had been, what shows we had enjoyed, and what came next for each of us. A guy walked past us, stopped, and approached me. Putting out his hand, he asked my name.

He gave me a bad vibe, so I neither took his hand nor gave him my name. Instead, I asked him, “What can I do for you?”

He asked if I knew where some club was. I’d never heard of the club – my experience in each Fringe city is limited to a few blocks surrounding the participating venues, at best – and I told him no, turning back to the two Fringers.

“Excuse me,” he again interjected. I turned back to him, and he continued, “But you work there, right? You’re one of those shemale strippers?”

How do you respond to that? A million possible responses flashed through my head, and I settled for a very stern “absolutely not,” fully turning my back to him and toward the two Fringers. He started to say something once more, I think along the lines of “But aren’t you…” and I cut him off: “This conversation is over.”

Shaken, I said I was going to walk down the street to meet a friend at a bar. Fortunately, this was an actual plan she and I had discussed earlier, so I didn’t just have to make up an escape on the spot. The two Fringers very kindly asked if I was OK and if they could walk me the half-block down. For the first time in my life, I willingly accepted a safety escort, and we walked on.

To say I was steaming was an understatement: I was angry at being perceived as trans, at letting it get to me, at not having the perfect, scathing put town, and of being so far from any sort of queer community. I found sympathy in my Fringe friends, but not an understanding which comes from experience. I texted some friends, posted to Facebook, but generally felt alone in Indianapolis.

Then I got high.

A quick detour: I prefer being high to being drunk. There’s a window of being drunk for me where I feel it enough to enjoy it, but not so much to feel sick. That window is hard for me to find, and the payoff rarely feels worth it. The similar window of feeling good while high seems wider and easier to hit. Drinking is also more expensive, and feels worse the next morning. Smoking weed isn’t great for your voice, to be sure, so I try to use in moderation (or from my new favorite toy, Besty) but I much prefer it to alcohol.

Getting high, not surprisingly, made me feel better. It also allowed me to look at things with a sense of humor. To post to Facebook, “I mean, I’ll take my clothing off for the right person, but woo me, buddy!” Because it was either laugh or cry. In Cincinnati, I chose cry. I think both responses have merit and value, along with emotional catharsis, but laughing was a lot more fun. Imagining that response. Or “I’m not. Why, are you trying to break into the business?” Or any of the other turn-things-on-their-head jokes that could have been made.

I’m still pissed, of course. I’m frustrated by assholery, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’m left steaming by something an ignorant shit said. But I hope to harness that humor, see the absurdity of it, and laugh.

Note: This piece was originally featured on the author’s blog, Friday Thang, and was republished with permission. You can find the original here.

Rebecca Kling is a Chicago-based transgender artist interested in exploring the performance of identity. She has performed her material around the Midwest where it has received praise from numerous publications including The Chicago Tribune and TimeOut Chicago.  Rebecca regularly speaks at high schools and universities, conducting educational workshops on gender and identity. Rebecca’s writing has been published at Jezebel, in Chicago, Bodies of Work, the Center for Classic Theatre Review, and elsewhere. For upcoming performances and appearances, visit www.rebeccakling.com. For a behind-the-scenes look at her writing process, check out her blog at http://fridaythang.com/blog

Follow In Our Words on Facebook and Twitter.

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s