For cisgender people – on why pronouns are important.

Edit: For a guide to the terminology used in this post, plus some extra words you might come across while talking about transgender issues, please see this post on transgender terminology.

A transgender person is a person whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. This can mean someone who was AFAB (assigned female at birth) identifying as male, someone who was AMAB (assigned male at birth) identifying as female, an AMAB or AFAB person identifying as non-binary or genderqueer (terms which mean identifying outside of the male-female gender binary) or an intersex person (someone whose chromosomes are neither XX or XY) identifying as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

One of the most important things for a transgender person is for other people to respect our pronouns. For example, I was AFAB but I identify as male, and for me, people using ‘he/him/his’ pronouns for me and referring to me as male is as important as it is for people to use my correct name.

You might think that pronouns aren’t important. You might think ‘we are all special, gender isn’t important, I don’t see gender’ but that is because you are cisgender (not transgender) and you have never had your gender identity questioned. When you say you are male or female, people believe you without question. For a transgender person, it is often a constant battle to ‘convince’ people that we are the gender we say we are. Having people respect our pronouns is one part of that battle; to have people affirm with the language they use, that we are who we are.

When someone uses the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, it can be very, very upsetting. It can bring back memories and flashbacks of past abuse for that person. Often we have been emotionally abused by people who used the wrong pronouns for us deliberately to make that abuse hurt more. Often we have had the wrong pronouns hurled at us while being physically abused by people who hated us simply for our gender identity.

When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you are telling us that your assumption about our gender is more important than our own truth. You are telling us that it is more important for you to offend us and make us feel uncomfortable, upset, or even suicidal, in order to make yourself feel more comfortable.

When you misgender (use the wrong pronouns for) us, you are saying that our lived experience does not matter. You are saying that you know us better than we know ourselves, and you are saying that hurting us is more important than changing the tiny words you use to refer to us. It is not difficult for a cisgender person to use the correct pronouns for a transgender person. We all make mistakes, but neither is it difficult to own the mistake, apologise and move on.

Another important thing about using the right pronouns is the safety of the transgender person. When you use incorrect pronouns for us, you run the risk of ‘outing’ us (telling other people that we are not the gender we were assigned at birth). This can put us in danger of abuse, or even physical violence.

But most importantly, when you use the wrong pronouns for a transgender person, you are telling us that you are not our ally, you are not our friend, and you are not someone we can trust. You are telling us that your decision to make assumptions about our gender is more important than our dignity as human beings. You are telling us that your comfort is more important than the validation of our identities, and you are telling us that your convenience is more important than our emotional and physical safety.

I hope that this article has helped you to understand a little bit about why using the correct pronouns for a transgender person is more than important, it is essential for the safety and well-being of the person, and that you will go forward armed with a little more knowledge and compassion, and that you will do the right thing. Transgender people don’t deliberately upset you with the language we use to refer to you; please afford us the same respect.

Dear cis person…

Please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.2000px-A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain3.svg

I know that I am out to the world on the internet, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know that your friend may be confused by you calling me ‘he’ when I sound (and look) like a butch girl, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know that you were just talking about transgender people with another friend, perhaps another transgender person, and you wanted to make it clear that you understand trans issues because you have a trans friend, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know you want to tell that cute gay guy who wants my number that not only am I married, I’m ‘actually not a real guy’, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know you may be talking to someone about the me you knew three years ago, and that you still think of that person as ‘she’ and ‘old name’, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know you’re worried people may think I’m ‘just’ a cross-dresser unless you explain, but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know you may be talking to someone about men who have birthed (or women who have inseminated), but please don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

I know, cis friend, that it can be hard for you to remember that ‘outing’ me could at best cause people to misgender me and at worst put me in physical danger, but please. Don’t ‘out’ me without my permission.

This post was reposted from my old blog.

“What’s your REAL name?”

nameI just found this article, which is pretty good: 8 Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person.

Sorry for Cosmo link but NUMBER 7 NUMBER 7 NUMBER 7. I’ve been asked “What’s your REAL name?” several times, and every time it stings. My real name is the name I tell you it is. If I tell you my name is Twinklepuff von Glitterpants, you RESPECT THAT. Yeah, I changed my name. No, I’m not going to tell you what from, because there is only one reason people ask that, and it is so they can smugly know who I “really” am – i.e. they think that the me I am now is a fraud.

Asking any person their ‘real’ name or ‘old’ name is rude beyond belief. Wee Chum once asked a visiting priest (long story!) what his old name had been, as the priest mentioned that he had chosen his current name. I was horrified, and immediately told Chum that he shouldn’t ask people that because it puts them in an awkward position. “Do I tell the person my old name, and feel uncomfortable with them for the rest of my life knowing they think they know my ‘true identity’, or do I refuse to tell them and then feel rude/mean or have them pester me about it not being ‘a big deal’ and telling me ‘I can trust them’?” In this case, the man in question was happy to tell Chum his old name, but Chum still apologised once he realised it was an inappropriate question.

I have changed my name twice in my life. Once from my birth name to a similar feminine name, and then from that name to Quinn. Not one person asked me what I had changed my name from when I was read as a cisgender woman. It wasn’t so important, I suppose, because my gender wasn’t in question. I wasn’t necessarily being ‘fraudulent’ in other people’s eyes, as many seem to believe I am being now. In fact, I’ve never felt less fraudulent in my life. Oldname, now he was fraudulent. He was trying desperately to convince himself and the world that he was a woman, for Christ’s sake. Quinn – the person I am now – well, I’ve never been more genuine, more real, more ‘me’.

