Yesterday I was misgendered. Almost exactly two years from the day that I started my journey into the realm of hormone transition. Now, for anyone who has gone through a gender transition or anyone forced to live as a gender they aren’t on the inside, this is rather commonplace. The fact that this was so out of the blue and unexpected honestly speaks to the privilege I have as someone who is assumed the correct gender (or something close to it) on a regular basis. In a way I feel bad even complaining about it because I know how fortunate I am.
For me it is only maybe one in twenty-five people who even bats an eye at me and usually it’s only on the days when I’m not really trying that hard to present as female (aka not wearing makeup, not wearing “traditionally” female clothing, or not paying any attention to my body language or voice). It is extremely rare, however, for me to be in full female presentation and have someone misgender me (Unless they are being a purposely invalidating asshole).
I honestly don’t think the lady even realized that she did it. I think it was a total sub-conscious slip-up with pronouns that she neither intended or even noticed. She knew my name was Emma, she had used the correct pronouns at first (I think, although I cannot really recall) but eventually during out time together working through her background check something must have shifted somewhere in her mind. I was running her fingerprints through the system to make sure she could work with vulnerable adults and I said something to her that made her laugh. She had a friend with her in the other room and when her friend heard her laughing the friend asked what she was asking about. She turned towards her friend through the doorway and said, “He said_____” and repeated what I’d just said.
I was quite literally dumbfounded by her using the pronoun “he” in reference to me. I couldn’t speak, partially because it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I wanted to ask her if I’d heard her correctly but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to bring further humiliation upon myself by having to assert to her that I was a woman and the pronoun “he” was not appropriate for one such as me. If I said something then it was certain, in my mind at the time, that I’d not only be making her feel bad for an unconscious mistake but would be solidifying in her mind that I really wasn’t a woman, because a “real” woman as femme as me wouldn’t need to confront a situation like that. I’m not saying that is true, only that it felt true and accurate in the moment.
We finished her appointment and they went on their way, never-the-wiser that I wanted nothing more than to leap in front of a moving train or that I would spend the next several hours dissecting our entire interaction to figure out where I’d given my non-cisness away. Was it something I did with my body? Was it a blemish in my makeup that revealed my dreadfully present facial hair? Did my voice drop too low? Did I not use the right kind of voice pitch/cadence? WHAT WAS IT???
But there is no answer. There is no way to know for sure why she read me, however briefly, as not-female, and that’s the rub. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, there will always be that fucking person who misgenders me, consciously or otherwise.
The lesson here is two fold, I think. First, no matter how “passable” a person might become and no matter how privileged they appear in that regard, they are likely still suffering from being misgendered from time to time. I find this helpful because there are times when I see transgender women who are so completely feminine that I become envious of either their genetics or their financial affluence that’s permitted them the procedures I cannot afford that I forget that they are still fighting the same fight as me, to be gendered correctly. The second lesson is that when I accept that no amount of doing the things I think will make me “passable” so people don’t read me as not-female will save me from ever experiencing this again, then I can find peace with where I am in my journey. Even if I get laser hair removal or have SRS or whatever else I might want I still won’t feel completely fulfilled, which means that the external truly holds no completion for me. I must find completion on the inside and find joy in the progress I’ve made and relief in the changes that have already occurred.
I know, it’s a dangerous lesson to consider because it would be so easy to take a nihilistic approach to it. I could easily think that nothing I ever did would be enough and so there was no point in even trying. I could even take that to the extreme of thinking that I’d never be accepted as the person I know I am so why should I continue living? In the past that’s likely how I would have approached a situation like this, and I won’t lie, it was pretty damn depressing when I realized what she’d done. One little word nearly ruined my day but if I let that be the case then I’m truly lost. I have to be stronger than a pronoun and I have to remember that all that truly matters is that I see a woman when I look in the mirror. Who cares about the rest of the world?
Easier said than done, I know, but please know that you aren’t alone when you are misgendered. Please don’t think that it makes you any less the person you know yourself to be. You are still you. You are still beautiful, or handsome, or amazing, or whatever resonates with you and reminds you of your great worth. So don’t let a pronoun ruin your day, if you can. You are bigger and stronger than a pronoun, just like we are.