Not so much a blog post this week, as a request.
You see, as I have been trying to explain, I suffer from a thing called gender dysphoria. This means the legal and social identity assigned to me when I was born (female) does not feel relevant, authentic, comfortable or congruent with who I really am, and causes me actual distress. It has been a struggle for me to admit this, because the world is not very understanding towards transgender people.
But transgender is genuinely what I am – the classification imposed on me is just plain wrong for me; it does not work. As such, whenever somebody labels me or addresses me as female, I feel just like the trans woman in this picture feels about being labelled male:
These are my preferred pronouns: They/them/their. Please let go of issues such as how they are difficult to use, or “not correct English” – language evolves to reflect human need, and besides there is plenty of evidence to support the use of singular they – you probably already use it way more than you realise. Frankly, you’ll get used to it with practice; your suffering of a little linguistic awkwardness does not really compare to the misery I feel in being continually invalidated by language that does not describe me.
Imagine if everyone called you “shorty”, and although you’re short, you didn’t want your identity based around your shortness. People would be pretty mean to go on calling you “shorty” after you said please don’t.
Well, when you call me “she” or “woman” you’re effectively saying my defining attribute is my vagina, and honestly I think what’s between my legs is about as relevant as how tall I am or what colour my eyes are. Just because everyone’s in the habit of labelling people this way, doesn’t make it useful.
If you really cannot get your head round using they/them/their, I’d like to offer you other options:
You could use my name, or my initial: Sam came over and I asked S to stay for tea
You could use ze/hir (pronounced zee/hear): Ze laughed/ I called hir/ Hir eyes gleam/ That is hirs/ Ze likes hirself – this seems to be the most popular pronoun choice next to they.
If you find another legitimate gender neutral pronoun (other than “it” – ugh!) – feel free to use that. I don’t mind being called per, ve, xie, co or any other neutral pronoun.
Or it you are unable to use any of those other options, I would infinitely prefer you to use male pronouns for me than female pronouns, because at least that would acknowledge and not invisibilise my transgender identity and my male aspect.
I have watched people around me accept my partner’s change of name and impending transition while being dismissive of my own, equally legitimate gender dysphoria. Try not to think of being transgender as some sort of linear scale, where non-binary people are just a watered-down version of “fully” or “properly” transgender people – that isn’t how it works. All transgender people, just like everyone else, are a unique scatterplot of different traits and experiences, biological and social influences that add up to their own individual conclusion. We need to be respected for who we say we are. We each have our own trials and challenges. I admit I have lots of privileges at the moment in not transitioning, but having my identity constantly ignored, whilst it has some advantages in terms of my safety, is profoundly psychologically distressing.
So please, if you want to help me not feel constantly distressed, eradicated and marginalised by the language you use, please don’t call me “she” or use female ways to describe me.
I am trying to be patient – I know it is difficult and I frequently misgender myself, so I will not be jumping down your throat for getting it wrong, but it would mean a lot to me if you would accept in your own mind the necessity of the effort to try. Because my welfare is at stake in this and gendering me female is psychologically undermining me every time it happens.