How to Get it Right, When You Got it Wrong

How to Get it Right, When You Got it Wrong

For years after I began my gender transition I regularly had an experience that is nearly universal among trans* folks: Someone would use the wrong gender pronoun for me, or my old name. That was a bit uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as what came next. If they knew me and realized their mistake it would be immediate – if they didn’t then either I or someone else would correct them, prompting the response:

“Oh no. I am SO SORRY. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I just did that. How could I do that? I’m so so so sorry…” etc.

That was the worst part. It would last seconds, but felt like hours. In the end, I was spending my time and energy comforting the other person, and often the original conversation was entirely derailed. Now we were focusing on my transition, and the conflicts or struggles my transition was causing those around me. Again.

It still happens to me in a slightly different context. Someone will use an incorrect pronoun for someone else in conversation with me, and again they are apologizing. Repeatedly. Exaggeratedly. Apologizing to me for a mistake they made regarding someone else’s gender, and worse – they are quite forthcoming with me about how HARD it is to get those things right, how much they STRUGGLE with it because, you know, they’ve known her all these years…

Just stop it. Please.

First of all, the longer you spend talking about, and apologizing for, the mistake the longer I and everyone around us is spending thinking and talking about someone else’s transition. Furthermore, telling me about how hard it is for you shows complete insensitivity. Changing your language is hard? Tough. Deal with it. Compared to what your transgender friend is dealing with in transition, it’s incredibly easy.

How to get it right if you make a mistake? Correct yourself. A FAST apology is perfectly appropriate, but get back to the subject at hand.

“I was out with Keith… I mean Alice! Sorry, my bad. So anyway, Alice and I were out at the movies…”

Benny bounces back and forth between Madison Wisconsin and Chicago Illinois, staying in one place only long enough to take a physics class or engage in a battle of wits with the unarmed. He has, at age 30, finally decided what he wants to be if he grows up, and is attempting to study science during the week while teaching classes on alternative sexuality and gender issues on the weekends. Benny is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge.

2 Comments

  1. THANK YOU for writing this Benny. This holiday season I came out to my family and are now seeing them for the first time as myself, and this has lead to a number of situations where I am misgendered and my family member apologizes and explains how it’s so difficult and will take time because they’ve known me the other way for so long. I so badly want to call them out and put them in their place, and explain to them how much easier it is to switch a word than your entire life, but in the interest of keeping the peace I sympathize and say that I understand, and that as long as they’re trying it’s ok… it turns into a long, drawn out thing and annoys the hell out of me, and all because I can’t stand causing any more drama than I already have. Ugh.

    • I TOTALLY get how frustrating that is. I hope it gets better for you. I hope that posts like this can help some people do better.

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