Why am I told to “be patient” with misgendering?
One of the first comments that I recall when I first came out as transgender is someone telling me that I need to be patient with people who make mistakes. Actually, several people told me this, and none of them were transgender. On social media recently, someone shared that a diversity trainer commented that transgender workers needed to remain patient when others make mistakes. Again, this expert was not transgender.
So why are all these cisgender people telling transgender people to accept misgendering?
I was aware that some people may misgender me when I first came out, but just because I expected it doesn’t make it okay. Something bothers me when cisgender people tell me that I cannot get offended by something that is obviously offensive. Also, I feel that the cisgender people who say this are trying to protect themselves more than transgender people. I wouldn’t say to a new divorcee that he/she/they need to be patient if I call him/her/them by a previous last name. It would be a weird comment! But for me, I just get told that I have to deal with it.
I have interacted with other transgender and nonbinary people who I knew prior to them coming out; thus, I had to change the pronouns I originally used. So what did I do?
I find that it is best to slow down when I talk in order to break the old habit of using the wrong pronoun. For me, referring to that person with the wrong pronoun would make me feel awful. I can only explain this terrible feeling through my own feelings with being misgendered.
I identify as nonbinary, transmasculine, and I prefer male pronouns, but I also accept they/them/their. However, I do not relate to cisgender men in many ways; likewise, I do not relate to cisgender women. For me, my nonbinary identity is androgynous. I enjoy presenting as a man but also identifying with the 38 years that I experienced presenting as a woman. I love having an integration of masculine and feminine features that are conveyed both internally and externally. For most of my life so far, people treated me like a woman, which means that my parents, my family, my teachers, and society socialized me as a woman. For example, even though I have been presenting as a man for 3.5 years now, I can’t say that I have experienced male privilege. If I have, it has likely gone unnoticed. Furthermore, I don’t know what it is like to get told, “boys don’t cry.” I have never been told to “man up.” Additionally, unlike cisgender men, I have menstruated. I have grown breasts. I have had to take a pregnancy test. Thus, I have had experiences that cisgender men have not, and they have had different experiences than me. But that’s okay. I enjoy being neither inherently male or female.
So, why does it bother me when someone calls me “she” or “her?”
As transmasculine, I identify more with the masculine side of the gender spectrum, which for me, means that my masculine side dominates and feels more natural for me. Getting my breasts surgically removed and taking testosterone have proven to me that I feel more comfortable in my body if it resembles a man. When someone misgenders me, I am embarrassed because I look like a man externally. If the other people present are unaware that I am transgender, then the person misgendering me just outed me without my permission, creating another awkward, embarrassing, and possibly detrimental situation. Moreover, when I am called “she,” it dismisses my authentic identity. I am not a woman. They are not seeing the person in me.
When my social anxiety and dysphoria emerge, someone calling me “she/her” fills me with shame. Negative thoughts circulate through my brain.
Do they not see me?
Do they think I’m a freak?
Why can’t they respect me?
Why don’t my feelings matter?
Is this transphobia?
Am I too sensitive?
It gets worse when it occurs in front of a group of people. That’s when I really feel like no one cares, and I’m alone. It happens, and no one says anything. Worse, I don’t say anything, either. I get too scared that I am going to embarrass that person or hurt that person’s feelings, but obviously, this person has no care for my feelings, nor the people watching it happen. In these moments, I just want to run away.
This is why I take great cognitive effort to try to get people’s pronouns right. It matters. This is why we don’t need cisgender people telling transgender people how we should feel about misgendering. Maybe cisgender people should not assume that they will make mistakes because this belief may produce a self-fulfilling prophecy where they are more likely to make mistakes because they have already told themselves that they will. No, instead, cisgender people should go into it with the attitude of avoiding misgendering, and if mistakes occur, respond to those mistakes seriously.
How long are transgender people supposed to be patient? How long are transgender people supposed to allow mistakes? I have been transitioning and presenting as male for 3.5 years. When is calling me “she/her” going to stop? If people cannot get it right by now, I question the value they place on it to begin with. Perhaps this is the part of themselves that they do not want to see.
Disclosure: This blog post is only written from my own perspective and experiences. I do not speak for all nonbinary and/or transgender identities.