Argh!

20 10 2008

Need to rant. As regular readers know, I’m not gung-ho on going stealth. However, I’m also not gung ho about having my trans identity being the first thing people know about me. As with my bisexual orientation, it’s the kind of thing that I don’t want to hide but I don’t necessarily want to wear on my sleeve either (I do wear a t-boy cuff but only people who know what that means think anything of it). If it comes up, it comes up and I won’t hide but that is contextual. And where, when and how I come out is up to ME and no one else.

Now, I’ve been patient with friends and co-workers, trying to get them to get the pronouns right. When it’s just us, I can tolerate the slippages somewhat, although I’m getting stricter about correcting them. But today, I just about lost it. I was outed in front of total strangers not once, but twice! The first time, a colleague was trying to answer a student’s question. I did not know the student. The colleague point at me and said: “Maybe she would know.” I was mortified. I’m being read as male 95% of the time by strangers so I have no reason to believe this student was any different. I was presenting as male. I look and sound male. And I had to say: “You mean ‘he'” much to the bemusement of this student.

Next, another colleague called me by my girl name in front of a guest speaker. Again, I was mortified. I had invited this guest to the college and, when giving him a meeting point, I had told him to look for a guy in his 30s with a spider on his left hand. Since I got no weird looks upon meeting him, I had no reason to think that he read me as anything other than male. So to hear me referred to with my girl name must’ve been very confusing. And it certainly was very frustrating for me.

All they ever say is “sorry/it’s normal/give us time/it doesn’t mean anything/it’s just a slip” but what they’re not getting is that everytime they slip in front of strangers, they are OUTING me or at least confusing the person I’m interacting with so that, suddenly, a run-of-the-mill interaction becomes question-laden for the new person and embarrassing for me. What am I supposed to say? Oh, people think I’m a girl? Oh, people confuse me for my twin sister? Oh, I used to be female and I’ve transitioned to male but people around me can’t adjust? How am I supposed to have a normal interaction after someone “she”s the guy they see in front of them or calls him by a girl name?

Back when I first contemplated transition, I thought that I would have to leave and start somewhere new. Not because I want to go stealth but just because I want to be taken at face value. Then I thought, no, it’ll be OK, they’ll get used to it and be able to adjust. But it’s not happening with the people around me who are unable to see me the way strangers see me. It seems many of them are unable to let go of the woman they thought they knew. I know they don’t mean harm but it’s a reflection of what they’re seeing when they see me: not a guy but a woman tring to look and sound like a guy. And I can’t help feeling hurt, embarrassed and frustrated by it.

I almost took a semester off for next term but now it’s too late. The deadline to apply has passed and I’m going to be stuck there for a whole semester probably being outed in front of students constantly . I think I’ll have to just walk around ad not look at anyone, not have any conversations with anyone but new students so that I don’t get the “she” and the girl name. Then I’ll be gone for a year in the sub-arctic and maybe when I come back I’ll be “man enough” or they’ll have forgotten the woman and just see me as a new person. I hope so because I can’t handle the idea of 30 more years of “she” until I retire.

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17 responses

21 10 2008
queerunity

that sucks but i think unfortunately there is no way around it. people need to get used to it, and i doubt they are being malicious.

21 10 2008
Tarald

I’m sorry that your co-workers are unable to deal with your transition. I understand that you feel hurt, and I think you have every right to feel that way.
Fortunately my surroundings seems to have no problems with using the right pronouns and name. I hope it gets better for you too!

21 10 2008
nix

that sucks a lot. i totally feel your anger, and i HATE the “give us time” excuse. it is a bad habit to get into, because you never know how much time is enough. GRAR. i just wrote about pronouns with the idea the post would be fine to forward to colleagues and family. feel free to use it if you’d like.

22 10 2008
Jacky V.

