Almost all of us know at least one person like this. You know, the one in your life who insists on referring to you by your deadname and absolutely refuses to use your correct pronouns? Yes, that person. You come out to them as transgender, and in an act of defiance they say, “You will always be ‘so and so’ to me,” or they purposely use the wrong pronouns. As if you haven’t gone through enough just to get to this point in your life, now you have this toxic person to deal with.
Let me start off by saying there is a big difference between someone who is actually trying but is having a hard time getting your name and pronouns right compared to someone who is doing it on purpose. With someone who is trying, it is usually a matter of breaking the repetitions of the past, but as long as they are supportive and willing, there is usually progress over time. With the toxic person however, it is an entirely different kind of psychology happening.
“SO WHY WOULD SOMEONE PURPOSELY DEADNAME AND MISGENDER SOMEONE ELSE?”
So why would someone purposely deadname and misgender someone else? To start there is a resistance to change. Many people are generally more comfortable to stay in a miserable situation rather than accept a change. It is like when your job comes up with a new process for doing a task that you did a certain way for years. Usually, people are resistant to that change at first, and lament having to go through the process of having to learn the new way. There are also those who will always believe the old way is better. This concept applies to people as well. There is a fear that the fact that you are transgender will change their lives, and they are not willing to accept that change. This is all based in fear, and society’s perceptions of transgender people makes this person fear this particular change even more.
Another reason is control. A person attempts to combat their fear’s by trying to control the situation. They feel a sense of power in denying your acceptance. They feel that they had no voice in you realizing that you are transgender and usually see it as being a choice. They attempt to invalidate that perceived choice by not acknowledging it. It is a form of gatekeeping where in their mind, you don’t get to be who you are in your relationship with them without their approval. Ignorance is usually at the root of this perception. It is an attempt to convince you to go back to the way things were before, when it was much safer in the mind of the person who is trying to control you.
Next is ideological fear. I can’t help but think of a very religious (in her mind) Aunt that I have that “doesn’t believe that being transgender is a real thing.” Oh yes, willful ignorance. In my case I am lucky, instead of using the wrong name and pronouns she has managed to find a way to not address me at all. In most cases, a person like this will refuse to use your correct name and pronouns for spiritual or political reasons. They are usually bombarded by the news they watch which gives them their talking points about transgender people, that it is a political ideology and it becomes a matter of “us vs. them.” This viewpoint is often reinforced at the local church. Manufactured fear is at the root of this.
“IN THEIR MIND, BY ACCEPTING YOU THEY ARE OPENING THEMSELVES TO THE RIDICULE OF OTHERS, AND THEY ARE TERRIFIED BY THE PROSPECT OF IT.”
The last reason is concern, but it is not for you. It is for themselves, masked in the appearance that they are worried about you. Though they may say they don’t want to see you go through all this pain and discrimination, they are really worried because they don’t want to go through it themselves. It is a “What would the women at my church group think if they knew I had a transgender child?” kind of thing. In their mind, by accepting you they are opening themselves to the ridicule of others, and they are terrified by the prospect of it.
So what do we do about such a person? Well I for one have decided to fight fire with fire. From now on if someone purposely misgenders me or uses the wrong pronouns I will be returning the favor at every turn. Perhaps if they understood how it feels, they might begin to understand? We will have to see. If not, I will no longer have them be a part of my life. I know it is hard when that person is a relative or someone who was close to you. The problem is that if someone is doing that to you on purpose they may not love you as much as you might have thought. And if they say they do, well then they probably love themselves a whole lot more. After all, their choice to purposely misgender you and not use the right pronouns is about them and their own fears. In reality it has nothing to do with you, it is all about them, and your being transgender is probably the best thing that can happen to them.