It’s Ok to Guide People As to Gender Pronouns

NOV25Some of my t-girl friends begin their social transitioning by focusing on their looks.  I did the same thing. But, if I could do it over, the first thing I’d focus on would be my voice. And, at a price tag of maybe $50 (for tutorials), it’s the best value for money on the planet, as to transitioning.

There’s no fast track. Voice retraining (and more: speech retraining) takes time and patience … for the t-girl and for those around her.

As t-girls, when we’re transitioning, we sound awkward and we feel awkward. The sooner we get it over with, the better.

Part-way along the transitional path comes a point where we sound not-quite-female and not-quite-male. So, people on the other end of the phone have to guess. Guys tend to get most unpleasant if called “ma’am” and by contrast, girls tend to be more socially gracious — so it’s the safer bet to guess “male” as opposed to “female.”  That happens to me a lot, and when it does, I gently correct the person, and all is well.

Tonight, I needed to call my bank due to some or other oddity in my bank statements. I was transferred multiple times, and whenever I was called “Sir” then I gently said “It’s not Sir” or “It’s more Ma’am than Sir.” The bankers were each most gracious, and the conversation beyond that point continued pleasantly and with me being addressed as “miss” or “ma’am.”

In all fairness to whoever is on the other end of the phone, if I sounded 100% like a girl, they wouldn’t be calling me “Sir” so I certainly have no basis for being indignant.

Before I transitioned, phone calls were just a normal part of life. Nowadays phone calls are an exciting opportunity to sound as good as I possibly can — which is a good premise ANYWAY, t-girl or no t-girl.

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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.

640px-Haraigoshi

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.