mistakes

The honest mistake: On being a pronoun beginner

Recently, I Tweeted this little two-part message:

I’m thinking a lot these days about the space in between ‘no big deal’ and enough is enough. Readers likely know that last fall I founded the No Big Deal Campaign. NBD aims to encourage folks who are new to transgender people and issues to go ahead, take the plunge, and use someone’s unfamiliar or unlikely pronoun to the best of their ability.

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Alt text: the NBD Campaign logo with “I’ll use your pronoun, no big deal” and the URL: nbdcampaign.ca.

I founded NBD for many reasons, one of which was the recognition that while many people are willing to do this, the stakes attached to an error have become so high that the consequent fear might prevent people from even trying. What’s worse, I was seeing anti-transgender commentators swaying the public and some in the media with a harmful falsehood: that transgender people and our allies are intent on grievously punishing people for an honest mistake, in pursuit of ideological purity. Incoming protections for transgender people in Canadian federal law have been characterized by some as legislating both purity and punishment. To that, I say:

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Alt text: a Red Pembroke Welsh Corgi being wilfully obtuse with SRSLY in meme font.

As a non-binary transgender person, I need people to try using my pronoun and I know that there will always be a first time, a second time, and so on. I also know that this will necessarily involve mistakes. After all, when transgender people learn that a friend or acquaintance has changed their pronoun, it takes us time to get it right, too. This also means making mistakes. Shattering any false image or goal of perfection is, I believe, essential for producing greater everyday acceptance of gender diversity and reducing anti-transgender microaggression. It can build trust with willing yet nervous folks when we’re real about how, yes, transgender people mispronoun each other sometimes. As a movement, I believe we need to create a space that people want to step into. And while I whole-heartedly embrace the notion – both personally and in my academic work – that intentionality has little to do with the impact of our actions on others, as a teacher I also know that people need their intentionality to matter. Because I am a singular they user, I can say that it does matter: an honest mistake feels like an honest mistake.

However.

The ethic of “no big deal” is not a free pass to keep on making mistakes, over and over again, even honest ones. It’s also not a free pass from consequence. And recalling my Tweets up there, it is no guarantee that you won’t lose a transgender friend or colleague or date or family member if you keep on making that same old (even honest) mistake. When I teach about barriers faced by gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) users (many of which are experienced by transgender people regardless of their pronoun), I explicitly talk about this dynamic even as I work to create a space where mistakes are expected as part of the learning process:

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Alt text: PPT slide on resistance as a barrier faced by gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) users, including invalidation (mis-gendering by people who have been informed of one’s GNP), active refusal (saying no) or passive refusal (just using someone’s name, saying ‘this is too hard,’ or a forget/apologize dynamic that doesn’t change.

As a form of passive refusal to use someone’s pronoun, a forget/apologize dynamic that doesn’t change can be attributable to many things. It could be that a person just doesn’t encounter enough opportunities to practice (the solution being to ask for and seek out opportunities or advice). But people are generally more complicated. If something matters to us, we do our best. We remind ourselves before we see someone that this is something they need (be it a cupcake, an accessible washroom, or freedom from talking about an unpleasant topic). If we continually forget a person’s need, it might help to pay attention to that forgetting and learn that there is something about the need that we don’t understand or agree with. We aren’t convinced that this is legit. We have questions, we need answers.

This is an honest place, a starting place. One can both know that it is a social good to engage with transgender people in a way that respects our gender identities, and be honest that one is a beginner. A beginner is someone who knows that there are things they need to look up, to Google, or to practice. Beginners expect practice and expect their own mistakes. Beginners take pride in improvement over time.

The No Big Deal Campaign is for everyone, but particularly has the beginner in mind. I believe that there must be a place for beginners in any movement to benefit transgender people because transgender people need institutions – and the people who are/in them – to do a better job in relation to our needs. Chances are those people are just beginning to engage with and understand anything to do with transgender anything, and that’s both okay and unavoidable.

So, be a beginner. Occupy that space with your whole heart. Work at it and take pride in getting it right when you do. Have compassion for yourself when you don’t. But like every beginner, know that you aren’t a beginner forever. And if you find yourself still making rookie mistakes long after the fact, be honest with yourself about your own resistance, be curious about where it comes from, and ask a coach.

Gender is ridiculous: On messing up our own pronouns

Anonymous asked:

hi! i recently had big realisation regarding my gender & am slowly shifting to use ‘they’ with friends and some colleagues at work. everyone so far has been very accepting, but i am terrified that -i’m- going to slip up! this seems ridiculous cause ‘they’ just feels so right to me, but it’s also been over 20 years of being ‘she’ and i rarely use third person about myself. i don’t want to make a mistake and invalidate everyone’s opinions of me – is this a common concern?

Hello there Anonymous friend!

First of all, congratulations on making this social transition at work and asking for your needs to be met – this is very brave!

This is a very common concern, but we have to be willing to do our best and acknowledge the ridiculousness of gender when we – WE! – make a mistake due to many years of conditioning.

I was a guest in someone’s class last week and referred to myself as a Debbie Downer, which is a feminizing term that doesn’t fit with my identity at all, but is just so ingrained in North American Standard English. So, I laughed about it, commented on how unconscious these things are, and also commented on how hard is to find alternatives! Some members of the group even tried to help me come up with a gender-neutral version of this old chestnut, which was hilarious. In that particular situation, what was truly helpful and teachable was that gender and pronouns became the thing at-issue and the object of exasperation, not me and my needs around gender.

Gosh, sometimes I even misrecognize my own pronoun! Sometimes I arrive at a party, event, work, wherever and someone says of me “they just got here” and I exclaim “I came by myself!” and it’s hilarious because then I realize that, well, the person is just doing what I want!

So, slip-ups can be okay and even productive sometimes. Your concern is very valid, but a slip-up doesn’t have to invalidate the hard work you’ve been doing to be recognized. It can instead show how ridiculous and arbitrary our language is.

Hope this helps, and write back,

Lee

Sometimes it’s hard to be forgiving

Anonymous asked:

Coming back to university and unfamiliar with the they/ them genderqueer movement, I want to wear some kind of button that says “I am trying, but my brain sometimes short circuits my best efforts”. I got snapped at today for saying “she” instead of “they” even though I get that right most of the time. Everyone needs to be understanding and forgiving. Prying open the binary gender box will take more time. Keep being awesome

Hello Anonymous! Thank you for your message and support! I agree – everyone needs to be understanding and forgiving, and I’m sorry you got snapped at.

When people do that to me about something identity-related when I make a mistake (oh yes), I try to take care of myself in the situation by remembering and repeating to myself that what I am getting from them is the result of repeated, systematic refusals to use their pronouns (for example). That kind of blow-back builds up inside a person until it bursts, and usually at the wrong other (i.e., a nice person who made a mistake, as opposed to a repeat bully).

So, I hear you. And, as an ally, I want to suggest that your first response be compassion and understanding. That person just might not have it in them today to recognize that you are trying your best.

Warmly,

Lee

Resource: Helpful usage tips from Dean Spade

Copied and pasted from Dean Spade at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun as misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.

4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.