Monday, June 8, 2015

Call Me Wryly: An Open Letter to Loved Ones Who Intentionally Misgender Me

Hello friend, lover, family member/sibling. You are receiving this letter because you have called me by my former name, or refused to use my pronoun (they/them), and/or because you have willfully expressed sentiments that are doubtful of or hostile to the existence and experiences of transgender people (e.g. "transsexuals are confusing to our children.")

You might already know, but I'm transgender. I was assigned female by doctors and raised as a girl by my parents. For me being a girl was like wearing an ill fitting pair of pants for 12 years (from adolescence into mid 20's). I had to constantly adjust, cinch in, and fidget to find any semblance of comfort and normalcy.

But also I'd just gotten used to that discomfort and all the rituals surrounding it. I'd become accustomed to the fact that the gender I was raised with didn't quite fit. And honestly, I thought it was like that for all girls. I assumed that being a girl was supposed to be uncomfortable. The cultural teachings I was raised with about, the way Eve was punished for the Original Sin, and how "pain is beauty" supported this theory.

Now, I don't want to get into the specifics of my gender identity and how I realized it (we can talk about that later, just ask) but I want you to know that the thing you have the luxury of calling an opinion about gender is not a luxury I have. My gender is insistent and unconscious. I can't erase it or push it away with a conscious opinion. I can't choose to feel my gender differently any more than you can choose to dream what you dream about. If I suddenly changed my mind back to believing that trans people are just mentally ill (what I was taught and believed before) I would still feel uncomfortable in the ill fitting role of "girl." I'd still have to adjust constantly to get by and probably still feel mysteriously disingenuous (like I did for most of my early 20s).

So I took off the role of girl, and it feels sort of like standing in front of a crowd not wearing pants, or wearing something that is unrecognizable as a garment to most people.

People look away. People call me wrong, they call me obscene. But Lordy is it ever comfortable. Perhaps more importantly, it's honest. Not everyone recognizes me this way, but those who do see qualities and attributes that would never have been able to come through if I was still a girl.

That recognition, the comfort and honesty I share with myself and with my friends and family is worth any rejection or prejudice I face. The wisdom I get from being myself honestly is so much richer than pretending that my soul can fit into the outfit society gave me (which is a very fine thing. Womanhood is beautiful, just not a good fit for me).

Now comes the part that will possibly be offensive/difficult:
When you call me"she" and "her" or when you use my my old name, it hurts me. It stings like a cruel nickname. Like being called "Freckles" if you hate your freckles or "Carrot Top" because you're a redhead. It hurts me. Refusing to use my chosen name and pronoun hurts me. (Using the wrong pronoun/name by accident also hurts, but we all hurt each other through slips of the tongue sometimes).

Refusing to use the name and pronoun of another person is a form of bullying. It's an enforcement of "this is how it is" on people who are harmed by the current status quo of gender. It is the same as saying "I care more about the way I think than I care about you and your well being." When I hear you say, "I just can't change the way I see or talk about you" what I hear is, "I'd rather see the world the way I always have than consider a trans person's reality." It's bull-headed and inconsiderate, and usually ends up with the refusing person's opinion being seen by society as antiquated. Yes it's hard to change old habits. But that's what we do for the people we love. When they need us to, we change the way we do things.

All of this leads me into answering the question you probably asked yourself when you began reading the very first paragraph of this letter. Yes, my friend, the things you said/did were transphobic. They didn't feel transphobic to you because it's all theory for you. Your gender makes already sense to you. So my confusing gender must seem like a theory for you to contemplate and entertain at your leisure, a hypothetical you can safely abandon when it conflicts with how you see the world. But it's not theory to me, it's not a choice or an opinion. My gender is confusing 100% of the time. It's an inescapably huge part of my life. I am what I am, which means I can't be what you think I should be, no matter how frustrating that makes your attempts to comprehend the world.

Also I need you to know that your words hurt me and scare me. But I'm probably going to get over that fear quickly because I know you. I know how tender and generous you are. I know you care about me and probably didn't intend to hurt me. I remember how we bonded over the specific and fascinating details of our shared passions and history. I remember how we grew together. I love you and probably think of you as family.

In a sense I'm grateful that you've spoken what you believe out in the open and are willing to let others question it and maybe even question it yourself. It gives me hope for my future. It's a concrete set of thoughts and behaviors I can identify as harmful to me. Even if you don't believe me about the pain, your self-aware proclamation of these transphobic words and sentiments could be part of beginning steps to change how you treat and think about trans people. It's an acknowledgement of the conflict between my lived experience and your worldview.

But even if you aren't changing your mind just yet, I still want your friendship and love. Because I know you see there's more to me than just my (confusing) gender and I know you can learn from me as I have learned so much from you. I may not be able to withstand the thousand cuts of being misgendered forever, but for now I love you enough to endure the discomfort. 

I believe in our relationship and in both our abilities to change. I didn't choose to love you, but I am choosing to find a way to keep loving you in the future. Because our relationship is pretty damn great. I know I've been clumsy about it in the past, but right now, today, in this letter, I want to invite you into the uncertainty of my life, which means witnessing the uncertainty of my gender. It'll be hard for us both, but I want you here, with me. You are irreplaceable. I don't want to lose you when/if the time comes that I can no longer stand the pain of being misgendered.

With Love, Hope, and the deepest Gratitude,
Wryly T. McCutchen

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