Yesterday I ran into an old acquaintance. We exchanged welcoming greetings. I asked him how he’s been. He replied he’s been fine, though he’s looking for work. He told me I looked good. I thanked him. I asked him his plans for today.
“I’m meeting my trans friend Aly this afternoon,” he informed me.
I waited for him to continue, though I knew he was finished. Inwardly, I groaned. I don’t want to have this conversation. But!–but!–but! I must.
“So what about her?” I asked.
“I’m meeting her,” he repeated.
“I mean, what about her being trans? You were saying she’s trans.”
“So, like, how do you tell people about me? Am I your cis friend Nahida?”
Here’s the thing–and this happens way too often–when you introduce me to someone who is absent, and you describe her a certain way, like, “I’m going to the library with my friend Lily. Lily’s an actress,” I expect you to go on to tell me that Lily is looking up books on acting, or that Lily is having a hard time finding a job, or that Lily is starring in a movie with Angelina Jolie, or something that explains why on Earth you would randomly decide to mention that Lily is an actress. Otherwise, you did it simply because, for whatever reason, you wanted to associate yourself with an actress, which may or may not be kind of pathetic.
It’s even more pathetic when you do this with people’s personal histories, experiences, or identities. They are not props for your popularity. In addition, you probably would introduce Lily as an actress if she were present, because Lily would probably not mind this becoming a topic of introductory conversation and may even define herself through her career. You would probably not, however, introduce your friend Aly as your “trans friend Aly” if she were present. That is because she would look at you like wtf? why would you mention that?
The answer is of course, no, he would not introduce me as his cis friend Nahida, because being cisgendered is not a marginalized experience, and therefore totally not going to make him look cool if he tried using it to satisfy his weird I-must-flaunt-that-I-have-marginalized-friends-to-prove-I’m-so-totally-open-minded fetish. Nor would he introduce me as his hetero friend Nahida, because again, that does not advertise he is so totally open-minded. What would better suit his purpose is introducing me as his female friend Nahida, or his Muslim friend Nahida.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being your Muslim woman friend Nahida. I just don’t exist to be a part of your collection, and until you understand this, you’re not really a friend. Sorry. But seriously, I’m a whole person. Not a label.
So the next time you introduce me to your “gay black friend David” without any reason for mentioning that he’s gay or black, you know what I’m thinking, you friend collector.
And hey, if you’re gonna use my identities for your advertising, you’d better start payin’ me.