…Why would you mention that?

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.

9 thoughts on “…Why would you mention that?

  1. Hmm… I tend to introduce people with their most awesome trait, as in, "This is Alice, she's a black belt in two martial arts" or "This is Bob, he's a drag queen." I'm not sure why I would introduce someone as "this is Alice, she's Hispanic" or "this is Bob, he's gay." Unless, of course, they are remarkably boring people and that is their most salient trait.


  2. Alice and Bob are both real people (with fake names, of course) and acquaintances of mine. Not even the coolest acquaintances. I know some damn cool people. …Now I'm bragging. :)


  3. almostclever

    What a poser. Blatant cultural tourism for the sake of being seen as… um… culturally competent? oh yea, except the complete insensitivity to his 'friend' screams INCOMPETENCE…


  4. Obviously he has no idea of how much very real danger he's putting his friend in by referring to her that way? Maybe somebody needs a crash course in transphobic violence and how outing people can put them at incredible risk? Yowch.


  5. I am so cool. I am so hip.I have a trans friend.I also have a Muslim friend. A Muslim Woman friend can you imagine. Isn't that cool.She doesn't wear the hijab – now that would be really cool but still she actually is a Muslim.And guess what she calls herself a feminist!Wow, am a cool or what! A woman Muslim Feminist!I am so cool. And I am totally not racist, sexist, homophobic, and islamophobic. I have friends that can prove that!


  6. I think the only time I'd refer to hanging out with 'My gay friend so and so' is if I was talking to a member of the opposite sex that I was trying to woo, and I wanted to make it very clear that this person is definitely not someone I'm already sleeping with.That being said, I'd still be a huge jackass for doing so.


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