Commentary by Julia Freeman
Whether or not to jump into error correction is a decision that people make on a daily basis, whether it be fixing a stray hair or something more complicated as being misgendered, it can be tricky. There is a fine line when it comes to fighting the urge to calm down and not exaggerate unintentional mistakes as humans are inherently flawed over taking the time, effort, energy, and awareness to hold a teaching moment in the middle of what can be awkward circumstances. Such is often the case with individuals in the transgender and nonbinary community. With the holiday season just around the corner, though, there comes the additional layer of complexity when family member(s), whom have known a transperson as their old identity pre-coming out mistakenly refer to the person as by their former pronouns and name.
This is sometimes an intentional act as people believe that if they continue ignoring the person’s identity preferences that they will ‘change their mind’ and accept their old identity as their true one. Other times it is a blatant ignoring of the person’s preferences despite being reminded on multiple occasions because they are convinced or hopeful that ‘it’s just a phase’ for the marginalized person. These are especially prevalent in the beginning and initial stages of the coming out process for people and it is a difficult decision to come out as any LGBTQ identity to extended family that many see only during the holidays.
Much of the time, often attributed with the longevity of an individual knowing (albeit not necessarily believing) a person’s preferred pronouns and/or name, the relationship to that person plays into the equation of whether to correct people. Gently correcting family while remaining accommodating to confusion that they may face is uncomfortable for all parties, however, in those learning moments is where true growth and potential for empathy occur. Staying painfully quiet and not taking action consistently though takes a toll on all parties. Often times it is useful to enlist the help or subtle assistance of approving members to refer to a transperson by their preferred name and pronouns in everyday conversation. Many can pick up and replicate that speech pattern and hint, while others need more explicit instruction and error correction.
Also noting that not every apology for incorrectly assuming or using a gendered pronoun has to be accepted by that person is powerful, regardless of the intent. Sure, sometimes people’s apologies are genuine and authentic, however, when a person repeatedly uses the old identity it can be as shattering to the transperson’s psyche as a weapon equal to that of misgendering a cisgender person. Health, wellbeing, respect, and integrity is on the line. All people have equal right and permission to be offended and exceptions need not apply across all circumstances and scenarios. Even if that is the holiday table, tree, Yamaka, dreidel, Brigid, or other symbol of unity, celebration, and solidarity that families (be it of choice or of origin) use. GG