Why does is bother me so?

Has something ever bothered you and you didn’t know why? That’s my current situation. I’m not completely sure I know why this certain thing bothers me, or that it should bother me. If I can’t explain why something bothers me, do I have a reason or right to be bothered? Here’s a better question. Has anyone ever referred to you as the wrong gender? Maybe you’re a man and you’ve been on the phone, but because you have a high voice someone calls you “ma’am” instinctively.

For me, it’s the other way around. I’m on the phone a lot at work, and it’s a given that because I have a low voice people assume I’m Danny instead of Dani. I tell myself that their mistake doesn’t mean anything about me. It doesn’t make me any less female. But, I do get a frustrated when it happens, and it happens daily. It’s not their fault. They can’t possibly know if I don’t tell them.

It’s a little different, though, when the person should know my gender, like when I’m on the phone with my bank, credit card company, insurance company or doctor’s office. It’s a little harder to swallow the attempt to soothe myself, and that their mistake makes me no less female.

I’m really conflicted over when it happens face-to-face with people I know and am around frequently, but I don’t know what it means. Was their mistake out of habit, without thinking; or because their brain and the way they see me hasn’t quite caught up to what’s happening? This is called misgendering — when you use the wrong pronoun.

When I came out to my coworkers, friends and family, I told them they would make mistakes. I knew then, that gender is the first thing we recognize about someone else. Even before hands shake and names are exchanged, we make an assumption about another person’s gender. When a child is born, or during an ultrasound, the first thing parents are told is that their baby is a boy or a girl. Knowing that gender is so deeply a part of what we think we know about others, I knew it would take time for those around me to change the way they see me — to change the filter through which they view me and the things I do and say.

So when a friend recently used a male pronoun and said, “Thank you, sir,” as I turned to leave, I didn’t flinch or change my stride, and I didn’t correct them. Before I came out, I made a promise myself. I promised I wouldn’t correct family, friends and coworkers when they misgendered me. I didn’t want them to feel as if they had to walk on eggshells around me or worry about making a mistake. I wanted to have normal interactions with people, unencumbered by fear or discomfort.

As I continued to walk away, I thought, “I’m presenting so feminine lately, and they still see me as male. When is it going to kick in for other people? Will it kick in?” It happens so often, and I quickly brush away the frustration and hurt feelings by reminding myself, “Their mistake means nothing about who I am inside.” But for the first time, just a minute later, I asked myself why it bothered me so much. I didn’t have an answer. I was aware enough to know that I was bothered, but not aware enough to know why. And because I couldn’t answer the question of why, I wasn’t sure if I even had the right to be bothered.

As I got into my car to drive away, I assumed I would come up with the answer before I got home, but I didn’t. I thought I may just need to talk it out with a friend. When one called a couple hours later, I did. I explained what had happened and my thoughts about it, but I still couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. I thought I would surely figure it out if I wrote about it.

Maybe it’s because it’s become a big pile of little annoyances, or because I’m still insecure in my femininity. Maybe every woman is, but since most have high voices they don’t get misgendered. Maybe they experience their insecurities in ways I haven’t yet.

My friend Mary and I had dinner Saturday. Mary is one of the best sounding boards I have. I can always count on her to tell me things I don’t typically think of. I told her I was thinking about blogging this, but I was afraid that if people I am around all the time read it, they would feel badly or guilty about misgendering me. She said, “Yes, they will — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it.” I was puzzled. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

I can’t remember Mary’s exact logic or words back to me, but for some reason she didn’t feel that hurting people’s feelings was necessarily a good enough reason not to write about it. I still don’t have an answer to my question. Maybe it’s the death from a thousand paper cuts, or that it will take time to be secure enough in my femininity that being misgendered won’t bother me. Maybe that last one never happens, or it’s something else I haven’t discovered. Whichever it is, it’s part of my experience and that’s what this blog is about — what it’s like to be in my high-heeled boots.

