I wrote this letter to my friends in advance of a vacation I’m taking with them this summer. When faced with a social situation where you are worried that folks might not be educated … enlisting your cis friends and communicating your needs can be a useful strategy. I’m sharing what I sent my friends here in hopes that maybe it’ll be helpful to other trans people who are struggling to have this conversation with their dear ones.
I’m really, really aching for our summer break. I miss all of you so much, and live for times where I get to spend days and days with you.
There’s a thing I have to say, leading up to September. A favor that I need from all of you.
Last year it was really difficult to deal with the misgendering that happened to me. It was unrelenting. It was so hard that I really considered not going this year. I cannot understate how much it wrecks me.
It also makes me physically unsafe, especially in conservative states like the one we’re visiting. People still murder trans women, so allowing anyone to continue to be in the habit of misgendering me puts me in very real danger. Please know that I have been followed, intimidated, threatened, and assaulted in public. So have the overwhelming majority of trans women I know. I’d like to minimize that risk by urging my friends not to out me, ever, even on accident.
I know for a fact that misgendering is going to happen. It’s just a given. That puts me into a place of defensiveness where I’m always on high alert, and makes it a lot harder to enjoy myself. Nearly three years of living in a state heightened fear and vigilance has made it difficult for me to have the patience and grace I used to have.
So I’m reaching out to my most trusted friend family for some help. Having all of you model good behavior for the others would be helpful. I really desperately want to enjoy my time with everyone.
So, in typical form for me, I’ve delved into my training materials and pulled together some best practices for allies. Here are some things that I think you could do that would help me feel normal and have a good time when we are all together.
- Encourage people to practice! When I have to relearn pronouns for someone and it’s important that I make sure I get it right … I practice at home by making simple statements about them using the correct pronouns. “Kit is my friend. She plays guitar and loves backpacking. I can’t wait to see her in September.” That sort of thing.
- Forcefully correct one another. Even when it happens when I’m not around. Even when I am around. Having my cisgender friends help with this is incredibly valuable. It takes some of the sting out of each incident for me — because I get to see visible support from the people I love. It makes me feel less alone. I may still be upset, and that’s ok. Correcting people is about enforcing good habits so that I can be safe going forward, not making me feel better in the immediate sense. It can be embarrassing to be corrected in this way but please keep in mind that this is about more than just feelings. It’s about my safety.
- Explain why it’s important. Maybe have a talk with people who you think are going to have trouble. You are my friends and I believe you get why this is a big deal. Help educate our friends who don’t know me as well. I have learned from long experience that having a cisgender friend be an ambassador to people who don’t get it is extremely effective. People often dismiss me as shrill or hysterical. Those interactions are at this point tangled up in the real personal trauma I’ve experienced, so I’m not always capable of being nice.
- Know that I’m probably going to be the only trans person there and think about how that feels. I’m generally the only trans or queer person in gatherings like this and that creates a special sense of isolation. It’s very lonely, even among my close friends and family.
- Don’t offer defenses about why misgendering happens to me. I know that’s coming from a good place — you want me to know that folks aren’t being malicious. You are not likely to find a reason that I haven’t contemplated. Good intent won’t change the fact that this triggers severe dysphoria episodes and can put me in harm’s way. All rationalization does is make me feel even more unseen and unheard.
- Realize that self care is part of my strategy for coping with this. Self care for me often looks like leaving the situation. Lately I’ve learned that it’s sometimes better for me to go for a walk than it is to confront people. Constant confrontation is part of my everyday life as an activist and as a trans woman. When it bleeds into my friendships, it generally results in me feeling like I have to apologize for my feelings. Understand that this is just something I sometimes need to do when it gets bad.
This isn’t intended as a callout or a slap on the wrists. It’s an ongoing problem that really occurs in all areas of my life. One of the reasons I’m writing this letter, in fact, is because I trust you and I know that you care about me. You are the only people I feel I can rely on to help me with this.
Love and thanks,