Caution (and Celebration): Allies in Training

I pulled over to answer three different phone calls on my bike the other night. One was the end of a game of phone tag played to arrange the day of solidarity for the recent victims of LGBTQ bullying. One was non sequitur. The last was a friend from my studio who I had seen just five minutes before whilst leaving orchestra. That call will be the focus of this post.

“Oh hey, buddy! What’s happenin’?” I ask perplexedly, wondering if I had left something behind in orchestra that my friend had noticed. “Nothing! Hey, listen. I just wanted to call and apologize for earlier. I realized I called you ‘ma’am’ and I don’t know why I did that! You know that’s not like me. You know I support you completely, right? Anyways, I just wanted to call and tell you.”

I was floored. My friends mess up pronouns all the time. She was the first to call and make amends for it. It warmed my heart more than I can express in words (that seems to happen the more I write).

I was floored because I never had to explain to this friend why it hurts so much, so deeply, when people ‘mess up’. The last time I tried that explanation it was to a professor and I was nearly in tears. I told my professor that I can’t participate in their class when they constantly use the wrong pronoun for me. It took me until press time to realize that this is, or at least should be, the case in my friendships too.

I am sympathetic to people changing their mental patterns to accommodate their gender-variant friends. I even know how hard it can be as I have several people in my life who use they/their pronouns. Gender-neutral pronouns are the strongest tool in destructing the false gender binary but they are particularly hard to carve out in the brain if one is pre-disposed to grammar nazism. For me, the request for appropriate personal pronouns is one of the most precious interchanges I can have with another person. They trust me enough to come to me with the flowerings of their identity; I must in return show love and respect by honoring their request. I might ‘mess up’ once or twice but I, like my friend, would call to apologize. My personal experience is too painful to keep me from doing otherwise.

In my most recent counselling session, I lamented this reality in a rather resigned fashion. To prevent the sense of futility setting in, my counsellor introduced me to the fact that many of my friends might not understand the impact of their words. In considering this, and in re-visiting my friend’s recent call, I realized that I deserve more. I often let things slide. I will make jokes and/ or playfully throw an ink pen at the accused. “Who did what?” I will chide. But why? Why is it acceptable for six months of experience in male pronouns to be warranting so many mistakes? Why am I still so patient?

I have been hesitant in publishing this post because it is not my intention to point fingers at my well-intentioned supporters. It is true that my gender-fucking world is not the world of everyone and that my needs might seem radical to the uninitiated. My friends and allies are all beautiful parts of my life. Accordingly, I want to make clear how it feels to consistently be called by the wrong pronoun. It would feel like someone intentionally calling you by the wrong name over and over after you had asked to go by a nickname or your new married surname. The act reveals a lack of thought on the speaker and the incomplete grasp of the gravity of a few simple words. For many, we are all transitioning together and I appreciate and love that. Be a good ally; think before you speak.

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