When I first started to transition, not being seen as a woman was EVERYthing. After all, before testosterone started to work its magic, and even before I was taking the stuff, it felt like the only things I had to *prove* I wasn’t a woman were clothes and attitude. Oh, and my name, of course. But even as I introduced myself, I knew that people were not thinking “Oh my goodness, he’s called MARK, what a fool I was to think he wasn’t a man!” More like “Mark? That’s weird, she’s got a man’s name. Oh well, I’ll go along with it…”
So I worked hard to try and present myself in a way that would ‘point people in the right direction’, and, let’s be honest, got a bit upset when people persisted in misgendering me. I guess part of the problem is that I knew myself that I was not a woman, and had very quickly disassociated myself from my old female name and presentation. Very early on in the process I moved headspace away from female. That’s not to say I have crossed some metaphorical canyon – I don’t believe gender works like that – but with self-acceptance, validation from the medical profession and a concrete decision to transition came a shift in something that I can’t even think of a name for. My ‘me-ness’, perhaps?
One of the upshots of this is that whilst the sensible person that I am realises that when strangers misgender me, it’s because they DON’T KNOW and CAN’T TELL, there’s another, big part of me that is genuinely surprised that they can’t tell! That sounds crazy, I know, but I now identify so strongly as not-female that it honestly seems illogical for people to call me ‘she’ or ‘the lady’. However, that’s my problem, not other people’s.
Armed with this knowledge, I have moved on from a point where I wanted to tell everyone how mistaken they were, in some bizarre antithesis of David Walliams’ ghastly “I’m a LADY” sketch. After all, there’s not a lot to be gained from embarrassing a stranger, and really, if I’m not going to see someone again, I’m unlikely, these days, to bristle too much when Will and I are referred to as “you girls”. Though actually, after nearly a year on T, I’m tempted to suggest someone referring to me as a girl needs to go to Specsavers.
Perhaps I am more mellow about other people these days because I do ‘pass’ a lot better, and fewer people use feminine pronouns or words to refer to me. It does still happen, though, and probably always will. I’m unlikely to ever look like The Rock, so a certain amount of ‘sucking it up’ will probably always be needed.
However, and this is an important however, I am talking about strangers here, not colleagues, family or friends. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the people who know, love, live or work with trans people do need to make the effort to think about the language they are using, and what it says about their attitude to the trans person in their life. Sure, mistakes happen, but as I’ve said in an earlier post, a quick ‘sorry’, correcting the mistake and moving on works wonders. Just remember how powerful a small mistake can be for the recipient.
Back to my strangers. People on the street will use gendered language without thought (and hopefully without malice), but I do have a particular bugbear with people in shops/service industries/professional customer facing environments using ‘lady’ and ‘gentleman’ to refer to people. In an ideal world, I would like it if people in shops and so on learnt not to refer to others with a gendered word. For instance, I went into a shop a while back, and had to see the manager and I was asked to wait whilst they were called. The person serving me, when the manager arrived, pointed me out and said “This lady needs your help”. Of course I sucked it up, but really, how difficult would it be to substitute the word ‘customer’ – just as polite. And I don’t just mean using more neutral language around people whose gender you are not sure of, but for everyone.
The way we refer to people doesn’t have to be gendered – have a look through some of my blogposts: whilst I don’t always manage it, it’s very rare that I refer to someone specifically by their gender. That’s not the way I think about people…but that’s a whole other blogpost!