Pronoun mishaps

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my mom, despite being really supportive of me and mostly transitioning over to introducing me as her son, using the correct name for me for years now, etc. still has occasional trouble with my pronouns. It makes me wonder what language she uses for me when I’m not around, if nearly nine years of practice hasn’t otherwise sunk in. Anyone else in my life who hadn’t been able to make the switch would have been cut out or at least given the slow fade long ago, but I haven’t been able to talk to my mom about this, even though it does hurt when it happens.

She was in town for a brief visit earlier this week, and before she came I was trying to gear myself up for a conversation if she slipped up again, because I’m tired of not saying anything even though that’s easier. But it turned out, happily, that she didn’t make that mistake during the visit. Maybe she’ll get my pronouns wrong again in the future, but at least it didn’t happen this time, and that’s a small victory.

I’ve mentioned to a couple of friends recently that pronoun mishaps rarely happen in my daily life; the beard helps with people I meet for the first time (that’s why I grew the damn thing in the first place, so good job beard), and pretty much anyone in my life either never knew me when folks used female pronouns for me or made the switch long ago. A lot of Scarleteen users assume all the volunteers are women so I get a lot of “thanks ma’am” on our direct services, but that isn’t really a commentary on me as much as a reflection of their assumptions.

However! This week I’m pretty sure I was mispronouned at least semi-deliberately; the person in question isn’t someone I know well or see often but has known the proper language to use for years now. The fact that this person is a jerk isn’t the point here, though; what was interesting was how it felt to overhear his comment. I was startled, but then it just seemed amusing; I felt it was more of a commentary on his sad life than a reflection of my failings as a person.

Yeah, it hurts when my mom uses “she” for me, years after I’ve asked her not to. Some douchebag I don’t like misgenders me? Not my problem.

It makes me think, though, how hard it felt to enforce my preferred language in the days when not many people in my life were using it, even after I’d told them. I have a huge amount of respect for trans folks who are able to interrupt others with the proper name or pronoun when the wrong one’s used, who remind friends over and over again when they mess up, who don’t just give up after a certain point.

Because honestly, that’s what I did, in a lot of situations. I tried to correct people in the moment, as soon as I heard a mistake, but often I’d find it so jarring or frustrating that my body would freeze up for a second, and the moment would be lost. And when some friends continued to use the wrong language for me after a few rounds of corrections, I just…gave up on correcting them. I wasn’t very confident in those days and assumed that a general failure to respect my request meant I just wasn’t passing well enough and I should stop expecting anything until I did.

And yes, I fucking hate hate hate the term “passing” now, but it was The Big Goal for a while. Even though I wasn’t sure I actually was a man, I at least wanted to be read as not-a-woman, and most people really only consider two options so if I wanted to avoid being seen as one thing I had to go with the other. I didn’t know any other way to get friends, co-workers, and customers to use language I was comfortable with other than convincing them, somehow, that I deserved it. And the more people messed up around me, the less I was sure I deserved it.

It’s a luxury, now, to hear someone deliberately being rude to me and be able to shrug it off. Some of that comes from being more confident, some of it’s a lack of regard for this particular person’s opinions, and a lot of it is the fact that it is a rare occurrence at this point. When it happened several times a day for years, it was much harder to deal with.

This is why I get angry when people talk about how hard it is to adjust to a different name or pronoun set for a loved one. Sometimes it might be a challenge, sure! But like any other tough thing, you practice it if it’s important to you and it’ll become easier fairly quickly. It took me a while to get the hang of not using gendered pronouns at all for my partner; before I really got on the singular-they train I often arranged sentences to avoid pronouns altogether, which is an interesting challenge that resulted in some very stilted-sounding sentences. But I did practice, because it was important to someone I cared about, and now it’s not even something I have to think about when I’m talking.

There are people who will wave off mistakes and say they don’t care, and maybe they don’t! But I did that too and was lying every time. I just didn’t feel confident enough to admit how hurt I was. Even an honest slip of the tongue was painful, but mistakes coming from people who clearly weren’t making an effort were like a slap in the face.

This week’s incident was more of an annoying poke than a slap, thankfully.

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4 Responses to Pronoun mishaps

  1. I don’t think it’s ever really a matter of it being “hard to adjust” to using a new name/pronoun for someone*. It’s not particularly hard to adjust when someone changes their name without changing gender; some people will slip up occasionally, but overall it’s a pretty easy changeover. I think it’s mostly people’s difficulty in accepting that gender is a thing that *can* change – we get taught gender-essentialist for so long, it’s hard to break. That continues to trip people for a long time, making it more difficult to associate the new name/pronouns with the person.

    *I’m sure for some people there really is difficulty, I don’t want to commit the Typical Mind Fallacy, but whatever.

    • Yeeees, but I still don’t buy it when folks say “it’s so hard!” as an excuse for not getting on board, language-wise, months/years after they know to make that change. I get that it can be tough (I have struggled with a few people’s pronouns! I’m not immune to it!) but the answer is just to put work into it. If the association is difficult, then you can practice talking about that person to someone else, or rehearse dialogue in your head, or train yourself to speak with extra care when talking about a person, etc.

      You don’t have to understand or even approve of someone’s identity or pronoun changes to spend some time figuring out how to respect them.

      • Right, I don’t accept the “it’s too hard” excuse either. I was just clarifying *why* I think it’s hard for people; it’s a result of social training, not specifically the change itself. They should still suck it up and get things right.

  2. “Sometimes it might be a challenge, sure! But like any other tough thing, you practice it if it’s important to you and it’ll become easier fairly quickly.”

    ^ This. A million times, this.

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