I have been having a lot of trouble with ‘not trans* enough’ thoughts and I don’t know how to combat them.
I’m an advocate for trans* people at my school and I firmly believe that non-binary people are just as trans* and deserving of respect and consideration as any other trans* people, but I’m having so much trouble convincing my critical voice. I’ve been wanting to make a pronoun change for a few months now, but I’m so hesitant because I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a big imposition.
How did you handle this? Also, when you switched to singular they pronouns, how difficult was it?
I’ll start with a confession: the nagging thoughts at the back of your brain don’t go away that easily; I still get them, all the time.
When I do get these nagging thoughts, I take a step back and reframe the issue. It’s not about being “trans* enough” or not, it’s about having the right to create an environment in which you can live comfortably. I strongly believe everybody has that right. If somebody uses a wheelchair, then they need ramps and elevators for accessing spaces. If somebody has a food allergy, they need an ingredients list at each meal. If your gender identity is not what your assigned-at-birth sex says it should be (which to me is transgender by definition, regardless of what that gender identity is), then you need to do stuff for yourself to make the world livable, like cutting your hair or taking hormones, and you need other people to do stuff for you, like calling you by the right name and the right pronoun, or allowing you to safely use public restrooms.
For non-binary people, these allowances might seem like demands because they are sometimes unusual, unheard of, uncommon. Yet changing pronouns, whether it’s from “he” to “she,” or from “she” to “they,” is equally unusual, unheard of, and uncommon for your average bystander. It sounds awfully wrong to advise a transwoman to let others call her “he” because it would be too much of a hassle – despite how wrong it feels for her, despite the pain it causes her to hear this every day, despite how disconnected this is from her inner reality. It seems equally wrong for me to advise someone for whom it sounds wrong, for whom it is painful to hear “he” and/or “she” used for them, that they have no right to ask for a different pronoun.
If someone can do something to make your life more comfortable, less miserable, or just livable, is it really a huge imposition? Perhaps… but don’t you still have the right to ask for it?
Social change can be slow, the larger the scale the more impossible it may seem, especially when you have a problem today and can’t fathom waiting 5 or 10 years for the solution. But just like legal policies and physical spaces have been transformed in recent years to accommodate the needs of people with wheelchairs, by granting them access to public restrooms for instance, we can similarly continue to strive for legal policies and physical spaces to accommodate the needs of those with non-binary genders, like requiring gender-neutral restrooms in every building (which would make a whole lot of people more comfortable).
I never got instructions on how to go about transitioning, making it difficult to know exactly what to do or how to go about doing it. Moreover, most providers are usually not familiar with non-binary identities, so they are less equipped to fulfill the particular needs of people with a non-binary gender. This meant that my doctor sometimes didn’t know what hormone dosage was best for my physical goals, and my psychologist sometimes didn’t know what the best way for me to come out was. So I had to think a little harder, test it out, see what worked and what didn’t, and quite often, just try again.
Most of what applies to binary-identified trans people applies to those with non-binary genders as well. Even though your requests may require more explanation than what is expected of someone with an identity of just male or female, it doesn’t make your requests – or you- any less legitimate. However, this can translate into more effort on the part of others, but above all, more effort exerted by you.
I never officially switched to singular “they” pronouns, because it was too much of an effort for me. Whenever I tried to use “they” pronouns, a) it required explicitly disclosing it to every single person, multiple times, b) they would butcher it grammatically or be very confused, and c) the person would fall back to using she. It seemed like an uphill battle that I wasn’t ready or willing to conquer.
Thus, it became a pragmatic matter. Each “she” I heard precipitated an emotional jolt that only kept escalating. The solution was having people not call me that. I opted for “he” because I realized that being referred to with that pronoun is not distressing; in fact it makes me quite happy. And honestly, it was easier to make the switch, another factor in my quest for comfort.
It’s all about what makes my life more comfortable, though perhaps not (yet) most comfortable. One step in the right direction is better than no step at all.
Unfortunately, non-binary genders are generally not recognized or validated as real outside of our own self-created spaces. For now… That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep carving these spaces out, slowly expanding them to include the “real” world, whichever way we personally are able to. It may never be perfect, but we can try and get as close as possible.