On the Science of Changing Sex

Oppressive Rituals of Ceremoniously Announcing One’s Gender Pronouns

Posted in Autobiographical, Editorial by Kay Brown on April 8, 2019

Kay BrownBefore I jump into the deeper topic of this essay, I need to share an anecdote in the hopes that reading it will help any non-trans person reading this to understand it.  (Note: I normally avoid the use of the term “cis” as it is deeply problematic, but that is an issue for another essay.)

About a decade ago, I accompanied a young protégé, a 20-something transwoman to Trinidad, Colorado so that she wouldn’t be all alone as she underwent SRS and the painful first days afterwards.  I stayed at a B&B owned by a lesbian.  It was billed as a very trans friendly place where transfolk and their families / friends could stay during and after their hospitalization.  Perfect, I thought.

Well… not so perfect as it turned out.  The first few days went well as I got along well with the relatives of the transfolk, who except for exactly one 17-year-old, were all classic autogynephilic transwomen.  The non-transfolk, all female, staying at the B&B were clearly self-congratulating themselves for how supportive they were of their transgender relative.  The owner of the B&B was friendly, and tried to get me to partake in smoking grass and staying up late to get more than tipsy on hard liquor with her lesbian friends.  As I never drink more than a few sips of wine with dinner, never use pot, and am habitually an early to bed, early to rise type, she was very disappointed in me.

But, after being there several days, as my young protégé lay in the hospital bed recovering, there was some rather animated discussions among the family members of the transfolk at the B&B, it became clear to me that they all thought I was my young protégé’s mother.  Further, it became clear that even though all of these people had transfolk as relatives, spouses, or lovers, they didn’t really have a clue as to certain aspects of trans-life, history, or medical etiology.  I said something that could only be properly understood if one knew that I was trans… Oopsie!

The owner of the B&B suddenly turned to me and said, “But YOU aren’t transgender!”.

“Yes, I am.  I had SRS in this very same place twenty-eight years ago.”

“But you are so womanly!”

Yes, that is a verbatim quote, which tells volumes of her perception of and attitude toward the many transwomen that she had met over the years of operating her B&B.

It took several more minutes of question and answers before they actually believed me.

But this was a very bad move on my part, outing myself… even to this ostensibly trans friendly environment.  Where before I had been simply a woman to them… suddenly, I was no longer in that social category.  I was the “other”.

Oh, they never misgendered me or stupidly asked me to divulge my “real name”.  And they still used feminine pronouns.  But, it had a different accent, a different emphasis, when they used it.  One could hear the scare quotes: “she”.  Further, I wasn’t to be involved in the same conversations, or invited to the same activities.  I was the “other”.

I spoke with my husband on the phone every evening and told him how icky it all felt.  How I felt deeply unhappy, lonely, even weepy at times.  He spotted it.  He got it even before I did, “You are the &^%$#@! again!”

“Yes, that’s exactly it.  I’m the lowly &^%$#@! to them.”  I feel that same awful icky, sick to my stomach, sinking feeling that I had as a child and teenager before I socially transitioned and lived mostly stealth.  Back when even my own siblings derisively called me, “It”.

Non-transfolk, often without realizing it, have a condescending attitude toward transfolk.  We are “those people”… the “other”.  And even when they are socially liberal and think of themselves as oh so hip, so “woke” to use modern cant, transfolk are never normal people to them.  We are “those unfortunate people”… and of course as privileged “cis” folk, they must be nice to us by using the correct pronouns.

About Those Pronoun Reveal Rituals

apa_pronoun_stickersSo now I turn to the heart of this essay.  There has been growing for several years, a practice that when I first encountered it made me feel that same icky feeling.  I was in a room with other, mostly LGB and non-trans straight allies.  I was the only trans person in the room.  Because I was there as a representative of the transcommunity, everyone in the room KNEW that I was the only &^%$#@! trans person in the room.  Yet, as is often done, they went around the room in a circle to “check in”.  I’m very used to the traditional check-in, one introduces oneself and says how they are feeling or some other appropriate to the meeting statement.  Cool.  But this time, a very NOT cool addition had been made.  It was socially expected… you know how that works… expected that one would announce one’s ‘pronouns’.  When it got to me, I did the socially unexpected thing and after announcing my name, said “Pass.”  (As in the card game Bridge, one says “pass” instead of making a “bid”.)

I had hoped that they would get the hint.  No… because at a later meeting, they did the same thing.  Once again, I was very obviously the only trans person there.  Once again, I simply said, “Pass”.  After this… it seemed that they got the hint and this ritual stopped.

But, a year later, we have a new addition to the organization, a middle-aged, but recently transitioned, gay identified FTM transman.  And, we have a non-transwoman organization building professional consultant coming in to lead the group through a long and much-needed planning meeting.  She, knowing that there are transfolk in the group, does the now socially obligatory “check-in” with the same oppressive pronoun announcements.  Given that part of the check-in was to say how we are feeling, I spoke up and said how irritated, angry, sick to my stomach, and condescended to, that this ritual of having to announce our “pronouns” made me feel.  This was NOT a welcome statement as everyone but the other trans person got defensive, really defensive.

Here’s the thing.  Would any group of non-trans-folk be performing this ritual if they knew, KNEW, that there weren’t any transfolk in the room?  Then why the ^%$#@! are they doing it when they know that there is?  Why the &^%$#@! do it when they already KNOW what the gender presentation of that trans person means for their pronouns?

Here’s the other thing.  Having to tell everyone their pronouns is superfluous to non-transfolk, a ritual that they perform to virtue signal to each other and mistakenly believe that they are signaling “welcome” to those who are trans.

One of the rationales I’ve heard for this ritual, “But how are we to know what pronoun to use?”  To many transfolk that feels like, “If I have to tell you what my pronouns are, my transition has failed.  Please don’t make me feel like that.”

Another rationale I’ve heard is that it is helpful for those just starting transition, especially young people.  Interestingly, a young transwoman, S. Alejandra Velasquez, wrote about this very issue 15 years ago in her essay on recommendations regarding therapy for transkids,

“Transkids who have not transitioned socially are unlikely to put a great deal of importance on what pronoun you use for them or what name they’re called. This is not a sign of having ambivalence to their gender or feeling conflicted about which gender they want to be; given that their gender is already at issue they may simply not care how a health care provider addresses them. Showing ‘sensitivity’ by trying to respect their ‘gender identity’, or worse insisting that they declare their ‘gender identity’, will only make them feel embarrassed. Transkids are practical about identity issues so don’t make a bigger deal about it than they do.”

blerp-d9aa89fd_pronoun_stickers

If someone wants you to use a pronoun that doesn’t match their appearance and obvious intended gender presentation, they can simply inform you of it privately.  No muss, no fuss.

Can we please just let transfolk be folk?  Can we please stop this shallow virtue signaling that makes non-transfolk feel that they are cool and welcoming while in truth, they are telling us that we are “the other”?  Don’t expect us to participate by wearing label stickers.  Don’t expect us to participate by putting / announcing pronouns on our social media pages.  And don’t post your own, it doesn’t help us, it hurts us.  Get to know us as human beings.

Addendum 7/12/2019:

I recently saw a posting that was widely shared calling people who don’t need nor want to participate in this ritual of announcing one’s gender pronouns, or posting them on their social media, “transphobic”.  Given that a fair number of transsexuals have been refusing to participate, this is non-transgender people calling transsexuals, “transphobic”.

Further Reading:

The Silent Transsexual

Further External Reading:

Treatment Recommendations For HSTS Transkids by S. Alejandra Velasquez

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