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):
- I misgender someone. No big deal, they didn’t notice, let’s move on (1).
- I misgender again. That time, they correct me. Ok. Got it, you noticed. Let’s move on.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.