Pronouns: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
This post may piss some people off. If it pisses you off, please click on “About”, choose “This Blog” and read that page, particularly the last part about the purpose of this blog being my documenting my journey in understanding transgender and intersex issues and attempting to normalize the experiences of cisgender people to encourage them to take a similar journey.
I am being open and honest about my experiences and feelings, as ugly as some of them may seem to some of you. I’m a 55 year old cisgender woman who was socialized at a time when transgender people essentially did not exist: I have biases that I am trying to unlearn and am working to own my cisgender privilege. But I’m only human and 55 years of no information and misinformation is a lot to unlearn and it takes time; any cisgender person reading this needs to know that their feelings — their uncomfortable feelings of confusion, embarrassment, tentativeness about asking questions at the risk of offending anyone, etc. — are normal. It is difficult knowing someone as one gender, learning they are another and then adjusting to their transition, using the correct name, pronouns, etc., and transgender people need to realize that when we screw up it’s not always due to malice.
I have a transgender friend I met online 2 years ago before she came out publicly as trans. So I knew her by her birth name (I will use the name “Ron” — not her actual birth name) and her picture on Facebook was of a middle-aged, balding, male-bodied person.
I was involved in conversations when she chose her new name (I will call her “Carrie” — not her real name), and in private all of our friends called her by her new real name. But in public I could not do that, and her name still showed up as “Ron” and her pic was still of that same middle-aged guy.
Obviously, I would never out anyone, but I felt very uncomfortable calling my friend “Ron” and I knew that doing so would also make it even more difficult for me to see her as a woman as she transitioned, so I started calling her by her last name. This may sound weird to some, but seeing the name “Ron” accompanied by a male-bodied picture made it very difficult for me to see Carrie as a woman. I had to see my friend Carrie as a woman and I had to do everything I could to force my mind to ignore or forget information that might make me not see her as the woman she is.
I was “there” when Carrie came out publicly and it was a relief to be able to call her by her real name all the time. She changed her Facebook profile pic to a female picture, but it was a cartoon character, not a picture of her. So I have not been able to get that male-bodied pic of a middle-aged balding “man” out of my head, and with the name “Ron” associated with that pic in my head, it has been an onerous task getting the pronouns right when I talk to people about Carrie (without using her name, of course) and her transition. I would never deliberately misgender someone, but as a visual person, that picture has been stuck in my brain for 2 years and I have not been able to get it out.
Well today I finally saw that Carrie has posted pictures of herself on Facebook (and WordPress). Hallelujah! I realize that this is my issue and not Carrie’s or any other trans person’s but my difficulty with getting pronouns and gender straight in my head with conflicting visual cues is a valid experience and it gives credence to families’ and friends’ struggles with “getting it right” when someone they’ve known for many years comes out as trans. It is difficult for us cis people to “transition” with your transitioning for very real and understandable reasons that have nothing to do with transphobia, so please be patient with us.
Seeing what Carrie really looks like now makes me pretty confident that “Ron” and the image of “Ron” will quickly fade and I will no longer have any difficulties with pronouns when it comes to Carrie (and she looks great!) Carrie, if you see this: I wish I could express how confused, conflicted and guilty I have felt about my difficulties seeing you as a woman… all because of that stupid picture. ♥
Posted on June 27, 2014, in transgender, transition, transphobia and tagged cisgender, cisgender privilege, gender, Gender identity, male to female, misgendering, privilege, pronouns, trans, transgender, transgenderED, transition, transsexual. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Pronouns: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.