How [not] to react when you misgender someone, and they tell you

I’ve been playing RPG with a small group of people for a few months and we are having a lot of fun. Except when they start misgendering me, which usually is just a “slip”. It’s inconsequential, right? RIGHT?

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I’ve been playing RPG with a small group of people for a few months and we are having a lot of fun. Except when they start misgendering me, which usually is just a “slip”. It’s inconsequential, right? RIGHT?

Well, you know what I’m about to say. It’s bad, really bad.

I’m a very tolerant person when it comes to isolated events. Sometimes, someone uses the wrong pronouns. If I know them, I will tell them, they apologise, and we move on. If I don’t know them, the effort is not worth the result and even if it’s hurtful, I can’t blame them, especially since I don’t go out of my ways to look more feminine (and if I do and they still misgender me, they’re just assholes who don’t even deserve that I spend time on them).

I am more tolerant about my friends and family; they’ve known me for such a long time that they’re deeply used to the way it used to be, and it’s genuinely hard to get used to the new pronouns. But when I get into a group, and introduce myself as female, I expect people to get it right away, and after 6 months, the “slip” should be a thing of the past. It shouldn’t happen. My RPG group falls in that category. They’re people who only know my female identity, even if they know I am transgender (I joined them before starting HRT), so they should use the right pronoun all the time, without even thinking about it.

I probably should have enforced it more from the very beginning; I let it slide too many times before I started HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), but now I definitely need to correct them every single time, and if they get annoyed by that, then it will stick in their head. Because this week, it reached an apex. They kept misgendering me, I kept correcting them, and only one of them realised it and apologised (even sent me an email, thanks). One had the complete opposite reaction, so he made the case for the worst behaviour ever (well, the worst before violence):

  1. I misgender someone. No big deal, they didn’t notice, let’s move on (1).
  2. I misgender again. That time, they correct me. Ok. Got it, you noticed. Let’s move on.
  3. I misgender once again. They correct me. That’s starting to get annoying, but I don’t want to make a scene, so let’s shut up.
  4. After we split, they come to me, and they ask me to be more careful. Shit, what have I done wrong. It’s just a slip, it happen, relax a bit, it’s not like it happens every time.
  5. I run away before they can actually explain why it’s problematic to misgender someone.

It happened exactly like that. I’m not making that up. So here is why it is problematic to misgender someone. It has been explained by many other people who probably said it better than I do, but here is my take.

First, I just want to stress out that if you misgender someone, even if you apologise, it’s still hurtful. But at least you acknowledge that you made a mistake, and the person can still respect you after that. It’s like stepping on someone’s foot. It hurts, and you can’t change that, but if you don’t apologise, you’re a dick. So apologise.

Now, what happens when someone gets misgendered. It goes beyond simple respect. It’s a very personal thing. When someone uses the wrong pronouns, I just feel like my treatment is not working, that my efforts are pointless and that I’m that far away from my objective. I know how I look, and I know how people see me, that doesn’t mean I want them to remind me every time they get a chance. Calling me by the gender I choose shows that you acknowledge that I am a woman, even thought I may not look like one (2). It builds confidence. Using the wrong pronouns, you take that confidence away. My life is subjected to an never-ending tidal wave of confidence (3).

  • If you misgender me, you’re telling me that you can’t go past my appearance.
  • If you do it several time even after I correct you, your lack of effort means that you don’t understand how important it is; and if you don’t realise that I’m getting gradually upset, you have a cruel lack of empathy.
  • If you don’t apologise, that means that you don’t care about my feelings at all, which puts you straight in the asshole category.
  • And if you act offended, I completely lose respect for you. You’re hopeless.

And the appearance thing is bullshit. There are people out there who don’t know me, and get it right even when I don’t give any information (not even my name). Some people actually told me they didn’t know I was transgender before I told them. The physical value of gender is way overestimated. If you just tell people your gender before they can really judge it by themselves, they have to mentally fight to go against it. It’s not worth it, so they comply. Tell them you are transgender, they only see that. Tell them later that you are transgender, and they will tell you (and convince themselves) that they totally saw it. It’s really not worth telling people.

So, here is an advice for when you misgender someone you know:

If you notice right away, correct yourself, and apologise. If they correct you, apologise. And DON’T. DO. IT. AGAIN! Seriously!

But staying silent or, worse, getting offended when you’re corrected is never the right behaviour.

 

(1) FIY: I always notice, even if I don’t say anything.

(2) I am a woman, there is no debate here. I don’t have to argue about that and you don’t get to disagree.

(3) In this analogy, the Moon is “misgendering”. Sorry Moon, I don’t have anything against you. You’re just playing the villain here. I promise you’ll get a better role next time.

