Saturday, March 18, 2017

Being a Concealed Carrier Made Me a Better Transwoman

aka "How I Stopped Worrying That Everyone Was Staring At Me"

In this week's upcoming episode of the GunBlog VarietyCast, Sean and I talk about the Spotlight Effect and how it effects everyone the first time they carry a concealed weapon... except that it didn't happen to me at all. This is a longer version of my side of the story.

Many years ago in the early 00s, I was living the Washington D.C. metro area and I would frequently attend a goth club called Midnight. [1] Being in my 20s, going to a goth club included not only putting on the requisite black clothing, but also involved other things such as pseudo-occult symbols drawn on my skin in magic marker and sticking bits of chrome-plastic to my face with spirit gum (sort of a poor man's facial piercing that could be removed the next day, which is important if, like me, you worked in a conservative banking environment). [2]

If you've lived or worked in D.C. for any amount of time, you realize two things very quickly: The streets of D.C. are not driver friendly [3], and that the Metro system, for all its faults, is very very good at moving people into and out of D.C. Combine that with the fact that unless you have a job in the area you will pay out the ass for parking (either at meters or at private garages), and that if you're going clubbing you might at some point decide to enjoy an adult beverage or two or twelve, and it becomes pretty clear that if you're going clubbing in the capital that it's better to use public transportation than private.

I did mention that I was all dressed up in black with markings on my arms and fake piercings on my face, yes? [4] In case it wasn't obvious, dressing like this tends to attract rather a lot of attention from fellow Metro passengers. Some of it was disgust, some of it was judgement, some was just regular I've never seen anything like this before startlement and some was genuine people-watching, but all of it made me feel like a bug under a magnifying glass. 

But here's the thing: despite all the staring, only once did I ever have anyone try to start shit with me (and in that case, I was with friends so it didn't turn physical because we didn't engage with him). And I learned a few things from this experience:
  1. People may stop and stare, but most won't say or do anything. 
  2. There is a powerful strength in realizing "Yes, I'm dressed unusually, but I'm not doing anything illegal. If anyone tries to stop me, they are the ones in the wrong."
  3. You'd be amazed at what you can do if your attitude isn't "Please allow me to do this" but rather "I'm doing this thing because it's my right."
Now if you're a concealed carrier, I suspect those three points are also lessons you learned during your first month or so of carry. I didn't have to, because being a goth made me a better concealed carrier. Yes, I know, I am weird.

Want to know what's weirder? Being a concealed carrier made me a better transwoman. Carrying concealed -- not having a pistol, mind you, but the act of carrying itself -- made me more confident, and that confidence has carried over so that I feel it even when I'm not carrying. For example, when I visited Maryland earlier this month, I went to brunch with friends of mine while dressed in a skirt and blouse, and according my friend Cathy, the server called me "ma'am" without blinking. While some of you might say that's just professionalism on the server's part, the difference is the "without blinking" part: If she was taken aback but still called me ma'am, that would be professionalism; doing it without blinking, i.e. without even noticing I was passing, means I "leveled up" in my How To Be A Woman In Public skill. And the biggest reason for that is what I learned as a concealed carrier.

After carrying concealed for any length of time, most of us realize that the average person is so self-absorbed that they won't look for concealed weapons (and probably wouldn't even notice if your pistol was exposed) and that the only people who really look for concealed weapons are other concealed carriers and police officers. [5]

The fears that trans and crossdressing people have --
  • "Will that man in line behind me notice the bra strap under my shirt?" 
  • "Will that woman notice I'm not as adept in heels as she is?" 
  • "Will people notice my beard shadow/adam's apple/deep voice?" [6]
  • "What do I do if a stranger asks me if I'm really a man?"
  • "What happens if a police officer pulls me over and asks for my ID while I'm en femme?" 
-- are nearly identical to the fears that newly-minted concealed carriers have:
  • "Will that person notice I'm carrying?"
  • "I keep adjusting my holster, did anyone notice?"
  • "Am I printing?"
  • "What do I do if a stranger asks me if I'm carrying?"
  • "What happens if a police officer pulls me over while I'm carrying?"

And the answers to both sets of questions are pretty universal:
  • Who cares? You're not breaking the law. 
  • Probably not, but keep practicing; you'll get better. 
  • Probably not, but unless you're in a no-printing state like Texas, who cares?
  • You smile sweetly and tell them that it's none of their business. 
  • You smile at the officer and hand over your ID (in duty to inform states, hand over your CWP as well), because -- aside from whatever you did that got you pulled over -- you aren't doing anything wrong. 
I just think it's odd and funny that concealed carriers and transgenders/crossdressers, who we have been exist at far different ends of the spectrum, have the same damn fears when they start out and learn essentially the same damn lesson: So long as you've put some work into passing and don't draw attention to it, no one is going to notice or care. 

So my advice for anyone who wants to get over their fear of carrying in public is "Try crossdressing. You'll be surprised at few people notice, and how few care if they do notice because most of those who notice are doing the same thing you are."

[1]1707 L Street NW, in case it's still there, but I don't think it is. I talked about my experiences at Midnight in this blog post.

[2] I was in my late 20s and it seemed the thing to do. I'm not apologizing or making excuses, because I'm not ashamed by this. I'm just explaining what was going through my mind at the time.

[3] D.C. was built on a malarial swamp by a Frenchman. I have also been told that L'enfant designed the streets so that an invading army could not easily reach the capital, and my driving experience bears this out. Then there's the fact that when I was there, the street signs were so poorly lit that (in the days before cell phone GPS) you couldn't easily tell if the next street was where you needed to turn until you were practically right on top of it, meaning that if you were going at the speed of traffic you'd need to pull a VERY hard right turn or risk having the car behind you crawl up your ass. Combine ALL THAT with the fact that D.C. is simply rotten with one-way streets and "no right/left turns" and you get a city where, if you miss your turn or make a wrong one, you're screwed for at least 15 minutes.

[4] There may somewhere be pictures of me all gothed up. No, you will not be seeing them. Again, not because I am ashamed, but because this was before I realized I was trans.

[5] When I was attending MAG40, my roommate and I were in the hotel breakfast area playing "Spot the concealed carrier." We scored 100%.

[6] Yes, these questions are male-to-female centric, because honestly no one in our culture gives a damn if a woman dresses as a man.

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