boundaries

Questions from the search terms: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

From my search terms this month: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

Dear searcher,

I am so sorry that is happening to you. I want to be very clear, in case you don’t know, that this is a problem with other people and not with you. But, since they aren’t doing the work to fix it, you’re going to have to take up some of the slack. There are some simple things you can do to (hopefully) help these folks start calling you by the right name.

First, get in touch with the people who are calling you by your old name, and directly remind them of the change. Keep it as simple and direct as possible:

“Hey, you may have forgotten, but I changed my name [x days/weeks/months] ago. As a reminder, my new name is [your new name]. It is important to me that you do not call me by my old name any more.”

Optionally, you might want to add a statement like “I’ll try to remind you right away if you forget again.” This will do a couple of important things: it warns them of your intent not to just let it slide from now on (I don’t know if you’ve already been correcting people every time or not, but even if you have it may be helpful to reiterate that you are going to keep doing so); it sets up your reminders as something you are doing as favour to them, to help them out with this transition; and hopefully it will make them less defensive when you do correct them, because you’ve established that you mean it in a friendly(ish) way.

Step two is to do your best to actively correct people, immediately, when they mess up. If you’re already doing this, great! It’s actually something I am terrible at, so you are doing better than me on this front. If you haven’t been actively correcting people, then they may push back when you start (though this is why I recommend sending a direct message first, since it clarifies your position and sets the stage for the idea that you expect them to be taking your name change seriously, and makes it harder for them fall back on an excuse about how they didn’t realize it was important).

You may get some people (parents are especially prone to this, since they will likely have the strongest attachment to your old name, having chosen it themselves) who will ask for special dispensation not to have to change to your new name. For them, just reiterate that it is important to you that people call you by your new name – if there are specific reasons for this that you are comfortable sharing with them, do so. If it’s relevant, you may also want to point out that it would be confusing for other people to hear them still calling you by your old name, and might send the message that it’s ok for them to do so too. You can even tell them that because they are important in your life, it’s especially important that they call you by the correct name.

If people really are being stubborn about it, you may want to pull out somewhat more overt or aggressive methods. Start wearing a name tag around them. Flat-out ignore them when they call you by the wrong name (this tactic may also go over better if you state your intention explicitly: “Because it is important that you call me [new name], I will no longer be answering to [old name].”)

You can continue to escalate your insistence on people using the correct name as far as you need to, up to and including deciding to start cutting people out of your life if they refuse to respect you by using your new name.

This is really a boundary-setting exercise, and I encourage you to seek out general advice on setting boundaries to get other ideas about how to make this boundary stick. The “boundaries” category on Captain Awkward is a good place to start.

I wish you the best of luck!

Binding again! I never should have stopped

I put on my binder this morning – for the first time in well over a month, and maybe the second time in the last three months or so (though I do still wear a sports bra semi-regularly) – and was amazed by how immediately comforting it was. A lot of the time these days it’s not a great option anyway; my primary job right now is reasonably physical-labour intensive and also involves 10+-hour days with a 1.5-2 hour commute each way and those days are too long to bind – even the bra gets a bit much by the time I get home.

But I have also been sort of semi-consciously avoiding it for a while, because it had gotten tied up in weirdfeels and general undercurrent of distrusting and/or disliking myself. I don’t think I felt like I deserved it or something. I couldn’t be trusted with it somehow, in a way that ties back into what I wrote about a few months ago around my reluctance to explicitly state boundaries. I’d been gently and obliviously pressured into taking the binder off on occasions when I didn’t want to (I mean, not really pressured – just that it was gently suggested to me as a thing I might want to do in a situation where I was really quietly and passively avoiding it and the other person reasonably didn’t notice/understand that, and once it had been explicitly brought to bear I wasn’t able to just be like “no, I don’t want to do that” even though I’m sure it would have been totally fine for me to do so?) It is all very theoretically unimportant and almost silly even, and yet I have been avoiding internally addressing what happened and what I did, to the point of not ever thinking about it directly, and apparently this extended to the point of not binding anymore for a while. I hate that that is a thing that I do, and I hate that it apparently affects me so deeply.

I don’t know how to be stronger. I don’t know how to trust myself, or other people, in moments like that. I am so good at being strong and level-headed and stubborn and direct about so many things, but then I crumble so easily around others.

Old wounds, do they ever heal? I would like to be more functional than this.

Anyway, at this point I’m just going to focus on the fact that right now, it feels really good to be back. I honestly love my binders!

All the reasons I don’t defend my own boundaries

I wish I was better at defending my boundaries. I am honestly so bad at it.

