On misgendering and authenticity
September 26, 2013 § 20 Comments
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while (and too busy with music and writing to make much time for blogging – my bad) – I haven’t really known how to write it, or if I should – and then I just plain didn’t want to.
In many respects I’ve had a fantastic summer but, for whatever reason (and god knows I’ve driven myself crazy trying to work out a reason) it’s involved a lot of misgendering. Not just the simple failure to use unisex/gender neutral pronouns (‘he’ doesn’t totally work for me but I can live with it), but lots of ‘she’ and ‘her’. Specifically within LGBT spaces. Specifically from other trans people – trans people who, unlike myself, are able to use ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to describe themselves. After they’ve already agreed to use correct pronouns. I do feel somewhat traitorous posting this, and I want to make it clear that this isn’t a passive-aggressive way of making people feel bad – but how is it going to get better, if we don’t talk about it?
Nearly every person who’s done it – sadly, as a performer, they usually misgender me to my audience – has been apologetic in private. But the line that nearly all of them qualify their apologies with – “It just came out on automatic. I mean, you just look so…” – I’m always surprised that they’re able to speak those words and not see the hypocrisy, the irony of it. When it would be appalling for me to turn to a trans woman and say “Oh, I just called you ‘he’ because you’re so much taller than me and I can see your stubble and body hair – it was just my automatic response to the body I know invalidates who you are to the majority of the world, and I let it invalidate you to me too, despite your request that I don’t do that – so that’s alright, right?”. Do they think that I don’t know what my smooth face and alto voice mean to most people? Do they think I go to trans spaces in order to be reminded of that?
There feels like an assumption that misgendering is far less serious when it’s done to someone who isn’t (or isn’t straightforwardly/exclusively) a woman or man – that it’s to be expected, that it won’t hurt so much. Yes, there are genderqueer people who aren’t bothered by pronouns/descriptors – but, for many of us, it hurts a great deal.
The first part of that assumption appears to come from an idea that ‘other’ trans people don’t experience dysphoria – or don’t experience it to the same extent – which is patently untrue, as is obvious to anyone who’s ever bothered to listen to us. There are people like myself, who as well as being genderqueer would readily accept that there are aspects of the traditional transsexual narrative which describe my feelings about my body to a T (no, I can’t help myself) – and others who have needs just as pressing as any ‘true transsexual’ in terms of medical transition – but in ways which haven’t received as much attention and validation. I’ve heard a fair number of trans men and women talk about misgendering as an unpleasant phase to be gone through as part of medically transitioning – something which adds to the sense of being betrayed by your own body, but something that (hopefully) will ease with hormones, surgeries and other therapies. I’ve never seen the additional acknowledgement that for people (like myself) who can’t access all of the medical treatments they would need to approach that place of peace, the sense of betrayal, of shock and pain, can be a never-ending prospect.
And even if someone doesn’t experience bodily dysphoria – what about the social dysphoria, the disrespect, the need to speak the truth about themselves that made them come out and clarify who they are in the first place? What is it about being genderqueer, or neutrois, or androgynous, or any variation/addition thereof, that makes it okay to disregard the authority of our interiority? Because the people doing it have bought into the false assumption that being something other than male or female is a new idea? Because they think we’re making it up, or being gender hipsters? I can’t help but think about a recent Lesbilicious article which illustrated this assumption perfectly – that we’re being unhelpful, assuming an identity to make a political point (as though a person’s political self is not an expression of who they are). Sometimes I feel like there are LGBT people, other trans people, who look at me and see a sulky teenager who’s chosen to call themselves by the longest, most pretentious name they could find because it embarrasses their parents and makes them feel ‘special’. Calling me a ‘person’ rather than a ‘woman’, using ‘they’ – if it’s done at all it’s done in the manner of adults placating a difficult child, and only when they’re in earshot – it’s not real, of course, but you don’t want to deal with a tantrum.
I realise that this will probably read as an angry post, and as though I don’t understand that mistakes happen – neither of which is true. But god knows I’m tired of attending/playing events where I should be able to let my guard down and knowing that I can’t afford to, because I can’t afford to be open to the (sometimes it feel inevitable) misgendering that takes place. I want people to up their game. Specifically, I want other trans people to up their game. I want community events to be for all of us – and I want to be understood as just as real, just as authentic, as anyone else.