There is a thing that sometimes happens, when I get accidentally misgendered by someone who knows I am genderqueer. It’s not what happens all the time – plenty of people are capable of smoothly correcting themselves, or if I have to correct them, they are good at just apologizing and moving on with a promise to try harder.
But sometimes. Sometimes the person is just. So. Sorry. Y’know? And they want me to know how sorry they are and they want me to confirm that I am aware that they are sorry. And they want to make sure I know that this is just hard for them you know?
And the thing is, I do know. The habit of unconsciously gendering people in a binary way and automatically using the corresponding pronouns with them is so deeply ingrained from such an early age that we don’t even realize we’re doing it most of the time. And changing that is a thing that actually requires work – it’s not a thing you can just decide to do and then do without putting actual effort into it.
I even know that changing the pronouns you use for a person (let alone changing to a pronoun set you’re not accustomed to using, or not accustomed to using to refer to a single, specific person) is actually harder for most people than it is for me, because the way I process language, especially when I’m talking, is not super automatic and I am naturally aware of each and every word I am using most of the time. And not everyone works that way. I get that.
So I tell them yes, I know it is hard (even though I know it’s almost certainly not as hard as they are making it out to be). And they thank me, and they applaud me for being so reasonable and cool about it.
And then I feel gross. Because the unspoken clause in these accolades is always that they are glad I’m not being like those *other* transqueers, the thin-skinned ones who don’t accept that their kinda-trying-but-not-really approach is the best they are willing to offer. The ones who freak out and aren’t doing themselves any favours by alienating so many people who definitely don’t mean to hurt them, after all. Thank goodness I am not like those people, right?
But those people are my people. And I feel the same pain they feel when I am misgendered. And I am angry that so often, when I am still reeling from having been misgendered, again, by someone who knew better, I wind up having to do the emotional labour of consoling them about it, of telling them that everything is ok, that they are not a bad person, even though I was one the one who was hurt here, and even while they offer me nothing to indicate that they will actually do better next time, or ever really.
And I don’t quite know what to do with that. But I have started pushing back in small ways. When someone minimizes the impact of their words on me, or when they tell me it was a just a reflexive mistake, even while I am reassuring them that I know that, I take the opportunity to point out that the fact that reflexively misgender me is in fact the real problem. It tells me that they still see me in the gender I used to pretend to inhabit, even after all this time. It tells me they have not done the work to change their perceptions of gender (which is something we should all do, all of the time, regardless of anything else).
It is hurtful that there are people who have known me through my transition, that still see me as a woman. I know that it is true, really, and I’ve never expected anything else, but it is still shitty to be reminded of it. It hurts me. I am hurt by their lack of effort, and by their unconcern. And from now on, I am going to make sure that they know that.
Hopefully it will help.