Queerunity: Oh, I totally know they’re not being malicious. The two people in question don’t have a malicious bone in their body. In one case, I don’t know the person that well and don’t see her that often. In the other, it’s someone that I care about and have looked up to for a few years as a male role model so I guess it hurts more. But my frustration is mostly that they don’t seem to realise the situation they are putting me in when they mess up the name or pronoun in front of strangers. They are basically outing me and it puts me in an awkward position every time.

Tarald: I don’t think it’s so much that they can’t deal, it’s just new territory for them. I try to put myself in their shoes – I’ve never experienced seeing someone through transition before. And yes, I do have the right to feel hurt even though I know they’re not trying to hurt me. This is why I have a blog where I can rant to people who are in similar situations. I’m pretty sure very few of my colleagues read this blog so I can just rant away, blow off steam and then talk to them when I’ve calmed down. It’s pointless to talk about it when the wound is still fresh.

Nix: Thanks for the link! I agree that “giving people time” is problematic. It was my approach: I let them get used to the name and figured the pronoun would come when I came out last year but I guess I should’ve just done it all at once.

22 10 2008
Radicalyffe

This sort of thing sucks, I’m copping the same thing at work… occassionally maliciously, but usually not.

In my case, some of my colleagues see me as a woman, and can’t imagine seeing me as anything else, and can’t comprehend that when I’m *not at work* I pass most of the time, and the only reason I *don’t* pass when I’m at work is because they keeep outing me… over and over and over again.

I thought I would give them time, but I agree with nix. They can just get used to it… NOW. No one else in my life has taken this long.

25 10 2008
Jacky V.

Thanks for writing Radicalyffe. Exactly, it’s hard for people who know us to imagine that strangers meeting us for the first time read us as we are presenting. Then when those strangers meet us in the workplace, or wherever, the only reason they *don’t* read us is that those who already knew us, *out* us.

A new colleague yesterday, who is very queer and trans friendly and knowledgeable, because she has taken the time to educate herself, told me that a student asked her if I was a he or she, and she (the colleague) figured that other colleagues must be calling me “she” if a new student was even questionning this.

But you know, as it’s been pointed out by me and others, and you, it’s not malicious. I think I need to let all my colleagues know what position they are putting me in when they “she” me in front of strangers. The few that I have told actually turned pale when they realised the depth of the situation, that every encounter turned into an outing, and promised to make more of an effort.

27 10 2008
genderoutlaw

I’m finding that I have to be *really clear* when it comes to pronouns. Most people do not assume that my transition requires them to switch pronouns. It doesn’t help that I don’t see friends with any regularity—weeks and sometimes months can go by—so they don’t get the issue re-enforced. I find social events somewhat tiresome as a result. I usually stay until I have made three pronoun corrections, then I just feel like going home. At work, only about a third of the people I interact with even know I’m in transition (I telecommute) so I’m still she’d a lot. It’s getting weirder every day!

27 10 2008
Jacky V.

GenderOutlaw: Yeah, it’s funny how people don’t even figure out on their own that they need to switch pronouns. A colleague of mine was telling me about a student of his that came out to him as female-to-male. He described him as “a girl who wants to be a guy” and then proceded to “she” him throughout the whole conversation. I had to stop him and ask him if he was sure it was a female-to-male he was talking about. He said: “Yeah, a girl.” Anyway, it took forever to clarify. He finally got it that if this person is IDing as male, the male pronouns go with that ID.

It’s funny though, I would assume that it would be better if people DIDN’t see you on a regular basis, since the changes are more obvious to someone who hasn’t seen us in a while. But what you’re saying contradicts that. Hmmmm. Here I was thinking that after my year in Northern Quebec, my Montreal colleagues would have an easier time because I will have changed much more . . .

Yes, having to correct people is very physically and emotionally draining. It makes us look like WE are the ones not getting it somehow, and people get this exasperated look at best and get defensive at worst. I wrote my colleagues an email this morning describing the situation they put me in when they “she” me or, even worse, “Nancy” me. I’m hoping that will sensitise them a bit.

