Time and again, over the years, many people have said this to me with an underlying emphasis, about how much they "respect" me, or "respect" who I am. Of course what they're referring to is not just my gender, or rather what my gender appears to them; but more so the fact that I am so out about it. In the early years, with all my social anxiety amplified by mustering the courage to simply wear what makes me feel alive in my skin; I never knew how to react to 'compliments' such as these. Fundamentally, I am always aware of the sweet sentiment behind saying it.
In an awkward moment like that, replying with a 'thanks' feels such a customary response automated by social courtesies. But the moment I would utter that word from my mouth, it would hang like a foul odor in the air for me. Why am I thanking anyone for respecting me to begin with? Isn't respect something that I am entitled to anyway? Should I be thankful to you, because you're making an extra effort to respect me, which needs a categorical mentioning?
The truth is, you don't respect my gender on its own. You respect it, because of my class, my privilege and my access. You respect it, because I am in your space, where you wouldn't expect to see someone like me. You respect it, because I am good at what I do, and I use that power to be the gender I choose to be.
I am sorry to say this, but your respect does not translate toward gender non-conformity itself. It does not manifest, when a trans person approaches your vehicle to ask for money. It does not manifest, when a trans person is being harassed in your presence. It does not manifest, when a trans person seeks to rent your property. It does not manifest, when a trans person applies for a job you offer. It does not manifest, when a trans person occupies the same public washroom as you.
You respect me, because you know you will never have to deal with my gender. Because you know I hold the capability to do what I have done all along, with or without your respect. So next time you feel the need to express your respect to me, while I truly, sincerely appreciate the sentiment; please save it.
Save it on your smartphone as a reminder or add it to your bucket list. Translate your need to express your respect, from mere words to substantial deeds. Do something good for our trans community. For right now, in the times we live in. Your words don't mean anything. Your words won't bring us the rights and privileges you have always taken for granted, but been long overdue for us. Your words don't reach those who need to be vehemently reassured, that their lives too are worthy of respect. Your words don't make a difference to anyone's life, when our words go blatantly unheard no matter how much we scream and yell.
All your words do, is make a privileged non-conforming person like me question— had I not been born with this privilege and used it to gain access to this space you and I share right now, would have I been privy to hear you tell me, how much you "respect" me?