Names, Pronouns, Families and Dysphoria
by Mila Madison
It is the time when you all get together and catch up on life. You celebrate good times and fond memories. Being with your family members, it is supposed to be a safe place, a sanctuary were you can be accepted for who you are. Yes, all families have their share of drama’s, but generally we are supposed to call it home.
“FOR A TRANSGENDER PERSON, DEALING WITH FAMILY CAN BE A MINEFIELD OF DYSPHORIA TRIGGERS.”
For a transgender person, dealing with family can be a minefield of dysphoria triggers. Lately I find myself shying away from spending time with my family in public. It is not that they are purposely mean to me, it is just that they can’t seem to ever get my name and pronouns straight. Look, I am usually a very understanding person. I would always say that there is a difference between being a jerk and making an effort. But where do you draw the line? Is there an expiration date on when it is no longer acceptable to butcher your name and pronouns?
I can go to dinner with my parents. Usually it will start with them catching themselves saying my old name and quickly correcting the mistake. Then as the night goes on, the “he’s” and “him’s” start to come out. The old name will also start to get used more as the night progresses. With each mistake I spiral down further into the rabbit hole of dysphoria. Then it happens with the waiter at the table and I get the strangest look. I then get to spend the rest of the evening feeling the discomfort that both the waiter and I now share in dealing with each other. The onslaught continues. As the drinks go down so does the misgendering as my old name and incorrect pronouns fly out one after the other. At this point I excuse myself from the table, mortified by the experience and with disappointment that I may never visit this establishment again as it is now ruined for me. Another favorite restaurant I cannot go to.
“THE PROBLEM WITH DYSPHORIA IS THAT IT CAN UNDUE YEARS OF PROGRESS THAT YOU HAVE MADE WITHIN MERE SECONDS.”
After I cool down outside, I manage to find the courage to go back into the fire. At this point I cannot tell you a thing about any conversation we had all night. For me all I heard was my old name along with “he” and “him”. Each one coming at me like a dagger. To me it was as if no other words had been said. I am everywhere but in the moment. My mind races off into how I will never be complete. I think about how as soon as earlier in the day I was feeling positive about my outlook. I was hopeful. I was going to make it in my journey. But that is all gone now. I mean, if my family is not able to get it right, how will anyone else? I am in a dark place and cannot wait for the night to end. My parents will ask me “what is the matter?” or “what is wrong with you?”, oblivious to the facts that they just set me off on a dark streak of self destruction. I simply reply with “nothing” as I am too busy trying to fight off the suicidal thoughts that are starting to pop into my brain. The problem with dysphoria is that it can undue years of progress that you have made within mere seconds.
So it was Easter weekend and I turned down an invitation to spend it at my parent’s house. I was just not in to correct frame of mind to go through it all again. I did call to wish them a happy holiday though. My mother then handed the phone to each family member while using the incorrect name in succession as if I couldn’t hear her speak as she handed off the phone. Though most of my family made efforts, it was another mess of the wrong name and pronouns. My dysphoria would kick in again as I wondered how much worse it might have been had I actually gone there.
It is not like I have just started to transition. It has been quite some time now, but it seems like I will never get there with my parents. Perhaps I am expecting too much? I mean these are the same people who still haven’t been able to figure out how to use a DVD player. Maybe I was just expecting too much? After all, my mother gave birth to me and she had been using the other name and pronouns for most of my life. Perhaps the problem is me?
“I NEED TO BE PRESENT IF I WANT TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR WHILE ALSO HOLDING OTHERS ACCOUNTABLE.”
Then came my moment of realization. I often talk about how we need to normalize ourselves in society. The thought is that the better people know us, the more they will accept us. I realized that I haven’t given my own family this very opportunity. I have been avoiding them out of fear of dealing with the pronoun and name mistakes. I haven’t given them the opportunity to know me for who I really am. I now realize that I do need to be there if I want them to truly see me. I need to be present if I want to be accounted for while also holding others accountable. The mistakes are in part my fault because I haven’t given them the opportunity to adjust to the changes I have introduced to them. I know they love me. I know in their hearts they accept me, even if they don’t quite exactly understand it all. I just haven’t given them the opportunity.
So next event I will make sure to be there. I will make sure they see me. I will correct them every time they make a mistake until they get it. I will make sure thy realize how much it hurts me when it happens. I will make sure they see it. The line has been drawn regarding when it is no longer acceptable to use the wrong name an pronouns. I am just not on the other side of it, I am within it. Next time I will show up, even if I have to do so wearing a name tag.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and peace,