I’ve been out for two and a half years and medically transitioning for one year. I began classes at a small performing arts college just before starting T, and met many new people, all of whom are accepting. There were some pronoun slips before T made a lot of changes, but they usually were followed with immediate corrections and apologies. I’d usually shrug it off and maybe laugh with them.
At the start of this semester, as my one year on testosterone quickly approached, I began to become troubled by misgenderings. They happen so scarcely now that it’s almost shocking when I’m referred to as “she”.
“The first time it happened, I got severely angry.”
It’s happened with three different people. The first time it happened, I got severely angry. So angry that it surprised even me- wasn’t I usually the patient trans guy? The one who prided himself on how he can easily shrug off a misgendering?
When it happened with someone else, I again got angry. However, this was all early in the semester, so I tried to tell myself that even though it’s a small school, and a lot of people know me by now, I’m still new to this department, so maybe it’ll take time.
I was still troubled by the misgendering- almost all of the time; I’m referred to as “sir”. The barista calls me sir as he hands me my coffee. That annoying survey lady says, “excuse me sir, do you have a minute?” as she tries to get my attention in the mall. The person on the phone for my local pharmacy says, “Please hold a minute, sir!” as they’re checking if my prescription is ready.
Recently, the same girl who misgendered me last did so again. My initial reaction was my wanting to scream at the top of my lungs that I’m not a girl! I was caught in a real, “Oh my God, everyone gets it but her!” moment, and had no clue where to turn.
However, all I could do was correct her angrily, because that was the start of class- a class in the dance studio. Since I’m still pre-op, I have to wear a sports bra under my shirt during any physical activity. I was forced to look at myself in the wall-size mirror for an hour and fifteen minutes, constantly reminded of how I look like an awkward in-between instead of a man.
My dysphoria was raging. It got to the point where at the end of class, I went to my prof and said, “ I don’t think I can do this class.” Mind you, it’s after midterms. This class, while physically demanding, I’ve felt throughout I can handle it. I went on to clarify, “The class itself is no big deal, but someone keeps misgendering me.”
He nodded and said that even though it’s not his job, he’d happily mediate a conversation between that other girl and me, but I’d have to be patient with some people.
Patient. There was that word again.
I responded by saying I don’t want to have the conversation unless it happens again, but I was so far into transition that being “patient” for my pronouns to be used should not be a worry. Everyone who knows me has settled into calling me, “sir”. My name is now legally changed and any remnants of my birth name are slowly being scrubbed out. Even my parents who were upset at my transition at the start had gotten used to calling me a different name and pronouns- except when they slip up, they have a legitimate reason for doing so. They’ve known me for the first nineteen years of my life as a girl. They were very rattled by my coming out. However, I was patient with them, because they needed patience! This girl, who has just met me this past semester, has no excuse to not call me “he”.
“Why does the world expect transgender people to be “patient” with everyone, even to people who have no excuse to continually misgender?”
There was so much more I wanted to say about how her misgendering me repeatedly was more than an annoyance, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say those things. Wasn’t I Mr. Patient, the identity I’d made for myself since starting at this school? I left my professor’s office feeling very unsure. Why does the world expect transgender people to be “patient” with everyone, even to people who have no excuse to continually misgender? No one had ever called me, “she” around this girl, even when she misgendered me the first time!
But then something else hit me- why am I so afraid to really push for people to understand what it means to be misgendered?
From what I’ve seen, (and some of what I’ve experienced) backing down from correcting others and not being forcibly patient, comes from fear of others trying to guilt you into not reacting. People will insist that being patient will lead to people accepting transgender people. Even if someone intentionally or accidentally keeps misgendering us, we’re expected to sit back and take it so we’re “more easily accepted.” So it never ends- be patient so you’ll be accepted, but when you’re not accepted even when you’ve been patient, you still need to be patient to be accepted. Keep in mind, when someone tells you not to be angry in a situation like this, they’re more or less saying, “I mean, it’s only your identity! You shouldn’t be so angry at someone denying who you are!”
“If someone is constantly refusing to acknowledge your identity by simple means of using the correct pronouns, then you have every right to speak up.”
That is bullshit. If someone is constantly refusing to acknowledge your identity by simple means of using the correct pronouns, then you have every right to speak up. Funny enough, just the semester before, as I was still going through a lot of changes on testosterone, I was hanging around some friends and other people at a school club meeting. After the fourth time I was called “she”, I shouted, “The next person to misgender me is going through the fucking wall!” That drove the point home for those it needed to. I was not worried about my friends getting offended by it, which they weren’t. A couple of them told me how proud of me they were that I did that. Besides, if asserting myself offended them, why should I call them “friends”?
If I did that, what’s to stop me from asserting myself again? It’s fear of people getting angry with me…for getting angry!
Being misgendered, especially when you “pass” most of the time, can really shake up your world. It can send you into a black hole of dysphoria, and make you feel helpless. However, thinking about the whole situation, as it was a couple of weeks ago now, I’ve had time to t think over what needs to be done in any misgendering situation. There is the issue of what to react to with anger, and what to be patient about, as even though it’s tough to have our identities accepted, it doesn’t always call for blatant anger.
My suggestions are as follows:
- Take a second to think- who is this person? Do they know me- are they a stranger, a friend, a colleague, etc. How long have they known me, both pre and post starting transition? If it were a stranger passing you by on the street and asking if they know where the closest Starbucks is, that wouldn’t be a reasonable time to be angry. It might startle you a little at being misgendered, but they don’t know you, you’ll never see them again, what’s the point in being angry at them? Maybe calmly correct them, and then mention there’s a Starbucks two blocks away, right near the Stop N Shop. If the person in question has known you for a long time, before you started transition, and has been a constant presence in your life, it’s time to go to the next step…
- Remember what they’re usually like- do they normally accept you? Do they usually slip up? If they normally accept you, and do slip up every so often, do they apologize right after? (also think about if they apologized and corrected themselves soon after misgendering.) If they don’t apologize or usually use the correct pronouns, we then need to…
- Assess their intent- have they been repeatedly corrected? Did they ever apologize? Is there some malice to their voice or facial expression? Sometimes that may be a difficult thing to figure out, and it may take a little real thought to determine what their intent is. If there is clear malicious intent to their misgendering, then we need to do the final two steps, which is to…
- Not back down- you have a right to be upset. If this person is a repeat offender, especially without apology, why should you have to tolerate it?
- Speak up! Don’t beat around the bush- you’re angry at their disregard to your identity!
Funny enough, each step can spell out the acronym, T.R.A.N.S. Hopefully it makes it easier to remember!
Also remember- you have a right to be angry! You don’t have to be calm and extra polite just because some people feel you need to be. If someone is refusing to refer to you properly, and it’s gotten to be too much to bear, stand up! Your emotions are valid- same as your identity!