This is what misgendering feels like

September 20, 2011 § 9 Comments

Not the deliberate, abusive misgendering from people trying to hurt. Nor the genuine confusion of someone acting kindly, but from ignorance. There’s a sweet, older security guard at the BL who calls me ‘miss’ and it doesn’t sting so much as makes me a little wistful, and a little sad – because he reminds me of my Abba, and I kind of want to ask him for a hug. Nor is it someone I’ve only just met trying their best, getting it wrong and then correcting themselves. My appearance is ambiguous – there are lots of women out there who look more stereotypically masculine than I do, and more power to them.


The type that hurts the most, for me, is the type that comes from people who you already feel somewhat safe around. The people who love you – friends, family – or the people you work with in an environment of respect and supposed trust. And this is difficult to write, because it’s always hardest to call out the people we love, the people who love us. Particularly when we know that we rely on them for support and understanding – sometimes these people can be our fiercest allies. But still – they slip. And the reasoning is always ‘it’s a hard habit to break – I didn’t mean it.’ But this is what it feels like.


It feels as though I’m not worth the time it takes to memorise a new pronoun (what, 20 mins of standing in front of a mirror and repeating “Name/pronoun” over and over again). It feels like you’re humouring me, when you say that you understand me – where can those words come from, if you say you know they don’t apply to me? It feels like a gulf has opened us between us – because, instead of seeing me as I am, you see me as the majority of the world sees me. And the relationship you have, therefore, is not with me, but with that person – who is nothing more than a mirage. It feels, to be frank, like having the wind knocked out of you. And when it’s followed by ‘you know I didn’t mean it’ – why keep repeating something you don’t mean?


I already want to apologise for writing this – but I hope that, if cis people know how it feels, they might better school themselves in how to get it right.


§ 9 Responses to This is what misgendering feels like

  • Matt says:

    Don’t apologise for writing this, it needed to be said

  • I’m not sure I’ve ever asked you what pronoun you prefer. I tend to say ‘sie’ and ‘hir’ for non-binary people. Is that okay in your case?

    Reading the most recent Daily Mail blog piece to come my way (the one that argues, from a position of ignorance, that intersex children should be surgically normalised at birth) I was struck by the reappearance of that old familiar meme which says that anybody whose gender doesn’t fit with traditional expectations must be confused, the way bisexual people are assumed to be confused. I think this is particularly problematic when it comes to non-binary people. It’s ironic because it is usually our certainty about ourselves – and our awareness that other people are getting it wrong – that is what hurts.

    • cnlester says:

      ‘sie’ and ‘hir’ is fine – I tent to find that ‘they’ rolls off the tongue a little easier, and I can live with ‘he’ – but non-binary is better.

      And I totally agree. It’s like that horrible moment at parties where people are arguing to your face that bisexuality doesn’t exist – despite being surrounded by bisexuals. And the more certain you are the more desperate they become to pretend it’s not true.

      That Daily Mail blog was one of the worst things I’ve seen in a very long time.

  • Alex says:

    No seriously thank you for writing this! Work, parents, friends won’t even call me by my name Alex as it is apparently to ambiguous despite the way this obviously makes me feel. So Thanks really guess I’m not on my own : )

  • Holly Hayes says:

    “It feels like you’re humouring me, when you say that you understand me.”

    Thank you for going there.

  • a mom says:

    I am glad that you wrote this, but I also want to say that getting the gender right, especially at first is hard. When I first told my workmates about my daughter’s change, one person commented she is the same person, with the same sense of humor; you have lost a son but gained a daughter (her perspective came from the fact that her son had been killed in a car accident). I need to use a different name/pronoun and realize that she is somewhat the same and somewhat different, at least in terms of how she presents herself, but I cannot disown her predecessor. I don’t want to disrespect her or conversely I do want to honor her choice, but she did not suddenly appear in my life as a woman; she had been in my life for 20+ years. To my knowledge, I have gotten her gender wrong only once since that first year, but I hope (and think) you realize that this is complicated, at least for CIS people/parents and such.

  • Alexander says:

    I know the feeling. It’s not an angry, annoyed feeling that I would get after people who should know better would misgender me, but a sad, heart-sinking feeling.

  • Lyle says:

    I’ve been ‘out’ as a transman for over a year. My mother still won’t even consider using the correct pronouns or my name. The only time she has bothered to call me ‘Lyle’ was to tell me I couldn’t use that name around any of her friends or hang-outs.
    Your essay here really says it all. If you really ‘understand’ and ‘support me’, than why can you not even try once? Even in the privacy of your own home when no one else is there to judge (If that’s what you were worried about, of course)?
    I can’t really get angry over it. Just really disappointed. And sad.

  • Lyle says:

    *then -headdesk-

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