Tis the season to be misgendered

Well, the decorations are coming down and I have to say, an awesome holiday has been had.

My partner and I spent time with some fabulous, accepting, loving people. Life is good. We rounded off a year in which both of us came out as transgender knowing that we are still loved, we are still supported, and we are very privileged to have wonderful friends and family. Not everyone can make such a claim.

But oh, the misgendering! When everything is going so nicely, it is really hard to say to someone “please get our pronouns right” so I’m saying it now – please get our pronouns right! It makes a difference to both of us, it matters. It may be hard to make the adjustment, but we kind of need people to, because we both want to be nice about this but the truth is, it hurts to be misgendered.

I am not going to be that person who says “you got my pronouns wrong, you’re an arsehole!” Even trans people don’t always get each other’s pronouns right, and they’ve probably given the whole thing more thought than most people. But when we get pronouns wrong, we’re taking away a basic civility that most people are given automatically. It is surprisingly undermining. 

When I am called “she”, I feel an imposition that has never fitted my lived experience. “She” is not some fundamental biological fact, it is a human-invented word, a social categorisation, a box to put people into, and ultimately, it is a choice we do not have to make.

Yet when a friend of mine switched to gender neutral pronouns some time ago, I have to admit, despite how “cool” I thought I was about all things trans, I struggled to accept their pronouns. Despite the way I naturally use they/them/their without really thinking about it in everyday speech, using it for a specific person made my head rebel. I felt defensive and cross, and my resistance was strong. At times I was almost petulant about it.

I had to work to change my attitude. I had to have a word with myself about why I was resisting such a simple request. Much as I want to say I just needed to get used to it, it was more than that – I needed to fully accept this friend’s right to be respected in their difference. That friend eventually inspired me to make the same step myself, and I don’t doubt part of my own resistance was being forced to question gender rules I had been trained to perpetually reinforce. Breaking the rules, even inasmuch as changing their pronouns, was hard work, and if just saying a different pronoun is hard work, imagine what hard work it is living as transgender.

Struggling to use somebody’s pronouns can be a clue to our assumptions about how the world should be – taking a good, self-exploratory look at those assumptions may be an enlightening and enriching experience.

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3 thoughts on “Tis the season to be misgendered

  1. rimonim

    Glad to hear that things are going so well overall. I also am blessed with supportive friends and family–who nonetheless struggled with my pronouns, way more than with my name. It’s been over three years, nobody could meet me today and see anything but a guy, and I still get an occasional “she” from some family members. Their hearts are in the right place, and by now they use the right words well over 90% of the time. But it still happens. The spirit is willing but the brain is weak.

    Re: “you got my pronouns wrong, you’re an arsehole!” When people are trying but mess up anyway, I like to correct them in a quick, decisive, yet amiable way. I simply interrupt them with “he,” with an indulgent smile and an enthusiastic nod, like a patient parent reminding a child to say please. They usually get a blank stare for a moment, not understanding what I’ve said, then realize they must have messed up–“Oh! He! Of course. Like I was saying…” The whole thing is over in 5-10 seconds, and I’ve stood up for myself and reinforced the pronoun change without making anyone feel bad.

    I hope your pronouns start to sink into people’s heads soon!

    Reply
  2. Kim Schicklang

    ““She” is not some fundamental biological fact,” That’s true. But be aware of the modern way of exclusion… it says “I am biological A and you are not”. That’s the more important question: Is society willing to accept that being born transsexual (with body parts that do differ from the origin sex) is something that can be happen or if it’s just an phantastic illusion of some weird people who are definied as “other” cause they seem to wish to be treated as someones whose identity differs from “the biological fact”.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Hope Post author

      Absolutely, and that’s kind of where I’m coming from – when people talk about sex essentialism (men are men, women are women, it’s all about chromosomes) they are actually talking about a social construction, we were not born with labels attached like boy, girl, he, she and what biology we choose to pay attention or categorise people according to and what biology we ignore or override is salient in the story of all trans* people.

      Reply

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