Oh, I Thought You Were a Girl

Jude Samson talks about making the mistake of assuming a person’s gender because of their name.

Here’s a little information to preface an encounter I experienced recently. I have yet to legally change my name and my deadname is pretty feminine. Despite that fact, however, all of my identifications, including my insurance, have been changed to male gender markers. So when someone is making a patient chart label, it still has my legal name but the gender marker indicates male. Fast forward to the night of my sleep study exam, which I had to take so I could get a new CPAP machine.

In the process of arranging the sleep study, the woman who was handling my scheduling was incredibly wonderful. She asked what name I would prefer and when I explained that I understood she had to use my legal name for this and that was fine, she asked again to which I answered that I always prefer Jude whenever possible. From that moment on she always used Jude whenever calling or mailing me anything. Yes, my patient chart had my legal name, but she made scheduling a breeze by establishing right off the bat that she would identify me correctly as we needed to communicate frequently until everything was set in stone.

“THE TECHNICIAN LOOKED ME UP AND DOWN AND SAID, ‘OH, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A GIRL.'”

As I had walked into the hallway on the night of the test, I informed the first person I saw that I was there as I was running rather late. He escorted me to another technician and said to him, “Your last client is here” and walked away. The technician looked me up and down and said, “Oh, I thought you were a girl.” While this can be annoying for me, especially when I know my marker says male, I just rolled with it and said, “Yeah, I get that a lot.” Typically, most people will drop the matter right then, often embarrassed by their initial assumption. As my guy escorted me to my assigned room, he inquired why my parents would saddle me with such a feminine name. I was actually more surprised than anything else, as most people wouldn’t press the matter. I answered honestly and simply, stating that I was transitioning. That was the part that got him to back off with a simple, “Oh” as he moved about the room. After some quick instructions, he left to finish connecting the other folks who were there before me and let me know he’d be back to get me wired, but he didn’t seem sheepish and there was no awkward tension in the air, just simply a man doing his job.

The wiring process is extensive, and anyone who has done a sleep study before can attest to the fact that you have to sit there while someone scrubs each spot with a soapy substance and then glues diodes to your head and face. He and I chatted about a range of things including some casual conversing about why I was there and what some of the symptoms were that I felt were my biggest issues. Not being able to breathe was a big one for me. I felt that was an important element to my day-to-day life. As I had come straight from work, I apologized for being a bit sweaty, albeit now that I’ve been on HRT for a few years I’ve come to learn the true meaning of “sweating like a beast.” That, of course, led to some questions about what I do for work, so that gave us a lot to talk about, mainly him regaling me with tales of his recently passed dog (since I work with animals). I’m often happy to let people talk extensively about their pets, as it’s one of the few occasions people express themselves through their body language and manner of speech in a most genuine way. Pets are beloved family members, and most pet parents love to talk endlessly about their antics, and it allows me to not have to speak. I have aversion to speaking, I’m not overcome with shyness, I just don’t like to over share with complete strangers and, like I said, when one speaks about a beloved pet they often (subconsciously) open a window into themselves and I try not to get too personal with strangers, but I digress.

“THEN HE CONTINUED ON ABOUT WHAT WE SEE ON TV AND MENTIONED ‘BRUCE JENNER.’ HE LOST REDEMPTION POINTS.”

Thankfully the bulk of the wiring process was filled with idle chatter until he had to move towards the front and work with wiring parts of my face. That’s when he broached the subject of my transition and there was a slight tentativeness when he asked if I’ve been transitioning for a while. When I said it’s been over three years on hormones he seemed to feel it was safe to talk more openly. He complimented my facial hair growth as he fought to get the connectors to stay attached inside the beard. He asked if my family was accepting, to which I answered they were although they were still learning. He seemed happy that I had support and continued to say that it was good we’re seeing so much in the news now about trans people. He was slowly redeeming himself. Then he continued on about what we see on TV and mentioned “Bruce Jenner.” He lost redemption points.

However, this was a person who seemed interested and not judgmental, just someone without the information needed to understand more about people’s names and how misnaming or misgendering can be a powerful trigger to people. He was not a person who was speaking with malice but someone who just simply didn’t know what was no longer considered appropriate. I wanted this guy to leave with the sense that the next time a trans patient comes along, as it is a likely inevitability, that he should be more cautious of the words he chooses. I took the opportunity to provide some education, to give some of the explanations about what I could in the short amount of time I had available, as he was nearly complete with the arduous task of making me into a science experiment. I have a certain level of confidence that he will not make the mistake of assuming a person’s gender by their name again and, if he does, at least he won’t broadcast it down the hallway when someone walks up to him.

I’m inclined to send a note to his attention in a few months to see if his experience with me helped broaden his horizons and help him not assume gender or at least be more aware that gender is not so cut and dry. I feel that there are times we should check back in with people who have crossed our paths to see if we’ve had any kind of impact.

“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” – Dalai Lama

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