Tag Archives: Pronouns

Yes, Deliberate Misgendering is Transphobia

“Is deliberate misgendering transphobic?”

This very debate is happening in spaces trans people are often not safe to access, because of, well, because of misgendering. Allies who jump in and assert that misgendering is transphobic get told they cannot speak for trans people, and often it’s hard for us to find our own voice in such environments. So, I decided to do a quick poll to check out what my community actually think of this, and surprise surprise, the vast majority of trans people who responded (94%) believed deliberate misgendering really is transphobic.

First, let’s be clear what we are talking about.

Deliberate misgendering is when people say that trans women are really men (and vice versa), or use male pronouns or old names to speak to or about them when their actual identity is known.

A good description of its impact can be read here.

As an aside, the dismissal of concerns about transphobia is often accompanied by the privileging of male-stereotypical traits. The trans community are urged to be “less sensitive”, or not to be so “weak and feeble”. This is part of a patriarchal anti-vulnerability narrative that we have all become far too indoctrinated with. If we tend to be emotional, sensitive, easily hurt, or vulnerable, there is, apparently no room for us in an activist sphere that was designed for people with thick skins (ironically, a physical trait that is linked to higher testosterone levels). When we say we are not safe in spaces where we are being continually misgendered, we are mocked and jeered at, or our concerns are simply dismissed.

Let’s face it, all suggestions that the trans community “toughen up” over the issue of misgendering are thinly veiled orders for us to “man up”.

The Poll

I polled 2 non-political Facebook groups for UK trans people. The following table makes it clear what a general transgender population thinks of deliberate misgendering:

Q: Is deliberately misgendering someone transphobia, yes or no? 68 Trans people responded to the poll Yes 94% Not always 6% No 0% Other words used: violent, aggressive, abusive, deliberately hurtful. feministchallengingtransphobia.wordpress.com

The “not always” category belonged to people who could see exceptional circumstances where it wouldn’t be transphobia; for instance where a trans man is called a “girl” in a teasing way, that’s simply sexism, and where friends and family are struggling with the change, it may not always be strictly transphobia at work. Also, when you are misgendering someone at their request and for their safety so as not to out them. However, the overwhelming feeling was clear: Misgendering is transphobia.

Which leads to the other important point made by more than one respondent – that it is not for people outside our community to decide what is and is not oppressive to people within our community, any more than it is for white people to decide what is and is not racist.

One defender of misgendering said it did not bother her so why should it bother trans people? This reminds me of a white teenage girl I once knew who told me there was nothing wrong with the N word; her friends called her it all the time and it did not upset her one little bit!

Misgendering is transphobia, end of story. When you engage in deliberate misgendering, you do so to undermine us; to make our social position less tenable; to cast doubt on our own words and explanations of ourselves; to privilege your explanation and categorisation of us; to expose us as “fraudulent” or “fake”; and frequently to infantilise, mock and belittle us. You also put us at higher risk of violence and lower access to social support and services by calling our identities into question, and this could substantially affect our wellbeing in multiple ways.

Of course misgendering is transphobic. Of course, as Laverne Cox says, it is an act of violence.

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Please use my pronouns!

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:

pronouns

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.

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.