7 Comments

  1. Ashley Quinn
    Apr 19, 2016

    If I may, as I think I only tangentially know you unless we met in a previous life, or I’ve slept since then. There’s a thing that happens when I get cut off in traffic, especially if a few different cars do it in a row. I think, “Am I invisible?” Like when it happens 3 times in one 10 min car trip, there has to be something about me, or my car, maybe my headlights aren’t working, or it’s b/c my car is small, they must just not see me, and I feel invisible. I hate to feel invisible. So I give a little honk, maybe a little wave. I say, “Hello, I’m here, please see me,” with that little honk. Even if they’re a student driver, they need to learn to see me. I think it’s a similar thing with misgendering. I think if you don’t give a little honk, you let it build up, and you might find yourself wailing on your horn and tailgating for the next 10 miles. Or rear-ending them. Or inspiring some violent tragic road rage. So I think a friendly little correction, with those around you who’ve had a little opportunity to be aware, will just bring a little more awareness. Hell, you could try a dog-training clicker. And let it be a little thing. Let them wave back a quick “I’m sorry” and move on. You don’t need a formal absolution with a priest, they needn’t apologize 17 times. But I think its ok to say, “she” or “Miss” and they say, “my bad” and keep going. And I try to remember on of the 4 Agreements: Don’t take things personally, nothing other’s do is because of you. I understand you want to be caring and compassionate towards those around you who are working through your transition, but you also gotta be kind and compassionate towards yourself – wouldn’t you correct a friend if they misgendered a trans teen in front of you?

    • dstew67
      Apr 19, 2016

      I would definitely correct someone if they misgendered someone else! That would be me acting out of being protective. It’s different when it’s yourself. It’s not the end of the world for me. I really can move on, for the most part. Plus, I really want people to feel comfortable around me because I want their interactions to be real and unguarded. I’m still finding the sweet spot, maybe 😊

  2. Linda
    Apr 19, 2016

    Dani, it doesn’t matter why it bothers you. It does. End of story. I admire you not wanting people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells, but if someone consistently misgenders you then I hope you’ll gently correct them. The first time. I’ll give someone the “oops” pass occasionally, but if they continue then they either don’t care or they’re passive-aggressive a*holes in my book. In which case full on bitch mode is very, very satisfying. 🙂

  3. Leslie Holland
    Apr 19, 2016

    I agree with all of the above. It bothers you, so it matters. End of story. I think you should gently correct them. They may not even realize they’re doing it, and it will make them realize–so that next time they will catch themselves before they do it. For people who are new to this and don’t know many transgender folks, they may just not realize it. So I vote for gentle correction. It’s a small way to stand up for yourself (in a kind manner) and it may even make you feel more secure in your woman-ness (did I make up that word?) once you do it. You’re so kind to worry about the feelings of others, but you also have to do right by yourself. 👍🏻😘

    • dstew67
      Apr 19, 2016

      I do think you made up that word, but it works!

      As much as it is me being kind to think about others, there is a selfish motivation. I want my interactions with others to be unfiltered by them feeling uptight or like they’re going to say the wrong thing.

  4. Tammy
    May 17, 2016

    I think it’s about feeling validated for who you are. You weren’t able to express your true self outwardly for almost 50 years and now you’ve made many intensely personal changes which took so much courage… a little validation would be nice, right? Heck yeah, it would!

    It’s nice that you don’t want others to walk on eggshells or come across as a gender-nazi slapping a ruler across the hands of anyone who misuses a pronoun… yet, you need to be validated.

    You DESERVE to be validated.

    So why not try a little humor? If someone says, “thank you, sir” you can reply “You’re quite welcome, m’aam (or sir)” and purposefully misgender them back. As long as it’s expressed with a vocal tone of light-hearted humor and not anger, you’ll get your point across without being too stern.

    • Dani
      May 17, 2016

      I like the humor idea, but I worry I would come across too much like my former overcompensating self. I do feel validated by so many loving friends I don’t deserve, and I try now to come across with more grace, although driving a zinger home does have its place. I think under the right circumstances, humor would work. I’ll have to try it and see 😉

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