Names are intrinsically tied up with genders. If you have a ‘masculine’ name, people assume you are a man, if you have a ‘feminine’ name, they assume you are a woman. If you have a ‘gender neutral’ name – like I do – it confuses people, especially if your gender is difficult to immediately decode because you don’t ‘look gendered’ (or in my case, if you’re a man who could be a butch woman, or could be a feminine dude, but nobody’s ever quite sure). People like to put others in boxes, and it would seem the gender box is the first box we put a person in when we meet them. Even when a baby is born, most of the time, its gender is determined before it is even told the name its parents have chosen for it!

People see the gender first – and often it’s the gender they think you are, rather than the gender you actually are, if you’re not cisgender – and once they have committed themselves to you being that gender, they find a certain amount of cognitive dissonance at being told your name is of the ‘opposite’ gender to the box they have mentally shut you into. And so, “What’s your real name?” becomes the first question they ask.

My name is Quinn and I chose that name, for sure, but it is on my driving licence, my passport, my bank statements, imprinted on my husband’s and son’s hearts. This is my real name. I am a real person. Don’t try to take that away from me.

This post was reposted from my old blog.

Caitlyn Jenner, beauty standards, and unreasonable expectations

11745959_10153462433862838_8881880467101625865_nThe media portrayal of Caitlyn Jenner is problematic because it perpetuates several cissexist ideas about transgender people, and cisnormative ideas about beauty and femininity. I want to preface this by stating I have nothing against Jenner personally, but I can’t help but recognise that her experience of transition is not as universal as the media would have us believe, and I can’t help but see that her financial situation and whiteness massively privilege her over the majority of the other transgender people on the planet, particularly trans women of colour and poor trans people.

In a world in which our absolute and only goal in life is expected to be ‘passing for cisgender’, she burst into the newspapers having transitioned – transformed, even – completely. She is a media darling because, where so many of us don’t fit the cisgender-person-shaped mould that we are expected to force ourselves into, she meets the societally acceptable standards of femininity and beauty that mean she is ‘a worthy trans person’. She’s white, she’s slim, she has the ‘right’ amount of chest, hips and cheekbones. Many transgender women are never going to look ‘like cisgender women’ – hell, there are many cisgender women who don’t fit that narrow description! But Jenner has had the ‘right’ surgeries and the ‘right’ amount to make her look acceptably ‘feminine’.

There’s this idea that trans women were men and are now women (and conversely, that trans men were women who are now men); among the people who accept us for the gender we say we are, at least. Suddenly, Jenner appeared on the cover of a magazine as Caitlyn with no sign of the steps that got her there – not that she owed us those, of course! But the way her transition has been reported is the only palatable way for the cisgender media and society in general to cope with us. She “was a man”, she “had a sex change” and “became a woman” completely. There was no in-between. There was just man and then woman and never the twain should meet.

This ignores many truths. That for many transgender people, medical transition simply isn’t possible for financial, social or health reasons. That pre-medical-transition and non-medical-transition transgender people are just as valid in the genders we identify with as anyone who’s been through ‘the full change’. That many of us are never going to ‘look cisgender’ no matter how hard we try (or don’t – the point is that we shouldn’t have to). That many of us are not doing a straight binary swap from one presentation to the other, that non-binary, genderqueer, and other gender-nonconforming transgender people exist. That it’s not always the case that transgender people want only one thing in life: for people to think we are cisgender.

We need to change this narrative that implies that transgender people want nothing more than to ‘pass’ as cisgender. That’s such a ridiculous concept; what exactly does a cisgender person look like? What is generally meant is that we are supposed to desire a result where nobody would ever guess our assigned sex at birth. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if instead of struggling to attain near-impossible standards of acceptable appearance, we changed the world which applies ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ to perfectly innocuous features of the human face and body? If we could redefine what it means to ‘look like a man’ and ‘look like a woman’? A transgender woman will (and should, to the world) always look like a woman, because she is a woman. Even if she chooses to avoid medical transition and grows herself a beard, she will still look like a woman, because that is what she is.

Sadly, we live in a world where people would tell my hypothetical transgender woman that she ‘looks like a man’ because we’re drip-fed gendered norms from the moment we’re born. Aged four, my son called a cisgender man “she” because he had long hair. This is not an unusual mistake for a small child (or even an older person) to make, because from a young age we are taught that this feature means man, this one means woman. Infants pretty much all look the same, they certainly don’t have features that can easily be gendered. Yet my son, when he was a baby, was “strong” and “handsome” when read as a boy, and “delicate” and “pretty” when read as a girl. People internalise these false ideas that certain features indicate certain genders so much that the same baby was described in totally opposite ways by different people, based on nothing more than whether I’d dressed him in purple or brown that day.

This is my problem with the Caitlyn Jenner situation. Her transition was received with overwhelming positivity by the media and society in general (although naturally not everyone ‘approved’) and I wonder how well she would have been received were she not slim, white, and above all, ‘pretty’ by cisnormative standards. I wonder how well she would have been received had she come out at the beginning of her transition, before she had undergone the hormonal and surgical treatment which helped her to ‘pass as a woman’ according to cisgender people’s flawed ideals. I’d like to see a shift in the general perception of what it means to look like a man, and what it means to look like a woman, so that instead of being expected to spend our lives chasing the fallacious concept of ‘passing’, we can just be accepted for who we are without question.