I talk with different people in different ways about gender, race, orientations, <insert social justice/identity item here>. These differences show up the most to me in conversations about transgender issues, perhaps because these things affect my life with Eren so much more than any others do.
Well, that’s not quite right. It’s more that people perceive that these issues affect us so much more, and so more people talk with us–or at least me–about them than about any other issue.
We are pretty far outside what society considers to be “the norm” for some parts of it. Though we’re white and married and educated, she’s transgender and bi-lesbian, and I’m cisgender (considered ‘the norm’) and bi/pansexual and sapiosexual, and we’re polyamorous. (And no, I do not mistake ‘cis’ for ‘normal’–society keeps trying to say that’s how things are, but that’s no more true than saying the sun is more normal than the moon, or a tabby cat more normal than a tuxedo cat, or me being more normal than my wife.)
Anyway, the point is, I talk with different people about Eren being transgender differently.
Eren and I have both opened ourselves up to questions about transgender issues. Some of these questions are basic respect things–the “what are your pronouns?” variety. Some of them are curiosity that borders on the too-personal for many transgender persons and significant others (the “what’s it like to be partnered/married to a transgender person?” variety). Some of them are definitely too personal (the “what are your/her/his/their genitals like?” variety). That last set should never ever ever be asked of a transgender individual. If she/he/they offer up the information, that’s one thing, but just asking? It’s no one’s business. Nevertheless, Eren and I have encountered the questions, and we’ve done our best to answer them.
In the first category of people, I have utmost patience. These people are a) genuinely curious and b) genuinely trying to learn and c) genuinely trying to be respectful. This group tends to ask all the questions, but usually as a means of understanding, learning, growing. There’s not a lot of “ew that’s gross” or judgment or squick coming out of this group. It’s mostly that this group of people has grown up with a culture that has taught them only one way of seeing the world and hasn’t given them a way out. And yet, when given the chance, they are there and ready to try to learn. So I have patience with them. I had to learn, too, because I didn’t come out of the womb understanding transgender issues, and I too was born into a system that perpetuates injustice and inequality in order to give power to the few.
In the second category of people, I’m firmer. These people I’ve usually talked with several times about an issue–such as Eren’s correct pronouns–and they’re still ‘not getting it.’ Absent a cognitive difficulty, I will begin to encounter these people more firmly. I may interrupt speech to say “she” or “her” when they misgender her. I may wait until they finish before saying, “She thinks that is a good idea,” or “Eren’s pronouns are she and her.” This is still patience, but more direct.
This category often bleeds over into a third category of people, whom I will be very direct with. I will say, “You have done this multiple times, and it is not okay. You know her pronouns, use them.” Or I will say, “We have been over this many times.” There comes a point when patience only coddles privilege, and only directness will get attention. This part is often hardest for me, because I have been taught that women should be soft and indirect (or at least indirect). This part also often receives the most blowback. People in this category usually do not like being addressed so directly, but often only understand the direct communication.
I just walk away from the fourth category of people. These people either will never hear or will only hear when those against whom they’ve fought have disappeared. Either way, my words have no effect on them. I cannot change hearts and minds set in stone. Also, this becomes a protective measure–because those who are so convinced against transgender people cause harm to Eren and me. Their words wound us, particularly when they supposedly come from a place of love and support. There is no love and support in telling a person she is not real, unnatural, or any other degrading thing. There is no love and support in telling a person she will go to hell for being herself. And so, walking away both serves to leave an unproductive argument and to protect us.
I’d like to say there’s a fifth category of people, those who’ve found me again after I’ve walked away. I think this can happen, though it’s yet to happen to me. I have witnessed such turnarounds–my mom’s change of mind and heart on sexual orientation being one–but they’re very few, I think. I do know that my mom has been one of our biggest supporters, and that likely wouldn’t be the case had she not already made such a huge turnaround re: orientation years before. The possibility is there.
In the end, there’s no one way to talk with people about these things. A lot depends on context, on history, on conversational content, and on what each person can individually take. This is how I do it.