Dear Sir or Madame:

I’m pretty used to people misreading my gender. I now have stock answers for each time a grocery clerk, flight attendant, or random woman in a public bathroom calls me by the wrong pronoun. (My response, although it depends somewhat on my mood, usually amounts to, “Yeah, I get that a lot, but I’m actually a woman.) If I’m feeling expansive, sometimes I try to point out to people that the characteristics they were using to gender me–height, a baseball cap–aren’t exclusively the domain of masculinity.

But when I go to a queer event, I’d really just like to be read as a lesbian.

Where once I was misread as a man (and I think the majority of straight people who misread me just assume I’m a dude), I now find myself increasingly misread even by queer audiences as a trans*man.

Now, I’m not trying to make this into some kind of butch-FTM border war. Absolutely not. But I do find it really interesting that five years ago I was never asked which pronouns I prefer, or chatted up at a bar by someone who wants to know if I’m going to First Event.  And five years ago I was every bit as “masculine-presenting” as I am now. So what’s changed?

On the one hand, I guess I should be glad that folks have gained some awareness in the past few years. Anyone who asks about my pronouns is obviously doing so from a well-meaning place of wanting to make sure they don’t make me uncomfortable or make assumptions about me and my gender identity. But the fact that they ask me in the first place means they’re making another set of assumptions.

A high school GSA I visited had a very nice set of groundrules, and one of them was to not make assumptions about anyone’s sexuality or gender identity. Several folks in attendance chose to disclose their preferred gender pronouns (PGPs) along with general introductions, which I thought was a nice idea. But that’s certainly not the norm in most social settings, not even queer ones. So if not everyone is disclosing their PGPs–and I have to assume the people asking me aren’t asking everyone they meet–why ask me mine? Is it even necessary if we’re just having a casual conversation?

Here’s the part I find really interesting: the Boston trans* community has always been completely welcoming to me, as a cisgendered lesbian, despite the history of transphobia in other queer and lesbian communities here. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s never trans*folk asking about my pronouns.

Despite the huge cisgendered privilege I enjoy most of the time, I’ve also been the target of transphobia. Women in bathrooms treat me like some kind of freak (even After I’ve established I am, in fact, in the right bathroom) and queers label me a troublemaker when I bring up trans* issues. And queers write a trans* narrative on my body without any real reason other than my presentation, which I never used to think was remarkable for a lesbian. As a result, I’m starting to feel more comfortable in trans* communities than lesbian communities–while I simultaneously feel like my cis privilege gives me no right to invade that territory.

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4 Responses to Dear Sir or Madame:

  1. Conman says:

    very interesting post.

    a few thoughts:

    re: why you’re being asked now, unlike before–trans visibility and awareness has increased, thus more folks are aware of trans folks.

    re: asking one’s preferred pronoun–a lot of trans folks don’t like it either. and probably for exactly the same reason–that only trans, or assumed to be trans, people are being asked. and this re-establishes the cis privilege of not having to “explain” or defend one’s gender.

  2. pandanose says:

    …And suddenly the light goes on about why this never seems to happen to me in predominantly trans spaces. Hmm.

  3. hexy says:

    Interesting post.

    I’ve been dwelling on this issue a bit recently… I’ve felt that “demanding” people verbalise their pronoun preference on my schedule rather than theirs is overwhelmingly an act of privilege, but at the same time I realise how hurt people can be by an accidental use of the wrong pronoun. I screwed that one up recently in an area supposed to be a safe space.

    I found your blog via Renee, incidentally. *waves*

  4. pandanose says:

    Welcome, hexy!

    Again, I feel a little weird speaking as if I have any authority on these issues–but at least in my experience, it’s much more painful to endure an intentional mislabeling than a genuinely accidental one. And really, when you’re talking one on one with someone, how often do you actually need to use pronouns? Pretty rarely.

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