Q: what do you call a transgirl in the process of transition?
A: her name
Pronouns – it’s a topic that has been bothering me for some time now. They’re the little things that most people don’t even notice, but if you want to make or break a trans person’s day, pronouns are a good way to do it. Language has power, and misgendering a trans person only takes one word.
My name is important to me. I write it on everything like a preteen girl. It’s an unmistakable way for me to assert my gender and my identity. And Natalie is by no means a neutral gender name.
Imagine you start a new job and nobody can get your name right. You’re Leonardo, but everyone keeps calling you Jeff. You keep telling them you’re Leonardo, but they insist that you are Jeff because it’s easier for them to remember. Misgendering is kinda like that, only so much worse. By calling me a he because that’s what the majority of my biological characteristics say right now, even though I’m clearly presenting as a female, you are undermining my identity and telling me who I am is not valid to you. Sometimes it’s by accident, and that’s okay. Apologize, correct, and move on.
Purposeful misusage of pronouns isn’t so simple though. What do you do when someone uses the wrong pronouns? You can ignore it or you can correct. But what if it’s at work? If you’re out, you can still correct, but that doesn’t mean people will respect that if the name change isn’t legal yet. But I, for example, am not out at either of my jobs. I suspect people at both have suspicions, but I’ve yet to confirm. And so they call me he, and my birth name, and all I can do is smile and pretend it doesn’t bother me. And I can’t blame them, because to be fair, I never told then my name or pronouns. My part time job at night has a name tag policy, too, so even if I get gendered correctly by customers, it’s “fixed” once a customer sees that male name hanging off my chest.. I do my best to “forget” to wear it, but my boss is big on reminding me. And making me move it so it’s clearly visible. Sometimes I’m outed by my coworkers, as well. I’ll be helping a customer who is ma’aming me, and they’ll name drop. Now I’m a man again, and everyone is embarrassed. Rock and a hard place, as they say.
But outside of work it’s a whole different story. My biggest pronoun issue is with my mother. She has known I’m trans for almost a year now, but still refuses to use my pronouns or name. I noticed she tries to avoid using names at all, but when she uses one, it’s the one she gave me. And he, him, and son are pretty common things I hear from her. Despite the declaration of support (which seems to be more of an “I’ll leave you alone and pretend this isn’t really happening” kind of support mostly), not once have I heard she, her, or Natalie come from her. And it drives me crazy.
But what do I do? I’m terrible at confrontation. When I have to stand up for myself, I freeze. The idea of telling her gives me butterflies. How do I tell the woman who birthed me that I hate the name she chose, and not feel bad about it? I still don’t know what to do about that.
And sometimes it comes down to just not feeling valid enough to insist on the proper pronouns. Not feeling like a “real” woman because I haven’t been on hormones long enough for my face to shift to the feminine side, and my breasts are still too small to notice. Or because my voice might not be the best, and is still downright male sometimes. Or a million other things about my body society says is male. Those old lies burrowed deep. If it looks like a man, and talks like a man…
But on the flipside, when pronouns are right, they are so right. About a month ago my amazing girlfriend was looking at something with my old name on it, and for a second, it threw her off. She almost asked who it was. And that made me feel amazing. To be validated by someone who I respect so much made me so happy.
Or when an old high school friend asked if I wanted him to change my name in his contact list on his phone the day after I came out.
Or those rare occasions when I get miss’d in public by someone who doesn’t know me, and sees me the way I hope to be seen. (Most often young children, I noticed.)
The point is, Never forget language has power. Three letters, one syllable, can change the course of a day, can provoke tears. Or a huge smile. Language shapes culture and perception.
And if you think pronouns are complicated, well, that’s just a basic trans 101 issue that almost everyone transitioning has to deal with.
So until next time, use proper pronouns, defend your trans friends pronouns (because maybe they can’t), and keep fighting like a grrrl.