I have this problem where, even though I totally understand how important it is for people to respect each other’s boundaries, and even though I am both willing and able to go to bat *hard* for other people when their boundaries are being violated, I always, always instinctively err on the side of not rocking the boat when it comes to my own.

Either I will say nothing and hope that the violation ends soon (in situations like street (or public transit) harassment), or if I do say something I heavily downplay the importance of the issue. Like, I am so fucking ingratiating about people misgendering me – and sometimes that is actually fair, because hey, they didn’t know any better/they are genuinely trying and I can tell, but also, that shit *hurts*. Sometimes a lot. And I know I could do a better job of making it clear that people really should be trying harder, because it doesn’t hurt them to slow down enough to think before they speak (or at any rate, it probably doesn’t hurt as much as having my identity erased).

Part of this is that I don’t like to admit that I am hurt by things. I don’t like to admit that I *can* be hurt by things. On some level, I don’t trust people not to take advantage if I draw them a precise picture of what things hurt me in what ways. Which is genuinely unfair to most of the people in my life, and I am working on that.

Sometimes the problem is that, by letting someone now they are hurting me, particularly around my gender, can be a catalyst for in-depth conversation about my gender that I don’t necessarily feel like having. Like, this is not a thing that is relevant right now maybe except for the fact that I really need you to stop calling me a “girl” right now, mmkay?

I have an overwhelming desire to not seem “difficult”, to not be perceived as “causing problems”. Even while I *know* that if someone is hurting me or violating my boundaries, they are the one being difficult and causing problems. Even though I know that I am trying to *solve* the problem. But because everyone else doesn’t want to have to see the problem, I know I will be seen as the person violating that bullshit social contract about making people feel uncomfortable.

I have had problems in the past, with people whom I trust enough to actually outline important boundaries explicitly, where I have had them make it about themselves, where I have had them explain to me that they are hurt or uncomfortable about the fact that I have boundaries, where they have explicitly or implicitly guilt-tripped me about having (those) boundaries at all. In the extreme case, any time I tried to set a boundary with my abuser (especially sexually), the thing I had set a boundary around would always magically become extremely important and vital to him, and the boundary-setting had the opposite effect I intended. He would constantly poke and prod and push at it, far more so than ever would have happened if I hadn’t said anything to begin with.

So many times in my life I have sacrificed my own boundaries because people have made it more painful for me to defend them than to just let them violate me. And all of this has made me extremely circumspect about setting boundaries with anyone, ever. And it makes me extremely touchy about it when I do. Which is shitty all around.

Pro-tip: when someone tells you they don’t want to do something with you, accept that as a fucking ‘no’. Don’t make it about you – it’s fine that maybe you would have like to do that thing, but you get to express your disappointment exactly *once* before it becomes pressure and a violation of the boundary. I promise you that you were heard the first time. Don’t manufacture excuses to talk to them about that thing to try and make them see that they should be comfortable with talking to you about, because that accomplishes the exact opposite of making you seem trustworthy. It demonstrates that you can’t fucking well be trusted to respect their explicitly stated boundaries. (And *still*, when I was in this situation, by the way, I was nice about it and tried to simply reiterated my boundary, while simultaneously walking it back step-by-step (to my extreme detriment) to account for the other person’s stated discomfort about the boundary’s existence. Sometimes I hate me.)

I have had so many people be so shitty to me about boundaries both explicitly and implicitly stated, that I sometimes feel like I have no idea what to do anymore. I know that my boundaries are going to be violated. It is going to happen. And I rarely have the energy or the wherewithal to deal with violations of explicitly stated boundaries. I (almost) prefer not to tell anyone about them so that if I get hurt all I have to do is blame myself – and really, I just find it so much easier to beat up on myself and wallow in self-hatred than to actually try to deal with other people’s genuinely shitty behaviour toward me.

What I really need to learn is how to respond effectively when it happens. I need to learn that I deserve to be treated better and start writing people off (or at least downgrading my relationship with them) when they don’t make the grade. I need to learn that it is ok to get angry.

But also, I know that in the moment my immediate response to this kind of threat is to go into total shutdown, to become so trapped in my head that I can’t communicate anything more complex that small talk, and that very very often it can take me days or weeks (or sometimes, however long it takes for me to get some distance from the person who did the thing) to figure out how to fully articulate what caused that to happen and to convince myself that it’s not just my problem that I have to deal with.

I am tired. There seems to be a never-ending list of reasons for me to avoid stating and defending my boundaries. I have no solutions. What are all y’all solutions to this kind of bullshit?

Forward Thinking: How Should We Punish People For Moral Failures?

