When a transgender person finally takes the step to come out to the people closest to them, you can pretty much be assured it came after significant angst and lots of courage building. For a trans person to tell someone else, anyone else, “Hey, I’m trans and this is my name and pronouns,” is a monumental step that cisgender and heterosexual people will never have to make and, therein, will never truly understand just how much inner strength it took. When things go perfectly and the other person easily slides into proper name and pronouns it makes a trans person immeasurably happy and will often be the initial positive responses a trans person needs to help them continue this journey. Negative responses, however, can often lead to extreme distress – even life-threatening – emotionally downward spirals, especially during the first few attempts to come out.
1. Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity, gender, and pronouns correspond with their birth sex.
Most often a transgender person will be in some of the earliest stages of their journey, sometimes even just at the point of discovering for themselves that they are trans while others might have already taken some steps forward towards the transition process. Regardless, for the people that are in a trans person’s life, they may still see the “same old” person they’ve always known and may need some time to acclimate to new names and pronouns. We, as trans people, need to be understanding of this and afford our friends and families some wiggle room. We certainly didn’t come to terms with our gender from one instant to another – it was typically a process for us as well, so we need to allow some time for others to catch up.
SOME TIME – Not forever
An unfortunate number of cisgender people seem to think that their leeway (or learning) period has no expiration date and that they can “get around” to proper naming and pronoun use whenever it suits them. Hearing comments like “You will always be XXXX to me,” or “Haha, sorry, I don’t know if I will ever get this new name/pronoun right,” are not just insulting, they are attempts to deny someone an existence in their own terms. It negates a trans person and makes it feel (because it is, in reality) that they’re not important enough to you, the cisgender person, to make an ongoing effort to name/gender them correctly.
“Regardless of where someone may be in their personal transition, the moment a cisgender person uses the wrong name or pronoun almost everyone can sense the change in the air.”
Regardless of where someone may be in their personal transition, the moment a cisgender person uses the wrong name or pronoun almost everyone can sense the change in the air. A perceptible change occurs, often the trans person’s body language clues others in that something was said or done that was perhaps not appropriate and most people don’t know how to respond to that subtle shift they sense. Many will try to laugh it off, change the subject, or any other number of things to get out of the awkward situation. At some point, a transgender person has reached a certain point where to dead name (use their birth name) or misgender (use the wrong pronouns) them only makes the cisgender person look like a complete fool.
A perfect example of this is my own father. While I figured he would be the one to adapt the quickest he has, actually, been the one most reticent. While everyone else has managed to get the name correct with the fairly rare slipup, he doggedly refuses to even realize he’s the odd man out. My outward appearance is very male, with a bunch of bushy facial hair, and yet he dead names and misgenders me as easy as the air he breathes. When I happen to be near him and he does it, I’ve actually reached the point where I laugh at people’s reactions. When he refers to me as his daughter people seem absolutely dumbfounded because they see a very male-like person standing there. Since the entire family calling me Jude hasn’t clued him in, I’ve taken to just ignoring him anytime he dead names me. That, too, seemed to go by unnoticed until one day he asked my mother if I was okay. I explained I was certainly okay, I just don’t know to whom he’s speaking. My mother, surprisingly, was the one to explain to him then that he keeps using the wrong name and gender. There seemed to be a light bulb that went off and he realized “Oh yeah, you’d be the dog’s daddy, not the mommy, now…” Then about 30 minutes later his light bulb must have blown a fuse because he went right back to his old habits. Every time he does it, though, he looks like a crazy man and perhaps he is, as I’ve been transitioning for over three years now and he has become the oddity rather than myself being the one who feels misplaced.
“There are just some cisgender people who seem to be so within their own universe that they’re unable to climb out enough to see there’s so much more to the world around them.”
There are just some cisgender people who seem to be so within their own universe that they’re unable to climb out enough to see there’s so much more to the world around them. There are people who are, in a way, colorblind to the world, and there may never be a way to really break through to them. We can take some solace, if you want, in that eventually, they will be the strange ones and people will look at them like something’s wrong with them like so many people seem to do to us. There are others who seem to genuinely want to do right by the transgender person in their life and for those, there should be room for forgiveness, but most importantly, tolerance and teachings.
For the cisgender folks out there, stop thinking you can control another person’s identity by refusing to acknowledge them. It’s not your right, it’s not in your power, and you will be the one looking foolish in the end.