Verbal Gender Judo

I have a blue belt in Judo. The mind-set comes in handy. It did so again, today, at Wells Fargo Bank albeit not in a violent way.

The name “Judo” translates into “Ju” = “gentle” and “do” = “way” hence “the gentle way.” In Judo, your opponent is guided where you want him / her, which is typically the floor, but it can be done gently. People who attack someone skilled in Judo don’t have to end in the Emergency Room or the morgue, though both are certainly an option if it’s necessary and justifiable, because the Judo practitioner ends up in control.


Judo is a nice contrast with sports like Karate where the only options are to kick and punch the opponent.

These two alternatives, Judo vs. Karate, make for a nice analogy to how transgender girls (like me) can deal with gender pronouns in a social context. One way is gentle, the other not. I choose the former.

In Judo, timing is very important. I recall having perfect timing just once, in my entire judo “career.” The feeling was so wonderful that I remember it to this day. It felt effortless … I performed a minor, easy movement and my opponent fell to the floor dramatically. In my case, the good timing was due to luck. Normally, anticipation is part of good timing.

This brings us to the situation where a transgender girl like me is in a social setting, with enough cues (hair, nails, bra, dress) to make it clear that she’s presenting as a female. And yet, some people struggle with referring to a transgender female by a female pronoun, for whatever reason. Perhaps such people think I’m still “ramping up” because visually, I don’t look 100% female. I look like a mixture of genders. So, they might be choosing consciously or they might be reacting to some deep cues that span the last x decades of their mental model. So, I don’t take offense, but I also don’t have to be passive about it.

When the conversation involves a friend, and she uses a male pronoun to refer to me, I gently point that out and then she’s typically surprised and mortified, and I spend the next minute assuring her that it happens all the time, and I know she didn’t mean it, and I know she basically understands I’m fundamentally a female.

When it’s a stranger, it’s more difficult, but … timing helps.

Today, I was about to meet with a senior banker lady at Wells Fargo Bank. I was in the waiting area with two other ladies, one of whom was very charming and chatty. I was wearing sparse make-up but a nice summer dress, elegant sandals, and red nails. The chatty lady was called over, and she mentioned that “the other two ladies” (me plus the not-so-chatty lady) had been there before her. So, far, so good.

A bank employee reassured the chatty lady that the not-so-chatty lady was waiting for someone else, and that the senior banker lady was about to come and see …

… moment of truth. I was ready …

… “him” the bank employee said, referring to me. Ouch …

… “her” I said clearly and so rapidly that it was almost as if she’d said it …

… “her” she said immediately afterwards, and added “sorry.”

I smiled. Sometimes, timing IS everything. I think the bank employe and I both preferred my approach to 5 minutes of lecturing about the emotional plight of transgender girls who have just been referred to by the wrong gender pronoun.

2 thoughts on “Verbal Gender Judo

  1. As a black belt in judo, I think you nailed the description of what judo is beautifully… except the emergency room part because you run into someone skilled enough, you can wind up there or in the morgue.

    It’s interesting how you can look at someone – and someone you don’t know – and just get that gut feeling that they’re not what they appear to be. I’m sure the bank employee saw you and that gut feeling said “guy” – and she probably didn’t even notice your clothing or makeup – and it is embarrassing when you guess wrong.

    How do you get used to that? Judo teaches patience and emotional discipline… but I would get so tired of people making that mistake every time they see me!

    • Wow, black belt .. intense. You have my respect. I think you’re discovering the limits of my grammatical abilities. I intended to convey precisely what you wrote, that a skilled judoka can choose to become very dangerous, even lethal. I modified some of my own techniques as a sort of experiment, moving in that direction, and then I decided I’d better stop. Normally, one throws the opponent and then can go into an immobilization hold after the person hits the ground. I managed to change my throw (O-Goshi basically) to where in mid-air I’d already be assuming the position and essentially my sparring partner would hit the ground with me sitting on his stomach, already in control in mid-air. Once it started working, it worked too well, and after that I would have found no more willing sparring partners, nor did I want to hurt them that badly.

      And indeed, as you implied, even without the Tanya mid-air twist, arm locks and leg locks can be literally devastating, and choke holds can be fatal.

      I liked to invent new ways. I came up with an immobilization hold that also combined two arm locks simultaneously. Also, a new throwing technique that for a while caught folks in my judo club off guard.

      Yes, I think the bank employee saw decades’ worth of male culture reflected in my eyes. It’s hard to undo that.

      How I get used to that … I see it as my cue to try harder. 🙂 But yes, it is tiring. Thank you for the sympathy.

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