Image: Odawara Sajawagara
Tis the season for resolutions. I made three this year. The first two–“turn off the light, close the pantry door” and “use nicer words”–require neither cajoling on my part, nor cooperation on the part of anyone else. I will either succeed or fail entirely based on my own efforts. The third is a horse of a different color. I resolve to be consistently recognized as female in my most meaningful social interactions.
Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning may see this as a shift on my part. I had, after all, said that my identity was stuck somewhere in the middle (but to the feminine side) of the binary spectrum of gender. This remains true, of course largely due to factors well beyond my control (physical attributes, how I was socialized, etc). Further, my conviction that future society must see gender as less “either/or” and tolerate broader ranges of self-expression remains unshaken. Nevertheless, my sanity here and now requires that I find a way to navigate the awkward landscape of gender variance in a society that has not yet made these adjustments. I have found, through years of ongoing experience, that staking out a spot near the center of the gender spectrum is uncomfortable and difficult–too difficult–for me. Besides, the more permission I feel to explore my identity, the more toward the feminine side of the spectrum I seem to gravitate naturally. Androgyny is a legitimate choice, but it is not mine.
Which brings me back to the resolution. Despite explicit statements that I identify female and prefer feminine pronouns, I continue to be subjected to an incessant, daily barrage of masculine pronouns, “good sirs” and other increasingly ridiculous displays of insensitivity, poor perception and in some cases, not-so-passive aggression. To some degree, I initially brought failure on myself by grossly underestimating the time it would take people to adjust and remember.1 Eighteen months after stating my preferences, though, I think it is reasonable to ask for and expect proper address.
Still, some still urge me to be patient. Other women sometimes mention that they occasionally get called “sir”, as if to reassure me that they know how I feel. Here’s the difference. If someone calls another woman sir and the error is pointed out or realized, the person who made the mistake immediately feels foolish. When someone calls me sir and I explain that this is not correct, I am the one generally taken for a fool. It is hardly an isolated experience. The first few on any given day I can generally handle, but the cumulative effect of dozens of incidents every day is like being slowly pecked to death.
I get the need for patience when people cannot see my face or have never met me (or another trans person) before. The poor soul on the other end of the phone arrives at a gender judgment subconsciously. The interaction still causes me discomfort, but does not provoke me to assign any blame. If I would be free of these mis-assignments, I will need to climb the high mountain of vocal change. I have been thinking long and hard on this decision, and currently lean rather strongly toward starting the effort.
Being mis-pronouned by a stranger, however, is not what this post is fundamentally about. Nor is it about the person who means well and has made demonstrable effort, but occasionally makes a mistake, often catching it quickly afterwards. These things I can deal with2. What wears me to the bone are closer contacts who are no more likely to address me correctly now than they were a year and a half ago, and particularly those who, if corrected, act like I am being unreasonable or pushy.
Well, so be it. I resolve to correct anyway, toward the end of experiencing a daily coherence that 99% of the population takes entirely for granted.
This may prove challenging in my professional life. Up until now, I have never once corrected a patient or visitor on the way they address me. I reasoned that they arrived to my workplace with weightier matters on their minds, and that I had no right to impose further upon them. Positive motives drove this choice, but in making it, I accepted something that I now realize I should not–that my personal dignity is to be regularly sacrificed for some sort of public good. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I will take on the task of informing my clients respectfully that my pronouns are feminine. It will take some planning and practice on my part, and I am certain I will screw it up until I find a way of communicating my identity that neither offends nor detracts from the business at hand.
As I said, I can not achieve the goal of being properly pronouned through individual effort. I recognize that by making this resolution I am calling for others to do some heavy lifting. To be sure, they may decline, and I can’t force them to get it right. I can, however, decide to eliminate potentially toxic relationships from my life. And I will. Yes, it really is that important to me.
I imagine that many kind hearted souls might be reading this and flogging themselves for having made pronoun mistakes along the way. Please don’t. Things like this really do take time. I am just now drawing a line in the sand and asserting that I have the right to expect more going forward. Most of you have tried so very hard, and I genuinely thank you from the bottom of my heart.
May I offer you some help though? Trying to remember to do something that conflicts strongly with what you still think deep down doesn’t work. The deep stuff always bubbles to the surface. The primary change needs to happen down below. Accept me as female, and the pronouns fall in line effortlessly. To the extent that you mentally file me away as any version of “man posing as woman”, you will forever trip over the words.3 Change that and you will never make a hurtful mistake again. It’s hard, and I can’t make you do it, but I hope you will.
Happy New Year to you all, and thank you again for taking the time to read.