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…”