17 February 2010

Bitch or Babe: Am I That Name?

As I was leaving the college today, I exchanged a bit of banter with the prof whose office is across the hall from mine. I've
mentioned her before on this blog: She's the one who didn't like me, or so I told myself.

She'd been reading a bunch of her students' papers. Her face was in one of them. "Tough semester already?," I half-joked.

She stirred. "Oh, no. Just the usual things."

"I see."

"Well, some of my students were a bit crazy."

"There are always days like that."

She nodded. "One student in particular is a real handful. But I made my point with him."

"What happened?," I wondered. I'm always curious as to how other profs and teachers handle difficult situations and students.

"Well, he called me 'babe.'"

"I can see how that could be a problem."

"Yes, I let him know that doesn't go. He apologized and he understands why he shouldn't."

"Good. He probably didn't realize that there was anything wrong." That's what I said after I caught myself. I almost told her that I could see why he called her "babe."

"Still, that's not a cool thing to do."

"I agree. But a lot of guys don't realize that they're belittling us when they say that. A lot of the older Italian men call everyone 'babe.' I grew up around guys like that."

"That doesn't make it right."

"I know. But at least it's an opportunity for us to talk to them, to educate them."

She let out a weary sigh. Then, I realized why she didn't see the situation as I did: She's been hearing that all of her life. And there probably have been people who didn't take her seriously because, well, she looks like someone men (and a few women) would call "babe." Hey, back in the day, I probably would've called her that, too.

And I was thinking: I wouldn't mind someone calling me 'babe.' Well, I've had a few men call me that, and I don't foresee getting tired of it any time soon. But I haven't lived that prof's life, or the life of any other non-trans woman I know.

I did say something to the effect that we have been shaped by different experiences, even if we now have at least two things in common--being a prof and being a woman. Still, I couldn't help but to think about how each of us experiences both of those things differently.

"I still think it's wrong for a student to call me 'babe.' In fact, I don't care much for anyone calling me that."

"I can understand why. And, I promise, I won't call you that."

She chuckled. "Want to hear something even funnier?," I asked.

She nodded lightly. "Well, I must be one of the few people in this world who was happy to be called a 'bitch.'" She laughed harder. "It was about a year into my transition," I recalled. "I accidentally pushed a guy on the stairs to a subway station. He turned groaned and said, 'Watch where the f--- you're going, you white bitch!' And, to myself I said, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!'"

"That's so funny."

Humor--and patience: They're what have helped me to deal with people calling me 'bitch' or 'babe." I'm sure she's heard the latter more than I have; I hope she doesn't hear the former too often. Then again, I'm sure she has her own ways of dealing with them.

Which will I be tomorrow? Or is my experience a prelude or prologue for yet another name?