I was hanging with my friends at a bar over the weekend talking about music when the subject of Against Me! came up. As we were talking about old albums and stories of concerts we went to my friends would discuss the timeline of the band as pre and post Laura coming out as trans, switching pronouns and using her old name. I tried my best to keep people using she/her pronouns but I admit I only know the basics of gender politics myself so I didn’t have the vocabulary to really call my friends out and correct them. I would greatly appreciate if anyone could give me some resources or articles or talking points to educate my friends?
It’s awesome that you’re such a great trans ally! It can be difficult to change behaviours, especially with folks that do not have any experience with trans people. One of the things we’ve been doing in my place of work is to have a breakfast hangout once a month where anyone can join myself and the other LGBT+ representatives to discuss issues, ask questions and just put a human face on the subject. If you have any trans friends that would be happy to speak about themselves and/or answer questions (both harmless and potentially offensive), maybe you could chat to your mates about inviting them next time you hang out?
Here are two resources that don’t answer your question directly but may be helpful followed by some more personalized advice. I’m a cis-man so I’m speaking from a place where I have had some of these discussions with my friends and parents. I’m lucky to know some brilliant and open transgender and gender non-conforming people who have advocated for policy at work places and put me onto resources I would have missed.
The NBD Campaign is covers a lot of the basics around pronoun use and rebukes common misconceptions around pronoun use: https://www.nbdcampaign.ca/download-free-graphics/
They Is My Pronoun (TIMP) is an interactive guide to using gender-neutral pronouns and supporting people who use them, active since July 2012. (This is the description from the site). There are lots of questions answered on it so you may find a strategy that you can apply to talking about this stuff with your pals.
I haven’t checked but there’s a chance that Captain Awkward has offered script for this situation.
In my own experience with talking and learning about gender is to be patient and encourage folks who are acting in good faith to do better without shaming them for lacking knowledge. They (or even you) may feel shame or regret about the way gender has been talked about before knowing better. Acknowledging those feelings is a healthy part of growth but dwelling on them or beating yourself for those past mistakes is counter-productive. Mistakes are a necessary and frustrating part of any learning process.
Advice for talking with your friends about this:
Is there a friend from that group who you are closer with than some of the others? Great, that person may be the place to start to open this conversation.
Possible script: Hey fellow Against Me! fan, I had a great time chatting about them with you last night. I noticed that our friends were switching pronouns and name for Laura as we were chatting about the discography. This made me uncomfortable because I’ve read that trans folks prefer to not have their pre-transition name or pronoun used. They call it dead naming. I wanted to share that with you because I know how much of an effort you make at making those around feel welcome and comfortable. It’s also something I want to bring up our other friends. Are you okay with helping me do that?
That kind of dialogue could open up a fruitful discussion with that one friend about gender/trans issues and social justice more broadly. Maybe the two of you could do some more reading and then having discussions with your friends either individually or as a group. Keep it open ended and turn to the internet to follow-up with questions that you’re not sure about the answer of.
I think there are going to be much better responses here than what I can offer, but I did want to say that Laura’s coming out was the first time I really considered trans issues in my life. Very grateful to Laura Jane Grace for helping me listen to trans voices, make trans friends, and try to be an ally. She rules.
Uh… I’m writing off the cuff, so this is going to be kinda fumbling and probably repetitive.
So, I’m doing a bit of disservice to the OP by snipping just these two words. The point here is not criticism or condemnation, but rather to highlight a challenge many of us face as transgender people. Our issues are only political by circumstance. That circumstance is we have to fight for social and legal recognition of something most people get to take for granted: recognition of our gender.
As a trans woman, people often come to me wanting guidance on specific things you can or cannot say. “Can I still say ‘guys’?” is one of the most common questions. There is no specific right or wrong answer. It’s not even a trans*-specific question. With me, I don’t have a problem with someone saying, “Hey guys” to me, but I do have a problem with being referred to as one of “the guys”. If you don’t know me, I find it unpleasant if you say ‘Hey, man’ or call me ‘dude’, but if we have an ongoing relationship and I know you’re cool, it’s fine. Personally, it hurts way more when someone accidentally misgenders me than when they do it intentionally.
Do I expect everyone to know all my quirks? No, but it does help if people invest in understanding why things are problematic for some.
Just covering one person’s experience – my own – things are convoluted and complex. I grew up in the mid-80s and 90s. I knew I was genderqueer (even if I didn’t have a word for it) quite young. I learned very quick that boys identifying with girly things made adults nervous. I went on to learn that boys doing girly things was a way to be ridiculed or vilified. It was an invitation for harassment and social exile, if not outright violence. I learned saying you really are or should be a girl was a quick way to be written off as a liar or as delusional.
My formative years were spent learning very thoroughly that my choices were to suppress myself, or to live as a hideous joke with few prospects in love, life and prosperity. Things have changed a lot in recent years, especially where I live (and being white and a citizen). That’s a point of privilege I have than many trans* people don’t. I transitioned starting four years ago, and I was never fired as a result (though I know others who were, or were in protracted legal battles), I was never physically assaulted, and I wasn’t threatened, accosted, or ridiculed in public more than once a week (often it was less). Now mostly people are chill even though I am sure I am often read as trans. The sad thing is, I have scars in my brain that run deep, and I don’t know any quick way to heal them.
When people misgender me accidentally, or they refer to me as ‘man’, ‘dude’, ‘the guys’, the problem isn’t necessarily the gender issue. People who intentionally misgender don’t bother me that much. They suck. I move on. But those ambiguous cases play on my doubts. I work really hard to fight against paranoia and doubt – the sort which keeps me trapped in the brain of little 1980s Kris staring in the mirror knowing she’s thoroughly trapped and screwed before the age of five. Those ambiguous cases are difficult to resolve. Do they see me as a man, or do they get that’s not really me? Was that a slip of the tongue, or them revealing what they really think? Was that ‘dude’ gender-neutral, or not? It may seem like something which could be easily resolved by just asking. At times I do ask. But there is decades worth of negative emotion hitting me in that moment, and it was often unexpected. There’s a cognitive dissonance between the world I was conditioned to survive in and the world I live in now, and these little unexpected moments of ambiguity and uncertainty really cause that to flare up.
The point of all this is, for those who aren’t in my brain, my gender identity may be about politics or following the correct protocols, or about trying to be respectful; for me it’s about trying to counteract every psychological defence mechanism pounded into my developing brain from childhood to protect me from a world which was openly hostile to who I really was, and which would never believe me if I was open about it.
I guess what I am saying is getting educated on trans issues starts with understanding that being trans is a pretty complex human experience. It’s best addressed a bit of healthy agnosticism, empathy and investment in learning about people. It’s good to learn about pronouns and terminology, but ultimately, if you want to really know, that stuff is pretty on the surface. And it can be quite variable person to person.
I was in the same boat as are my friends in question. I haven’t picked up her book yet but I’ve been meaning to do so
Thanks so much for your response, I don’t see it as incoherent rambling at all. You sharing your experience is invaluable to someone like myself who doesn’t know any trans people so don’t get to have these conversations.