The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Eventually, the term has come to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled.
Week 3 back at university began today. Week 3 of being LJ (they/them or he/him but definitely not EVER she/her). Week 3 of still being introduced wrong and misgendered.
As far as gender microaggressions go it tends to be something along the line of prying questions about body/surgery/sexuality/genitals, misgendering and phrases such as “but you look/sound feminine so it’s hard to remember the right pronouns”,”will you properly transition at some point?”, “when you were a woman” and “well you must understand it’s hard because of our age/we knew you as [deadname]”.
And it may (or may not) surprise you that these are all things I have heard from professional at work. In a hospital. You may think a microaggression is nothing, it’s in the name right? Micro. Small. Tiny. Nada, nothing. But it’s not.
These seemingly small things slowly chip away at your self identity and self esteem. They undermine your identity, making you out to be not a “real” man/woman. They shake the foundations of who you are. Some off the cuff un-thought-of comments haven’t just upset me but have made me question my choices and the way I identify.
What I mean by this is that microagressions have left me wondering if my choice to transition (whatever that means for me and however I choose to transition) is worth it, or the right thing to do. I find myself at the end of the day battling with myself to not just give up and say “hey you know what let’s just forget I ever mentioned I had a gender identity crisis, lets just go back to before that happened”. Because sometimes that seems like the easiest and least painful option. And let me tell you, hiding and living with gender dysphoria is not easy. That is why the choice for trans* people is most often to live authentically or suicide. There isn’t an option to truly live in any other way. It may be that you can hide for 40, 50, 60 years.
The truth is this. I know I don’t pass as a man. I don’t always want to pass as a man, and I know full well I probably never will. But male fits me better than female and in a world that will make me choose I choose male. That means that I will face having to continually come out, continually being misgendered and continually being the target or ignorant or malicious trans* microaggressions, often without anyone standing up for me.
Here’s what I want to know: Why is it OK to ignore someone’s pronouns? Why is it OK to use the excuse of age/ignorance? These excuses don’t stand in other settings do they? You wouldn’t tolerate racist names over and over would you? Why do you ignore it with trans* people?
These microaggressions pop up EVERYWHERE. In the Nike advert that recently featured a trans* man. The questions aimed at him essentially made out that he wasn’t actually a man. That time a toilet attendant told me “the woman’s is down there” (find it here). It’s in the “So what is your real name?” questions. It’s in the “So how far into transition are you?” and “Will you have the op?” interrogations. And if you think you might have heard a microaggresion, here’s the simple test:
Would you ask this question to a cis person? Would you ask a cis man how he pees? Would you ask a cis woman if her breasts are real? Would you suggest a cis person forgive you called them by the wrong name or pronouns because “well you just don’t look like a Pete/Gail/masculine/feminine?” Would you tell a woman she cannot possibly be a woman if she doesn’t wear makeup/a dress/long hair?
The lesson is this. Think. If you wouldn’t say this to a cis person, it is not appropriate to say to a trans* person. It’s simple.