This [see below] is true! When somebody mistakes me for being one cis gender (pick one, any one) and then switches over to thinking I’m the other cis gender, they fall all over themselves apologizing in embarrassment. When people mistake me for being a cis gender and then switch over to thinking I’m a trans gender, somehow I’m the one who’s being inconsiderate in their eyes. And really, I don’t need people to profusely apologize in any case, I just want a calm self-correction from them and we all can carry on treating each other with dignity and respect.
A great deal of the time people read me as a non gender-conforming woman. Every once in a while I’m read as a young teenage cisgender boy. And sometimes this interesting thing happens: someone reads me as a cisgender male and then figures out that I’m not, and falls all over themselves to apologize. I’ll share a few examples.
It’s on my mind because it happened to me earlier today, so I’ll start with that one. A waiter was taking drink orders and I asked if he had anything local on tap to recommend. He gave me this really weird look and shot a look to the other people at the table. “Ummm…. can I see your ID?” he asked doubtfully, as if certain I wouldn’t be able to produce it. He apparently hadn’t noticed, but I already had it out because I’m used to this treatment. I handed it to him. His face fell and went pale. “Oh… oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. It was the hat.” He touched my shoulder, too, which I thought was creepy… anyway, yeah, as soon as he said “it was the hat” I knew what he meant to say: he (correctly) read me as a boy.
Something similar happened to me in another restaurant setting. A waitress came up to me and the person I was with (also a guy) and greeted us with, “Good evening, gentleman.” I started to get into that very happy mood that only a trans* person who has been read as their correct gender can understand, but it was immediately cut short. She looked right at my face, and that was enough to tell her I was NOT her version of a “gentleman.” As with the waiter earlier today, her face fell and lost some color. “Oh, ma’am, I am soooo sorry. I’m sorry, I just saw you from behind and the hat…” Apparently hats (a beanie today, a baseball cap then) are like magical devices that guarantee you get read as male.
In another public setting, a child came up to me and asked if I was a girl or a boy. I love children’s reactions to me, I really do. Before I had time to decide whether or not I was going to lie to save the child from confusion or tell the truth and risk a parent accusing me of being a creep, the mom came over and must have overheard the child’s question, because she was all profuse apologies.
I think what’s funny about these instances is when someone thinks that they’ve misgendered me, they treat it as if they just slapped me in the face, as if it was the rudest, absolutely worst thing one human being could do to another. They act as if they’ve just humiliated me and stripped me of basic dignity. And what’s striking about they way they act about this, is it’s true, it DOES feel that way when I’m REALLY misgendered (read as a woman).
But you know what? When I am actually misgendered by someone who knows that I identify as a man, they don’t seem to see it the same way as misgendering a person who is presumably cisgender. For people who are supportive of me, obviously, they’re apologetic, but it’s not treated as the earth shattering event that it’s treated as in the above examples. For people who aren’t, my request to be spoken to as a man (name, pronouns, etc) is taken as selfish and ridiculous. Imagine I were cisgender and the above examples were cases of actual misgendering. Who would be so rude as to think that my desire to be read as a woman was selfish? I obviously didn’t get angry in the above situations, but what if I had? I imagine they would have assumed I had every right to be angry and hurt and self-conscious about being misgendered. And yet as a transgender person, the fact that really being misgendered DOES make me angry, hurt, and self-conscious is not respected and is often made fun of and misunderstood.
I think it’s something cisgender people should keep in mind. Don’t diminish the effects of misgendering on a person. We clearly understand them—evidence of it is everywhere. All we want is the same respect for our gender that you clearly expect to show to people who aren’t trans*.