“That’s no moon…”
This is about transphobia, and its lack of visibility.
This morning, I had to call the JobCentre to chase up a letter they’re supposed to have sent me confirming that I’m in receipt of benefit (without this letter, something else will cost me a load of money I don’t have).
Things have got more complicated since I told the JobCentre I wanted my correct gender and title on their system (they were still writing to me as Mr). They put me on a confidentiality register, which means that the general office and phone folk can’t see my records, and have to refer everything to a “back office”.
A few weeks ago, I called to request the confirmation of benefit letter, and they said it would take a week. I called them today, and they told me the request never went through to the back office, so they’re trying again. The thing is, the woman I spoke to kept calling me Sir. Now, I know she’s got my record on the screen in front of her and it’s telling her I’m female, title Ms. I also know I have a deep voice. After the second time she sirred me, I asked her not to – but she carried on doing it. About six more times before the conversation ended. I started to find this funny.
Afterwards, though, I decided to send a complaint to her department. Not complaining about her as such, but complaining about the lack of training that led to her behaving as she did. I then spent some time fruitlessly looking online for details of how to lodge a complaint – and found they’ve carefully removed any reference to how to do this. A link that claims to be to their complaints division just goes to a main page, etc. eventually, I just wrote a letter and addressed it to their local office.
I mentioned this on facebook (like you do), and explained what I was complaining about. This is when things got messy.
I made it clear (I thought) that as far as I’m concerned, there are two possibilities: either she was misgendering me on purpose, or she couldn’t help herself. If the latter, then I’m not that bothered – people have autopilot responses to what sounds like a male voice; if the former, then she was being transphobic.
But a genderstraight friend of mine waded in, in “defence” of her, and we got into a rather circular argument, because he doesn’t seem to believe there’s such a thing as transphobia. It seems clear enough to me – if I ask someone (who knows I’m officially female) not to misgender me, and then she goes on doing it, if she’s doing that on purpose there can be no other reason than prejudice.
I am quite shocked by my friend’s strength of reaction. He really seems to want to find ways in which her behaviour, even if it’s deliberate, is not transphobic. Because for some reason, he has an investment in not seeing transphobia as a real issue. I think he thinks it’s some kind of political correctness.
I had to explain that people who are transphobic do regularly use deliberate misgendering as a way to try to make someone trans feel bad – such as calling us “it”.
And this leads me to another incident from yesterday. A very old friend of mine phoned me up. We hadn’t spoken since the last time I saw him, just over a year ago, when I told him I’m transitioning. Now it’s always been me phoning him rather than him calling me, even though he’s always happy to hear from me – some friends are like that, you know you have to do all the legwork. After I saw him last year, I decided to wait and see if he’d get in touch, and he didn’t. And then I was in too much of a state for a while to do it myself. So I was very pleased when he called yesterday.
We talked about loads of things, including my transition, and he made a comment referring to me as “he” – and then hauled himself up and said he wasn’t sure what pronoun to use, “he, it?” I was struck by how “she” was missing from that list. I told him that “she” was clearly appropriate – and then gently (as I knew there wasn’t deliberate malice involved) explained to him that pretty much nobody (who isn’t currently wearing a gimp mask) likes to be referred to as “it”.
I find myself surprised at two pretty with-it, right-on, progressive hippyish men, both of whom haven’t a clue about trans issues. I suppose I had the idea that it’s all much more out there and talked about and known about than it really is. It feels crazy to be having to explain why I’d rather be called “she” than “it”. It feels crazy to have to defend my use of the term transphobia, as though I’d just made it up on a whim.
But so it is. I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, because it’s crazy not to. It upset me being misgendered, but I don’t know her reasons. It upset me that my friend wants to ignore transphobia, but I don’t know his reasons. It upset me that my friend didn’t think “it” was unacceptable as a pronoun… but each time, all I can do is assert myself in a non-confrontational way (I sort of failed with friend number one, because I got pissed off) and keep communicating.
Here’s a picture from 2001: A Space Odyssey to cheer us all up with after all that, eh? What a beautiful film.