When an Accidental Misgendering Sends You Spiraling Into Dysphoria
It was an innocent mistake. We had just finished up with our support group and afterwards everyone kind of just gathered together to talk and make plans for the week. This group was special; my daughter had come to sit in with us. In a couple of days she would be moving out of state to live with her boyfriend. She came not only to support me, but also to say goodbye to the rest of the group that had become family to us.
Another reason the night was so special was that an old friend of my daughter’s was now coming to group. They had gone to school together, and he had always been around my house as they were growing up. You see, he was transgender, and often my wife and I would take him in over the years. Sometimes for a few days or even a week when he needed it. The problem was that his family didn’t accept him, and whenever he needed us we were there. To be honest, his courage at such a young age to be himself would eventually serve as an inspiration to my own journey. To this day he is considered part of our extended family.
> "HERE WAS A TRANS PERSON OF ALL PEOPLE WHO HAD JUST MISGENDERED ME."
So it was with great surprise when the word slipped out of his mouth. We were all gathered outside of group and he and my daughter were reminiscing about old times. When referring to me back then it just slipped out, “He.” It honestly threw me for a loop. Here was a trans person of all people who had just misgendered me. Out of shock I just blurted out jokingly, “I can’t believe you just misgendered me!” Everyone was instantly uncomfortable when he had said it, so I made light of it. He apologized and gave me a hug. I understood that when thinking back about the past, it was how he knew me back then. I love the kid and I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me. All was instantly forgiven. It was an innocent mistake.
Though it is not his fault, what had happened began to rattle around in my brain. As transgender people, many of us get misgendered hundreds of times, and I am no exception. Each time it is painful. The thing is that I had been on a pretty good streak. I was lucky; it had been a while since I had been misgendered. This time it happened in the most safest of places, where my guard was completely down.
My mind began to wander. Was I telegraphing some kind of maleness? Was my voice sounding low? What was it that put that “he” in his head? Was it simply because that was how he knew me in the past? He has known me as Mila for quite a few years now. Were my hormone levels off? Did I have beard stubble or something? It started to mess with my head.
> "MY OLD NEMESIS DYSPHORIA HAD RETURNED. HOW COULD I BE SO WEAK?"
From that point on, everywhere we went I could have sworn that people were staring and laughing. I had run home, taken my hormones and even took a leftover spiro I had. My doctor had taken me off of spiro a while ago because my testosterone was dangerously low even for a cisgender woman. Perhaps the testosterone had returned? I looked in the mirror and saw a bearded lumberjack looking back at me. Oh yes, this was a downward spiral. My old nemesis dysphoria had returned. How could I be so weak? It was an innocent mistake. Have I come this far in my journey only to feel like all of a sudden I am starting over again? I had been misgendered so many times. Why was it so triggering this time around? Was it because it was another trans person?
From that moment to now when I write this, my head is still not right. I am still avoiding mirrors and trying to get myself out of this funk, this spiral of dysphoria. But through this latest experience I have learned three important lessons.
There is a reason that people who have known us for a long time usually struggle with names and pronouns. When they think of us in the past, there is a picture in their minds of who we were at that time. They have processed memories associated with it. Muscle memories per say, where a lifetime of saying people’s names and pronouns are stored. It is the reason that sometimes even people who are making an honest effort to get things right tend to mess up at times. Though there are people in our lives who are able to just get it and adjust without issue, for others that process is harder. What I learned is that even someone who has always been on point with our names and pronouns can slip up. Especially when it comes to old memories if they knew us prior to transition.
Though we can be understanding when someone misgenders us and know it was not intentional, it still doesn’t make it hurt any less. Even when we know that some people in our lives are making an honest mistake when they misgender us, we still have to go through the pain. It is like when someone accidentally drops something on your foot, the person may not have meant to drop it on you, but your toe may still be broken because of it. It is the same thing with being misgendered. Sometimes we can brush it off and sometimes it will affect us deeply.
No matter how far I get in my journey, there is always something that could happen that sends me back to square one. That is right, no amount of hormones, laser, surgeries, or life experiences can prevent it. The truth is it can sometimes make it worse. When you are misgendered daily, you grow more of a skin for it. When it has been a really long time since it had happened, the pain of being misgendered becomes magnified. This is the same with dysphoria. I am realizing that no matter how great I may be doing, no matter how far I progress, I will most likely always have these moments in life.
Compared to what so many of us have to endure as transgender people, misgendering is only a small part of the equation. It doesn’t make it any less painful to experience it however. Even when we know there isn’t bad intent behind it. We all have our moments of weakness as well as moments when we can handle such things like a champ. In this moment I was weak. I know I will get through it eventually. The dysphoria will pass, and I hope it happens soon.