(Horror stories about social norms.)
Social norms dictate thought. It’s as simple as that. Take gender, for example. If the idea is that people are only men and women and there’s no room for anyone in between or outside, that’s what everyone will believe. That’ll be the foundation of their convictions. Their “common sense.”
My name is Sveta Azul. My deadname doesn’t matter. I learned long ago that I don’t have to conform to the idea of being a man or a woman. I’m me. I’m neither male nor female. And a lot of people hate me for that.
I’ve had boyfriends and girlfriends and nonbinary friends of all flavors. We’ve been close. We’ve been lovers. Often, it’s resulted in risk. In danger. In pain.
Patricia Dixon, an ex of mine, was beaten senseless while walking home from my apartment in 2011. Her face was slashed. Her nose was broken. One of her eyes was gouged out. No one found her assailant. It was clear the NYPD wasn’t interested in the mutilation of a transgender woman.
Despite our relationship ending two years later, not a day goes by when I don’t think about the violence she endured and its hideous artifacts scrawled across her face — all because people hate what they don’t understand.
My hate is different. I hate because I understand. I understand the foundations of bigotry and violence. I understand the forces impelling the vicious savages who prey on people like me and my loved ones.
Forces like social constructs.
Forces like social norms.
I’ve been a victim of toxic masculinity. I’ve suffered at the hands of performative femininity. Each exists at the poles of gender identity – the impregnable bedrock nearly everyone allows to define them. It doesn’t have to be that way. Things can change. They have to.
Thomas Spano, 35, had his throat cut in Prospect Park in December of 2012.
Shanay Newton, 19, was suffocated in Spanish Harlem in February of 2013.
Juan Alvarado, 22, was shot in the head in East Flatbush in March of 2013.
Ali al’Aziz, 51, was stabbed in Tribeca in September of 2015.
Social constructs are more powerful than people realize. Even when someone is told about how their thinking is predicated on these falsehoods, they’ll just shrug and refuse to reflect. It’s easier that way. It’s easier for the “normal” to live unexamined lives.
I’m different. I’ve examined it all – and I’ve learned so, so much.
Derek Villa, 14, was pushed in front of a subway car in Queens in August of 2016.
Lorissa Anastacio, 20, was stabbed in Times Square in May of 2017.
Charles McConnell, 63, was poisoned near Fordham University in November of 2017.
There are more social constructs than anyone wants to admit. They aren’t limited to sex and gender. There’s poverty. There’s privacy. There’s safety.
Stephanie Tomjanovich, 25, was shackled to a drain pipe in a warehouse in Red Hook. She was just like all the others; just like Thomas and Shanay and Juan and Ali and Derek and Lorissa and Charles.
“An expectation of safety is a social construct you’ve taken for granted,” I told her this morning. “It’s entirely fake. Entirely man made.”
She screamed and screamed. It wasn’t the horrible, epithet-filled profanity from earlier. Her bleating consisted of pleas. Of apologies. She was finally learning her lesson. Just like the other ones had.
“You know what else is a social construct?” I asked, sliding the blade of my knife deep into her inner thigh, severing her femoral artery. Her eyes began to dim.
“The ‘crime’ of murder, Stephanie,” I whispered into her open mouth. Her final breath caressed my face like a warm, peaceful bath.
“And once I learned that — once I truly understood what it meant — I realized I was free to be myself.”