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.