Let me start by saying that this is my personal experience and everything you read here today should not be taken in and applied as a generalization when thinking of trans women or gender-diverse individuals. We are not the same person. We are a diverse community made up of many individuals from various backgrounds, religions, race groups, etc. Needless to say, we all have different stories and experiences no matter what you may have read elsewhere. An individual’s experience from a minority group should never be overlooked, judged, assessed, revised, or held to a lower standard because of what some study or research paper about said minority group says about them. (It literally makes no sense)
I am sad to say that my experience this women’s month (and in general) has been quite terrible and it may be because of you. And I say “may” because it only applies to you if you do any of the things I mention later on in this article, so check yourself before you come for me.
Now that online learning has been ditched and we are back on campus like pre-covid times, I, an introvert, have to deal with a lot of people which honestly is not good for my mental health, so I do certain things to make it easier. I force myself to dress how I want to, no more “what if’s” and “I should’ve”, and I don’t force myself to do anything I know is bad for me. These may seem like pretty simple things to do but when you’re queer and/or gender diverse these things are different. These things mean you are going to stand out. You just have to accept being constantly stared at, not knowing whether someone is admiring you or plotting your murder. And when you’re just starting to come out of a deep depression nothing is simple and because you now know how bad it was you don’t want to do anything that will flick you back into that depression hole.
Why am I telling you this? Because if you saw me randomly you wouldn’t know I was just coming out of a deep, dark hole of depression. It isn’t something carved onto my forehead, just like my gender is not carved anywhere either. I am a whole human being with an entire life that is separate from yours. I carry a mountain of trauma, like many others, on my shoulders everywhere I go, and I’m so used to it being there that I often forget it exists. But sometimes I am made aware of it, sometimes some person does or says something, and I am reminded of it all. And this “sometimes” has suddenly become almost daily since the start of the second semester. I have been misgendered so many times this month, women’s month, because I have finally accepted myself for who I am and no longer feel the need to stress about changing my appearance to pass as a cis-gendered woman.
I now only do what I want to, what makes me feel good, happy, and comfortable. For so long I was stressing about things you probably wouldn’t understand (unless you’re trans) and for what? For whom? It took me such a long time to realize that I was no longer doing things for myself but for others so that I could be seen and accepted as a woman in society. There was this constant pressure to fit into the gender binary, pressure that was applied by both you and me. Whether it was intentional or not, we do it all the time. We are constantly upholding and perpetuating a binary system in almost everything we do because of how deeply it is rooted in our society.
I had forgotten just how bad it was when we wore our masks because I was able to “pass” as a cis-gendered woman at times, but now that I have cut my hair and can no longer hide half of my face, I am reminded just how far we still have to go as a society. It makes me so sad because I know that if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to others. I remember writing about the queer experience at UCT earlier this year and sadly things have not changed much since then, in fact, they might be worse. Women’s month is supposed to be about celebrating the diverse women of this country who marched for change in 1956, but it’s 2022 and women’s month should include trans women and gender diverse people.
The likelihood that many women who marched that day in 1956 were queer and gender-diverse is very high. Women and gender-diverse individuals had to hide who they were because society would not accept them but they still chose to march for the good of others. And let’s not forget the many trans women and gender-diverse people who may have wanted to march but couldn’t because society saw them as men. They were not seen then but there is still time to celebrate them now.
How? Try doing something as simple as using non-gender-specific language in your day-to-day interactions. It really isn’t that difficult if you try it, we do it all the time without knowing it, so just try to be more conscious about it. It will save you from misgendering someone and possibly save someone, like myself, the pain of being misgendered. It will also make your interactions a safe space for trans and gender-diverse people to share their preferred pronouns.
Oftentimes I personally just accept being misgendered because it doesn’t feel like a safe space, and I want you to let that sink in for a little while. I would rather take the pain of being misgendered in certain situations because I am not sure if I’d be safe around that person anymore. Are you a safe person to be around?
Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- If you’re not sure about someone’s pronouns, ask them. In fact, ask everyone you meet because you should never assume one’s gender.
- If you are a cis-gendered person introduce yourself with your pronouns. It will make trans and gender-diverse individuals feel safe to do the same.
- If you use the wrong pronouns don’t make it a big deal and definitely do not make someone, feel like they have to comfort you. Mistakes happen. Correct yourself and move on.
- Don’t ask personal questions like “have you started transitioning”. It’s so intrusive like you literally just met. Chill. If we become friends, maybe you’ll hear about it eventually.
- Be mindful of the fact that someone may find your presence unsafe. Especially if you’re a man. (The bar is literally so low a man providing his pronouns and asking for them may as well be a proposal)
That being said, not misgendering someone is literally the bare minimum you can do but we have a long way to go so we must start small.
Happy women’s month to all the people out there who are still figuring things out, don’t feel safe enough to be themselves yet and those who are constantly misgendered. I see you; I am you; I celebrate you.