There is a point to this saga, so bear with me….
Once upon a time, I was dating a guy. We were talking about wedding things. Then, seemingly suddenly, we broke up. Some months later, after I’d started dating someone else, my ex came out to me as trans.
It was really hard in part because it was so long ago. This was pre-Internet. The only trans* person I’d ever heard of was Wendy Carlos. Who is still as amazing as ever. And I really couldn’t get over the feeling of being inadequate and being dumped, which just got wrapped up in how I felt about my ex being trans.
Now, despite all that, I kept my struggles about it mostly to myself. I distinctly remember, not long after she told me, that I said to myself, “You still love her as a friend. She’s going to lose some other friends, at least for now, and—don’t be that person.”
So, for a while, she went to her day job as male and wasn’t out, and then, after a time, she came out there too.
Years pass, and I still thought of her with three distinct sets of pronouns: male from the early part of knowing her; male and female, context-dependent, for her transition period; and female after.
I’ve known a few trans* people since and been a helpful ear and person when I could be. For example, a former colleague had been trying to use the right bathroom in an office building where someone was rabidly anti-trans, and I would escort my colleague to prevent bullying by this person (who worked for a different company on the same floor). I’m not saying this to get a cookie, just pointing out that I was generally trying to have a clue before the next paragraph….
Then I’m online one night in a chat room with a friend who had recently come out, and, well, I was an asshat about him being trans. I hadn’t meant to be an asshat, there were just things I hadn’t moved past, and I hadn’t really realized how much I’d failed to understand.
Instead of just being defensive about it (though I was defensive in the moment), I realized I didn’t know enough trans people. I’d just happened to know the ones I’d run across over the years. So I made a point of reading more trans stories and getting to know more trans* people. Obviously I had some big issues.
I kind of expected a moment of clarity, but that honestly didn’t arrive until last week.
A few years ago, I had a shift in how I thought about my ex’s pronouns when I started working with her brother. It really forced me to think of her as female for the entire time I knew her so that I wouldn’t accidentally out her if she came up as a topic of conversation around others. There were still some moments where the pronoun still would have been male — but I wasn’t likely to be talking about those. She was a Vietnam vet in a context where that wouldn’t have been a woman’s role. And then there were the private moments. But, apart from those, she was female in my mind. It felt better, honestly, but there was still a little voice at the back of my head.
One of the change moments for me was reading the phrase “gender confirmation surgery” in one of the pieces about Janet Mock’s recent interview debacle.
And I went, “huh.”
But the clarity didn’t come until I read this post in The Guardian, specifically this paragraph (emphasis added):
Whether discussing a person’s past, present or future, only use the correct pronouns for their gender. A person’s gender generally does not change. Public presentation may change in transition and secondary sex characteristics may change with the aid of hormones and/or surgery, but one’s sense of being either male or female is, in most cases, constant throughout life.
What I realized was that I was making the very fundamental error with my ex of using the pronouns of her gender as I experienced them. Not as she experienced them.
And the pronouns should be as she experienced them.
A lot of things fell into place for me after that.