He, she, etc.

Well, I could have added some replies to comments to the last piece, but I think that some of the points raised were sufficiently interesting or important to make it worth going for it separately.

First off, to those who say that they tell others how they’d like to be addressed: I totally agree. If someone goes “sir” to me, now – as opposed to “Ma’am” – chances are I will correct them politely but firmly. But then, that’s a title thing and implicit in the word title is the adjective “courtesy”.

You use titles out of courtesy, to make people feel good and to oil communication: so not much point addressing me with a word that makes me feel constantly uncomfortable.

However, my original post was about use of pronouns, and here I would draw a distinction. Maybe it’s a nit-picking distinction that others wouldn’t make. I dunno. Because whether someone sees me as “he” or “she” is one of those “essentialist” things. Its ineffably tied up with whether I project “maleness” or “femaleness” – and whether I am perceived mostly according to one or other of those characteristics.

Is it for me to ask – or even demand – that others perceive me in a given way? Personally, I’d say not. My attitude to the entire process – including “passing” is that it is something that will happen in its own due time.

I respect other trans individuals who expect their identified gender to be acknowledged. But intriguingly, over the last year, as I have started to treat people according to perceived gender, there have been some trans individuals who do, some who don’t, feel as though their claimed gender belongs to them.

Interestingly, I am starting to get the same sense with cis individuals. There are some cis women who feel very much male, some cis guys who feel female. And so on.

Think Emperor’s new clothes and kids: the most honest judges of whether people pass or not are often the children, since they operate according to what they see or feel – not according to what they should see or feel.

Now to the post that most interested. Another Jane, who writes that in her view “whether you want to pass or not is a measure of whether your gender identity is truly feminine, assuming you are MtF”.

Oh. Not in my book, so I shall politely disagree. I really hope, in time, that I will “pass”. But I do think that the striving to pass is actually counter-productive. As I suggested before, its like dieting. So long as I eat sensibly and don’t obsess, I lose weight. The moment I start to over-focus on eating, I end up not dieting.

So with passing. Right now, I find it hard to believe I ever will. Yet more and more friends suggest I am starting to. I don’t think I shall ever TRY to pass: but I hope the day will come when I do. Another subtle difference.



4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Renee said,

    I agree for the most part with what you’re saying about “passing” If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. Passing is generally about the most shallow aspects of our existence…the stuff on the surface like hair and makeup and voice and whatnot. All women go through this to some extent, being subjected to and expected to live up to a certain ideal that’s often impossible, and you either get caught up in trying to meet other peoples’ expectations all the time or you can just live by your own rules. But it’s also not about being a gender non-conformist all the time either; living female is its own on-the-job training and just like if you live in another country for a period of time you’ll start to pick up on the accent, simple socialization will do its thing almost whether you want it to or not.

    Regarding the whole pronoun thing, I’m down with correcting people when they get it wrong. People who misgender you are reacting to how well you fit the stereotypical model of “woman”. They’re making a presumption but in their presumptiveness, they’ve made a mistake. I’ve seen it happen to women both trans and cis – and not just “butch lesbians” – and most of the time they sternly correct the speaker. Does a woman suddenly fail to be a woman because she puts her hair up in a ball cap and wears a baggy shirt to the store? Definitely not, but not recognizing her gender simply means that the onlooker isn’t paying enough attention and that, in and of itself, speaks volumes of sadness. At any rate, I don’t believe we should have to cleave to a female ideal any more than any other woman, or that our gender suddenly gets switched off for a day because we decide to dress down.

    • 2

      janefae said,

      I’m really not at all sure WHAT I think about this (and maybe you could translate “I’m down with”: think it might be a US expression that I don’t quite get).

      That’s because I’d say my own view is still quite fluid and your comments are – as here – always interesting and insightful and, yes, challenging. I think my view now – and I reserve the right to amend it in future! – is that gender and biological sex are quite separate. However, linguistic usage means the two get confused often.

      I don’t feel the urge to demand a particular pronoun or even recognition, because gendering based on my own claim feels less valuable than gendering based on others’ perception.

      In the same way, I am not at all sure I would call it “mis-gendering” when a cis woman gets addressed as “he”. Maybe I am starting to think of “he” and “she” as qualities quite distinct from the individual and dependent on presentation in the moment. Which means, in future, I hope to be mostly “she” – but will accept that sometimes others may see me as “he”.

      I am also trying to dredge from memory examples of where linguistic gender does not link to biologic ditto. Some languages, I am sure, relate gender to status rather than biology. Anyone help me out there?

      • 3

        Renee said,

        Sorry about the American slang. “Down with” more or less means “I advocate for”.

        And yeah, biological sex and gender are different, and I probably use them too fluidly. But here’s the thing…no one who encounters you on the street *really* knows anything about your biology. They can’t see your body, they can’t see your DNA. That stuff is off the table for them. They’re making presumptions based on their own perceptions and their perceptions are only as meaningful to you as you choose to allow them to be. Correct somebody, don’t correct somebody, it is your choice. But for them your sex and gender are the same and it only comes down to presentation and frankly, the standards of presentation are pretty artificial. Most women I know want to be recognized as women all the time without having to shout it from the rooftops with the way they dress, act, or sound.

      • 4

        Renee said,

        Oops, I should probably add that just because “most women” want something or do something isn’t a mandate that you or anyone else should want or do those same things. I’m just citing my experiences and relationships to make the point that there’s nothing wrong with expecting people to get your gender right all the time. You’re not hurting them by correcting them…at worst, it’s just a little awkward, especially if you’re not the confrontational type. But to each their own.

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