I am misgendered every single day. I am misgendered when someone calls me she/woman/girl/female. I am misgendered when I’m called him/guy/boy/man/male. I struggle myself, after years of hiding this enormous aspect of my reality. But with each passing day I’m learning more and more about who I am, and with each new understanding comes growing pains…and the pain inflicted on me by those who love me the most.
Although my sex assigned by whoever filled out my birth certificate is female, my gender is not. I don’t play at my gender. I don’t misrepresent myself, or act, in regards to my gender. I’m non-binary. I’m gender queer. I’m androgyne. My gender is a fluid state of existence. My writing about, talking about, my gender brings my gender into a state of consciousness whether I like it or not. However, it isn’t my state of consciousness that is impacted. It is yours, usually, as I am fully aware of who I am as a human being. What I am saying is I’m not the reason there is a discussion about what my existence means in this world. You are. You:
The person who tells me I’m a woman because that’s how you see me.
The person who tells me that I have to give you time (I really don’t).
The person who tells me not to correct them.
The person who blatantly uses female-centric pronouns because you don’t want to be bothered with thinking (or because you find my ire funny.)
The person who goes back and forth between male and female pronouns before just calling me it, or asking me what I am.
You are why I am here, writing about what it means to be non-binary in a world afraid to push itself outside of a binary thought. You are why I spend hours with tears rolling down my face, as I frustratingly ask to be called them. They. Their.
Because it doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to use the wrong pronoun. It doesn’t matter if it “just doesn’t matter what I call myself” to you. Because it does matter. It matters to me. It matters after having spent so many years filled with self-hatred and confusion. It matters to me after spending my entire life trying to fit into this world, fit into society, when in actuality this world and I were not meant to fit in a traditional sense. It matters.
So I won’t apologize for holding those who claim to love and respect me to a higher standard. I won’t apologize for calling out anyone who has admitted to not wanting to have to think an extra moment when he/she/they look at me. I have spoken in other posts on the meaning of intention; on the impact of intention. Being misgendered is riddled with intention, and while I have patience for those actively trying not to misgender me, I do not have compassion for those who say they are trying, but make no actual attempt and then get mad for being called out on their apathy.
Being misgendered is often a volatile experience. It pulls at the deepest hurt you have and wreaks havoc in your mind. You feel invisible. You feel like who you are as a human being is being invalidated. It’s an abuse on your mind, as you struggle to be seen. To be heard. To exist. It triggers every memory of childhood, where you felt wrong in your skin. Told to be more like others, to fit in, to not act like yourself because it makes you stand out. It pulls hard on your sense of self; plays on the feeling that you are not important, not worthwhile to those around you, to be seen. These thoughts don’t make the person being misgendered weak. It makes them human. A human that experiences emotional traumas regularly. I should know. I’m misgendered regularly by those that love me the most.
Makes you look wrong to others and you are more apt to be ridiculed, attacked, for not following the status quo. That it is your fault for getting assaulted because you act differently. Are different. Just fit in.
Being misgendered sucks. Let’s face this reality. And while you don’t mean to hurt someone, doesn’t take away the damage done. I have friends that have been genuinely sorry, but that hurt still happens. That wound still needs to heal. Some will heal quicker than others. For myself, I have found forgiveness is given quickly and with ease when those who are apologizing truly mean it. I see them struggling with years of social conditioning; years of heteronormative, binary training that was made up because someone decided that the unknown was just too scary. That the idea of existing, co-existing, with anything that doesn’t look, act or sound like them was a little too uncomfortable.
Sounds dramatic right? It is very dramatic, but for purpose sake, let’s reframe this conversation in a less emotional way. I was talking about intention, and how being misgendered and how to handle being misgendered, and those who misgender you, by analyzing the intent in which the misgendering occurred. To do so, people (all of us) need to really break down and understand the function and subsequent consequences of intent.
