Being a ‘good’ transqueer

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.

8 comments

  1. Being cast as one of the “good” ones is such a weird and gross position to be in. :( It happens to me sometimes just because I’m so conflict avoidant, and I always feel like I’ve sold a little bit of my soul just to be left alone.

  2. “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).”

    Although it’s not your job to remind people of this fact, I do actually think the reminder helps. I don’t know any out trans folk in real life, so I don’t face many opportunities of accidentally misgendering someone to their face, but I feel like being told “hey, it’s cool, but also here’s what I really need you to do” would be helpful. I think a lot of people take “I know a trans person” to mean “I know one person for whom gender is different from the norm” and not “I know gender itself has no norm”. You know? I don’t know if that made sense… Anyway, that’s super awkward and uncomfortable, and it sucks that you have to face it so often. :\

    1. “I don’t face many opportunities of accidentally misgendering someone to their face” <- a bunch of things here. As far as you know you may already be misgendering people to their face all the time. Every time you gender anyone anywhere, regardless of whether you think they are trans, that is an opportunity to accidentally misgender them.

      I think you just worded this awkwardly, and that probably wasn't quite what you meant, but it is important that you understand this.

      As much as you might find it "helpful" for someone to say to you "hey, it’s cool, but also here’s what I really need you to do", I want you to know that no matter how many times people feel the need to reassure their misgenderers that "it's cool", please don't ever let yourself believe that it is ok. It is harmful. That is the entire point of this post. I feel like I need ot reassure poeple that it's ok when it's not, because if I don't reassure them, then they will be even less likely to try to avoid harming me in the future. Do you get how fucked up a situation that is for me (or anyone) to be in?

      1. What I meant by that is, I don’t often interact with people I KNOW are trans, and can therefore accidentally misgender them. Sorry, I should have been more specific.

        (And yes, I’m aware I probably interact with trans folks on a daily basis, and yes, I try my hardest not to assume anyone’s gender without being told explicitly by them.)

        1. Ok. I think what you’re doing here is differentiating between two kinds of misgendering – the one where you know someone is trans and are just messing up on updating your internal sense of them and the pronouns you should be using, versus the kind where you gender a stranger incorrectly? And you don’t have experience with the process of changing the pronouns you use for someone you know?

          That is a thing that takes work and practice, for sure. But again, it is your work, not the work of the trans person, and it is important to remember that always. They’ve got enough on their plate, and as much as obviously you would prefer for them to treat you kindly around it, that isn’t always a realistic expectation or even a thing they are capable of, depending on their situation. Does that make sense?

      2. Whoops, sorry, WordPress didn’t show your whole comment to me originally. Ignore my comment below.

        Sorry, I think my comment was just worded badly all around. I wasn’t trying to imply you should reassure people it’s okay to misgender someone – I was just agreeing with your point about how it’s a bigger issue than just not misgendering this ONE person, and that people don’t always think of that. I didn’t at all mean to make it sound like you should be reminding people of that when they misgender you. Just that it’s something a lot of folks don’t think about.

        Sorry.

    2. …that was admittedly harsh. I think the thing you’re missing from my original post is that yes, step once when someone misgenders me is I correct them. Kindly. And directly.

      This post is about the aftermath of that, when people decide to make the whole thing all about them and their feelings and how bad they feel and how they need me to drop everything and spend the next ten minutes consoling *them* because they misgendered *me*. Messing up happens. Requiring all kinds of emotional labour from me every time *you* mess up? Not. Cool.

      But I don’t think that’s a thing you were saying yo uwould do, so? I’m not sure what your original point was to be honest, other than that yes, most people don’t realize that the way we gender people habitually is not ok and needs to stop. And even knowing a trans person or two doesn’t usually wake them up to the real work they need to do. You are right about that. But like, it’s still not my problem.

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