Want to be a super hero? Who doesn’t? There’s a very special kind of super hero when it comes to supporting a newly transitioning transgender person.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?? NO! It’s:
The PRONOUN CORRECTOR!!!
Someone in the early stages of social transition often experiences a lot of anxiety about how they are being “read” and if they are passing as their preferred gender. They can experience a lot of fear and anxiety about being read as their assigned (birth) gender.
When someone is already feeling unsure and a little anxious, it’s certainly hard to find the courage to correct pronouns and other clarifiers such as “sir” or “ma’am”. I’ve coached numerous clients and groups on how to do this in a friendly, confident fashion. But it remains incredibly difficult for many individuals, and I can’t say I blame them.
I was having a conversation with one of my teen clients the other day.* When I asked how he was doing correcting pronouns in one of his classes as needed, he said, “Well, I have a friend in that class. She does the correcting for me.” I was happy and relieved for him. I’m all about empowering someone to speak up for themselves; this client and all my other clients do plenty of speaking up for themselves. When others intervene on their behalf it is a much needed break!
I said to him, “Oh, you’ve got a Pronoun Corrector in that class! How awesome. That’s a special kind of superhero, a Pronoun Corrector.” He smiled because he knew exactly what I meant. I wonder if his friend even understands the power of her intervention. Perhaps one of these days my client will let her know.
Pronoun Correctors play a huge role in a friend or loved one’s transition. They model and prompt correct use of pronouns. They can be assertive and strong when the transgender individual is not feeling up to the task. Pronoun Correctors show how important it is to use the correct pronouns, and not to let the “wrong” pronouns slip by as if unnoticed or as if they didn’t matter. Typically, a Pronoun Corrector will have far less anxiety about correcting someone than the individual themselves. They are in the perfect position to speak up!
I felt this blog post was timely given the holidays are soon upon us. Many trans* people will be seeing family members and disclosing their transgender status for the first time. Many will be seeing family members for the time since disclosure. Many will be in a room with some people who are supportive of their gender transition, and some who are not. They will be in rooms where some people use their birth pronouns and some use their preferred (a.k.a. the “correct”) pronouns. Sadly, holidays can bring an extra dose of anxiety to someone going through gender transition.
If you are the loved one of a newly transitioning transgender person, won’t you consider earning your cape? Someone said “he” in reference to a MTF individual? Say “she”. Someone said “her” in reference to an FTM individual? Say “him”.
If you are the parent of a newly transitioning child, you are in the perfect position to be their superhero!
If you are transgender and feel you need a Pronoun Corrector in your life or over the holidays, explicitly ask someone you trust. Send them this blog post and say “Will you be my Superhero?”
Have/had a Pronoun Corrector in your life? Let them know what it means to you.
Pronoun Correcting Etiquette:
- Smile when you correct. Being friendly goes a long way. People will tend to follow your lead more when they don’t sense hostility from you or feel they need to go on the defensive.
- Say it quietly, but assertively. State it as simply as possible, and nod as if to indicate, “It’s ok, keep going, just wanted to be sure you understand the correct pronoun.”
- Be thoughtful about your target audience and recipient of the correction. Correcting pronouns is often most helpful to help someone understand one’s gender identity, or modeling for several people who may not be sure about preferred pronouns (and who then may appreciate the clarification).
- Be gentle with loved ones. Is it necessary to correct every slip? Absolutely not. If a loved one (particularly a parent) is trying, and making a conscious effort to use the correct pronouns, let slips pass by. After a “slip”, you can subtly use a correct pronoun later when you are talking, just as a gentle reminder. If “slips” continue well into the transition, the transgender individual may need to sit down with the loved one to discuss how the loved one’s “transition” is going in regards to understanding, accepting, etc.
- If a loved one is not ready or has expressed a strong resistance to using the preferred pronouns, don’t push it. Give them space and time. Use the correct pronouns yourself, and don’t comment on their choice of pronouns. Pushing someone before they are ready may close them off to future acceptance and understanding.
Check out my first Bitstrip below!
*Much thanks to my client for giving me permission to write about our conversation in this blog.