By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—
Have you ever been misgendered? That is, have you ever been mistakenly referred to as “she” instead of “he,” or as “him” instead of “her?” Does it make you feel uncomfortable? What do you do? Do you let it go or do you correct the person? If you correct them, do you do so nicely, perhaps with a laugh or a smile, or do you correct them sternly and demand an apology? How many times have you been misgendered? It’s happened to many people a few times, but suppose it happened to you repeatedly and frequently? How would that make you feel?
Most trans people have been misgendered many more times than the average person. Being trans myself, when I am misgendered, I can assure you that it hurts, and it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.
For all of their lives most trans people have been confused and many have been filled with shame and guilt because their physical gender did not match the gender that they really are. The shame and guilt come from the social mores that a male is a male and a female is a female. The trans person wants to be their true gender, but the rules are plainly set in stone. They must remain in their physical birth gender, or else they will be shamed and guilted. They go deep into their closet, but it’s extremely hard to stay in that birth-assigned gender box. They need to break free to be themselves. [pullquote]When a trans person corrects a misgenderer, the misgenderer is usually very apologetic and will then try to use the correct gender pronouns such as he, she, him, her, and others, and the correct gender titles such as mister, miss, sir or ma’am. However, sometimes the misgenderers are not apologetic and may refuse to use the correct pronouns and gender titles.[/pullquote]
Finally, they get to a point where they do something about it. They begin dressing and living as the gender they truly are and not as the gender they were physically proclaimed to be in the birthing room. It’s new and exciting and they relish finally living as their true gender. They begin to attain a state of well-being and then, all of a sudden, someone misgenders them. Their well-being suddenly gets chipped away. If the misgendering is frequent, the chipping gets deeper and deeper.
This may happen in situations such as family events, where the trans person is repeatedly referred to as their old name and as the pronouns of their birth gender. At this point, forget the chipping away; these constant and frequent misgenderings feel like bullets shooting away at their well-being. Suddenly, the trans person may withdraw from the event and sit by themselves so they won’t feel the pain of those bullets any more.
Most people who misgender are not doing it on purpose, however. They may have known the trans person all their life and may see the trans person still as their former self. These misgenderers truly do not mean any harm, but at the same time they have no idea just how much it hurts. Another group of misgenderers are folks who do not know the trans person at all, but they pick up on some of the traits of the trans person’s physical birth gender and they respond accordingly by misgendering the trans person. They also mean no harm, but they still unknowingly cause pain.
When a trans person corrects a misgenderer, the misgenderer is usually very apologetic and will then try to use the correct gender pronouns such as he, she, him, her, and others, and the correct gender titles such as mister, miss, sir or ma’am. However, sometimes the misgenderers are not apologetic and may refuse to use the correct pronouns and gender titles. I remember one person who misgendered me. I politely tried to correct her. She chuckled and said “Give me a break!” I responded with a straight face: “No. Give me a break.” It was a standoff, and ultimately I walked away. Some people you just can’t reach.
Whether you reach the misgenderers or not, it still hurts to be misgendered. If you think about it, misgendering essentially attacks at the root of the trans person’s gender dysphoria, the heart and core of what the trans person is trying to correct in order to live their life. To misgender them is to hit them at the most vulnerable point of their dysphoria. Please think about this the next time you address a trans person.
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a local transwoman who has three grown children and works at 3M. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.