Tyler Ford takes us through a day in their life.
By Tyler Ford. Images by Paul Choi
I am a 24-year-old, queer, agender person of color living in New York City — and I want to tell you about my average day.
Feeling misunderstood seems to be a common human experience — but for people like me whose narratives are not represented as often in mainstream media, it’s our everyday existence.
As an agender person, I constantly hear: “He. I mean she. I mean what are you? Why can’t you just be a boy or a girl?” These comments are not exclusive to strangers; they have often come from both friends and family.
For the record, I prefer the pronouns “they, ” “them” and “theirs.”
I want people to be more aware of the impact their words and behaviors have on others — particularly on trans people — which is why I decided to document all the highs and lows I experience during my daily life.
And to anyone who can identify with this diary: When you feel like you’re alone (as I often do), know that you are not. There are a ton of us out there who identify with you, who stand in solidarity with you, and who will build communities with you. You have the right to safety, to respect — and to your own body and identity. How other people treat you is not a reflection of who you are, but of who they are, and no one can define you but yourself. You don’t ever need to be anything other than exactly who you are.
I wake up and grab my phone before opening my eyes. I know this is an unhealthy habit — both because I should spend some time waking up before interacting with technology and because I have a large following on social media. While that’s awesome, I’m also subject to a large amount of harassment — particularly on my (divine) selfies. Still, I open Instagram:
CAN SOMEONE PLZ TELL ME IF THIS IS A BOY OR A GIRL
I don’t think he/she even knows what gender it is
TYLER IS NOT A BOY OR A GIRL. TYLER IS NON-BINARY. THEIR PRONOUNS ARE IN THEIR BIO
(@reply to the above) ok but what genitals???
u r f–kin disgusting
that’s a MAN you can tell by the chest hair!!! haha
My stomach sinks. I generally know better than to check Instagram comments first thing in the morning. I know better than to check Instagram comments — ever. My mind is racing: Do I reply? Do I report people for harassment (and does that even work)? Do I block people? I lie in bed and breathe. I construct replies in my head — “Don’t project your confusion about my gender onto me” — and never post them. Comments like this are not worthy of my mental energy.
I close my eyes and decide to write a tweet. “Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and ask them about their genitals? No? Then stop asking about mine.”
I add it to my drafts folder. The responses to these tweets can vary from “Preach!” to “LMAO” to “People just wanna know! It’s not a big deal — stop turning it into one.” Even though the replies these days tend to lean more positive and are often validating, the anticipation of any reaction or interaction in this moment drains me of my energy.
I finally get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I check out my reflection: Still cute. In a world that asserts that anyone who does not adhere to a very limited set of beauty standards is ugly, being cute, feeling cute, and claiming my cuteness and my confidence is an act of resistance. My confidence is one of my greatest achievements, and it is a process that I will continue to work on every day for the rest of my life.
I’m still looking in the mirror, though. I haven’t shaved my face in a few days. I visualize my schedule to assess whether or not I want to do so (I often don’t, but facial hair can make me dysphoric, as people equate it with masculinity and manhood).
“Am I going to be on public transit late at night?” is typically the question by which I make my shaving decisions. I’ve had a few experiences that entailed men following me around mostly deserted subway stations at 2 a.m., and being read as trans (though whether I’m read as trans or cis varies from moment to moment and person to person, and is totally out of my control) heightens the terror of these situations.
I also base my shaving decisions around how I’m feeling, what I’m going to be wearing, where I’m going, and who I’m going to be meeting or seeing. I decide that I don’t need to shave: I’m going to the bookstore alone and to Central Park with a new friend I’ve been flirting with. I’ll probably get home while it’s still light out.
The outfit dilemma. Am I feeling super femme, or am I feeling like I want to be invisible? There’s typically no in-between: I’m either in a bright crop top and pleather mini-skirt, or I’m in all black with combat boots.
I stand in front of my closet, immobile, before choosing a black V-neck, black skinny jeans and black combat boots. I’m not feeling energetic enough for a vibrant outfit — nor am I in the mood to attract any more attention than my turquoise hair already calls for.
I’m sitting on the train across from a middle-aged man with a professional camera in his lap. The camera is pointed at me. His finger is on the shutter-release button. He turns to whisper to his friend next to him, but neither his camera nor his hands move. I am frozen — I can always tell the difference between someone who is trying to sneak a picture because they recognize me from when I was on “The Glee Project” and someone who is trying to take a picture because they think I’m a freak. People are not good at hiding their intentions.
I watch his hands closely and tell myself I’m worrying too much, that not everyone with a camera pointed in my direction is trying to take sneaky pictures of me.
He presses the shutter-release button.
My stomach leaps into my chest. I can’t speak. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. This happens at least once per week and I still haven’t figured out how to handle it. Sometimes I give the photographers the death stare. I look into their eyes, hoping to make them feel even a fraction of the discomfort they make me feel. Other times, I pose for the shot, giving them the middle finger and/or an expression that reads, “I know what you’re doing and I hate you for it.”
At the bookstore. Books. Everywhere. Safe haven. I taught myself to read at 18 months, so I literally cannot remember a time in which I was not burying myself in knowledge and in worlds safer and more fantastic than this one. I burrow in the new non-fiction section, excitedly reading about technology and feminism.
I have to pee. I try to ignore the urge — there are no gender-neutral restrooms here — but I’m meeting my friend in 22 minutes and I can’t flirt on a full bladder. I reluctantly make my way down to the third floor restrooms.
I take a self-assessment: I have facial hair, but I don’t want to go into the men’s restroom with turquoise braids that reach my bellybutton. I decide to use the women’s restroom and use my braids to hide my face.
I imagine scenarios in which people tell me I’m in the wrong bathroom, and come up with scripts to respond with:
Thanks for your concern, but I’m just trying to pee.
I’m aware of which bathroom I’m in, but thanks for your concern.
Please don’t talk to me.
Yeah, I read the sign.
Please don’t assume which bathroom I belong in.
Please don’t assume my gender.
I exit the stall. Look at the floor. I try not to look in the mirror as I wash my hands. I don’t want anyone to see my reflection. More than that, I don’t want going to the bathroom to have to be such an ordeal. I don’t want to have to mentally prepare to pee as though it’s a social interaction.