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F#@k Misgendering

Columns | October 23, 2017

Everyone knows the feeling of not fitting in. We often find ourselves trying to mold to the space that we’re in to feel a little bit more comfortable. To avoid conflict, to avoid drawing attention to ourselves.

This summer I lived with my brother and his housemates in Brooklyn. We’re all in our twenties, there for a good time, and just trying to get by. I didn’t expect difficulties in finding a place where I belonged. I mean come on—it’s New York City, right? Soon after moving in, however, I realized that I didn’t fit in as easily as I had expected.

My brother and all of his housemates are cisgender and I sure as hell am not. I didn’t think of this as an issue at first, until I was misgendered multiple times by my brother and his friends. Mis-gendering is when someone refers to you with pronouns other than those that you identify with.

This might not seem like a big deal for those of you who identify with the gender assigned to you at birth. But trust me, it can be quite devastating for those of us who constantly have to fight to be seen by others the way that we see ourselves. Beyond merely being an annoying reminder that we don’t fit into society’s normative boxes, it can bring up memories of violence and ostracism that revolve around our gender.

At first, mis-gendering was something that wasn’t even acknowledged—at least by anyone in the apartment but me. Soon, my brother began noticing my discomfort and would look at me each time someone used the wrong pronouns. Pronouns that he reverted to every once in a while as well.

This really hurt me. It seemed to me like my brother didn’t even care enough to remember my pronouns. And once he did, he didn’t see the importance in correcting his friends when they mis-gendered me.

I didn’t know how to have a conversation with him about it. I didn’t know how to tell him that he was hurting me every time those words left his mouth. And I didn’t know how to tell him that it shouldn’t be my burden to educate his friends on my gender identity. I didn’t know how to tell him that he should be the one having conversations about gender with those around him when I was always the one caught in the crossfire.

Having that initial conversation wasn’t easy. It’s hard to name your own oppression and tell someone you love that they are hurting you. But it’s even harder to pretend like that hurt doesn’t exist. To keep on going in the face of discomfort and unhappiness.

Soon after I talked to my brother about the importance of his words, and the need for him to extend this conversation to his friends, I felt much more comfortable and visible in our apartment. I felt like I had a place.

***

Having conversations about marginalization and power is frightening, especially when it is a conversation with someone you love.

This conversation with my brother was important because it allowed him to see into my experiences and get a glimpse of the marginalization that I face on a daily basis. It gave him a push to research nonbinary-ness on his own and to reach out to my parents to make me feel more comfortable when I go home.

These are conversations that should be central to all of our relationships. Conversations that address more than our own realities but dig into the harsh truths of the world around us. We might think that we live in a post-racial and liberal society, but we don’t. And we have to talk about race, gender, class, and all complexities of our identities if we are ever going to progress as a society.

Leaving these conversations to those who are obligated to face the violence of marginalization every day furthers that marginalization and ignores our responsibility to engage in these topics.

We have to take up the labor of those around us who have no choice but to engage in conversations about identity and oppression. We have to take the burden off of each other. And we have to engage in dialogue if we want to move forward, together.