In response to the Forward Thinking prompt:

How and when (if ever) should we take it upon ourselves to punish someone in our lives for a moral failure? How does this vary depending on various possible relationships we might have to the the morally guilty party? Consider, for example, how or whether we might punish our friends, our partners, our parents, our colleagues, strangers we encounter, etc. What sorts of values and principles should guide us when we presume to take it upon ourselves to be moral enforcers?

Ok, I think the thing that I need to establish up front is that none of us have the right to inflict “punishment” on most of the people in our lives. Punishment, as I see it, can only be meted out by someone who is in a position of legitimate authority over another person. And by ‘legitimate’, I generally mean consensual, either at the personal level, or at a communal/societal level. At the personal level, consensual authority would exist if I were to ask someone to help me police my behaviour in some way and we agreed in advance what consequences might occur if I fail in my desired behavioural change. At the communal level, legitimate authority is established when people collectively agree on what behaviours cannot be tolerated, and on how they will be dealt with. A good example of would be a well-executed anti-harassment policy (wherein a person violating someone else’s boundaries is removed from the environment in which the policy is enforced). Of course, not all communally or societally established authority is legitimate, but thankfully, I haven’t been asked to deal with the communal level here, so I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

So, the personal level, then. To illustrate my feelings about the exercise of ‘punishment’ against people over whom we have no authority, I’m going to pull out one of my pet peeves. It’s a trope in our society that when someone’s live-in significant other (usually male) does something “wrong” they are required to sleep on the couch. I find this dynamic to be superbly fucked up. From my perspective, if my partner does something I don’t like, that doesn’t give me the magic power to tell him what to do, and certainly doesn’t give me the power to tell him where he can sleep in the home that is his as much as it is mine (though I would have the right to kick him out of my bed or even my apartment if we did not have shared ownership of the bed/living space). I do have the right to deny my presence to him, absolutely, but if I am the one insisting that we not sleep in the same room, I do not also get to be the one who decides who sleeps in the bedroom. I cannot tell him what to do, though I can (and sometimes do) choose not to sleep wherever he decides to sleep.

And I don’t care that he did something wrong, I don’t care that sleeping on the couch is a form of penance (although if he willingly decided to sleep on the couch knowing that was the only way I would sleep on the bed, that would be a nice gesture and an indicator that he was sorry); none of this changes the fact that we are two autonomous beings, and I have no authority over him. And I cannot rightfully inflict punishment against him, period.

So, it is my position that for the most part and in almost every case, we cannot punish other people in our lives for moral failings.

That said, though, there are things that we can do, and generally should strive to do whenever we have the necessary energy (in escalating order):

  1. Express your disapproval.

If someone you know is doing something morally wrong, make it clear that you do not condone their behaviour, and wherever possible, explain why it is unacceptable. Sometimes people don’t realize the moral implications of their actions. Sometimes they are simply depending on not being called on it. Making it clear that you disapprove can be a powerful tool in changing a person’s behaviour

 

  • Explicitly refuse to be complicit.

If the person in question is trying to recruit your support (even passively) or if keeping quiet about the moral failure in question makes you feel morally culpable, make it clear that you will not be silent about their actions if you continue to be aware of them. Expressing disapproval while also remaining mum and allowing the moral wrong to continue sends mixed messages, and undermines your expressed disapproval.

 

 

  • Follow through.

If the person continues to share the details of their transgressions, do not remain silent. Either warn the people who stand to be harmed by the wrong-doer, or bring the information to someone in a place of legitimate authority (i.e. if someone is stealing from their workplace, the managers have legitimate authority to punish them by firing them, and if someone is breaking a law, then the legal system has the (admittedly dubious in some cases) authority to deal with that).

 

 

  • Remove yourself from their life.

In extreme cases, moral failing may be so great that you feel morally culpable simply for associating with that person. If your continued presence in their life is enabling their continued moral failing in any way (including simply by sending the message that their behaviour will not hurt them socially) that you don’t feel comfortable with, you are well within your rights to avoid associating with that person. for coworkers, this would involve a refusal to interact with them in any non-work-related capacity.

 

These tactics all work best with people with whom you have voluntary relationships (friends, family (you don’t choose your family, but generally once you’re an adult, you can choose whether you will associate with them), and the like). With coworkers, deciding whether or not it is worth employing these tactics involves weighing a lot of external factors, including your job security and your ability to continue to do your job effectively, and the like. And we don’t always have the strength or energy to stand up against every poor moral decision made by the people in our lives. But if you want to act, and you want to do so without yourself exercising illegitimate authority (which would itself be morally wrong), these are the kinds of things you can do to discourage continued moral failings.