27 10 2008
jillian08

I can relate to your experiences, Jacky. There are still a couple of people in my office who can’t bring themselves to using my femme name. The only thing we can do is press on, correct people when necessary — and fight discrimination when it rears its ugly head. But we just can’t let this stuff distract us from our transitioning. We can’t let it get us down — even though it does.

Yours in the struggle . . .

Jillian

27 10 2008
Jacky V.

Exactly, we can’t let it get us down, although I think we’re all entitled to the occasional rant. I’m a very positive person, always looking at the good side of everything but I reserve the right to let out all the frustrations on occasion, with people who will get it.

In my case, I can’t say that anyone actually refuses to call me “he” or “Jacky.” It’s never been maliscious.

27 10 2008
Another letter to my colleagues « Tboy Jacky

[…] letter to my colleagues 27 10 2008 After the other day’s rant, I took a more objective look at what was going on with the pronoun situation. I know my colleagues […]

27 10 2008
genderoutlaw

Anyway, it took forever to clarify. He finally got it that if this person is IDing as male, the male pronouns go with that ID.

Now try adding sexuality to that! I see some very confused faces when I say I’m heterosexual. “But you have a GF, so you’re still a lesbian right?”

I would assume that it would be better if people DIDN’t see you on a regular basis, since the changes are more obvious to someone who hasn’t seen us in a while.

I think I have only started to look different lately. For the first 6 months of being on T, I didn’t really change too much visually and my voice didn’t drop much either. I’ve finally got some wisps of facial hair and I’m thickening up a bit, enough that people now notice. So, what you’re saying will probably start to be more true for me now.

28 10 2008
Jacky V.

Another argh! Yeah, people *do* get confused about the sexual orientation of transfolk. In my case, I’m bi and anyone who knows me for more than a few hours knows this so it’s not so bad. But I have had some people assume that I would be hetero (as in date women).

Yes, maybe it will be different for you now that changes are kicking in. I know that I’ve gotten the biggest reactions this fall from people that I didn’t see all summer. Those who saw me on a regular basis don’t notice the changes so much.

Funny anecdote: a colleague called me at home for something work-related and we hadn’t spoken in months because we don’t often have to deal with each other, work-wise. When I answered the phone, she sounded all confused and asked for Jacky. When I said: “Speaking,” she said: “Oh, I thought I was speaking to a man.” I replied that she was and then she felt REALLY silly.

28 10 2008
genderoutlaw

Yes, the phone is getting a little weird. I’m backwards-stealth with some of my clients, meaning: they don’t know about my transition and think I’m a woman. This is because I telecommute and rarely meet my clients. I deal with them one-on-one, so pronouns don’t come up. A phone meeting yesterday started with, “Wow, you’ve got a cold don’t you?!” I just replied with “nope” and left it at that. When I’m doing contract negotiations, I just can’t find room in the conversation to slip in, “I’m going through what most people think of as a sex change.” This will only get more interesting…!

28 10 2008
Jacky V.

Ah, yes, the “Do you have a cold” bit. I wonder how things will go for you in the long run with that. Do you foresee a time when it will become necessary to correct people’s assumption that you are female when you may never meet them face-to-face? There is obviously the self-validating aspect of being recognised for who you are. But then it comes down to how and when, doesn’t it. Tricky indeed.

29 10 2008
genderoutlaw

I’m just taking it a day at a time. My comfort level with it now is OK. On some days, I think it’s somewhat humorous. I can foresee some clients figuring out I’m male then wondering why they thought I was female all this time, causing them some embarrassment. I present as male across all my online profiles, and this satisfies Real Life Experience in the work place. That being said, I have some worry that Medical Services Plan here in BC will take issue with it, denying me coverage for my hysterectomy. My psychologist is on side and wrote me a support letter explaining that my work environment is a little different than most. I’m also going to ask her to give me some coaching on how to carry myself through the psychiatric evaluation for hysto coverage, hopefully balancing out any doubts they have about me.

8 11 2008
nix

I guess I should’ve just done it all at once

nah – you’re not to blame! they’re the ones stuffing up!

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