Austen Crowder

The dissociation point: On manners and pronouns

Filed By Austen Crowder | April 07, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex

I'm probably going to open a huge can of worms with this post. I guess every person going through transition has to get to the pronoun question sometime. In my experience, this hits like a rock: one day you don't care, and the next you do. It happened to me for the first time this weekend, when close friends of mine referred to me as "he." In my own head, I thought: "Wait. That's not me."

A lot has been said about how people should address transgendered friends or family, pronoun-wise. On the whole, the "ask their preference" rule seems to work quite well. However, very little has been said on the other side of the fence, and it is a perspective I see as being just as important. How should transgendered people deal with pronouns?

The Emily Post in me offers this in response: You are addressed the way you are dressed.

The rule feels appropriate to me from a social grace perspective. Yes, I'd love it if everyone called me by the correct gender all of the time, and yes, it is getting a little odd to hear people call me he. However, I realize that the shift in perspective is entirely my own; while I may have accepted that I am female, I have not yet taken on a full-time role as a woman, and as such do not look the part.

We must remember that people spend their entire lifetime classifying peoples' gender by visual, auditory, and behavioral cues. We can go in circles about how that is right or wrong, but the point remains: people distinguish gender in predictable ways. If someone sees a boy, it's a he. If someone sees a girl, it's a she. Simple as that. Anything outside this pad gram will be uncomfortable and difficult for many people.

Thus, even though I may be a little unsettled when someone points to me and says "he," I should expect to be addressed the way I'm dressed. I dress in an androgynous style outside of work, and in that mode I still look pretty male. This, combined with the fact that most of my friends first knew me as a he, tells me that I should expect to get a lot of male pronouns thrown my way.

However, if I went out dressed as a woman, I'd expect to be called "she." Yes, people will screw this up. Changing gender pronouns attached to a person is hard for _anyone_ -- I still have trouble referring to a FtM friend of mine in the proper gender all of the time. However, this is not a call to be angry. Politely correct the mistake -- preferably in a non-confrontational or fun way -- and get on with life.

Remember that this is Indiana. Most people in this state are not used to seeing diverse lifestyles. (Hell, I grew up in New Palestine and didn't have a meaningful conversation with an African American person until college -- that should say something about the demographic of my hometown.) It will be especially hard in these more monocultural areas for people to change, as they're not used to dealing with these sorts of transitions. Remember that it's often unfamiliarity, not bigotry, that is the root cause in this case. Most times people are genuinely supportive, accepting, and tolerant, even if they don't know how to best respond.

Too many times I've heard people complain about a transgendered person's insistence on being called by the proper pronouns. We have enough problems with acceptance as it is: why push the issue even further with forced pronoun usage?

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You have to look at it in a differant light Amber. You said you grew up in New Palestine. What would people that knows you there if you would go back dressed as a woman? You have to take into the fact that this is not a liberial state as some parts of the U.S.

Granted, people here probably won't be as keen with flipping pronouns. Why should that stop me from at least trying to maintain a flip? Conservative or no, I'd hope to get at least some modicum of respect no matter how I'm dressed.

This is an interesting post. And Emily Post trumps all, except for Judith Martin. All good points.