I can still remember the first time a stranger ever gendered me correctly in public. I was at a T.G.I. Fridays with my wife having lunch, and when the waitress arrived our table she simply asked, “What can I get you ladies?” I was literally shocked because I was just starting my transition and I was not presenting as my true gender. In fact, I was so shocked that I had to confirm what the waitress had said with my wife. It was not only a moment of surprise, but also one accompanied by a great feeling of elation.
It is something that two cisgender women having lunch would usually take for granted. In most cases, cisgender women don’t have to think about what pronouns a stranger uses to describe them or whether they are gendered correctly. The assumptions about their gender are usually correct. They can just exist and “pay it no mind” as Marsha P. Johnson used to say, but for a transgender person it is always at the forefront of every interaction we have.
"EVERY TIME I MEET SOMEONE IT IS A ROLL OF THE DICE AS TO HOW THEY WILL SEE ME."
The overwhelming feeling of joy from being gendered correctly is something that only a transgender person can really experience. It is the ultimate validation. The reason being that so many of us had to fight for it. Getting misgendered by strangers is often the norm that we often become accustomed to. I usually find myself bracing for the impact of what pronouns a person will use when they are addressing me. It is an outcome that I am often unable to control, I can only influence it depending on how willing I am to conform to societal norms and gender expectations. Every time I meet someone it is a roll of the dice as to how they will see me.
Here is the thing, as a transgender person, whether or not I am gendered correctly can have a profound impact on what happens from that moment on. I can leave the house one day in the greatest of moods and feeling good about myself. All it takes is one “he” or “sir” and the whole thing unravels for me. Years of progress can become undone in that simple instant and I could be looking at weeks of dysphoria. Even though I realize that in most cases the misgendering can be accidental or unintentional, it doesn’t change the pain I feel when it happens. Whether it is intentional or not, the pain is the same.
Too often we are expected to “suck it up” when the people around us make mistakes when it comes to using the correct pronouns. In many cases it is family or friends who are doing the misgendering. I often compare the problem to a knife. You may be swinging a knife around with no intention to hurt me, but if you cut me with it accidentally I still bleed from it, even if you didn’t intend to cut me. The same goes with pronouns. A person may not have intended to misgender me, but as much I understand and forgive them, I am still left there bleeding.
On the flipside is when someone purposely intends to misgender a transgender person. Using the knife analogy, misgendering someone is truly an act of violence. It is using that knife intentionally to hurt someone. Psychologically, people who purposely misgender transgender people usually do so as a way to control them. A family member who purposely misgenders you, for example, is trying to keep you from transitioning and their motive is their fear of how your transition will affect them personally with no concern for you at all.
When people ask me what they can do to support someone who is transgender, I usually tell them to make sure you are gendering them correctly while using their preferred name and pronouns. That simple act of support could have a profound impact on the outcome of their transition. It can literally save their lives. When I first say this to parent of a transgender child, their reaction is usually to play it down, and I have to go into a dissertation of why using the correct name and pronouns matter. This is usually because they never had to concern themselves personally with their own gender and pronouns. They are often unable to fathom the effect this could have on their child.
"WHEN I AM GENDERED CORRECTLY, IT IS AS IF I AM HEARING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME, AND THE FEELING IS EUPHORIC."
No matter how far I get in my transition, I still feel elated when someone refers to me with a “Miss” or a “she.” I still get a giant smile on my face. In that very moment, my anxiety level decreases. It just never seems to get old. When I am gendered correctly, it is as if I am hearing it for the first time, and the feeling is euphoric.
In society as a whole, we often accept gender blindly when it comes to a variety of things, and we do so without question. We accept the assigned gender and pronouns of boats, cars, and even baseball bats when they are presented to us without requiring proof of genitalia. We have no problem using the correct pronouns when referring to them. With people however, it is often a problem. This is because of a prejudice that is culturally instilled in us, whether it is intentional or unintentional. It begins when children are reprimanded for doing things that don’t fall in line with the gender expectations the adult correcting them has in mind. It gets reinforced by the child’s peers as their childhood progresses all the way into adulthood and beyond. Culturally we enforce these notions, and reject those who don’t conform to them out of fear of not being accepted ourselves.
It doesn’t take much to show respect for another human being. This includes transgender, non-binary, and other gender diverse people. All you have to do is show them the same respect for their gender that you so freely give to so many other things without question. It takes a small amount of effort and a little listening when you get things wrong. You have the ability to bring great joy to someone who might really need it, and you may even end up saving a life.