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 and I know that none of them have a malicious or ill-intentioned bone in their bodies. I know that they care about my well being. I know it because so many of them have offered me support during my transition so far. I know it because so many of them came to my transition party back in June. I know it because, as a colleage and friend pointed out the other night at the bar, when people joined me to celebrate the end of a week-long conference that I organised at work, if anyone in our department were to say anything negative about my transition, they would be the one to be ostracised, not me.
I still think it’s important for me to point out to them that they need to make an effort with the pronouns. Not to make them feel bad because, after all, they are all people with busy lives and a lot to think about already, but to make them realise the position they put me in when they mis-gender me. I think that it’s as important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of our friends as it is for them to put themselves in our shoes. They can’t know what it’s like to transition if they haven’t transitioned themselves or if they haven’t been exposed to trans issues before so we need to make it clear for them without judging them if we don’t want them to judge us. So I wrote them another email in which I inserted some humour but also in which I described the results of pronoun malfunctions. Here is the letter, with some modifications to avoid specific reference to my workplace. Any trans people are free to adapt and use if needed, or to borrow the basic idea.
Don’t worry, this appeal has nothing to do with that thing I’ve been bugging you about for weeks, the (conference name). That’s OVER and we can all go back to our “normal” (whatever THAT means) routines. This last appeal has to do with something a bit more personal but I hope you’ll bear with me. Spending an entire week at the college during the conference brought to my attention that, in spite of my increasing male appearance, my colleages are still having problems adjusting their vocabulary with reference to me. There was a significant number of pronoun malfunctions and, in some cases, even name malfunctions. Many of these were in front of new students or guest speakers, to whom I was presenting as male. In one case, it was in front of an entire audience in the auditorium.My first reflex was to get upset. But now I realise that most of you simply don’t fully realise the impact of calling me “she” or “Nancy” in front of strangers. So I will explain it to you in the hopes that it encourages you to think about it differently.
First, I guess it’s hard for you to imagine that strangers nearly always read me as male when you’ve known Nancy. It may be hard for you to let go of your association of me with “her”. I guess it speaks to the great acting job that I did all those years and, yes, Nancy will always be a part of me. But, trust me, with my current appearance and voice, 98% of strangers that I meet read me as male, EXCEPT when I’m with someone who calls me “she” or “Nancy”. Then, a normal interraction about something completely unrelated to me becomes disrupted. The new person is confused. I’m outed and “otherised” and I become “unsafe”: an object of curiosity and confusion rather than another plain old ordinary human in the workplace. Then I’m forced to make a choice to let it go and have yet another person see me as something that I’m not or to further disrupt the interaction to correct the speaker and come up with an explanation for this odd mix-up. My plan is not to go “stealth”* like ma ny trans people do or to forget my female past. I don’t have a problem with educating people about trans realities or providing a model for young people who are questionning and are looking to see themselves (or their trans relatives or friends) reflected in the grown-up working population. However, I reserve the right and the power to “come out” when I see fit, not when other people force me to do so in the middle of an unrelated interaction.
All this being said, I’m hoping that this will encourage you to be more careful in how you refer to me, regardless of whether I’m there or not. I’m sorry if my personal choice to transition is giving you a hard time. It’s not my intention to disrupt other people’s work day but I would like to be able to go to work without having to avoid human contact out of fear that I will be outed . . . .again and again and again. If it helps, you can call me Jack instead of Jacky, which is unfortunately seen as a “girl” name by many in spite of such male characters as Little Jacky Paper, Jackie Chan and Jackie Masson. Jack works for me and maybe will help you with the pronoun as well.
Thanks again for your support so far. I know it’s a pain to have to even think about it but once you get used to this new way, you won’t even remember a time when you called me “she” because it will become natural and normal to refer to me as “he”. Then we will slowly work on My Liege. But let’s take it one step at a time, shall we?
*This is said without any judgement of people who choose to go stealth.