Not a Matter of Opinion: Why Trans People’s Chosen Name’s and Pronouns are not up for Debate

One of my first posts on this site was regarding Caitlyn Jenner, who at the time was still going by her dead name Bruce Jenner.  As soon as Caitlyn came out to the public as a trans woman, blogs, people magazines, and Facebook newsfeeds blew up with both support and resistance against Jenner’s newly revealed identity.  In the fuss I wanted to write a piece to reflect how, while I still supported Jenner, as a fellow trans woman my experience and the experience of others of us could be very different from Jenner’s.  During that article I used male pronouns and the name ‘Bruce’ to address her, but that was because at the time she had not specified what name or pronouns she wanted used and had told the press to for now continue using male pronouns.  As of today, Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, announcing officially that her name is Caitlyn.  With this announcement came the critics and the reminder that there is something that Caitlyn, I, and all trans people face – misgendering.

With in hours after this news hit the internet, the has been Drake Bell posted on twitter that he would still call Caitlyn by her dead name.  On top of this many other people agreed with this ploy, refusing to properly gender Caitlyn by her true name nor by her female pronouns.  The argument’s ranged from that in their opinion Caitlyn is still a man to that in their opinion her name and gender is based on someone else’s opinion.  Basically all their arguments boiled down to the logic that it does not matter what Caitlyn thought or felt or says, it only matters to one’s own opinion, at least when it comes to her gender.

This mindset has been a bane of mine ever since I came out as trans myself several years ago.  Almost immediately after I bared this part of myself that I had been hiding for so long in large part due to fear of how I would be treated over it and I told the world, “I’m Julie, this is who I am, and this is who I want to be with out hiding it anymore,” – many of the people close to me retorted back that that was fine but they would still see me as a guy or as my old name.  Of course this hurt.  A lot.  It tore me apart emotionally.  At first I was patient, but as time went on few of these people made an effort.  In fact a couple of them even convinced other’s who did gender me correctly to stop doing so.  I kept trying to reach out to these people, but they would show no respect for me or my identity, so I stopped trying and now I no longer speak to any of them.  It’s sad too because besides their transphobic attitudes most of these people were people I really liked.  Not to mention, that on top of losing them, I also now don’t keep as well in contact with a lot of mutual friends in part because of the rifts driven between us by my would be friends.

Now this isn’t as much of an issue for me.  Except for my parents I have either cut contact with anyone who refused to gender me correctly or they have come around.  I still face the occasional purposeful misgendering when ignorant people find out that I am trans, but it’s fortunately rare.  The fact still stands though that I am pretty hurt about losing people I loved because I tried to be patient with them, but they made no effort to treat me with enough respect for me to keep trying.  I have also seen this with every trans person I know or know of, and the hateful and ignorant comments against Caitlyn Jenner that I have born witness to today prove that her case is not an exception.  The question remains, at least to some, why does ‘misgendering’ someone matter so much?

This really is for the most part a problem trans people tend to face.  Cis people get misgendered too sometimes, but usually there will be an apology issued to the person immediately after the mistake is found out.  However, this is often not the case with trans people who will often continue to be misgendered by someone even after they have been educated that they are wrong.  And, wrong they are.  A lesson that a lot of people need to learn is that someone else’s gender, identity, pronouns and/or name are theirs and theirs alone – and therefore no one else gets an opinion on it.

Yes, I just told the internet that they don’t get an opinion on something.  Before I have whiny trolls, trans exclusive feminists, and men’s rights activists cry about me suppressing their freedom of speech, I would like to remind everyone that this does not mean people don’t have an opinion on it.  Someone can think and feel anything for whatever reason, and no one can stop them.  If I think the sun is a giant light bulb sitting atop the Empire State Building, that is what I think on the matter, and I can refuse to be educated to think anything else.  In the same way no one can make someone else stop thinking trans women are men or that trans men are women or that non binary people do not exist.  I really wish we could make people stop thinking such things because those thoughts are problematic to society.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  However, while one can think anything they want about someone else’s name or gender they have no right to dictate that opinion as fact.

Let’s try an example.  Let’s say I was (magically) pregnant with a baby and the entire time I thought the baby was going to be a girl, so I tell everyone that she’s going to be a girl and that I’m going to name her Lilah.  The time comes and the baby is born, however the baby is a boy (we’re going by cisnormative assumptions for this example).  So, I adjust and name him Jim instead of Lilah.  Of course most people accept this and just treat him as a boy named Jim even though for a few months we were assuming the baby was a girl named Lilah.

Then Uncle Twatbrain comes along and is like, “You know what, she will always be Lilah to me because that’s what I knew her as.”

Obviously Uncle Twatbrain is being extremely ignorant, selfish, and ridiculous.  And, the family would shun Uncle Twatbrain for his rude and childish behavior.  Yet, I can guarantee that if 18 years later Jim came out that he was actually trans and a woman and wanted to go by Helena now, half of the people who ridiculed Uncle Twatbrain for misgendering “Jim” would now flat out continue to wilfully misgender “Helena”.  This is obviously a double standard, and not right.  I know some critics will sit here and say that Helena is a guy because they took sixth grade biology and that is enough to discredit the majority of psychologists and scientists whose studies have indicated over and over that trans people’s gender identities are valid and based on their mental gender, but once again those critics don’t have a say.  Because it’s someone else’s gender, not theirs

Misgendering trans people is hurtful to them, as well as harmful in general.  Because this isn’t letting people discover who they are and be respected for that.  When someone misgender’s someone else they are spitting on their identity and on their person and saying, “What you are deep in your heart is not what I see you as, so I’m not even going to attempt to respect you.”

That’s really what deliberate misgendering of a trans person comes down to – disrespecting them as human beings.  It would not be appropriate for me to call people who deliberately misgender trans people by the names I want to call them.  Instead I have to suck it up and address them by their name or title because that is the humane thing to do, even if in my mind they are a complete and utter pile of cow manuer, I can’t address them as such and claim to have respect for them.  Yet, somehow these people can misgender a trans person and claim that they are not disrespecting them by doing so.

It does not work like that.  Other people’s gender’s name’s and pronouns are not up for me to assign and dictate, yet many think that my gender, name, and pronouns, as well as many other trans people’s  are theirs to dictate.  Well, trust me, they are not.  Regardless of one’s opinion, someone else’s gender, name and pronouns are not a matter of opinion.