So this is more on gender, whilst I try and gather enough headspace for anything else. Having a second family member diagnosed with terminal cancer in a little more than six months does nothing for your mental health, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
People have asked me why I chose ‘they’ as a pronoun and various people have intimated that something such as ‘xie’ would be easier. Oddly, I chose ‘they’ partly because it was IN common use already and was trying to make things easier. My reasoning was that no-one would have to use a new word. But that seems to backfire on me a bit. This blog is partly about that and partly about being able to say to readers, therapists, trainees, ‘get it wrong’ (which might seem different to previous posts).
I was recently out for a drink with friends I love dearly, and who I believe respect my gender identity. And yet throughout the afternoon they consistently gendered me as she. I corrected a couple of times, but it kept happening. Later in the evening, we were joined by another friend who, when I was out with her the week before and introducing her to various people, had a mental blip and referred to me as ‘he; she.. they!’ – the brain understanding of gender change was there, but possibly the comfort of ‘they’ in English had stopped something from registering properly as a specific choice of pronoun (rather than just as an unknown gender).
Anyhow- after that blip, she mostly genders me correctly now. Joining my other friends, she slipped and gendered me wrongly and then corrected herself and that seemed to make all the difference to my other friends. Suddenly they started to gender me properly (and oddly, later made exactly the same ‘he; she… they’ slip as my friend had previously). But it seems that until they had heard someone else ‘admit’ to getting things wrong, they hadn’t been able to get it consciously wrong themselves and had considered with what might be viewed as an unconscious slip (I have no idea if it was or not!).
Some of this seems to come back down to power. Much like racism and people who ‘don’t see colour’, it’s easier to pretend there is no difference and therefore you can’t be getting it wrong (even in the face of evidence). It then falls to the marginalised person to point out that you’re wrong, but when you’re in ‘fingers in ears’ phase singing ‘la la I can’t hear you’ because it’s really uncomfortable to think you might be hurting someone) it’s hard to get that point across. Also I think, because cisgender people (that’s anyone whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth) can feel that their pronouns don’t matter very much to them. That’s probably because they get called the right pronoun most, if not all of the time. Ask a binary trans woman how much it hurts when she is called ‘sir’ or someone cos who is considered ‘butch’ if and how pronouns matter. You soon start to get a different story. Not all cisgender people get given the right pronouns and it *doesnt* matter to all of those people who get the wrong one but it does matter to some. That’s why a ‘sorry’ followed by a correction means much more than what can feel like blanket ignorance and refusing to be vulnerable. As trans and non-binary people, we have no choice but to be vulnerable. As cisgender people, you can meet us in that vulnerability.
On my last training weekend a similar thing happened. I was misgendered all the time by one person (more than one but they are the specific focus here). It hurt. Repeatedly. When I eventually forced the issue, they said they had always been aware they were getting it wrong, but hadn’t been able to acknowledge it, because (it feels to me) they didn’t want to try and publicly get it right and still get it wrong. If that trainee is reading and would like to comment, please do- I will publish it 🙂
It takes being willing to be vulnerable, to get it right out loud. And I understand that. I’m not keen on being vulnerable (or being wrong, for that matter) and to both make myself vulnerable AND (possibly) get it wrong is really hard.
I promise you though, when you get it right, and every time you get it right, people notice. In a good way.