Note: It is important to me that if you recognize yourself in this post, you do not beat yourself up. I am not upset with you, nor do I credit with you causing my emotional responses to the events I’m about to relate. I know you are well-intentioned and I wish you no distress. I do not need to discuss this with you. I am writing about this so that I can process my emotions and move past them.
I went to see Laverne Cox speak two night ago. She was every bit as powerful and lovely as you might expect. Probably more so. During her talk she said something that really struck me and has stuck with me.
I believe that being misgendered is a form of violence.
To clarify, being misgendered is when someone refers to you with the incorrect pronouns. Or pronounces you to be a gender that you are not.
In my case, that would mean referring to me a he/him or saying that I am a man.
She clarified that she meant a social violence, not a physical one, but she also said this in the context of talking about street harassment – which for trans-women all to often turns into deadly physical violence.
Honestly, Ms. Cox said a great many things that struck me and stuck with me, but I have particular reason to dwell on this one. I’ve been misgendered 4 times in the last week. And I’m finding that the cumulative effect of that is difficult to bear.
The first time was an old friend. It was one slip in an otherwise delightful evening. I gently corrected her. She gently corrected herself. We moved on.
For the record, that is exactly how that conversation is supposed to go.
I honestly don’t mind it when people who know me before I came out slip and misgender me. Overwriting mental and verbal patterns is difficult and this was all very sudden for most of them. Just as they got used to the idea of me living in Minnesota again, they had to adjust to using they/them pronouns, and then mere weeks later, adjust to using she/her pronouns. It’s going to take some time and that’s fine.
On Mondays, when I work from home, I frequently don’t shave, put on makeup, wear my wig, etc. This week I had to run to a hardware store over lunch on Monday, so I went out as I was. I finally signed up for the rewards account at this particular hardware store and, without asking, the cashier entered my gender as male in the system. Which… why does a hardware store reward account need to know my gender in the first place?
I told him he’d got it wrong and asked him to change it. He had a bit of a panic and, as it turns out, he couldn’t go back and edit it within 24 hours of creating the record.
I assured him it was fine. That I was not upset. That I had given him no indication that I was a woman. We moved on.
For the record, I have no idea how that conversation is supposed to go.
On Tuesday, before seeing Ms. Cox speak, a co-worker on my team misgendered me when talking to a third person. I corrected them. They stared at me blankly, not comprehending for a brief moment what I was saying. I corrected them again. They blinked and corrected themself. We… moved on.
For the record, that is almost exactly how that conversation is supposed to go. I suppose I could have done without the blank stare.
Wednesday, the day after seeing Ms. Cox speak, another co-worker misgendered me in conversation with several other co-workers. They realized what they’d said just as I did. I gently corrected them. They gently corrected themself. They apologized. And… I got stuck.
It no longer mattered to me that that was exactly how that conversation is supposed to go.
Two people. Two people who had only known me as Branwen. Had only known me as a trans-women. Two people who misgendered me in casual conversation. Two people who did not intend me literal violence.
Two people. Two people who – despite their best intentions – think of me as a man who has decided to become a woman. Two people who share an oppressive and violent thought pattern that does not recognize me as a woman. Two people who have that thought pattern in common with with James Dixon – the man who beat a trans-woman to death after cat-calling her in the street before realizing she was a trans-women.
Two people who – without intent or conviction – reflect the violence of the society that has programmed their understanding of gender and sexuality.
And that frightens me. If these two well-meaning people can slip and render casual violence against me in a safe space like me work has proven to be – what violence awaits me on the streets of downtown? In my neighborhood? In the grocery store? At the theater?
Suddenly, I do not feel terribly safe.
And while it does not make this easier to process in any way, shape or form, I get it. I understand. We are programmed with any number of inaccurate societal messages and harmful thought patterns. And they aren’t easy to reprogram.
It takes time. It takes effort. It takes empathy. It takes commitment. It takes practice.
If you’re reading this and you’ve a trans person in your life, it’s time to begin to That hard work. Time to reprogram your thought patterns. And I suggest reprogramming them with language. Language has the power to shape thought, so take control of your thoughts by altering your language – both spoken and internal.
Take the time. Make the effort. Be empathetic. Be committed. Practice.
Here are some phrases you can repeat to begin the process of rewriting those harmful and violent thought patterns:
- Trans-women are women. They have always been women. Their pronouns are she/her. Their pronouns have always been she/her.
- Trans-men are men. They have always been men. Their pronouns are he/him. Their pronouns have always been he/him.
- Non-binary trans people are neither men nor women. They have never been men nor women. Their pronouns are whatever they say they are. Their pronouns have always been whatever they say they’ve been.