On Being Misgendered

Being misgendered is all too common an experience for those of us who are trans or gender-nonconforming. It can be a very stressful, sometimes devastating experience. Most of the time, it’s a mistake. When we first meet someone, our brains make super quick assumptions based on a little information. Sometimes it’s because someone knew you for a long time, and habitually uses an old pronoun. Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s malicious and purposeful.

Of course, we should be able to correct whoever misgendered us, and ask them to respect our pronoun in the future. That doesn’t solve the problem forever. We’ll meet new people, run into old friends, or deal with our forgetful 85-year-old parent, who means well, but has known us for many years. Unfortunately we sometimes have to deal with transphobes who are unwilling to respect our gender.

For me, the question is: how do we respond internally to being misgendered? How do we allow that internal response to create the conditions where we can easily correct others and ask for respectful use of our pronouns in a way that those who mean well can hear? Further, how can we internally respond so that either mistaken or purposeful misgendering doesn’t actually have to hurt us at all?

The first step is to get present with the feelings that arise when people misgender us. What’s going on inside? Is it anger? Sadness or grief? Fear? Perhaps a mix? Can we go deeper? For me, at first, when I was misgendered, I tended to feel a lot of fear. “Am I really a man?” “Am I OK in who I am?” Cultivating compassion for our feelings, whatever they might be, is an important next step. Whatever our feelings are, they are totally OK.

Next is to remember that it’s actually not about us at all. It’s about the other person’s assumptions, memories, issues with gender, etc. We can be solid in our gender identity, loving ourselves and who we are. And as we love ourselves more and more, hearing ourselves misgendered can have less and less of an impact.

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