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.