For example, you didn’t mean to, but you knocked over someone’s cup. You had no intention to do so. But the water still spilled out. You are sorry. The person whose cup was spilled can forgive you. But that water, that damage, was still done. The person still has to adjust to their loss, even though you didn’t mean for them to go through it.
As a response you can either:
1. Go and get a new cup of water for the person and make sure you are now aware of the cup so you can avoid knocking it over again. And apologize again. 2. Tell the person to get over it, it was their fault anyway. 3. Get mad that the person caused you to knock over the cup, thus embarrassing you and making you uncomfortable because now there is water where water shouldn’t be etc. However, no matter the scenario, water was spilled and someone was affected by the result. Unintentional hurts suck, but they can be learned from. They can be soothed and adjusted and people can grow from them…sometimes stronger than before the unintentional hurt.
It is the same as being unintentionally misgendered. It hurts, and that hurt doesn’t get wiped away just because you didn’t mean to. But something can be built from it; forgiveness, understanding, education, love, respect. These experiences can be brought on from that moment. It’s what is called a “teachable moment.” It isn’t to continually place blame on the person who unintentionally misgendered someone. It is to place blame in that moment, to allow the person who was misgendered to express the hurt and frustration and be validated and seen in that experience, and for both parties to move forward together.
I hear my friends when they tell me that they don’t know anyone like me. I hear their requests for patience. But they don’t hear me when I talk about how their intent colors my reactions to being misgendered. That the friend who slips will just get me simply correcting them with a laugh or a gentle “it’s okay.” That I’m not upset but will continue to bring awareness to the forefront so those slips get less and less. I’m more upset at those friends who panic about their slips because they think I’ll get mad or upset at them. Not upset at the slip, but because they don’t seem to understand me as a whole. Don’t understand my character, and sometimes that’s just sad, to realize people you love don’t know you the way they should. That we all are so wrapped up in anxiety and fear about what may or may not happen that we don’t sit in the moment and wait to see what will happen. But that is a topic for another day.
So what gets me mad? I get mad when my existence is made out to be a joke because someone is uncomfortable, or unwilling, to explore why they feel the way they feel about who I am as a human being. I get pissed off when I’m told that I’m the problem, that I’m the one that changed the status quo and thus I have to accept any vitriol thrown my way. No, I really don’t. Because years of accepting abuse, in any form, as something that is common is what has led humans to this point. Too afraid to say something when something is wrong, or violently overreacting to a situation. Too afraid to have hard conversations, so instead you stand on the opposite end of someone you love, screaming back and forth because civility has somehow become a weakness.
Love, acceptance, change are all charged words today. Ideologies that seem nice, but at times too hard and there has to be an easier way right? Because we are always working, always fighting something, and god doesn’t it all just seem like too much?
But it really isn’t. It takes practice. It takes trust in yourself. It takes faith.
I’m misgendered every day. I learn something new every time it happens. Sometimes I am filled with fear of explaining that I’m not female. Fear of retaliation, of exploitation. It’s exhausting, and some days I fail myself by giving up; by giving in. But the next day I fight back. I correct someone. I explain. Humanity evolves, flows and changes and moves. It doesn’t have to be a fight every time something different comes along. We (humans) are still navigating what it means to have peace of mind; peace of heart. It’s okay to misunderstand. It’s okay to be scared. Just be kind in your fear. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Be open to learn. Be open to grow.
My life isn’t just about being non-binary. But it’s important. Important for me to be honest and open about my needs. Open about my hurts and who is hurting me. Open about why being called female is harmful. Open about why being called male is no better. It is as important as it is to forgive those, to love those, that hurt me. I sometimes fail. I fight to succeed. I have hope in my own growth and understanding of people and their intentions.
Hope in remembering that, just like you, I’m human. I am human. I have a right to be here and exist as I exist. Because my world is unfolding as it should, and I belong in the world that is afraid of me. I belong in the world that assaults me for not fitting in; for going against the status quo. I know that may seem counterproductive, even dangerous. I guess, after all the hurts, I still see the good in those who hurt me…intentionally or not.
Question is….do you?