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The Faux Pas of Misgendered Rage


I’ve noticed that within my community there is a lot of bad feelings over the whole notion of being ‘misgendered’. I talked about a similar situation a while back revolving around the word ‘tranny’ and all the hoopla it seems to cause, so I thought it might be a good time to revitalize my stance. So, let’s talk about that.

For anyone who doesn’t know, ‘misgendering’ is the act of mistakenly or deliberately identifying someone as the opposite gender to which they are clearly representing. For example, approaching someone wearing a skirt, with breasts and makeup on and saying, “Hey dude, how’s it hanging? Ready to rock out with your cock out this weekend?” is a clear case of misgendering. Often times, however, this is unintentional. I know this happens to especially butch women from time to time and the person is quickly corrected. It certainly happens to the genderqueer population almost constantly because in many cases the individual feels that either answer is wrong, leaving people confused. I’m not talking about that though; I’m talking about when it’s deliberate.

The most common form of misgendering occurs in the male population when ‘ball-busting’ is involved. The easiest way for men to tease each other and impugn their sense of masculinity is to compare them to a woman, or better yet, a little girl. I never quite understood why is so ingrained in male culture, but it is, and even if outlawed, I think they would find some way to do it in secret. While clearly offensive to women, I don’t think there is any intended harm and merely speaks to the work ahead of us in terms of continuing to advance the notion of gender equality.

It is almost as equally employed against gays and lesbians due to a persistent confusion between gender and sexual orientation. Don’t make me get out the Genderbread Person again people. It’s also a well overused means employed to get the goat of transgender people. Some elements of RadFem and like-minded organizations like to do this because it’s a very easy way to attempt annoying someone who clearly understands themselves differently than these types would like. I wandered over there and got the whole misgender treatment, and I’ve seen other trans* bloggers get swarmed with commenters who like to employ this simple name calling tactic. Nice, right?

Getting right down to the brass tacks – please do not give someone a bright shiny red button right on your forehead to press!  A mistake is one thing, but when someone is doing it on purpose, they are attempting to provoke a response and nothing you say to them or accuse them of is going to make a difference. If you react and get all pissy pants about it, they got exactly what they wanted. “Hey, let’s spin up the tranny by calling her ‘him’! It’ll be a hoot.” When we give people the means to easily provoke an emotional response, they will take it. Sure it’s immature, but so is having a conscious, rationalized, and pressing opposition to a demographic recognized by the vast majority as innocuous.

My two cents is to not even bother with a response at all. With a mistake, there is opportunity to discuss and possibly educate, or at the very least correct. When it’s on purpose, not really worth our time and energy. If you know who you are, it doesn’t matter what someone’s opinion is. Besides, there is satisfaction in remaining calm in the face of attempts to provoke that generally paints them as unreasonable or mean in spirit. You came this far to understand who you are and no provocative little barb can change that.

“So, What Are You Supposed To Be, Anyway?”

If you want to irritate a trans person and don’t want to put a whole lot of time or effort into it, simply ask them what they are supposed to be anyway. We hate this because generally speaking, aside from some of the more slovenly amongst us and goths, we go out of our way to make it perfectly clear what we are supposed to be. Isn’t it just a pickle of a thing though we turn around and do the exact same thing?

I was watching ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and one scene showed Hedwig on an open air stage with one fan watching with admiration. I immediately began wondering if it was supposed to be a man or woman due to the androgynous haircut and face, not to mention wearing what might have either been a long black skirt or those supersize Hot Topic goth pants. I thought they were cute and concluded their gender really didn’t matter to me. It did get me thinking a bit though.

I think we all do this, try to determine what someone is supposed to be, because it is innate. As a trans person though, it is particularly embarrassing when I get annoyed because I can’t figure it out. More than once at Spectrum meetings I’ve squinted at new faces in attempt to determine if they were trans or not, if so, what direction they were going in, or allies. The thing is, I’ve been wrong more than once, so I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own transdar. All the while I’m doing this, I feel like a tremendous boob for even thinking about it. I mean seriously, aren’t we all there specifically because this kind of thinking persists? I can’t even ask anyone if they do the same thing for fear of painting myself as someone who cares. I secretly like to think everyone does it; something that is probably going to invite a Texas toast load of “well I never!” type indignant comments.

Unfairly, I fantasize about people asking me this exact question. “So twinkle-toes, what the hell are you supposed to be, anyway?” They would correctly add the comma pause because only someone grammatically correct would even consider asking this question. My pat answer of course is, “your mom”. It’s much more polite than getting all pissy pants over it, and who doesn’t love a good ‘your mom’ come back? It’s just classic.

As humans go, this is simply built into the model. Upon encountering someone new, we immediately classify them by features of identity – gender, race, body type, attractiveness, and familiarity – all within a few seconds. Trans people happen to trigger the old “more information needed” directive right off the bat and tend to get a lot of stares unless they are really passable. I used to take this as a hint of transphobia until I read up on the whole recognition thing and understood better. This of course excludes those who continue to stare for tens of minutes with a scowl, sneer, or super seldom ‘come hither’. I don’t think I’ve gotten any of the last one, but familiar with the first two.

My whole point here is that we can’t take it too personally when people do this. Yes, it’s super rude of them to ever ask because with the exception of children, it’s a question that is really meant to convey, “I can see right through your little costume there, chief.” A lingering look, however, is just an old-timey software routine that hasn’t yet been deleted from the now well obsolete Homo Sapien Sapien 1.0 model. Someone really ought to update those things sometime.

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