Earlier this semester I spoke with a friend back home in Virginia who was working in the field with a Transgender activist. During the interview my friend accidentally slipped up and called her by the wrong pronoun: he.   Immediately he knew he messed up and was prepared to apologize when she “blew up” and began slinging a slew of curses about his disrespect to her personhood.  The interview stopped to allow everyone to return to a calm enough state to continue, with my friend taking a less active role for a teammate to continue the main questions.

Immediately I thought, should this be the proper response for such a situation?  This person who is transgendered has probably spent her entire life being called by the wrong gender and I’m sure it’s very traumatic as all the past events have built up.  As such I don’t feel she was in the wrong to be this upset, especially when she was supposed to be a in a situation where something like this shouldn’t happen: an interview about the perspective of being transgendered.  In these “safe spaces,” like our academic gender studies class, there is a certain decorum to learning how to say and do things to be respectful to everyone across the gender spectrum.

However, we have to remember this is not how “the real world” behaves or reacts.  People are taught to see the world as a gender binary and realize the personal characteristics that make someone look like a male or a female.  While a trained person will recognize an transgender women, the rest of the world sees a man in a dress.  While we can educate each other to learn to see otherwise, we have to be patient and realize that most people aren’t used to it yet.  It hasn’t developed in the vocabulary.  It’ll take time.  When someone starts to yell it immediately puts people in defensive mode and emotions will flare.  While my friend is respectful, many will not be and it can only put them off to be yelled at.  This doesn’t make the community look good and people unlike my friend will come away from the experience remembering that he was chastised for his ignorance and maybe nothing else.  Perhaps a calmer, but still stern comment is all it should take to set someone “straight?”  Education is key.

–Brian Falatko

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