Emotional Wasteland; how to tear down the stronghold defence

I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them.

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I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them. And as I pointed out in my previous post, it becomes problematic when it builds up and I can’t see the threshold being atomised. I should be able to identify the early signs of distress and take preventive action, or at least prepare my defence. But to know why I have so much problems with this now, I have to come back years and years before.

When I was in middle school, I was quick to cry for any stupid thing. And when you grow up as a boy, your peers are quick to shame you for being so emotional. Heck, in the 90’s, even the girls were shaming you for that by calling you… a girl (not sure that changed actually, but I’m not in middle school anymore). After that, high school was a boring hell hole where every one but me was in a group, I started my college years with my first big “romantic” deception, I’ve been mugged a couple times, and by the time I was 20, I was fed up of being emotional and victimised. So, I basically decided to change all of that, trying to be more the person that people want you to be. But it turns out, when people want you to conform, they don’t mean that you should behave like a cold anti-social butthole.

After a few years of being like this, and refusing to feel anything, or to be vulnerable in front of someone, your body gradually accept the changes, and stop giving you any warning signs. You live like nothing can get to you. It’s boring, and lonely, but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds, because your body stopped giving a rat’s ass about your feelings anyway. But, of course, it’s only illusion. If you have as much empathy as I do, you can understand how this wall is just a prank your mind loves to play on you, and all those feelings build up until the illusion crumbles and you as well.

And that’s where the weirdest thing happens. You would think that after a breakdown, you’d get a wake-up call and decide that all this was a terrible way to deal with your problem, and you should start working on it but no, you just go full 2nd amendment on it and you decide that you need more of your stupid idea to protect yourself. Mix it and shake it for a few years, and here you go, you built yourself a gigantic fortress full of cracks and, ironically, you end up an inmate in a prison you designed. And it’s the kind of prison where you can smuggle anything in, but nothing comes out. So you keep feeling, but to other people, you still look like a cold anti-social butthole.

Jump-cut to 2015: Crap! I’m transgender. I knew it already (1), but hey, now it’s messing with my sanity, so I really need to do something about it. My shrink tries to break into my defence, but she does that by finding workarounds. Bad luck, my wall is designed against that kind of evasive action. However I realise it fails in the face of direct action. Who would have known? I’ve always been honest, and somehow I was always waiting for someone to notice and reach out. So ask me a question bluntly, I will answer the same way, try to go around, I can play for hours, and we’ll both waste time.

So I realise that I need to let my guard down, but I have two problems: first I can’t just withdraw everything because, since I’ve now come out as transgender, I shifted in a particularly unsafe category of people, and I need to be careful. And second, I forgot what feelings feel. As I said, my body stopped warning me, so I have no idea what to let through, because I don’t receive relevant emotional inputs. I only know when it’s too late, and that puts me in annoying or embarrassing situations, to say the least.

So now I am trying to dismantle that wall, but it’s really complicated. It’s a piece-by-piece project. I need to really think about what constitutes a feeling and how it is supposed to trigger me. To give a bold example, when I experience something that is supposed to be sad, I have to tell myself that it is sad, and I know that an appropriate response to that feeling is crying. So I may try to force myself to cry. Think it’s messed up? I actually do it for real. I have some cues that gives me the tears right up. It’s kind of a cheap trick, but after learning some basic neuroscience, I realise that it’s a good way to reinforce a behaviour (2).

However it’s a very long process. It’s not a one-off thing. You don’t get it when you do it once. It’s like any other trained behaviour, it only reinforces when you do it enough times that it becomes natural (like driving, or flipping crèpes without folding them). And most often, you forget to do it because you’re too busy already to notice the stimulus. So I’m in for years and years of remediation. Hopefully, I’ll be prepared when Death comes knocking at my door. So when He says “I DON’T HAVE ALL DAY, ARE YOU READY YET?”, I can say proudly “I saw that coming!”

 

 

(1) Actually I knew since I was about 15, without really putting words onto it. But society puts so much pressure on you to conform that it’s really hard to accept it, or to find help. Especially back in the 90’s when Internet wasn’t yet the go-to place to find useful information. And as my friend Bria says: 

 

(2) There are some stimuli that have never failed to make me cry, and I think it’s because of some things I cared for when I was a kid, like the dog my family used to have. Shit, just writing about him gives me tears. And it actually makes me cry every time something sad happens to a pet (and that’s why I have a hard time with animal deaths in movies). So thinking about this when another supposedly sad stimuli comes up helps associate the response to the stimuli. And then it reinforces by itself, since crying when the stimuli happens makes me realise that the stimuli is something sad.